Business Reasons

by Justin Sevakis,

My parents are visiting me in Los Angeles this week, so I'm spending some quality time with them (which involves eating and watching stuff, possibly anime, which is pretty much how I spend my quality time with anyone I like). But I suppose I should take a break from that and answer some questions for y'all...

Cordelia asks:

With Sailor Moon finally being released unedited, do you think it is possible that other magical girl shows like Tokyo Mew Mew, Magical DoReMi (Ojamajo Doremi), and Pretty Cure will be released next?

No. Sailor Moon (and to a lesser extent, Cardcaptor Sakura) are anomalies: kids' properties that did so-so on American TV, but ended up making a far bigger impact with hardcore anime fans, and then went out of print until they became somewhat mythic in their unattainability. The pent-up demand for those shows was palpable, and their re-release was a big event for fans.

That would not happen with any other magical girl shows, because no other shows have so captured the hearts of current and budding anime fans the way those two did. Tokyo Mew Mew and Magical DoReMi both at least aired on US television (partially), but they weren't successful, and also came out in an era where syndicated afternoon kids' cartoons in general were on the decline. Pretty Cure didn't even get that. None of them became underground hits in the otaku scene, and there aren't many people loudly wishing they could spend gobs of cash on fancy boxed sets of them. Magical girl shows are, in general, a bit of a hard sell to Western audiences (particularly the ones actually aimed at kids, as opposed to otaku), and since those are all fairly big hits in Japan, it stands to reason that license fees would be very expensive, and predicted sales would be very low.

That said, Toei Animation controls all of those shows, and they are among the more shrewd and inventive when it comes to selling their shows to an international market. While they're likely still aiming for a more mainstream audience for those shows, you can bet they haven't given up on trying to do SOMETHING with them in the US. I wouldn't be surprised to someday see a release attempt someday, probably from an unlikely place.

Matthew asks:

Over the past few years, many licensors in Europe and Australia have obtained the rights to an anime with the english dub from a North American studio. While I know this is considered sub-licensing, I am curious as to how money is being spent/made in this regard. For instance, does the sub licensor only go through the North American distributor for the rights or would they have to go through Japan as well? When DVDs and BDs are sold, do any royalties go to either NA or JP? Is it harder or easier to recoup the licensing costs? Things like this make me wonder if every country or region has a hard time in the anime business.

There are definitely times where a company (say, Funimation) owns the rights to a show for "all English speaking territories" or somesuch, and then a company from an area they don't sell discs in (say, the UK) comes along and sub-licenses the show from them, dub and all. Such a transaction gets to be signed off on by the Japanese licensor usually, but that absolutely happens, and when it does, the main licensee gets to charge for materials, and and may insist that they share in the cost of producing subtitles or a dub.

But what happens just as often, if not moreso, is that both parties are working directly with the licensor, and anything that anybody makes for a show belongs to the licensor. That licensor can then take the subtitle or dub track, and give it to the other publisher, without having to ask permission. This happens all the time: Crunchyroll subtitles get returned to the licensor, who then gives it to a DVD publisher, and that DVD publisher can decide to use them, alter them, or redo them from scratch. Or, a US company produces a dub, returns the final English audio to the licensor, and the licensor gives it to the UK publisher.

Since everybody ends up getting to use the same materials anyway, this has led to some amount of cooperation between international publishers. It's not uncommon for a UK publisher to call up the US publisher and say, "hey, you just made a Blu-ray of this title... Could you just change the logo and the region code, and spit out some new replication files for us to use in the UK?" And the US publisher will say "Sure! Pay us money, since we're doing all the work for you." Sometimes there'll be an agreement, sometimes not.

It used to be, years ago, that contracts were written so that the English dub and subtitles were a derivative work with their own copyrights, belonging to the publisher that created them. However, this created a legal mess when those rights expired and there was a perfectly good dub just sitting there that could no longer be used without permission, so since about 2001 or so, any translation, marketing material, or box art made for a show automatically becomes property of the licensor.

Jake asks:

Over the last decade I have noticed a steady increase in the amount of rebooted anime series. These series have been meet with mostly positive reviews and are highly anticipated. On the one hand I am happy that a lot of these classic series like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Hunter X Hunter, Berserk, Sailormoon among many others are introducing a new generation of anime fans to the material with less filler, better fight scenes/choreography and art direction than the originals in most cases. Or they expand upon or make an alternative timeline of the source material like Trigun Badlands Rumble or the Evangelion movies. But I can't help but think there is more to this than what we see. When Hollywood resorts to nostalgia pandering it's often meet with eye rolling and hatred even if the project breaks even or turns a profit. I get a feeling that in some ways these studios or broadcasters would rather go with a safe bet than take a gamble on something new. Do you think this is all pure coincidence or is this going to be a continuing trend? If so do you think there will be a Hollywood level screw-ups like Space Pirate Captain Harlock movie?

Oh, it's definitely not a coincidence, and it's not a trend either. Reboots just make good business sense, for anime studios and Hollywood studios alike. Reboots of previously successful properties tend to be as much of a surefire hit as an entertainment empire can hope for. People already know about the property, so you don't have to spend a bunch of time and energy raising awareness and marketing it from nothing. If it's a franchise very near and dear to the hearts of its fans, they'll get really excited about your reboot and start talking about it, building word-of-mouth, which is the best kind of advertising there is, and costs nothing. Even better, people already know what they're signing up for when they start anticipating a show, so as long as you don't go too far astray from the original, people's expectations will be met and they'll be satisfied.

Critics and fans who put more importance on critical thought than stimulus response will, of course, disapprove. There are plenty of times that the original really can't be improved upon, and a new coat of paint to them will seem like a cynical cash grab, and from the perspective of "film/anime should be art, provoke thought, or give the viewer a fresh experience," that's definitely a valid reaction. However, I think anime fans tend to be more forgiving of that sort of thing, because so much of it is very similar, and so much of it is obviously there to sell merchandise to begin with. If that sort of crass commercialism really bothered us, we've picked the wrong hobby.

The truth is, remakes can be a good or a bad thing. I think the whole moviegoing public rolled their eyes at the latest reboot of Spiderman because the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies are not that old, and the origin story has JUST been told (and most superhero movies are pretty similar anyway). A ton of people saw the remake anyway, and it made money, but nobody seems all that excited for more. (And to wit, the latest Spiderman movie was a disappointment at the box office, causing Sony to delay future installments.) But on the other hand, the new Jojo's Bizarre Adventure series are pretty great by all accounts, and I'd be hardpressed to find anyone that actually prefers the uneven 90s OAV stories to the new reboot. I think it's best to keep an open mind until the show comes out. Not all remakes are cynical wastes of time, but some definitely are.

Melissa asks:

Every time I order a new anime series and it comes in the mail, I watch it asap, skip nothing the first time around, and force myself to watch the dvd discs that come in the combo pack. The reason behind it, to make sure all the discs are error free. Am I wasting my time by doing this? What are the chances of getting a disc that has any sort of error on it?

Chances are very, very good that you are wasting your time. Discs get proofed at many, many stages during production. For the most part, anime companies are very good at catching video glitches, audio issues and other errors that can crop up during production -- and if there's one they miss, ALL of the discs are like that. If you're vigilant on forums and Twitter and the like, you'll probably hear about it, and if it's bad enough, the company will likely reprint the disc and offer a trade-in program.

I hear people asking all the time if all of the discs look like theirs, or if there's is special. Theirs is never special. Discs are delivered to the replication plant as a fully structured, encoded, and complete file, and either it got etched on the disc perfectly or it didn't. Differences in video and audio quality, subtitles, or even menu programming simply cannot occur this far down the production line. That said, there is a remote possibility (even more remote with Blu-ray, given all the error checking that goes into them) that a stray dust particle might have flown into the stamper as it was stamping your disc. Or some bad chemicals were used to produce your disc and the layers within it are becoming un-laminated. This will manifest in the player as a very obvious error: a glitch in the video, a pause in the audio, and/or perhaps a part where the player gets "stuck" and can be heard audibly chugging away on the disc while displaying no video.

These things are exceedingly rare, and are the only things that are worth returning to the retailer, even if you did manage to find something wrong. And you don't need to sit there and watch the entire disc against your will to check for them. You can just as easily just pop the disc in your computer, explore the contents of the disc, find the VIDEO_TS folder (or BDMV folder on a Blu-ray), and copy the entire thing to your hard drive. The disc will be encrypted, so the resulting folder won't be useful for anything (you can trash it immediately), but if the file copy goes fine, your disc has no read errors.

For the record, I would never, ever do this. That's a level of OCD about one's media collection that even I can't condone.

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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