On Activism (and other stuff)

by Justin Sevakis,

Wow, I can't believe the country is already getting clobbered by snow. I mean, it's barely halfway through November. This really doesn't bode well for the rest of the winter, does it?

I mean, I'm here in the arid desserts of Southern California, so I would actually love to have some of that precipitation. Just, not in crystalline form, please.

Matthew asks:

I've noticed a pattern in dubbed anime releases from companies like Sentai or Funimation where the odd episodes have English subtitles for anime theme songs and the even episodes have romanized Japanese subtitles. Why don't they just use both at the same time? I've noticed Funimation has done this in some of their past releases, with their release of "Linebarrels of Iron" being one example. There were also times when the theme songs were only translated to English like in "Trinity Blood." Are they just being lazy with their choices or is there some reasoning behind it? I've seen Fansubs translating the theme songs into English, romanized Japanese, and Japanese kanji at the same time, so I doubt it's a difficult process.

Alternating translated and romaji subtitles for opening and ending themes is a practice that's been going on since the VHS era. Including romaji doesn't happen all the time: it's a feature that often goes unnoticed, so it's seldom a priority. When a subtitle editor or project manager has decided that they want to include romaji subtitles, but want to keep the screen as un-cluttered as possible, they might opt to alternate which get played on each episode. Since those songs get subtitled on literally every episode, nobody's really missing anything. Most people can only comfortably read one set of subtitles at a time anyway, and having both on the screen can be visually confusing. Bandai Entertainment subtitled many of their discs in this manner.

Screen real estate is much more bountiful now that everything's in HD, and you can add a lot more subtitles onto a screen without having to worry about clutter. But since you're getting all of the episodes of a season at once when you buy discs, there's not a great reason that you really need to have both the translation and the romaji on EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. Some pros choose to do it that way, some choose to separate them into alternate episodes. Most companies are usually fairly consistent in how they choose to approach this -- your examples from Funimation are separated by a few years, so their practices likely changed in the mean time.

invalidname asks:

What can you tell us about the "Animax" TV channel? I've subscribed to their YouTube feed for a while, jealously watching their 30-second spots for some of my favorite anime, airing nightly. Then this weekend, my 12-year-old son found an Animax-branded commercial for Unbeatable Banzuke, the Ninja Warrior progenitor he used to watch on the G4 channel before its demise. So what is Animax exactly, who gets to watch it, and how much do they pay?

Animax is Sony Pictures Television's worldwide brand for anime programming. In Asia and parts of Europe this takes the form of a TV channel. Animax Asia is in English, and broadcasts to India, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and elsewhere in South Asia. They're best known elsewhere for occasionally dubbing shows into English themselves (albeit very cheaply, with cast and crew somewhere in Asia). Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all get their own versions of the channel in the local languages. Animax Japan occasionally co-produces anime themselves (shows like Whistle! and Book of Bantorra), while Animax Korea has to show a lot of Korean-produced programming, no doubt due to longstanding cultural tensions between Korea and Japan. Similarly, Germany Animax broadcasts in German as a linear channel to cable and satellite operators in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

In recent years Sony has pulled back substantially on the brand. Animax Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland) closed earlier this year. An attempted launch in Africa fizzled and was yanked from its satellite service in 2010. A Latin American version was replaced with a non-anime channel in 2011. The brand exists as a block of programming on sister networks like AXN in several other countries, but those too have been dwindling. A recent effort in the UK launched Animax as a Crunchyroll-like subscription streaming website, offering simulcasts as well as dubs, available through web browsers and apps for Playstation consoles (but no mobile devices yet). What's on the channel varies wildly by country, but big hits like Naruto Shippuden and Blue Exorcist are on most of them. Some incarnations mix anime with live action sci-fi and young adult shows.

There has long been talk of bringing the Animax brand to the US in some form, at one point going so far as to announce a network launch in cooperation with Comcast. But not one of these have yet materialized. I have a feeling each new executive at Sony is quickly stymied by how much vicious competition for anime rights there is in the North American market. With companies like Crunchyroll, Funimation and Sentai around, virtually every new show is snapped up before the first episode even airs, and so there's really not a whole lot of room for them in the market. The company launched a few of the shows they own (like Nodame Cantabile and Humanoid Monster Bem) as well as shows licensed from Funimation and Aniplex on Sony's streaming service Crackle under the Animax banner, but as of last year, they dropped the branding entirely.

So Animax is many things, and was many more. But it's sure not something you can get in the US.

Juliana asks:

I placed a pre-order for a dub release. It's release date is in December, but I've already received it in the mail. Is this something I should report? If so, how would I go about doing that, and is there a way to do so anonymously?

No, don't report it, nobody really cares. Retailers breaking street dates is something that has always happened in the physical media business. While occasionally a major Hollywood studio or game distributor will make a big deal about enforcing the street date of a major release, smaller publishers such as those in the anime business don't really have any control over what retailers do. If the retailers have the product in stock, they just start selling.

Any smaller publisher has to expect retailers to ignore their street dates a lot of the time, and they use those dates internally as the deadline to get the retailer the product. If a few units get out early it's not a huge deal. It might annoy some publishers, while others are just happy to have sold the discs at all. But in either case, there's really nothing they can do about it other than stop working with that retailer... and that would be an idiotic move, as it'd only hurt their own business. (Most retailers are big enough that they would hardly even notice the lack of new discs.)

Why would you report this, anyway? You paid for it legally, and you got your disc early. Be happy.

Mandy asks:

There are a couple voice actors that I really, REALLY don't like. As in, they've been caught saying horrible things about minority groups and being creepy towards teenage girls, and I don't want a dime of my money going to them. One of these voice actors, he has been cast for a role in a really niche show that I really liked, and that I would like to see more of. See, I make it a point to buy the DVDs of shows I really enjoy, to show my support for that show and to hopefully do my part in encouraging the studio to bring more of the same over here to America. But if I buy the DVDs for this show, I won't only be supporting the show itself, but I will be supporting this voice actor I do not like. Is it more important to support the niche shows and get more of them translated, or is it more important to make sure my dollars don't go towards this particular voice actor?

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this is about Vic Mignogna getting cast in Funimation's upcoming dub of Free! Eternal Summer. I'm making that assumption because recently a Change.Org petition has been signed by a couple thousand people trying to get him recast in the show for similar reasons, namely vague and nonspecific allegations of homophobic remarks he's made. I'm not going to link to the petition here because, frankly, I think it's idiotic.

To answer your question, whether or not you buy the show has absolutely zero effect on the voice actor in question. Voice actors get paid one time for the hours they spend in the recording booth. Their casting was a decision driven by the producers of the dub, and signed off on by the licensor. The decision is usually because they think the actor fit the part really well, and occasionally things like fan popularity and the actor's ability to participate in marketing events at conventions play a part, but by the time the disc is ready for you to buy, the decision is made, the actor has gotten paid, and it's irreversible. The dub voice actor does not get royalties, but the show's producers and directors and writers do. And the American distributor REALLY needs to recoup what they paid for the show, otherwise they'll consider it a failure and never license anything like it again. They will never connect one individual purchase that never happened to your personal dislike of one particular voice actor. That will literally never come up. After all, an episode of anime is the product of the work of HUNDREDS of people, not just one guy that spent a few hours in a recording booth. Basing your entire purchasing decision on your third-hand perceptions of a single person is pretty unfair.

I understand and respect that you're upset by people in a position of influence who might say things that come off as less than tolerant, or otherwise behave in an untoward manner. And in fact, this seems to largely be how more progressive-minded people on the internet tend to react these days: someone says something gross? I'm going to "vote with my wallet" and not support people who I don't approve of. The people behind the petition are going several steps further, and are literally trying to damage his career.

I'm deeply troubled by reactions like this. Sure, we all want to support the things that make us happy, and give our hard-earned money to the people that deserve it. We want the corporations and projects and people we support to be good citizens of both the world and the community. But a good amount of "activism" these days, particularly on the internet, isn't about supporting the good guys. It's about finding the bad guys and vilifying them, destroying their careers/personal lives/reputations/legal standing until there's nothing left.

Why are you so "angry" at this actor? All he did was say something you didn't like. He has a perfect right to say his opinion. You do not know him, you may have never even met him, and I can say with near certainty that you do not have much insight into the guy, or any of these actors that you "really, REALLY don't like." They might be great, generous, wonderful, lovely people aside from this one issue. And yet, despite not knowing him or having any real contact with him, you have decided to dedicate yourself to hating him. Enough that you're trying to keep your money away from him, even at the cost of not supporting a genre and release that really needs your support. And these other guys are actively trying to prevent him from earning a paycheck. All because you disagree with him about something.

What does that do, exactly? What is the effect you're trying to enact? Are you trying to end his career? What good does that do anyone?

God help me if I ever write anything here that people decide pisses them off en masse. Once you say something wrong, no matter how harmless, it seems like people can find virtually any justification to attack you. And they do it with passion, and viciousness. That's a new thing. People didn't used to try and enact "revenge" like this at the drop of a hat, against a total stranger. It's terrifying, and it's sickening. There is no justification for actually harming someone because of their words or their opinions, no matter how toxic. The very existence of threats like this makes virtually everyone DRASTICALLY self-censor. It has a chilling effect on open discourse and free speech. The slightest false move, whether you recognize it or not, can be taken out of context. I might agree with your "side" in this particular case -- yes, homophobic comments suck. But fixating and trying to do harm to someone because you've heard some stories and you disagree with something they said is simply not okay.

And what would happen, should that campaign succeed, and said voice actor gets drummed out of the industry? They sure as hell aren't going to have a magical moment and say, "you know, I was wrong. I learned something today." Nobody does that after being attacked. They get angry. They dig in their heels. Suddenly, they're victims, and standing up to the bullies is their "cause." They might not actually attack you back, or start a feud, but it'd be a chip on their shoulder that follows them around for years. Things don't get better, they get worse.

Do you really want to do something about racism and sexism and homophobia? There are so, so many positive ways to contribute. There are many actual, real battles for rights and equality left to be fought, ones that actually matter, rather than what one insignificant person says in passing at a convention somewhere. Frankly, all you need to do is speak calmly and rationally. Much of the world has come around on issues such as these with remarkable speed, and it's because people told their stories. They had honest conversations, shared their frustrations, and asked questions. I've seen it myself. I came out of the closet a little over 2 years ago, and in sharing my thoughts and point of view, some people I knew that were once horribly homophobic have more than come around. One of them actually has since become one of my best friends. It's been incredibly enriching.

Convention guests who are creepy towards their fans need to be reported to the convention. Voice actors who are rude pains-in-the-ass eventually burn their bridges in the industry, making it harder for them to get more work. But that's their business, not yours. You don't know why they act the way that they do, and you can't know if the stories you've heard have been puffed up or elaborated. There are undoubtedly whole dimensions to these people you have not considered. It is not your responsibility to play moral police, and you don't have the information needed to be fair about it anyway. So rather than waste your time and energy "really, REALLY disliking" people, how about you find some people you really, really like, and find a way to support them more? I guarantee you that you'll do much more good, and be a happier person in the end.

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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