Thawing Out

by Justin Sevakis,

I was just in Hartford, Connecticut. It was very very cold. But then I took the train 2 hours South, to New York city, and things -- finally -- were thawing out. After an extremely rough winter, people were out and about and seemed overjoyed. I can't blame them. Frankly, I don't know how they even lived through that winter.

Anyway, I will now resume being in Los Angeles, where it is warm and the air is filthy. Life is good. Plus, we put avocado in everything, which I don't mind at all.

Jake asks:

I have been hearing a lot about Funimation's simul-dub plans, in that they are giving this treatment to almost everything they have licensed, and it has me a bit concerned. On the one side it makes sense to dub something that is mainstream or has a lot of buzz behind it. I understand that it make the series more marketable to potential customers like Netflix and Hulu as well as getting the product to the fans faster. But I have come to realize that choosing to dub or not dub a series could potentially be the difference between making a modest profit or being tens of thousands of dollars in the red. Maybe I am cautious or old fashioned but unless they have some data on the success of a series, it feels like they are throwing money down the drain. Also if you're not watching a series as it comes out week to week, isn't it pointless?

It's true, Funimation is taking a risk here. The risk isn't in the speed of the dubbing they're doing -- the fact that they own their own studio, have their own in-house staff engineers and directors, and can basically just cast a bunch of voice actors for all of the different shows they're dubbing at once, and can rotate them through the studios like they're playing musical chairs, means that their actual costs for dubbing this show will likely be about the same as if they'd done it on a normal schedule.

No, the risk is in that they are now dubbing everything they can, before they know if the shows are good or a hit. This is significant, because their batting average -- while decent -- is certainly nowhere near 100%. There are many, many shows that Funimation has picked up streaming rights for over the years that have simply not been big enough hits to bother with a home video release. They are now dubbing those shows, and presumably, licensing all-rights up front in anticipation of a video release, whether they actually follow through with that or not.

But wait a minute. Funimation is a decent-sized company, and arguably the most successful anime publisher in North America. Are you actually worried about them? Don't be. They have a lot of data that nobody else does. They've crunched the numbers, and decided that the upside to doing things this way is greater than what they stand to lose if it doesn't work out. If they strike out enough times, they'll probably slow down. But you and I are not running this company. Monday Morning Quarterbacking their finances is not only pointless -- we simply don't know enough -- but a waste of time.

I'm sure they'll be fine. Trust them to run their own company. You don't really have a choice in the matter.

Brett asks:

So back in August of 2013, a lot of Sunrise's licences were rescued, including Cowboy Bebop, Big O, Outlaw Star and Escaflowne. Since then, we've had a huge blowout for the release of Cowboy Bebop by Funimation, and not much else (from any of the shows that I'm actively looking for, anyway). Bebop aside, the only official presence any of the other shows have on the licensor's websites is the original press release that they were rescued. Why sit on these licences for so long? How much work really needs to go into cleaning up sound and picture for these shows that are more or less already "finished"? I figured I'd be waiting months, even a year or two, but after so long with absolutely no sign of the return of many of these shows, I'm wondering if I should stop holding my breath. Is there really any guarantee that these shows will be coming back at all?

License rescues have two things going against them: they can take a long time to sort out, and there's really nothing pressing about getting them out the door. Because the show's already old, there's no real push to get a product out the door fast, like their is with brand new shows, because any excitement and awareness from their original release has long since faded. This means that everybody takes their time. The other big issue is that many of those license rescues now include internet rights. And that can mean a nightmare behind the scenes.

Since the internet usually wasn't a thing when those shows were made, the licensor and the original production company has to go through everybody's contract -- including every producer, director, writer, most voice actors, and music publishers, and make sure everything is fine and there's a royalty structure in place for the usage of online rights. That can take a long time, since contract addendums sometimes need to be signed. Sometimes those people who worked in the business a decade ago or more can be very hard to track down.

Once all that is taken care of, there needs to be some way of getting approvals from whatever's left of the production committee, which was probably disbanded many years ago. The companies on those committees are often not the same companies they were back in the day: many have had management changes and employee shuffles. Often, new lines of communication need to be established, and everyone on the production committee needs to freshly decide who gets to sign off on what. More often than not, everything is just left to the discretion of the sales agent (i.e., the show is old, nobody cares anymore), but whether or not that's the case needs to be discussed with everyone.

Finally, the licensor has to send the publisher the materials. But only when they're good and ready. And who knows how long that will take. And all that has to happen before work on the title can even start. Cowboy Bebop was clearly given priority by everyone. Hopefully the others won't take as long. But I'm not holding my breath.

Jacob asks:

I was wondering how would I go about getting a paint job or decals for my car of characters from Trinity Seven(Lilith specifically) without running into a copyright issue. If this is possible I would love any advice on how I can get this accomplished and if it's not possible, then I'll give up the idea.

While it's great that you want to get permission to put decals on your car, you are probably never going to be able to get it. Production of decals and a custom paint job would probably be considered merchandise, since it's not something the publisher is doing to market the show. So that means that someone (the only American company involved with the show at this point is Crunchyroll) would have to get authorization from the Japanese licensor, manga publisher, author, and possibly other people to get you permission to use selected artwork to decorate your car, with no money involved for anybody. Frankly, nobody has time for that. I doubt you'd even get a serious email reply from most companies.

Honestly? I'm not going to tell you to just go ahead and do it without permission, but if you do, you're almost certainly not going to get in any trouble whatsoever. You're unlikely to even get a warning. How would anybody in charge of that anime ever find out? And even if they did, what damages could they claim? It's not like you're selling the damn thing. (Note: DO NOT SELL THE DAMN THING.) Creatively decorating your car in anime art is more like having traced art on your bedroom wall than it is any actual damaging copyright infringement. I doubt anybody will care.

(Note: I am not a lawyer and the above should not be considered legal advice.)

Kimiko asks:

Over here in Europe and in North America, comic strips have been published (at least in bound form) in color for a long time. In recent decades even daily comic strips in newspapers have been in color. So how come Japanese manga are rarely in color, even when republished in tankobon format? With the popularity of manga surely someone can afford color printing?

Manga is a black-and-white medium. It started in black and white because, for decades, it's all been serialized in weekly or monthly magazines: giant phone book-sized tomes on cheap newsprint that contain the latest chapters of everything currently running. Those magazines are the primary driving factor behind the publication of manga, and those magazines are printed extremely cheaply. There are a few color pages here and there, but the materials are SO cheap, most of the paper they use couldn't even hold a detailed color image very well.

Cheap offset color printing is a relatively new thing, and it's really only cheap because many companies send it to China. Sending books to be printed in China can be very cost effective, but it takes weeks -- sometimes months -- to get your order back. Weekly magazines don't have that luxury. Domestic color printing in Japan (and the US) can be somewhat reasonably priced, but not reasonably priced enough to print millions of copies of phone book-sized tomes of manga every week with razor thin deadlines. Going back and colorizing artwork for reprinting would be a huge chore, and with all the screentone and shading used in manga, would probably not look very good. Likewise, making the artwork in color and then making it black and white for magazine printing would be basically unreadable.

Manga has always been in black and white, for the most part. And that doesn't really bother anybody. It's not just the costs that keep the color out of manga, but tradition as well. Even now that a lot of manga is digital, much of it is still in black and white, from start to finish.

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.

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