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Fangirling Out

by Justin Sevakis,

So, in the forum thread for last week's column, a pretty ridiculous conversation was had. That conversation gave birth to our first question this week.

"anonymous" asks:

There's an Ask John column which came out last year which is still causing controversy to this day. It accuses the 'fake anime fangirl' demo of allegedly overinflating the anime market and causing people to buy and sell at higher prices than they normally would, thus contributing to the crash in the mid-2000s. John exonerated that group of consumers of any wrongdoing. But what's riling people is the idea that any group would make a disposable fad worth more than it should be, in order to destroy the overall market, since that never happened with, say, crap like Pogs or Garbage Pail Kids. Anyway, those discs don't lie. There were more of those rotting on shelves and in warehouses than anything male-oriented, with Kodocha being the most blatant example. So, what's your take on the subject? Did girls bail on anime and manga when the Disney Channel stuff became trendy, and leave licensors hanging with unsold junk which caused them to lose money fast, and, in some cases, go under? Or, were there other factors at play?

This is one of the dopiest "theories" behind the Anime Crash I've ever heard, quite frankly, and I wouldn't bother giving it the time of day if it weren't part of a disturbing pattern of misogyny that's become pervasive across the nerdier parts of the internet in the last year or so. The fact that certain people just won't listen to reason (and in this case, is going to a different columnist when they didn't like the first guy's answer) is probably proof that I won't convince these people either, but I'm certainly not going to give it a pass.

The anime bubble of the early 2000s was a very, very typical entertainment market bubble. Entertainment market bubbles all follow a pretty consistent pattern: a trend starts off small, and then blows up into something huge and borderline mainstream. Flush with money, the companies behind it grow rapidly, take on all sorts of ambitious projects they aren't ready for, and project massive growth for decades to come. They start shoveling out a lot of garbage product really fast, and the fans get burned a lot. A good number of them lose interest and move onto other things. The companies are now trapped with all of these really expensive projects (they'd started spending a TON of money to race each other to market with new crap). To keep cash flow going, they release more and more product that less and less people want. And that's really not sustainable at all, and eventually it all collapses. That's what happened with video games in 1983, that's almost certainly happening right now with superhero movies, and it's absolutely what happened when the anime boom went bust back in 2006.

There were a few other factors that made that boom-and-bust cycle a little more dramatic with the Anime Crash than it might have otherwise been. The first was that the US economy tanked. That financial crisis really made almost everybody dramatically curtail their leisure spending, and buying expensive DVDs was one of the first things to go. ADV was already in trouble at that point (having sold off a huge chunk of themselves to Sojitz in 2006 to raise money), but that downturn made recovery extremely difficult.

The other major factor was the bankruptcy of Musicland Group in January 2006. Musicland (which included the stores Sam Goody, Suncoast and Media Play) was one of the biggest anime retailers around, at one point responsible for a third of all anime sold. However, Musicland was also very difficult for anime publishers to deal with. They were very late in paying for product, and would often buy huge amounts of it, only to sit on it, and return it in exchange for new releases. This meant that when Musicland filed for bankruptcy, the anime companies who were owed money pretty much got screwed. In bankruptcy, "secured" creditors -- banks, basically -- get paid first, and then the rest of the companies that are owed money -- biggest debts first. Since the anime publishers were still small potatoes next to the mainstream Hollywood distributors, none of them got a dime. [EDIT: I've been corrected that bankruptcy doesn't pay back based on how much they're owed, but the fact stands that the anime publishers got basically nothing from the settlement.] And then, Musicland liquidated that giant mountain of anime product they were sitting on, so suddenly a huge amount of anime flooded the market for very cheap, and the anime companies were getting paid for none of it.

That bankruptcy was devastating in a way that's hard to overstate. Some anime publishers made the impact worse for themselves, by sending Musicland even more product than they'd ordered, just to make their sales goals. This was happening at other retailers too, and the flood of returns and liquidated product was almost as bad as the fact that nobody was getting paid for any of it. Remember those ridiculous sales? DVDs for $1-3 each? That was everybody, all-hands-on-deck, bailing out water.

Let's talk about the female part of the market for a minute, since you're trying to throw them under the bus for "not supporting" the stuff they love. According to separate studies by both Viz AND Funimation, purchases these days are being sold to a pretty even split between male and female fans. This is a significant development, since as late as 2002, female fans were only about 35% of the anime business.

There have been plenty of shoujo hits. Revolutionary Girl Utena. Card Captor Sakura. Sailor Moon. Fruits Basket. Ouran High School Host Club. Vampire Knight. Hetalia. Petshop of Horrors. All of these have been giant sellers, some of the biggest perennial hits that their respective publishers have. There have been duds too, but nearly all of them have been romance shows without significant fantasy hooks -- and those don't do well in the US regardless of demographic: the male-oriented Maison Ikkoku, Kimagure Orange Road, Rumbling Hearts, and even Air, Kanon and Clannad didn't really set the world on fire sales-wise either. Older and ridiculously long-running shows like Wedding Peach and Kodocha likely would've disappointed had they been male-oriented, like Aura Battler Dunbine, B't X and Fist of the North Star did.

But since when do girls just buy shoujo stuff? Even in Japan, Shonen Jump and other manga magazines have made a very conscious effort to make their designs appeal to female readers too, and now some of the biggest hits are kept alive by female fans. Prince of Tennis and Kuroko's Basketball, both technically shounen, are huge hits, and that's not because guys are buying it. Back in the US, a huge percentage of Fullmetal Alchemist fans, Hunter x Hunter fans, Fairy Tail fans, K-ON fans, and yes, even hentai fans are actually female. Heck, I sold almost as many copies of Urotsukidoji to girls back in the day as I did to guys.

One stereotype about female otaku does appear to be true: many of them are far more voracious manga consumers than anime consumers. That may explain why manga like Kodocha did well in print, but not so well on DVD. But female fans are every bit as intense, passionate, and spendy as their male counterparts. The numbers bear this out over and over again, in every way. This is, quite simply, a theory that anybody in the business would find absolutely laughable.

Chantal asks:

I am quite perplexed at the treatment of both seasons of Free! and the way things have played out. Season 2, Eternal Summer, will be released under Funimation (most likely a DVD/BD Collectors Edition) while Season 1, Iwatobi Swim Club, is under Discotek via Crunchyroll. Other than Card Captor Sakura TV series=NIS America, 1st film=Discotek), I have never seen this before. Has there ever been an anime series split by different North American (or non-Japanese) licencors and is it possible for Funimation to get season 1 in the future?

This sort of thing isn't as rare as you might think. Sure, both anime publishers and licensors also prefer it for one company to handle all of a show, but there are lots of examples of seasons getting split between different US publishers. Hell Girl Season 1 went to Funimation, seasons 2 and 3 went to Sentai. The original Ah! My Goddess! OAVs were published in the US by AnimEigo, the movie and Mini Goddess spinoff series went to Geneon, the first TV season went to Media Blasters, and the second went to ADV (and was later released by Funimation). Season 1 of Super GALS! was an ADV release, but season 2 went to Right Stuf (who later rescued season 1). The list goes on.

In this case, it's easy to see what happened. Crunchyroll usually only gets streaming rights to new anime. Occasionally, they end up with all rights to a show when the licensor doesn't want to split up their licenses (usually because they just don't have the manpower to manage multiple release partners in a single territory). They got Season 1 of Free! this way. Then Funimation came along and grabbed Season 2. The two companies weren't able to work out a deal where Funimation would distribute the DVD, and so they're not getting season 1. Probably ever.

That left Crunchyroll with the DVD rights to season 1, and only a limited amount of time to get it out while the show was still hot. Not having a DVD publishing division of their own, they sublicensed it to Discotek, along with a handful of other shows they happened to have DVD rights for. Discotek will be releasing it subtitled-only on DVD, but their announcement had an interesting tease: "There may be an English dubbed version released in the future after this subtitled edition is out. No details yet on the possible dubbed version or who will release it yet."

So, that means SOMETHING is in the works. As to whether the show will get dubbed with the same cast, or the question of who will release it, and whether a Blu-ray is forthcoming, we'll just have to wait and see. It's not an ideal situation, but frankly, compared to what's happened with myriad other anime shows, this is still not exactly bad news.

Brooks asks:

Why is it that some anime fans can become overly-defensive and reactionary if you critique certain troubling aspects of anime? Like if you criticize an anime series for having a sexist portrayal of women or stereotyping LGBT characters or for having too much tasteless fanservice, a certain portion of anime fans will freak out at you for suggesting there may be troubling themes in their favorite show. Some examples might be if you try to attack No Game, No Life for the lolicon fanservice elements or the recent controversy over an infamous episode of Cross Ange. I feel there's a double standard here where it's ok to attack and argue over an anime series for having a horrible storyline or for its animation quality or having bad characters, but if you try to attack an anime for fanservice or on moral grounds, suddenly you're accused of being easily offended, PC, or a social justice warrior. Why is it acceptable to debate the literary merits of anime but it's unacceptable to talk about the morality of an anime?

First of all, let me say that if you're having a conversation with somebody about a show, you bring up an honest concern that you think colors that show in a negative way, and that person attacks you for having that concern, they are simply not worth talking to. Period. That is not a conversation of mutual respect, that is not a person that will be able to have any kind of rational debate, and that person is almost certainly not your friend. Reactions like that are not those of a mature human being and you should not put up with them.

But if you're going to have any kind of open dialogue on the internet, those sorts of people are everywhere. You most often get those angry, defensive reactions from fans whose whole sense of identity comes from being a "fan" -- by attacking the thing they love, you are attacking them. There's no actual logic behind this, of course: if the most interesting thing about you is that you're a really really big Cross Ange fan (or Batman fan, or Game of Thrones fan, or Beyoncé fan), then it might be time for some self-reflection about why you internalize these things so much. Those entertainment products do not need defending, and they don't really benefit from anyone viciously arguing in their favor.

Then there's the whole "easily offended/overly PC/social justice warrior" card, which gets played for a variety of reasons both good and bad, but often it's because such people are sick of hearing that everything is offensive. I grudgingly have to give these people a little bit of ground here. The ever-present internet sanctimony squad is pretty great at ferreting out grotesque behavior and speech by famous people, and hateful attitudes that really need to be left to the past. But that same mob is often pretty vicious themselves, and is so easily riled and offended that they've made the open exchange of ideas and expression much harder. I think as a society we're in an awkward in-between phase, where we're trying to figure out the right balance between free speech and being a conscientious, good person.

I honestly think the most angry, defensive people online are usually the people who are unhappiest in general. I mean, think about it: who, in society, willingly will spend their time getting angry at people they don't know for their harmless opinions? Writing hate-screeds? All that anger and vitriol has to come from somewhere. People who spend that much time keyed up over other people's opinions about anime are often probably going through some rough times themselves. Which is another reason why it's not really worth engaging with people like that: this isn't REALLY what they're angry about anyway. They're looking for a fight, much like a schoolyard bully who's being neglected at home. Abusive people tend to be harboring a lot of darkness inside themselves. Most will calm down if you just respond to them with kindness. But not all.

You think this is bad? In Korea, feuding boy band fan groups used to get into knife fights. At least this is just the internet, and unless things get really bad you can just close the browser window and be done with it.

Jude asks:

In the past, you have hinted that several of my favourite Manga dubs, such as Patlabor and Patlabor 2, are not easily used when authoring on Blu-ray. Can you please explain what the technical limitations are for synching up the dub with the video? Is it completely impossible or just really complicated, therefore expensive, to accomplish?

I, too, miss the old Manga Video dubs of a few shows that have gotten re-releases lately. Not just the Patlabor movies, but also the Space Adventure Cobra movie, Black Magic M-66, and several others.

There are sometimes technical reasons why we're not getting those dubs. Many were done in the late 90s for theatrical release in the UK, which meant they were dubbed with the film running at 25 frames per second, instead of the intended 24. (This was standard in Europe at the time). If you slow down those dubs, they don't sound very good -- the analog nature of the equipment used in that era makes for some very odd sounding distortion if you try to process them digitally. I know this to be the case with Patlabor 2 and their dub of Space Adventure Cobra. And a new release of those movies is certainly not going to speed UP the film to match the old dub. So, you're left with a dub that will never sync to the new master tapes.

But while that's A reason that we're not getting those dubs, the main reason is that most of Manga Entertainment's old contracts were written such that Manga owned the rights to those dubs. And since Manga Entertainment is not only still in business, but owned by a pretty big corporation (Starz), a new release can't just go ahead and reuse those dubs. The licensor would literally have to buy back the rights to use that dub in a new license. Many licensors simply aren't going to do that for an old, technically aged dub, or maybe some have tried and can't get a deal done.

Also, in the case of dialogue and music changes, which are plentiful in those Manga Video dubs, most were done without the supervision of the licensor, which was something of a rarity back then. Today, such a thing would never fly. So if there are any substantial music changes to an old dub, it's probable we may never get to see that dub again.

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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