Terrible People

by Justin Sevakis,

You guys absolutely buried me in great new questions this week. Since ANN participation seems to peak while school is in session, I'm going to make an educated guess and suggest that you're here because your actual homework is in another browser tab, and you are procrastinating. God love you for it.

The Answerman inbox is a strange place. I've been writing Answerman for over a year now, and I'm still amazed by its contents. It's like trudging through your packrat grandmother's basement... you never know what you're going to find.

Actually, that's not true. I can usually find the following in there:

  • At least one professional who thinks they're emailing an anime company, usually requesting rights or permission for something (HOW does this happen??)
  • At least one newbie anime fan who thinks they're emailing an anime company, usually requesting another season of a show, or permission to put something on YouTube (again, wha--?)
  • Translation service spam
  • Spam in Chinese
  • Spam for film festivals
  • At least one movie/TV show/anime pitch. These are usually from teenagers wanting to make their own anime, but this week it was from a middle aged Italian guy, trying to sell his "comedy" script about catastrophic war in the middle east. I was not interested.

It's a good week when the good questions outnumber these, and this was a very good week. So, thank you, dear readers. Your attention deficit is my lifeblood.

John asks:

What is the typical structure of a large anime licensor such as (Viz Media/Funimation/Sentai) versus a smaller licensor such as (Aniplex of America/Discotek)? As well, what is the responsibilities of the divisions/departments and the staff that works in them?

The jobs and departments in an anime company basically break down like this:

  • Licensing (negotiation, contracts, music clearances, approvals)
  • Production (Editing, making DVD extras and trailers, DVD and Blu-ray authoring, subtitling, dubbing, translation, formatting for streaming, print design)
  • Marketing (Analyzing title, strategy, advertising, copy writing, release planning, PR)
  • Sales (direct to major accounts, working with distributors for smaller accounts)
  • Finance (human resources, taxes, manufacturing oversight, accounts payable and receivable, royalty calculation)
  • Management (overall company strategy and relations, partnerships, legal consultation)
  • Fulfillment (physical product inventory, warehousing and shipping
  • Online/Web (everything from app development and streaming, to just hosting a website)

All of those are things that have to be done, for every company, although the structure may vary a little. The only real difference is, bigger companies have teams for each of these duties, whereas for smaller outfits you'll have only a handful of people doing all of those. If there's a bigger parent company, much of the financial concerns will be taken care of by the corporate overlords. Smaller outfits outsource a lot of duties, especially production, to freelancers or outside vendors. For example, Funimation does pretty much all of the above in-house, except for fulfillment, whereas Aniplex of America does virtually no production in-house and maintains a fairly small office space.

Companies generally like to keep quiet about how many people are actually working there, but the bigger companies employ somewhere around 100 people, give or take, while I know of at least one company that's literally comprised of two people. It's pretty impressive, to be honest.

Jose asks:

I read your most recent answer regarding weeaboo. Your answer seems to suggest to me that all discrimination against otaku is the product of rampant weeaboo obnoxiousness. While they certainly heavily reinforce said discrimination, I personally believe otaku have been the subject of discrimination in the West since way before weeaboos came into the mainstream. Do you really believe that weeaboos are the source of discrimination against otaku in the West or do you think the discrimination preceded the unfortunate rise of weeaboos and the weeaboos simply reinforced it? Personally, I believe there is an intrinsic discrimination against not just Japanese but so-called East Asian (China, Japan, Korea) cultural elements that is deeply ingrained into Western culture. East Asian culture tends to be heaps more optimistic and embracing of happy, pretty, and cute aesthetics than Western culture. In the West, pretty and cute aesthetics are associated with ignorance and weakness, and are thus seen as infantile, ignorant, or feminine. I believe this kind of discrimination has existed for ages and is the true source of the discrimination otaku face in the West.

I have two problems with your question (which I had to cut way down to include here, but I hope you'll agree I didn't remove any of your major points). The first is your premise that in the West, otaku face what could be called "discrimination." Do we get hassled in online discussion? Sure, in some places. I guess that's something. In certain circles, certain people do make fun of Japanese pop culture fans as a group, without a doubt. But do we get denied housing or jobs because we own a Naruto wallscroll? Do we get denied health coverage, or are we made to use a separate entrance? Are we prohibited from marrying, or joining a church if we have over 10 anime DVDs? Do we get paid less than our equally skilled co-workers because we can name all of the Eva pilots, or all of the Madoka Magica witches? Do we get patted down and stared at when we get on an airplane because our laptop has Psycho-Pass wallpaper? No. No we don't. And lots of other people do, for things that they can't help, like their age, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. There is so much awful, evil, truly devastating discrimination going on ALL AROUND US, ALL OF THE TIME, that even saying the phrase "anime fans get discriminated against" sticks in my throat. Because getting teased a bit so barely qualifies as discrimination that it feels kind of gross and self-absorbed to even call it that.

Anyone who likes non-mainstream things gets dismissed by people now and then. That doesn't feel great. It can be isolating, and at times it can even feel like you're being bullied. But there is a huge cultural movement in the last few years to cast ourselves as victims, and that is not a label that actually helps anybody. We are victims to the extent that we feel like victims. There will always be obnoxious people around that judge you for stupid reasons, such as your taste in video games, movies and TV shows. The internet breeds them like flies. These people are not worth listening to. And the moment you stop and walk away, you cease to be a victim. You have to be strong enough to walk away from it. And then, poof, you are no longer being "discriminated against." End of story.

But if you paint yourself as a victim, you actually empower the people bringing you down as your captives. You give yourself a pass for not being strong, because you've given yourself permission to be the loser in this scenario. But nobody wants to be that person. So you get angry -- at them, at the world, at society in general for allowing people like them to exist. When really, all you needed to do was stop giving them that power over you. I know it's easier said than done. But this truly is one of those times where not letting the jerks get the better of you will, in fact, solve most of the problem.

I also disagree completely with your assessment of East Asian culture being more positive in tone. Maybe you missed the whole Tokyo Gets Destroyed/mass destruction/apocalypse trope that has permeated Japanese pop culture since the 1960s, the gut-wrenching sadness and loss present in a huge percentage of kids' anime, or the insane number of period pieces from all over Asia that are just tales of murder, poverty and revenge? I would hazard to guess that anime fans get to see more sad and depressing endings than any other kind of media obsessive (when we get endings at all).

It is true that Asia and Japan specifically do "cute" better than pretty much anyone, although to be honest the rest of the world is quickly catching up. The giant Rubber Duck sculpture that made its appearance in Los Angeles last week is adorable enough to look like it might be Japanese, but it's actually by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. Cute animal pictures and videos are ubiquitous on social media. It's true that some cute things aren't seen as all that masculine in the West, but on the other hand, they literally sell calendars of hot, ripped shirtless dudes canoodling puppies, so maybe we're finally past that.

I can't do much about you feeling discriminated against. As someone who has surrounded himself with things Japanese and adorable for his entire life, I simply don't feel it. Sure, I got some crap for it in high school, but I was also pretty annoying and in-your-face about it, and was socially awkward in general, so if it wasn't the Japanese stuff it would've been something else. Could it be that you're just surrounded by jerks, and you need to get the hell out of there and find some people that accept you for who you are? It sure is easier than trying to fight some ridiculous social justice battle.

(another guy named) John asks:

This has been a question that has been bothering me for some time. Why are most anime fans cynical? It seems as though the joy of anime has been sucked out of them and all they see is the bad. Yet they still watch. And complain. I wish this were an isolated incident but I have both seen and heard of people who act this way all around the US. Even this very column suffers from unwarranted cynicism sometimes. Did this cynicism arise from frustration over other anime fans who took it too far? Is it a self-defense mechanism to justify liking anime without liking it at the same time? Could it be multiple reasons all mashed together? Or is it all just one big coincidence?

I don't disagree with your overall assessment. You see a lot of cynicism around anime circles. I admit, I too am a cynical piece of work sometimes. But I don't think that all cynicism is created equal, and we should not dismiss all of it, nor should we respect all of it.

My theory is that there are two kinds of cynicism: the exhausted kind, and the lazy kind. Personally, I like to think of myself as being the exhausted kind of cynic: the kind who started in the business years ago with wide-eyed, youthful, Pollyanna-ish enthusiasm, and stuck around long enough to see many of his dreams become nightmares. To experience first-hand the nightmare of the approval process, the shady accounting, the backhanded deals and the seedy underworkings of this particular low-paying ghetto of the entertainment industry. Having to deal with fans screaming at you for something not your fault, having to deal with licensors screaming at you for doing something that's obvious and common-sense that you've been doing for years. Having to yell at a convention staffer for not letting you set up the booth that you paid thousands of dollars for, losing hotel reservations for your guests, and kicking you out of an event you sponsored... all of that makes you cynical. Or mature, if you like. I honestly don't know anyone who's been in the anime industry for more than a year who isn't like that. Some of us just hide it better than others. (Hint: those people work in marketing.)

You don't have to be a professional to be the exhausted kind of cynic. You could be an old-timer who's none too happy about having to buy Bubblegum Crisis for the FIFTH time. Someone who got into anime for the super-violent weird OVAs they used to make and just doesn't like the sort of shows that get simulcast these days. You could be sick of dealing with the nonsense fan drama that goes on at conventions, or social media. The bitterness at work here isn't from unfairly painting everything with a black brush, it's from getting burned again and again, and starting to get a little resentful. More importantly, it's not a predictive cynicism but a reactive one. It's "Jeez, Anime Expo is having 4-hour registration delays AGAIN?" and "Guh, most of this season's shows seem pretty derivative. Look, FIVE harem shows, and three moe slice-of-life shows." These are valid statements, even if you, personally, aren't sick of these things and the statements are bumming you out more than the things they're complaining about.

However, once in a while I do find myself wandering into lazy cynicism. Lazy cynicism is predictive, and often based on nothing. It's the sort of cynicism that, to paraphrase A.J. Liebling, is "often the shamefaced product of inexperience." You see this a lot on internet forums, where people loudly complain that Funimation will probably hack up and heavily rewrite their newest license (even though they've done that only once or twice in the entire history of their company), or that a dub will probably suck (even though that person hates ALL dubs, and no cast or studio has even been announced). Sometimes this comes out of a desire to appear edgy or world-weary, but really it's just being closed-minded and harsh. These statements are usually unfair to a lot of people that work hard. I try very hard not to get into this mindset, but when you're in a bad mood, sometimes it just happens.

But to be honest, if you're looking for everybody to be happy and excited about anime all the time no matter what, you should probably not even be on the internet, or talking to other people at all. Enthusiasm doesn't last forever. We all get tired, and I don't think it's fair to hold it against the people that are, and yet hold on to being a fan for various reasons. Lazy cynicism is kind of toxic and should be kept in check if you want to be a nice and decent person, but weary cynicism is simply a byproduct of having been around too long, and yet not really wanting to leave. Some understanding on both sides is definitely in order.

Config Space asks:

In Jormungand and Jormugand Perfect Order, there are several scenes where Japanese hard-subs are used in the Japanese release, such as when Chinatsu's boss sepaks Italian; and for the scenes showing Book Man's cell phone text messages, an opaque graphic overlay appears covering half the screen. However Funimation's release fortunately does not have these. It made me wonder if Funimation requested a special version without these signs or graphics composited in. That is, did they request the animation studio to render out a new master for them? Is not the case that usually whatever is the final render, whether for the broadcast or home video master, is whatever licensees are stuck with? In this rare case, it seems like the US and maybe other foreign licensees get the superior version with unblemished animation footage.

When anime gets its final output onto master tape in Japan, the editor usually includes a few neutral pieces of animation for the sake of the home video producers around the world. These pieces usually include neutral (or text-free) opening and ending animation, and perhaps the background behind the episode title screen. Sometimes they also include an epilogue that got covered up with a credit roll, or some screen that had Japanese subtitles originally. It all depends on how conscientious the editor and line producer are when they're finishing up the mastering process.

The Western publishers can request these materials all they want, but either they exist or they don't. Usually they're attached onto the master tape containing one of the episodes. Sometimes older shows have them on a separate tape, and those can get lost. It's up to the distributor to cut those neutral pieces into the show, and/or replace the text that's supposed to be there with English. But regardless, these text-free elements are rendered alongside the show when it gets made, and if they're not made then, they never will be. Nobody is going back and re-animating anything 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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