Midwinter Blahs

by Justin Sevakis,

I don't know about you, but I've had real trouble staying awake and coherent this week. I blame the combination of short days and overcast weather, which I realize is what everyone else in the country gets to call "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Which, probably intentionally, gets abbreviated as S.A.D.

However, I'm in Los Angeles, a land without seasons (kinda). It's really strange to call what I'm feeling "seasonal affective disorder" when it's 70° outside. But it's a thing.

Still, better here than pretty much anywhere else in the country.

Time to answer your questions.

Melissa asks:

To me, it feels like crowd-funding sites are being abused. The biggest example that comes to mind was when the creator of MegaMan asked the public for money to fund his new IP, but now, DMP is annoying me. DMP is a company, they've been around for years (and I do know the company is smaller when you compare them to Viz), but they keep asking the fans to fund those Osamu Tezuka titles, and now they're asking for money to reprint one of their more popular yaoi titles. To be frank, it pisses me off. Why do you think DMP is resorting to crowd-funding and asking the fans for the money, and not doing it the proper way by getting a loan or find an investor that understands risks and how business works?

Simple: because crowdfunding is easier and/or less risky. It's pretty much the same reason everyone else takes their project to Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or wherever.

I'm not sure from your question who you think crowdfunding is for. Is it for small, mostly unknown creatives to raise money for their pet projects? Is it for C-list celebrities to raise money for their terrible movie ideas? Is it for strange subcultures of nerds to raise funds and awareness to make projects that only a handful of people want? It's for all of those things. And whether or not those people have a corporate entity on paper has little to do with it. Just because you'd rather these companies go about things another way doesn't mean they're wrong for doing it.

One could argue the same thing about Kickstarter endeavors like when AnimEigo ran their campaign for Bubblegum Crisis. AnimEigo isn't exactly a huge company, but they're a well-established brand with distribution. Maybe they had the money to make that set on hand, or maybe they'd have to raise the money from somewhere, but if they really wanted to put Bubblegum Crisis out on Blu-ray, I'm sure they could've found some other way to do it. But it's an old show, making Blu-rays is really hard, and they wanted to be sure the interest was there first. Finding small-time investors for little pet projects like this is next to impossible. It's exactly the same deal with DMP and the Tezuka books and yaoi reprints.

It's almost always easier and more profitable to NOT use Kickstarter and distributing by conventional means. Kickstarter campaigns are a gigantic pain in the butt. Between Amazon Payments (Kickstarter's payment provider) and Kickstarter themselves both taking 5%, the enormous logistical challenge of buying shipping equipment and mailing everything out yourself, printing and fulfilling all of the backer rewards, IN ADDITION to the cost of actually making the stuff, it should come as no surprise that many crowdfunded projects don't make a profit -- many lose money. They also take a TON of time on the part of the organizers. That's time that they're working but not getting paid another dime. If a company has decided to go the crowdfunding route, they're choosing to do all of that, because they think it's STILL their best option.

Is this the "right" way that publishing companies are supposed to launch a project? Well, no. That's why sites like Kickstarter are considered "disruptive" -- they break the old rules of commerce. People and companies with a compelling product idea being able to sell pre-orders and sponsorships to the general public -- that's something entirely new to the media business. The very existence of these sites means that, no, a company does NOT have to go about doing things the old way. The new way will sometimes replace the old way, but it also will make possible projects that wouldn't have worked at all under the old way. That's kind of the point.

Ultimately, nobody is making you contribute to these projects. You might wonder whether the decision to put the project up for crowdfunding was a good one or not, but that's a decision that's solely up to the people running the campaign, and to the crowdfunding sites themselves. If they say it's a legitimate use of those sites, that's the final word. If you don't want to participate, that's fine. But if the project interests you, you might never get another chance to grab it.

Yen asks:

I enjoy film and film criticism a lot because there are writers and groups who are always looking to preserve and discuss not only the most visibly noteworthy stuff, but also the "lesser" works and their respective artistic merits. Will there ever be something like the Criterion Collection for anime? Every now and again I feel like writing on or discussing some older series only to find it long out of print and relatively forgotten. Is there a market for preserving and rereleasing old anime? Or is the medium and genre ultimately too niche for that to work?

I'm not sure where you've been hiding, but there's actually not a whole lot of classic shows that AREN'T in print currently. in the last few years we've gotten a TON of stuff out on DVD and Blu-ray from the likes of Discotek, Right Stuf, Sentai Filmworks (through their Maiden Japan label) that I frankly never thought I'd ever see again. Stuff like Venus Wars, Rose of Versailles, Cat's Eye, Patlabor, Black Magic M-66, Space Adventure Cobra, Wings of Honneamise, Project A-ko, Fatal Fury, Violence Jack, Samurai Pizza Cats, Dirty Pair, and a ton of others. Funimation has largely kept the more mainstream "classics" like Serial Experiments Lain, Tenchi Muyo, Cowboy Bebop, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Eureka Seven, and many others in print. Lesser titles are being reissued quite often too.

Is everything back in print that I wish was in print? No, there are always a few shows that, for whatever reason, haven't been re-released yet. But many more are coming. There's a huge and active market for older catalog titles, and every time a company buys the rights, they do everything they can to get their hands on the best quality presentation and as many extras as possible. There's nothing that a new entrant to the market, be it Criterion Collection or someone else, could possibly do to make more product accessible.

So what's the problem? We HAVE the classics. They're being preserved, with a few glaring exceptions (many of which are quietly being worked out behind closed doors and will be announced soon). Some shows are stuck in limbo, due to lack of materials or legal issues or an unreasonable licensing demand, but the existing anime companies are all very busy filling out their back catalog with every remotely salable old title they can get their hands on. And they're going to some lengths to get them.

I mean, my god, we're even getting Belladonna of Sadness! On Blu-ray, no less! Seriously, we are frickin SWIMMING in old anime re-releases. Be happy!

Jake asks:

I have noticed something strange with Sailor Moon Crystal over the last few months. The reboot was hyped up for over two years and seemed as though it was highly anticipated. Though from the looks of it after the first few episodes were released the online viewership dropped considerably as well as the DVD Blu ray sales were so-so. Yet there seems to be a ridiculous amount of official merchandise being released. Why would manufactures and bakers promote a show so hard that has so far had mediocre payoff?

Yeah, it seems that not a whole lot of people are all that into Sailor Moon Crystal. Which is a shame. Not that I blame people for not being into it -- the janky animation has been well documented at this point, the plotting doesn't really seem like it's hooking many people, and the biweekly web-only release schedule certainly isn't doing it any favors. This is Sailor Moon, and I think pretty much every industry watcher expected a major franchise relaunch like this to be much bigger and much more exciting.

You can bet this sentiment was shared by many companies. You can bet that the mountain of merch that now currently exists for the show was planned well in advance of its launch, and that factories all across Asia have been hard at work for months getting ready for something that would surely be a VERY BIG DEAL.

Alas, it was not a big deal. But they still have all this merch. And the show is still going, so there's still a chance to offload it. You can bet those companies are pushing that product hard, trying to make sure it moves. And it still might. Even though people might not really care much about the new show, people still like Sailor Moon as a concept, and there's a hope that longtime fans will buy anything cool with the Sailor Scouts on it, regardless if it's using the new designs.

Some of it will sell, some of it won't. But it's too late to turn back now, so the merchandise companies had better work really hard to sell it, or risk losing a ton of money.

James asks:

Some time ago, you stated that one of the major differences between western animation and Japanese animation is that, in western animation, all dialogue is recorded first, and then the animation is done to match the dialogue, while, in Japanese animation, the animation is done first, and the the dialogue is recorded to match the animation. However, it seems to me that the western method would allow for much greater freedom and versatility in the recording process (such as improvisation or a greater freedom to express emotions), so why does Japan not use that model of production?

Simple: it's cheaper and faster. Doing "pre-lay" recording for Western animation adds a lot of lead time to the process. First the scripts have to be finalized, then the audio recorded, then edited. Then an animation supervisor has to go through the recording and map out which frames get which mouth sound -- a tedious process at best. Only then, after all that is done, can the actual work of animation begin. If production starts slipping behind schedule, there's not a whole lot that can be done to shore things up, because the voice actors recorded all of those voices months ago, and any significant changes made to the show would involve tons of work having to be redone.

Anime workflows, which were basically codifed back in the 1960s by Osamu Tezuka, are meant for a TV schedule. Since the actual animation process takes the longest, it gets started first. The scripts are fairly fluid throughout this process, and if things are starting to sink further and further behind, banked shots of re-used animation, flashbacks, slow pans, and other time-saving stopgaps are added into the script. It's only once the show is looking more or less finalized (albeit still at pencil test stage) do the actors come in and read their lines.

I'll never understand just how the Japanese voice process can so accurately match good performances with already-done animation, but they've been doing it for decades, and they've gotten really really good at it. Matching the timing of each line reading with animation was always sort of a rough science -- often things didn't match well at all, but fans didn't really seem to mind. (American dubs always tried much harder at this.) Nowadays modern digital animation means that animators can go back and tweak little things that don't quite match up.

So that's why. It's cheap and flexible, and in the world of low budgets and last-minute deadlines that is anime production, that makes all the difference.

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.

discuss this in the forum (104 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Answerman homepage / archives