No Crying Over Spilled Ink
by Justin Sevakis,
Summer is over. Back to work. Back to school. Back to your questions. Let's see what you've all got for me this week...
Since it's premier I have noticed a very vocal group on my social media that hates the animation of Sailor Moon Crystal. Personally I don't think it's 5 stars either but it got me thinking about animation mistakes. How often do animation studios go back and touch up their work? Mike Toole listed a few older examples and even modern shows like Madoka Magica had design changes from broadcast to home video. With everything being made digitally has the margin for error become smaller or at the very least easier to go back and fix before being put on a disc?
Animation re-dos happen all the time. Nearly every single anime released today gets at least SOME tiny fix made to it before going to home video, and that includes movies as well as TV shows. Many times even the hardcore fans won't notice -- the modifications can be as minor as fixing the lip flap to match the recorded dialogue, or tweaking a single shot that bothered the animation director for a given episode. But production company reps tell me that virtually every series, and even most movies, get some tweaks before heading to DVD and Blu-ray.
Just how much of a tweak, however, is an open question. The additional labor to fix a show that's already aired is an unnecessary usage of time and therefore money. The decision of how far to go in fixing problematic shots depends quite a bit on how well the series is expected to sell (and, of course, how bad the problems are perceived to be by the staff). If a show bombs and nobody's interested in buying the DVDs anyway, the production staff isn't going to try very hard to fix things. However if there's a devoted fanbase, especially a big one, the producers will want to pull out every stop to make sure that fans buying the expensive DVDs feel like they get their money's worth. Ultimately, the decisions on what to fix are made on a show-by-show basis.
You probably have heard about the recent crackdown on distributing anime and manga overseas. While I can understand going after people who illegally make a profit off other's hard work, it seems they are now going after even the free fansubbers who share anime because they really love it. My question is, instead of spending the time and effort to throw people in jail and take down servers, would it not be better to simply license fansubs? I mean, I live in Canada and there is absolutely nothing legally released here aside from Pokémon and Bleach and a few other shows geared towards kids. Like the majority of otaku, I'm more than happy to buy anything I legally can. I have two walls of my bedroom filled with legal (non-bootleg) anime DVDs, most series of which I unfortunately had to initially download from torrent sites, months or even years before they were available here for purchase in any way. But the series coming out now won't generally be on DVD for overseas purchase for a long time. Licensing fansubbers to distribute their series for a small fee would be a win-win-win situation for the people who make anime, the overseas consumers, and the fansubbers who wouldn't need to pay hosting fees out of their own pocket. How is it that this model has not been tried yet??
You had me going up until you said you lived in Canada. In terms of anime licenses, Canada is the same territory as the US in nearly every case. You might not have access to Hulu or as much goodies on Netflix, but you absolutely have every anime DVD and Blu-ray ever released in the United States legally available for you to purchase, be it from a store, Amazon.ca, HMV.ca, or an American retailer like Right Stuf. Technically they might qualify as "imported" but they are completely authorized for sale in Canada. Stop with the fansubs and just buy your collection already.
But to answer your question about why Japanese producers don't just "license" fansubs, there are several reasons. First, as Crunchyroll, Funimation and Viz have been proving for some time now, professionally made subtitles can be produced faster than fansubs, and there's no messy "licensing" involved. The producer simply owns the scripts outright. While the resulting subtitles aren't necessarily better (a good number of the staff working on streaming subtitles now were fansubbers not long ago), they at least adhere to pre-determined style guides, and get to be approved by the licensor before anybody sees them.
But there's a bigger reason why most licensors would never work with an active fansubber: trust. Any business relationship is one of trust, and there is simply no reason for them to trust an individual or group that has taken one of their shows, slapped their own name on it, subtitled and distributed it without permission. To the producers of anime, fansubbers are shady characters who are making life harder for them; there's simply no reason to involve them or give them respect. There have been a few exceptions: when Crunchyroll first went "legit," a handful of obscure shows from Pierrot and Pony Canyon were allowed to remain sourced from fansubs with the permission of the licensor. However, these were largely shows that were otherwise unsalable in North America.
It should be said that, while the legalities of this are murky, there was actually never anything stopping an anime company of any kind from simply taking fansub scripts and using them without the permission of the fansubbers. While the fansubbers might have attempted to launch a legal complaint, the very fact that they were claiming the rights to a translation of a film they had no legal claim to would likely get any lawsuit tossed right out of court. But that might have resulted in some bad PR, so nobody ever did that to my knowledge.
This question was far more relevant a couple of years ago, when fansubs were far more prevalent. With the advent of legal streaming, the fansub scene for current shows has mostly vanished, and a majority of the scene now is comprised of subtitles ripped (and sometimes, tinkered with) from the legal sites, matched up with raw video, and re-uploaded under a fansubber's "brand." These rips are barely fansubs in that no fans have actually worked on translations, and while they're ostensibly there for fans in countries where the legal stream isn't available (and, of course, the fans who still insist on downloading copies instead of streaming legally for whatever reason), the entire thing -- show, subtitles and all -- were in fact jacked from the legal owners without permission. There's simply very few fan translations left to buy.
In film, the camera is one of the most basic yet powerful tools of expression in a filmmaker's arsenal. As you are a film scholar, I'm sure you already know the power of a well-composed shot. My question is this: Anime relies a lot on static shots, largely for budgetary reasons (moving backgrounds, characters on a rotating dolly shot, etc. are hard to animate as perspective changes). There's not a lot of tracking/dolly/crane/steadicam shots in anime. Knowing how much the movement of the shot (or lack thereof) influences how the audience views a scene emotionally, how do you think has anime's reliance on static shots influenced its cinematic language? Do you think they've explored techniques in the static shot enough so that they don't have to rely so much on tracking shots to communicate the same emotions? I'm aware that there are numerous other things that affect the shot composition, but I wanted to ask about static shots specifically.
Moving the camera is actually something that didn't pop up much in motion picture history until relatively late. Early silent film cameras were bulky and heavy, and moving them was just too difficult. (You may have seen footage of a giant merry-go-round built for doing chase scenes in the silent era. The merry-go-round was for the actors and set, while the camera stayed on the ground.) This started to become less of a problem towards the end of the silent era, but then when talkies came the additional burden of the sound equipment and having to stay absolutely silent during shooting put a damper on adventurous camera technique. It took a long time for cinema to recover from the stiffness introduced by microphones. While cameras might have been able to shift around in place on a tripod, actually moving the camera, and the devices with which that could be done smoothly like dollies or jibs (mini-cranes for cameras) were things that had to be invented after that point, starting in the late 1930s. Hand-holding the camera was often too shaky until the Steadicam was invented, and that didn't become commonplace until the late 1980s.
Animation had similar limitations in that you could always move the camera, but doing so was a lot more trouble than it was usually worth. The low-budget nature of anime also meant that new inventions that made such things easier were slow in coming to Japan. Multi-plane animation techniques pioneered by Disney in the 30s and 40s (which you see as different layers of backgrounds panning across the screen at different speeds) didn't get used much in anime until the 1970s. And Japan pretty much skipped the early computer-aided drafting era of animation in the late 80s, not integrating computers into their workflows until early 2000s. So, for a very, very, very long time -- until the last decade, really -- anime creators were pretty much stuck with only the camera techniques they could draw by hand.
Luckily, this worked quite well when combined with Japanese filmmaking, which leans heavily on the Yasujiro Ozu school of long, still shots, with cuts to close-ups for dramatic effect, and cuts to random little asides (a piece of litter, a glass of water -- Ozu called these "pillow shots") as a rhythmic pause, as if the life of a scene is taking a breath. The technical limitations of anime and that style of filmmaking work very well together, which is probably why the art form is so heavily influenced by it, whereas Japanese live action filmmaking has long since moved on.
I think the economy with which the camera moves in anime tends to inherently give those shots more importance. A moving point of view shot happens so seldom, and the craft in which things move is so labored and clearly difficult, that it can't help but make an impression. It's similar to how body language is portrayed in anime: every twitch of a finger, every eye movement was a deliberate choice by the animators, and is important; it's never because an actor had a fly land on them or has an itch. That extra motion doesn't happen very often, so when it does, we take notice, and try to observe why it's happening. It adds meaning to a scene.
There are still moving camera shots that take my breath away: hand drawn ones like the subway shoot-out in Kite, or the opening shot in The Heroic Legend of Arslan. There are moving camera shots that make me chuckle because they couldn't quite pull it off, like an early scene in Black Magic M-66 where the camera chases two people running through the woods, and the perspective of all of the passing trees gets completely screwed up. Even Paprika, which was an all-digital work, made innovative use of changing perspective in several shots, to breathtaking effect.
Lately, I think some of the best, most pioneering work in terms of changing-perspective animation can be found in some of the insanely intricate swimming scenes in the current season of Free! That show is visually mind-blowing, even if all of the exposed flesh in that show does nothing for you.
I'm curious about the framerates used for anime. I take it all anime made on film and pretty much everything from the HD era is animated at 24 fps (or more like fractions of that number, given how much anime can vary from ultra-fluid animation to choppiness to still images scene-to-scene), but I remember you mentioning once that some pre-HD digipaint shows were done at 30fps. What shows were these (from what I've looked up, the only solid titles I can find are parts of Gundam SEED and the CG opening for Stand Alone Complex)? And why the choice to use 30fps rather than the usual 24fps? How much does such framerate differences even matter in anime when so much of it is limited animation that doesn't use all the frames?
Virtually all anime is made at 24 fps, it's true. There are only a few early digipaint shows animated at 30 fps. Off the top of my head, the opening to Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040; the hideously awful Tekken and Panzer Dragoon OAVs, Fruits Basket, and Spring & Chaos are either completely 30 FPS, or have 30 FPS sequences. Some newer shows, even HD ones, have video effects added in 30 fps, but the actual animation itself is done in 24 nearly across the board. The opening to the first season of Wagnaria!! is also in 30 FPS, but that's clearly done for effect: the greater frame rate allowed for freakishly fast and smooth animation.
The frame rate of 30 FPS for the actual 2D animation was often done for technical reasons in those early digipaint days. NTSC video was 30 frames per second, and back then it was technically challenging to make digital animation at 24 fps, and then apply "pulldown" to make it work in 30: it was far easier to just print the existing frames directly to tape as-is. No doubt the animators, used to working in 24, found it difficult to keep straight how fast they were making things move, and this caused all sorts of problems with timing.
Worse was when 24 fps animation had to get combined with CG, which was often done at 30 FPS. Different elements would move at different speeds across the frame. Some animation would have to be interlaced, some wouldn't be. The whole thing was a gigantic mess, and the resulting video is very difficult to work with today without blurring frames together. I'm very happy to say that by now the anime industry has pretty much completely abandoned working in 30 fps.
And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
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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