Pain in the Neck

by Justin Sevakis,

I've been trapped in stasis this week, socially at least. You see, I've been tagged for jury duty. The way jury duty works in Los Angeles County is, you get a summons in the mail, and after you register and sit through a half hour of terrible instructional videos online, you then have to log back in to see if they need you to actually show up. If they don't need you on Monday, you log in Monday evening to see if they need you on Tuesday. You're basically on-call.

As you can imagine, this makes it impossible to make any weekday plans whatsoever, work-related or otherwise. While the call-in time only lasts a week, if I get assigned a trial on Friday and end up on the jury, I might be indisposed for another week yet. It's really really frustrating, especially during summer when everybody wants to do things.

Minutes before finishing this article, I learned that I'll have to report on Friday. Hopefully I won't get picked for a case and get to go home, and won't have to waste another week with this misery.

Anyway, time for questions...

Gingabulls asks:

i recently found they had Macross Plus on hulu and was really excited as it was a legal way to watch an older show that i have heard lots about. However, I live in a country where Hulu blocks everybody (canada). Can i justify watching hulu in a blocked area as bennefitting the industry or just continue to wait for these shows I want to see maybe becoming available in the future?

Ehhh... I understand you really want to watch Macross Plus, and I really understand your frustration at not being able to watch Hulu in Canada. Canada is a place I always assumed Hulu would end up in eventually, but between the tiny market for online video advertising there, and the huge reach of a very small number of companies in the Canadian media landscape, Hulu has never really figured out a good expansion strategy into that market. And so, like everywhere else in the world that isn't the USA, Canadialand is left Hulu-less.

What are the ethics of watching it anyway, though VPNs and other internet trickery? You're not permanently copying or downloading anything. You're not stealing any physical object. Unlike a Bittorrent download, you're not making it available to other people. You're not supporting a pirate streaming site by seeing THEIR seemingly-legitimate advertising. You ARE using a small amount of their bandwidth, which does cost them money, but probably less than a penny's worth.

The real answer is, "you're not entitled to this content, and if you really want to see it, buy the DVD." If the $6 plus shipping that each of the two discs are currently going for on the used market is too much for you, or you don't want to wait for discs to arrive in the mail, the series is also available as a paid download on both iTunes and Amazon, for $1.99 per episode. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

On a detached, business-y level, though, I agree that this is ridiculous, and the fact that you even have to ask indicates that the system isn't working for consumers. There needs to be a free, ad-supported streaming service, like Hulu, in other countries. But making a business like that work is a lot harder than it seems from the outside, so who knows when it'll happen. I remain hopeful.

To be entirely honest, if I were in your shoes, the downsides to streaming legal sites to blocked areas through a VPN are pretty minuscule compared to every other way to watch a show without paying for it. If I were to do it, I wouldn't feel that bad. But I'd definitely consider supporting the show by buying a DVD afterwards. It's only right.

Tim asks:

Does it feel like sometimes that people hold shows to higher standards? I just got into a Beef on Twitter over RWBY and it seems to me that that series, despite it being a rather small project done for Rooster Teeth, some people wanna compare it to shows that come out every week by studios. I personally like RWBY for what it is and it seems like too many critics on Twitter are trying to hold it to a higher standard.

I haven't seen RWBY. Or let me clarify: I've seen a whole episode of RWBY. I was impressed by the fight choreography, but was unimpressed enough by the rest of what I saw and heard that I decided it wasn't for me. The show does get a lot of internet hate, deserved or otherwise. From what little I saw, it didn't look THAT bad, but it certainly didn't rise to the level of what we generally consider baseline TV anime standards, in most regards.

Are the critics of the show being too harsh, considering its low budget and tiny staff? Maybe, maybe not. But let me ask you another question: why does it matter? Why do you care what these other people think?

These are all just opinions. They shouldn't affect your enjoyment of the show, or your general level of happiness. Even if you, yourself, were to believe that RWBY (or any show) objectively isn't very good, that doesn't need to affect your love of the show one bit. Clearly a lot of people loved the show. It's got flaws, a low budget and some questionable writing choices, but if none of that bothers you, by all means, enjoy it. I like some really flawed stuff, and I admit it's flawed. Sometimes I even admit it's not very good. Doesn't mean I don't still watch it and love it. Other people's criticism, valid or otherwise, shouldn't bother you.

I think the danger of being offended by other people's opinions comes from fans putting too much of themselves into the media they love. The show itself becomes a symbol for themselves, and so a perceived attack on the show becomes an attack on the fan's very being. This is especially true with teens and young adults, who are trying to define who they are as people, and are using these shows as building blocks to inform who they are, and what they want to become. Fiction and fantasy can be very important in that way. We find characters we admire, and think about why we admire them, and internalize those characteristics so that we may become that way ourselves. In that way, an attack on a show can feel like an attack on our hopes and dreams.

But we are not these characters, and we are not these shows. There's no need to take personal offense, or even to care, about another person's opinions of it. We definitely want the shows to do well financially, and it's fun to nerd out about them with friends who share our opinion and/or love for the show, but aside from that, other people's judgements on a show have no consequence or importance on anything in our lives, and affect nothing. If you enter into a discussion with someone about a show, and upon honest analysis, disagree with them, you can move on, because none of that is important at all. None of it.

Vandeilo asks:

You say that video masters are stored on magnetic tapes, not dissimilar to VHS tapes. Why is it that such tapes aren't used for playback at the consumer level? I don't really see much of a reason why you couldn't just edit the video correctly for home playback (removing time of black screen and the like) and duplicate and mass produce tapes containing that information, which would be played back on VCR-like devices designed to read and interpret that data? What's physically advantageous about using magnetic tapes at the professional level and physically disadvantageous about using them at the consumer level?

Surely, you're not really wanting to go back to using tape to watch video, do you? As a format on which to enjoy a program, it's hard to even imagine going back to tape. Tape doesn't support menus or removable subtitles. They can take forever to shuttle around to find a scene you're looking for. They wear out, drop out, get eaten by dirty machines, and have to be rewound. A modestly strong magnet can erase them. They're heavy and expensive, and take up a lot of room on a shelf. They cost a lot of money to ship.

The sort of broadcast level tapes used in video production, which include DigiBeta (Digital Betacam) for SD, and HDCam and HDCam SR for HD, are distant descendants of Sony's long-dead consumer Betamax format. The original professional Betacam caught on back in the mid 1980s because it was very high quality, and much more portable than the giant 1" thick reel-to-reel "Type C" tape format that was commonly used in production at the time. Most importantly, it supported timecode, which is a way of indexing video so that every frame has a unique number, like 01:20:43;14 (meaning 1 hour, 20 minutes, 43 seconds and 14 frames). Timecodes are essential to video editing, or any kind of production work.

Copying video from tape to tape was simply the way every bit of video work was accomplished back in the day. Need to add a title and trim some frames out? Grab a blank tape, pass the video through a character generator, and copy to the new tape a piece at a time, using timecodes to specify where everything went. This way of assembling video mostly died out with Final Cut Pro (and at the high end, AVID) becoming commonplace in the early 2000s, but was still being used here and there for making a final tape. Tapes were also the most reliable and easiest way to back up video in the highest quality possible. Full, uncompressed video files are huge, after all -- a single anime episode in HD can easily be 80 GB or bigger.

Truth be known, a lot of this was just old habits. Professional work environments need consistent methods of working and backing things up, and keeping everything tape-based was just easier and cheaper, for a while anyway. As hard drives got bigger, the internet got faster, and computers became the dominant way of doing everything, copying everything back and forth to tape made less and less sense. Also, HDCAM is EXPENSIVE! 90-120 minute blank tapes are $100-180 each, and decks start at over $30,000 and get horrifyingly close to $100,000 in price.

The US started switching to file-based everything some years ago, but it wasn't until the tape shortage that followed the the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami that Japan started doing away with tape-based workflows. These days, Japan uses tape just for backup and delivery to TV stations. Most masters are sent to American companies on hard drives these days. Many of them don't even have HDCam decks, and when they get a tape, they have to hire an outside company to get them transferred to files.

Tapes are still a bit more reliable than a hard drive (except in that they can easily have a tiny drop-out that's easy to miss -- whereas a bum hard drive will probably take out the entire file). There is a huge problem with digital preservation right now, as there's no really good, solid way to keep the huge amounts of data preserved for a long time. Replicated DVDs and Blu-rays, for all their faults, are as good as we're going to get for a while, in that regard. In that way, the consumer formats are a ways ahead of the professional ones.

For what it's worth, JVC tried to market D-VHS, which was an all-digital, HD-ready VHS format, to the general public back in 2005. Nobody wanted it, the tapes had horrible compatibility problems, and with a lot of people still not owning an HDTV, it failed miserably. Blu-ray and HD-DVD came along two years later.

Anonymous asks:

From what I've heard, most anime are created to promote their source material and encourage sales of the light novel, manga, game or whatever, and a lot of times if the source material ends the anime won't always finish off the source material because there's nothing more to promote. So I'm curious as to why shows like Parasyte and Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! are being made. Are they trying to drum up sales for older titles again, or was there some sudden mighty call from Matsutaro fans for an anime?

Anime based on older, back catalog manga titles do still happen from time to time. While the scenario you described, wherein a manga publisher decides to produce (or co-produce) an anime to promote the original manga property, is far and away the more common scenario for an adaptation, that usually only happens with more current series. Older series tend to get forgotten by the publisher, unless they're getting reissued in a new edition or something.

The other, more likely scenario is that someone other than the manga publisher is the one trying to get the show made. Perhaps it's a producer like the ones at Bandai Visual or Toei Animation who are on the lookout for an older property that they think could be dusted off and made into something that would connect with today's audiences. Or perhaps the manga artist's agent is trying to get the fire going again, so that their client can collect more royalties.

For the manga artist, having an older title adapted into an anime would be a huge boon to their incomes, since it would get people excited about their old titles again, and if the title is out of print, would mean that their work might get picked up by a new publisher. Many artists of older titles own their old work outright, so if their original publisher was a pain in the butt, being able to directly control their work could mean that they have more control over an animation production, or possibly not have to give over a percentage of their royalties. There are all sorts of scenarios that can play out.

From a consumer point of view, it's almost impossible to know who, exactly, decided to push for an anime project, and who the major sponsor is in getting it made. Production committees don't share that information publicly, so if it does come out, it might be in an interview with the producers after the fact.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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