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Japanese School Kids In Cars Getting Coffee

by Justin Sevakis,

I am ludicrously busy this week, so let's get right to it.

Geoffrey asks:

There are some older series (especially Toei series) that can't be properly shown in HD because the original materials (usually the audio) were lost or junked. Why is that? Why would they get rid of the original masters? For Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball, and Dragon Ball Z, the audio master tapes are long gone, and all Japanese reruns and home video releases have horribly muffled sound. Yet other shows, like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball GT have their original audio fully intact and sounding clear on most releases. There are also many older shows that couldn't be dubbed because the music and effects tracks were no longer around. Is there anything that determines which shows have their materials thrown out?

There was seldom a rhyme or reason behind what got lost. A good amount of it was just plain negligence. When a lot of anime was being made in the 70s and 80s, it was thought of in Japan as ephemeral entertainment, and carefully archiving and cataloging the film materials just wasn't a top priority. As the industry has always been a tightly-budgeted understaffed panic, such rainy-day archival projects were put off and put off. Film labs went out of business. Companies got bought out. When an anime is produced by 5 or more companies as part of a production committee, it's sometimes impossible to tell who has what.

When a licensor tells an American publisher that the materials to an older show have been lost, it's impossible to tell how hard they actually tried to find anything. Nicer materials have mysteriously materialized merely months after the US publisher gave up and made due with a sub-par master. But given the haphazard way in which old materials are stored and indexed (or not), pretty much anything is possible. I've heard tales of old masters and film cans literally just stacked up in the corner of a dusty conference room, completely disorganized.

A number of older shows, specifically ones from Toei Animation, do have really terrible, muffled audio. I never did figure out why that is, but it's easy to guess: the Japanese entertainment business is rife with guys who cling onto older, outdated technology, and the recording studio Toei used probably had one of these guys in charge of mixing. Some of these old shows have had their audio remastered, but many haven't -- and probably won't for the foreseeable future. Maybe the master tapes are lost or unusable. Maybe they'll magically resurface one day, or some amazing new audio filtering software will be able to restore the tracks we have now. But for now we're stuck with what we've got.

Audio materials for older shows (pre-1988 or so) can be especially hard to pin down. The final mixed audio, the same tracks you find on all currently existing copies, are the only things left that can reliably be synchronized with video. Unmixed audio, including separated music and effects tracks, were all created and stored on reel-to-reel tapes. These usually have no timecode, and over time, have streched, warped, or had the oxide fall off. Many Japanese production companies simply stored materials like this in a closet or a basement somewhere, where they were subject to years of humid Japanese summers. If you can even get a good digital capture of the contents of these tapes, they now have so many problems that trying to do anything useful with them is a futile effort. Many of them have been thrown out.

Julian asks:

How independent are kids in Japan? I doubt it's s much as in say Kanon where six year olds wander the streets of cities alone. Let alone Bleach where Orihime a fifteenth year old lives by her self with no supervision, or Clannad where Kotomie lives on her own as young as five or six. Is it just wish fulfillment for teens that watch anime or do they get more independence from adults?

As far as cultural stereotypes go, this one is actually pretty accurate: Japanese kids are actually far more independent than American kids. There are a number of reasons for this, the biggest one is that most Japanese neighborhoods are, quite simply, very walkable. Unlike the United States, you can get pretty much everywhere with just a train pass and your own two feet (or, if you prefer, a bike). It's also very safe: parents don't worry so much, because (reported) violent crime, especially on kids, is exceedingly rare.

Schools place a lot of emphasis on after-school activities. Kids walk to school with friends, and as competition heats up to get into good schools, eventually those kids might find themselves commuting by train or bus every day across quite a distance. They'll then stay at school for club activities and/or go to a cram school, and not end up at home until dinner time, or later. That sort of lifestyle breeds a lot of independence. Parents aren't so caught up in where their kids are at all times, and so they're free to wander around, shop, and hang out.

But that's nothing. A high school friend of mine actually spent his freshman year of high school living alone in a studio apartment. That blew my (and everyone else's) minds back then, and it still blows my mind now. I would never have been able to hack living alone at fifteen. (Heck, I barely managed it at 22.) But these things are not uncommon in Japan. How these kids are mature enough to not constantly blare loud music, party, and otherwise destroy these places is beyond me, but the system seems to work for them. And those studio apartments are tiny enough that you really can't do much there besides sleep and study.

Rudy asks:

I was reading this article on JapanToday about companies investing in overseas markets and foreign companies because of falling domestic demand from of an aging population, which got me thinking. How would this affect the Anime Industry in the long run? Do you think they'd similarly expand to cater more toward foreign marketplaces rather than the traditional domestic one? Or will they wither and die through sheer unwillingness to come to terms with the fact that the current status quo is unsustainable in the long run? Another reason I'm asking this is because we're starting to see the opposite in terms of American film now catering more and more toward international markets like China because of shrinking domestic box office revenue.

Anime production companies ABSOLUTELY have the international market in mind when they decide what to make, and how to structure their finances. While their marketplace is still beholden to the local otaku clientele and their tastes, how each show is going to be marketed and received overseas is a conversation that takes place before every show is greenlit. Whether any real plan comes out of that conversation is another story, of course, but at minimum, overseas sales are on the radar for each and every anime that gets made.

Ever since the bubble burst in the North American anime market back in 2007, Japanese companies have been trying to figure out the best way to tap into the huge overseas fan base for their content. While every producer and every company is different, the overarching philosophy has been, "don't think about foreign or domestic when it comes to the audience, just do what we were going to do, because that's why fans like it." Attempts to deviate from that, such as making more Western-flavored shows like IGPX and the like, have mostly failed. (Space Dandy might have been an exception, although we have no idea how much money that show will make in the end.)

So, most efforts towards courting overseas fans, and American fans in particular, have been on the marketing side of things. You can see how important this market is by just how many Japanese companies have attempted major expansions into working here directly, starting with Bandai back in the day, and now with Aniplex, Pony Canyon, the consortium of companies that now run Daisuki.com, and a whole lot else that's less noticeable. The Japanese government's Cool Japan initiative, through a program called J-LOP, subsidizes expenses related to marketing anime and other Japanese content overseas -- and those expenses can include everything from subtitling and dubbing, to hiring marketing consultants.

Not all of these initiatives will bear fruit, of course. But the fact remains, there's a lot of them, and SOME of them will inevitably be successful. The fact that so many companies are trying, and dedicating resources and manpower, to overseas expansion proves just how important it is to them.

Terry asks:

What's the deal with Crackle? They have such an eclectic set of shows, with stuff like Nodame Cantabile and Valkyria Chronicles that have never been licensed in North America (and Nodame has a great dub too), to stuff like Initial D and School Rumble dubbed from Funimation.They even have shows from Aniplex of America, NIS America, Bandai, Sony (of course)… The list goes on and on (even though their actual catalog is small). What I want to know is how did they get their hands on this wide range of shows from so many sources?

Crackle.com is a website that's owned and operated entirely by Sony Pictures Television. It was launched back in 2007 after Sony bought a nascent streaming website called Grouper and rebranded it to be their own professional online video portal. The site is mostly used for streaming Sony's huge back catalog of old American TV shows (Seinfeld, Damages, Rescue Me and The Shield being the most notable), and has recently found its footing in producing new original content, with the hit Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Sony Pictures has always had its foot in the door with anime, and since they control the Animax brand of channels and programming in several countries around the world, they also have the worldwide broadcast and streaming rights to a handful of shows, such as the ones you've noticed. In 2012, in an effort to launch the Animax brand in North America, they added an Animax section to the website, and filled out their catalog with content licensed from Funimation and others. But older anime doesn't do great numbers online, and with the brand fading pretty much everywhere, the "Animax" brand was taken down at the end of 2013. But they still had the rights to all those shows, so those stuck around.

Crackle.com now has apps everywhere and recently struck a deal with NBCUniversal for a ton of new, non-Sony content. While the site has not always been a great destination, it seems that they're finally starting to go places. But for now, at least, it doesn't appear that anime will be a big part of that.

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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