Shouting Into The (Icy) Wind
by Justin Sevakis,
I can't keep track of anything this week. It's insane. Between the Sony Pictures hack (which is just such a spectacular plane crash of an incident that I can barely wrap my head around it), the giant pile of work that ALL JUST HAPPENS to be due the week before Christmas, other craziness in the news and various social obligations this time of year, I am simply a mess.
Let's get to some questions before I drift off into some sort of catatonic state.
Nearly every living man, woman and child this week asked me:
I'm a really really big fan of _______. The world's biggest fan! Are they going to make more? Will there be a second season?? PLEASE ANSWER ME BEFORE I START SELF CANNIBALIZING
(DEEP GUTTERAL SIGH)
Every Answerman before me has gotten these questions ad nauseum, and I am no different. The shows change, but the question stays the same. I still occasionally get a Rosario + Vampire inquiry. This week I got it for Akame ga Kill, High School of the Dead, Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, and there's also this one guy who won't stop emailing me about Sugar Sugar Rune.
The answer is always, always the same: I don't know. I never know. The answer is probably "no." But there could be something going on behind the scenes. Regardless, shows under development are a closely guarded secret, because they could all fall apart. I don't know anything you don't until the announcement goes out. When that happens, it goes on the front page of ANN, and gets a news article. It'll get added to ANN's Encyclopedia, it'll get added to Wikipedia, and people will be talking about it. So I won't bother to answer you, since the question is easily answered by just Googling the show title.
Sorry. Just how things work. I will never be able to answer questions like this.
Not many years ago the Japanese studios seemed petrified of internet streaming. I remember the One Piece simulcast debacle with the debut episode leaking early and it resulting in the simulcast itself being put on hold. Now only a few years later nearly every anime in Japan is simulcast. What convinced the Japanese studios to do a complete 180 on the idea so fast?
Say it with me slowly: MONNNEEEEY.
Once the ball started rolling on streaming, the money didn't come right away, but once it did, it started growing from a small trickle to a pretty intense amount of money, and it grew fast. Licensors who didn't necessarily see it as the future suddenly saw how much money they were turning down, and decided they wanted them some of that sweet, sweet cash.
There have been other considerations as well. The amount of competition for streaming rights has meant licensors can start asking for bigger and bigger up-front license fees. The amount of buzz overseas and the immediacy of viewer numbers can really help licensors ascertain how well home video sales could do in foreign markets. Licensing for streaming has its risks, but everybody is fairly well used to them now, and there are few new ugly surprises. Once unfamiliar companies like Crunchyroll are now very common sights at licensing events, and so there's very little reluctance to do business with them.
Like most businesses, the anime licensing business has its share of groupthink. Once more and more companies started doing online streaming, other companies simply followed the herd. Now, as you know, there are very few holdouts.
In this day and age of receiving Crunchyroll/Hulu/Funimation simulcasts of more anime per season than many of us can stomach, what is there left to stop a TV anime from not being streamed overseas? It seems strange that even today, some seemingly predictable and easy or interesting hits are passed over in the simulcast licenses, with a recent example being Amagi Brilliant Park. (It greatly surprises me that a KyoAni show from the creator of Full Metal Panic can go ignored in today's market.) Is there still some trepidation on the part of Japanese companies about doing international streams, for instance? It'll be a shame if an Ikuhara project, this time Yuri Kuma Arashi, gets ignored in this sense once more when the Winter 2015 anime season arrives.
While it's unlikely that we will ever be privy to why certain shows don't get simulcast, we can generally assume that when a show gets left behind, the reasons why fall into one of the following categories:
1. The licensor wants to sell ALL rights at once, not just streaming rights. Having different partners for different ways of releasing a show in a single territory can get very difficult to manage, and many licensing offices are overwhelmed as it is. Some licensors would far rather just wait for someone to come in and buy the whole show, rather than just break off streaming rights while the rest of the rights just sit there.
2. The contract has hit an impasse. Maybe all parties wanted to get a deal done, deal terms have been agreed to with a certain US distributor... but then there is some contractual thing that needs clearing, or some sticking point in negotiations. Depending on how busy everyone is (remember, in a production committee, everyone has to sign off on everything!) the smallest of contractual nit-picks can take months or years to clear. By that time, the window for simulcasting has long passed.
3. The licensor doesn't like the offers it has. Maybe it thinks its show is worth more than its getting, or maybe it's just pissed off at the usual takers. They decide to take their toys and go home.
4. The contract is signed, but some issue, be it music rights, an issue with the contract of one of the voice actors, or some other small detail is making it impossible for the licensor to deliver the final show to overseas markets, until the dispute is resolved.
5. The producer doesn't like internet streaming.
6. The producer doesn't like foreigners.
7. Some unholy combination of the above.
You see what people put up with to bring you your anime every week?
Why do many authoring houses have so much trouble with interlaced materials and Blu-ray? Releases not handled correctly end up with ghosting from messed up inverse telecines or nasty artifacting ala Penguindrum. For a time these became very annoying issues on quite a few anime releases but the industry with one exception appears to have gotten it under control. These issues have recently appeared on a few non-anime releases though from boutique and mainstream studios too.
Interlaced material is much harder to compress well. When video is compressed, a piece of software (the encoder) analyzes the video, and tries to find the best way to break down and throw away as much data as possible, while still retaining enough data to describe the picture. That stripped down format is the "encoded" video file. Then, when the video gets played back, the player uses the data to reconstruct the full image as close to perfect as it can. That's how video compression works, in general. Decades of research have been poured into different mathematical techniques and algorithms to make the resulting files as small as possible, while making the reconstructed picture look as close to the original as possible. Each collection of methods is standardized into a Compressor/Decompressor standard, better known as a "Codec."
Nearly all anime Blu-rays these days use a codec h.264 (AVC), which is a part of the MPEG-4 collection of video standards. Blu-ray supports three different video codecs (audio has separate ones), and h.264 is the most advanced of those. The methods it uses for compression are myriad, and the format is very complicated. You can think of h.264 as a utility kit containing a huge assortment of tools to compress the video down. Blu-ray supports most of those tools, but not all of them, and puts limits on some of the others. (For example, early Blu-ray players actually used laptop CPUs to decompress the video, and to use all of the cores, the image has to be broken up into 4 "slices", each compressed separately. That's part of the standard and still required today, even though decompressing Blu-ray video is now something most smartphones can do.)
Some of those tools work with both interlaced and progressive video. But some of the biggest guns in the h.264 arsenal really only work well on progressive video. Worse, many developers of the different h.264 compression software didn't concentrate so much on the tools that work on interlaced video. "Interlaced video is on the way out," they thought. "Why should I put all this work into refining something that'll be obsolete soon anyway?" They didn't count on Japan still pumping out interlaced anime years later.
The end result is, many encoders just don't do a great job on interlaced video. That's why it's so important to turn anime back into 24p as often as possible.
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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