by Justin Sevakis,
I am writing this earlier in the week. I am writing it on a plane to Seattle, wherein I will see my family. However, I must write this pretending it is later in the week, Christmas is over, and I'm on my way home. So, in a way, I am skipping over the good part of my week in order to answer your questions. Because that's how much I love you.*
(* no actual sacrifice expressed or implied. Eligibility for "love" will vary by individual. When "love" is not available, the writer of this column may substitute "grudging tolerance" at his sole discretion.)
What are the chances that Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku will be released on Blu-Ray in North Ameica? They're old and long but so is Ranma 1/2 and a BD of that got released, but I suppose it has '90s fandom cachet the others don't despite not being as good.
From what I hear, pretty darn low. Since all long Rumiko Takahashi series are represented by Sho-Pro, the media division of her publisher Shogakukan, and Sho-Pro is basically Viz, that means that only Viz can really do anything with them. That doesn't automatically shut the door on other companies, but others have attempted to get something going with those series and have failed.
Viz got burned pretty badly on Maison Ikkoku back in the VHS/early DVD era, and Urusei Yatsura was never a huge seller for AnimEigo. Given that Rumiko Takahashi is one of the most famous and richest manga artists in Japan, she is likely to be extremely hands-on and have very high standards in terms of design and packaging, so anybody trying to do a US release is probably in for a rough time getting things approved. Given the age and relative lack of popularity in both series, I would be very shocked if anybody could ever make a deal for bringing them out in the US again that would make financial sense.
Since you are a tech maven, doing lots of production stuff [or a secret luddite, who has a collection of 8-tracks for music, and a Beta HiFi vid machine] my question is this… What do you recommend in terms of TV, these days? I have an old CRT system that wasn't even good when I bought it 10 years ago, but it has started its death wheeze, and I am likely buying in the next 6 months. I have heard that the newer and fancier flatscreens with “TruMotion Rate somenumber” are great for some things, and not for others, and the new 4k systems look very nice, even upscale, but how does that relate to anime? I tend to watch mostly anime, a bit o' mythbusters, and occasionally sports, but not much else, so you can imagine that anime is a worry. It'd kinda suck if I finally spring for that big window sized screen, and it makes all my anime look unwatchable. I get that the old stuff will look old, and maybe worse, but I'd prefer the newer stuff to look acceptable. Just for the heck of it, what do you use to watch anime?
If you can spring it, I say go for the 4K displays. While 4K content is pretty much vaporware at this point (and likely won't make much visible difference for 95% of films and TV shows), the quality of the displays in those sets is pretty mind-blowing. Don't go for the ludicrously expensive curved displays -- they have terrible viewing angles. Stick with major, well-known brands: Sharp, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Vizio. I recommend visiting a home theater enthusiast website and reading some reviews, given your budget and the screen size you want, to find the model best suited for you. Now is also a good time to act -- the after-Christmas sales on TVs can be pretty amazing.
Don't be too swayed by the TVs being "smart" or 3D capable. Internet-ready TVs nearly universally have a slow, kludgy interface, poor security and seldom get updated. You're far better off just buying a Roku stick, or an Apple TV or another dedicated streaming device rather than suffer though the built-in options. Besides, that way you can get access to more apps, such as Crunchyroll. And as for 3D, I think our society has reached consensus that nobody wants to wear 3D glasses in their own home.
As for the frame rate interpolation (which every TV manufacturer brands differently -- TruMotion being one of the names given to it), that is something that drives me into an insane murderous rage whenever I'm at a friend's house. I don't know how anybody can deal with the look of that -- it turns the most high-end, expensive, beautiful films into a something that looks like a cheap soap opera. I'm told that it comes in handy when watching certain sports and playing certain video games, but I am not fun enough to know about that first-hand. The good news is, you can always turn it off.
As for me, I am the proud owner of an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030 LCD projector. It's native 1080p, reasonably bright and absolutely amazing -- very nearly the quality of a proper theater. Given that, between the projector and a 120" pull-down screen it only set me back around $1200, I can't recommend this option enough. That is, if you have the space and don't mind having to buy blackout curtains. It does make it harder to casually watch stuff, but for a true immersive viewing experience nothing else even comes close to the power of a giant image filling up your wall.
And I actually do have both a VHS deck and LD player hooked up to it. And no, it is not pretty to see a VHS tape projected at 8 1/2 feet wide.
One thing I always found strange looking back at the anime boom was the lack of anime on Nickelodeon. At the time Nickelodeon was the second largest children to young adult network after Cartoon Network, which was in full swing with Toonami and later Adult Swim programming block. Also almost every network that catered to a younger demographic at least dabbled at one point with anime except Nickelodeon. Instead they decided to make a few anime influenced series like Kappa Mikey, Speed Racer, and Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as a number of unsuccessful pilots like Constant Payne. (I have heard rumors that they attempted to get Sgt. Frog, but ADV collapsed before a deal was struck.) In the last few years they have licensed a few series like Dragon Ball Kai, GT, and Digimon. But why did Nickelodeon have such an anti anime stance for so long?
Nickelodeon isn't the only youth-oriented channel that pretty much avoided showing anime back during the bubble: Disney Channel avoided it too. Neither network had much of a business interest in getting anime, really. The better question is why Cartoon Network DID show anime when none of their competitors went for it.
For any major international television network it makes far more financial and logistical sense to make your own content rather than license it out. Sure, it costs quite a bit more money up front to make your own show, but think of the upside: not only do you get merchandising revenue, but you also get revenues from DVD sales and selling to TV networks in other areas. You don't have limits on the number of times you can rerun a show. You don't have to submit anything for approval -- ever. You don't have to go back and renegotiate to show it in another territory. And the license never expires. That all adds up to way, way, way more than the cost to make the show.
Also, think about all of the money a major network spends to market a new show. A network launch might cost well into the millions in advertising and PR expenses. It makes sense to spend that on a show you own -- no matter where the viewer watches it or buys it, you get a cut -- but if you only own TV rights for a limited time? You're basically paying to market someone else's product. It's like leasing a car and paying to upgrade it.
So why DID Cartoon Network show anime when it clearly doesn't make financial sense in the long term? That company is very clearly run by animation enthusiasts, and I think it's very clear that the staff, themselves, were fans, and thought that getting firmly into the anime space would create a unique and memorable block of shows that would create a devoted fanbase -- and they were right. I also think the relatively low cost of licensing already-produced content made it so that the venture wasn't particularly financially risky.
Today, of course, even Cartoon Network is using their daytime and evening blocks for more original and parent-company owned animation. They're intermixing them with big-money mainstream licensed shows (which might include shows like Pokémon) that reliably bring in tons of viewers, and using that to build up their own brands. Those efforts are where they put the bulk of their money, the "good" timeslots, and their marketing efforts, because that really IS what makes more financial sense. Anime is still a thing, but it's late at night, in spots that would otherwise just be infomercials. In the age of the DVR it's not a huge impediment to getting viewers, and it's a far better place to put cheap-to-acquire-but-low-potential-moneymaking content like anime.
With Cowboy Bebop just around the corner with its North American Blu-Ray release, it got me thinking. Will we ever see the proposed live-action film that's been in development for years? We know already that Keanu Reeves probably won't be in it, but is there a good chance that the film will even happen at all? How much involvement do creators like Shinchiro Watanabe have with these kinds of projects? How do live action film adaptions of anime/manga even happen in the first place?
I would be genuinely shocked if the Cowboy Bebop movie ever went into production. The film now has been put into turnaround (i.e. had its production plans cancelled) several times, and the project has now been languishing for so long that the option to adapt it into a feature film could very well be near expiring. Producing a watchable adaptation of an action/sci-fi show like this would be very expensive -- probably north of $150 Million, and all of the Hollywood studios get very nervous when it comes to spending that kind of money on something that isn't a known entity, like a superhero movie. At this point any major excitement on the part of studio executives has long since died out. Film projects seldom come back from the dead at this stage of the game. But never say never.
When anime and manga get adapted for remakes, it's a very, very different process than licensing the show itself for distribution. The process starts at the movie studio, where a junior level producer plows through an ungodly amount of obscure anime, manga, foreign movies and TV shows, trying to find something with a concept that can be adapted into something Hollywood knows how to sell. The top picks move up to the executives, and finally the favorites get put into action. Nearly all anime and manga are represented by an agent (or the company has a US office that does that sort of thing), and there's a meeting. Sometimes this process works in reverse, and the agent goes in to pitch one of their properties as a possible movie. (Everything is very passive-aggressive and fluid at this point, because nobody wants to be the jerk that said no to something that later becomes a huge hit. A common brush-off might sound like, "interesting. Do you have a script we can read?")
This time the Americans call the shots: the original creator and publisher more or less give up any control over their property when a major studio buys the rights. Hollywood isn't looking to maintain fidelity to the original work, or even necessarily keep the same audience. They're looking for inspiration, a seed from which to start from scratch and build something completely new that will appeal to moviegoers that they already know exist. That lack of control is a dealbreaker for many manga artists. Nobody wants their baby to be the next Dragonball: Evolution.
Anyway, once a deal is agreed upon, the movie studio pays the original content owner a set amount for the "option" to make a movie from it. That option lasts for a set amount of time, and has a provision for renewal. Those option fees can be quite lucrative, and there are a lot of writers and comic artists that make a living just off of those. Producers amass huge piles of options, and only a small handful will ever be put into production. If they decide to exercise that option, the creator gets paid again, and often the producer automatically gets more time to make additional sequels and spin-offs.
There are a TON of anime and manga that have gotten optioned that nobody knows about. The vast majority will never get made into movies, but at least the creators got a nice payday out of the deal.
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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