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Show Me Your Evil Stick

by Justin Sevakis,

As one would expect, I got a lot of questions about Viz's Sailor Moon discs this week. There are two things preventing me from answering questions about that: the first is a conflict of interest. I work on some stuff for Viz, so ANN rules (and the rules of good journalism) prevent me from commenting directly on a company that pays my bills. But I didn't work on Sailor Moon, so anything I COULD tell you would just be blind speculation. Viz answered all that they care to on this week's ANNCast, so upset fans are going to have to make due with the answers provided there, I'm afraid.

Anyway, onto the questions I actually CAN answer.

Vanessa asks:

This toy wand called the "Evil Stick" has been making the news lately. It looks like something out of Barbie/Sailor Moon/ and of course Card Captor's (being as Sakura is printed on it). But you push the button on the wand to make music play, instead sadistic laughing comes out and an image behind the tinfoil mirror lights up showing a demonic girl Slitting her wrist with bloody eyeballs. Toy is labeled FOR 3 AND UP. That image would give me nightmares, heaven help a 3 year old who got it. Answerman, can you tell me who to talk to with Clamp regarding this, or can you pass the message to Clamp?

I find this hilarious. Not just because this cheap-o, dollar store plastic trinket features a bootleg image of Card Captor Sakura on the packaging, and not just because of the unexpected cheesy B-movie horror imagery hidden within. But because I personally bought an Evil Stick at a dollar store at least SIX YEARS AGO as a joke gift, and people are just getting upset about it now.

This means that for at least six years, unsuspecting bargain hunters have been buying this stupid little trinket for their annoying little kids, the wand has lit up, that weird little picture appeared, and NOTHING HAPPENED. You think people might be a little bit oversensitive these days? I certainly do. There's so much in the world to be offended by, don't cheapen it with meaningless garbage like this.

Seriously. It's a Chinese bootleg toy. Those things are everywhere. You can't really stop them. They're ridiculous looking, and no educated consumer would ever buy one thinking it's the real deal. And honestly, if you can't find the humor in them, it's probably because your soul is dead.

As far as offensive images go, the one hidden inside the Evil Stick is pretty innocuous. A little shocking if you weren't expecting it, perhaps, but hardly the stuff that causes PTSD. And like the incredulous dollar store manager said, "it's called Evil Stick. What did you really expect?"

Nathan asks:

Why are Bandai Visual's DVD Limited Editions of the Patlabor movies so cheap on Amazon? Not that I'm complaining (two of the best anime movies ever with a ton of physical extras, all for about $40? That's one hell of a deal), but it seems kind of strange to me considering that it's a limited print run and most of the other LE stuff Bandai Visual put out is obscenely expensive nowadays. Did it sell bad or something?

Why, yes. Yes it did.

Let me give you a little more background than that. When the ill-fated Bandai Visual USA first launched, their distribution partner was Image Entertainment, a mass market distributor that had been around for years, and once made a huge percentage of the laserdiscs on the American market. Hopes were high initially. Bandai was going to launch in stores coast-to-coast with two of the most beloved and well-made anime feature films in history: Mamoru Oshii's Patlabor movies. They would sell each in a giant, beautiful chipboard box, each as a two disc set. The box would also include the full film storyboards in book form (fully translated -- I don't know that any other anime has ever gotten that treatment before or since), and a separate book of art and essays.

And now for the silly part: each movie would be a limited edition of 10,000 units, and could be yours for the low, low price of $89.99. That's right, they made 10,000 of these things.

Patlabor was never a huge seller in the American market. Central Park Media's far cheaper collections of the OAVs and TV series would struggle to break 2,000 units. The movies are very good, of course, but for most of the American market, they're a hard sell even at sane prices. But $90 for a movie? In 2006, when the country was awash in cheap anime DVDs? Forget it.

Obviously, Image was pretty unhappy to be saddled with stacks and stacks of these giant, expensive boxed sets nobody wanted. Their relationship with Bandai Visual USA was terminated shortly thereafter (BVUSA distributed later releases through Geneon), and they've been trying to get rid of these things ever since. Which is good for us, because the Patlabor movies are amazing (especially the second one). But now it's 8 years later, and it looks like they're FINALLY becoming harder to find. As of this writing I was still finding them new for as little as $23, but most stores have sold out or are down to a handful of copies.

If you want one, this is probably your last chance.

Denzel asks:

I was wondering why some English dubs that are made to air on US TV get new music. I understand well enough they change music with Japanese vocals as to not alienate their audiences but I never understood why they would change the soundtracks.

There's two reasons for that. One is technical, and one is... for lack of a better word, "artistic."

The technical reason is that when the American company gets a master tape from Japan, the video is synchronized to the audio -- both the full Japanese audio, as well as a special track made for dubbing known as the Music & Effects track, or M&E's. If they chop down the video, the audio also gets cut. Music has to be cut in a way that makes sense musically -- if you don't, it sounds like a mess. That's really limiting when you're trying to cut down a scene, so often it's much easier just to rip out all of the audio and start over.

The "artistic" reason is that anime is not scored the same way Western TV, and especially the way children's TV is scored. Anime music makes use of subtle and contrasting emotions, minimalism, myriad different musical styles, chirpy otaku-techno and silence. Children's cartoons typically use wall-to-wall faux symphonic music with very over-the-top and obvious emotional cues, in the tradition of old Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons, which are placed there in constant fear that the viewer will get bored and change the channel. Most professionals who've worked in television, especially children's television, for a long time just do NOT understand the Japanese way of scoring a scene, and all of their years of experience screams out, "OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE NO MUSIC GOING ON!!" or "What's with that weird sad music box?? This is supposed to be a creepy scene!"

I guess you could call that artistic intent. Certainly not GOOD artistic intent, but there's clearly some bent creative instinct at work there. Anyway, all that's coming from a haughty, arrogant, old-school American showbiz way of doing things that is slowly dying out. And for the record, now that anime isn't commonly hacked up for American TV very often anymore, this very seldom occurs these days.

Nick asks:

Lately, crunchyroll has been picking up a lot of "shows" that are categorized as "Manga 2.5". From what I can tell, these basically consist of the original manga with coloration and voice acting added, as well as minuscule amounts of animation (e.g. the characters' mouths move but nothing else does). I don't really know when these started being made, and who's behind their production. Since I imagine it's (at least somewhat) cheaper to produce these than to make fully animated series, though, do you think that this medium has any potential as an outlet for lesser-known manga series that aren't that likely to be picked up by the Big Animation studios? Do they have any purpose beyond functioning as a (very basic) animated adaptation?

"Manga 2.5" is a new name for something that's been around for ages: motion comics. These are basically manga scans that have been barely-animated in After Effects, and then have had music, sound effects, and voices added. This particular strain of motion comics is a joint venture between Happinet Corporation and a company called Inception Media Group, but this particular idea has been around for a couple of decades. In the 80s both Japan and the US had children's books and comics that were lazily turned into a narrated video. In the 90s, a VHS fansub group painstakingly scanned, subtitled and set to music whole chapters of manga that were missing from their anime adaptations. But thanks at least partially to new CG technology, this newest incarnation is more elaborate than what was previously attempted.

I'll be frank: this seems like one of those ideas that sounds like a great idea in a board room, but is almost entirely unappealing on a consumer level. There's no getting around that motion comics are simply low-rent replacements for anime adaptations. If you want to read a manga, it's far easier and faster to quietly flip through a book or an e-book than to sit through a long timed-out presentation of the same material. Maybe hearing voice actors adds another dimension to the experience for you. But any art panel drawn for the page is going to seem unnatural when displayed by itself on a fixed-size display.

I wish these Manga 2.5 guys luck, but I'm not predicting this particular venture is going to go anywhere.

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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