Answerman Shame And Atonement
by Justin Sevakis,
It's been another busy week, so let's get right down to it...
Some months ago, Shigeaki Miyazaki, better known as "Aska" of the duo Chage and Aska, was arrested for illegally possessing and using stimulants. I recall reading an ANN news bit that mentioned that fact that as a result of this, the movie "On Your Mark," which is animated by Studio Ghibli and is essentially a music video for one of the duo's songs, would no longer be featured on compilations of Ghibli's short films. I'm honestly not sure if they ever carried out this threat, but it makes me think: is illegal drug use, in general, bound to be more of a career-killing event in Japan (at least if one is caught)? Is there a cultural difference at work?
Absolutely. In the West, we see drug use as being almost part and parcel with being a rock star. In Japan and many other Asian countries, not so much. If you're famous, it's expected that you will be a role model. Idols, actors, and other talent have it in their contracts that they must not get caught doing something unsavory, or their contract will go up in flames.
Which isn't to say that actors and singers don't still get into trouble. Talented actors and singers are often volatile personalities, have to work insane hours, and are surrounded by creepy showbiz types around the clock. There's often someone around with the right connections to offer them a short-term escape from their troubles. Usually it's crystal meth. Thanks to the yazuka and Japan's rigorous professional demands, Japan does have a small but real meth problem (to the point where they've completely banned the over-the-counter ingredient pseudoephedrine). And so it goes. When they get caught, depending on how famous they are, there's a press conference, wherein they are expected to cry and apologize and bow deeply to everybody they let down. This is almost always a career ender, although there may be a few cases where people have come back after that. But it takes years.
CDs get pulled off of shelves (for a while). Management and record labels drop the performer. It's happened over and over again, from Noriko Sakai, to Taishi of Psycho Le Cemu, to Shigeaki "Aska" Miyazaki of Chage and Aska. Aska pled guilty and got his sentence suspended for 4 years. Chage and Aska CDs are back on store shelves, although the duo is not currently active. Unfortunately the "atonement" period happened to coincide with the release of the Hayao Miyazaki boxed set, which was to have a nice, new HD remaster of the glorious Miyazaki-animated music video for the song "On Your Mark." They had to delay the boxed set to remove it. Ghibli's Toshio Suzuki has since announced plans to retroactively send out Blu-ray copies to everyone who bought the box.
Sometimes, it feels like every day, there is a new announcement about plans to adapt a Western book or comic into a film or a TV series. A lot of times, when I see these kinds of announcements, my first thought is "man, this would have worked so well as an anime!" Why are there so few recent examples of anime adaptations of Western books, other than Studio Ghibli films and Deltora Quest? It's not like anime studios don't have experience with Western literature, from the various World Masterpiece Theater series to things like Starship Troopers. Is it that American publishers aren't selling, Do Japanese companies think there isn't any interest in adaptations of Western novels/comics, so they're not even asking? Or is it simply that there are so many manga and Japanese novels to pick from already that there's simply no desire to put any effort into looking for other sources?
It's a combination of lack of supply, lack of demand. Japanese producers automatically shy away from adapting foreign material if they can help it, simply because of the language and cultural barrier. They expect that an author who's powerful enough to sell their book internationally would be able to throw their weight around, and the idea of having to deal with approvals and other such things through a translator and across oceans is a little too much for many producers to want to take on. Nevermind that Western authors are quite used to the Hollywood system, by which they're expected to pretty much sign over the rights, cash the check, and go away. Japanese producers aren't used to working like that.
But that leads to the other problem: Western authors really don't have a strong incentive to sell the rights to their books to anime producers. Those producers can pay only a small fraction of what they'd get for it in Hollywood. Worse, anime is now a pretty international thing, so if an anime adaptation gets green-lit, that could really torpedo their chances of getting their book optioned by a big Hollywood studio. A whole industry of book agents specifically exist to try and get authors' new work sold to movie producers, often before the first draft is even complete. It's the big payday that everybody is chasing. Anime adaptations do not fit into this equation.
The World Masterpiece Theater series are based on very old, public domain children's books. Starship Troopers and Lensman did have to be licensed, but neither one ended up very good, and rumor has it the original creators were unhappy with them. It's far easier for anime producers to look domestically for their next projects. Lord knows, they have enough to choose from.
Do the chances of expanded region availability for streaming older catalog titles in this current anime bubble seem to have some likelihood in the future? Or is my lifespan too short before I'll ever be able to see Chuu2koi S1, Psycho-Pass, Hitman Reborn, etc. legally on CR from where I live?
The shows you mention are, I guess, old enough to be considered "catalog," but they are new enough that they were originally simulcast back when they came out. This means that the contracts governing their streaming on places like Crunchyroll have all been signed, the subtitle scripts have been returned to the licensor, royalties have been paid, and now the show is on the back burner, its contract only dug out on the rare occasion something comes up. Since the rights to those shows are sold and more or less locked up, nobody is really thinking about those shows. And I'm pretty sure Crunchyroll has their hands full trying to license more new content, rather than going back and filling in more territories for older shows. It'd be a lot of work, and far fewer people would watch them.
I don't know where you live (your email offers no hint), but hopefully you live in one of the handful of countries with nascent streaming services starting to serve them, like the UK, Australia and a handful of others. Some of those shows would make for nice, cheap filler content, the sort of thing that a new service can buy up to cost effectively build out their selection. That's pretty much your only hope at this point.
Far older catalog content, such as stuff that came out in the 90s and early 2000s, actually has a better chance of making its way onto streaming services internationally. Those shows are now being license-rescued by new publishers, and those new licenses often come with streaming rights for the new publisher -- and they might just have your country. Some shows have music or talent involved that simply can't be cleared for online streaming, and so there will always be shows that will never see an online release. But many will eventually find their way there.
The shows you mentioned, however, are pretty dark horses. Sorry to say, but for now, you're definitely out of luck.
Back in the day, after that infamous episode of Pokémon gave viewers seizures, many anime would start with an on-screen warning to watch with the lights on and at a safe distance from the TV. A bunch of my late-90's / early-2000's DVDs have their own distinct warnings, including His and Her Circumstances and Kaleido Star. But I haven't seen one of these in years. Are they still a thing on Japanese TV, and they're just not on home releases anymore, or have they fallen by the wayside? And were these ever required by law, or just a voluntary response to the Pokémon crisis?
Funny you bring that up... I hadn't even noticed that the little "please watch this anime in a well-lit room and sit far away from the TV" warning isn't coming up anymore, but now that I think about it, I can't remember the last show I saw that had it. I guess we all got pretty good at ignoring it. The warning was pretty much voluntary, added by TV broadcasters after the Pokémon incident, which I'll get to in a minute.
The incident in question, which became known in the Japanese press as "Pokémon Shock," made international news back before anybody outside of Japan knew what Pokémon was. Near the end of episode 38 of the original Pokémon series ("Electric Soldier Porygon"), Pikachu stops some "vaccine missiles" inside of a computer with his Thunderbolt attack. The big explosion that followed was animated with a red and blue strobe effect.
The combination of Pokémon being a new, hot kids' property, and the visual of kids in hospitals whipped the Japanese press into a lather. Schools rounded up their kids, asked them "who saw Pokémon last night, and if so, are you feeling sick? If so, you can go home." The show's producers were interrogated by police, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare held an emergency meeting, Nintendo's stock price dove 5%, and the show was yanked off the air for four months. Video stores also yanked everything Pokémon off shelves for a time.
Which isn't to say that TV Tokyo and the show producers overreacted. The episode did send 685 kids to the hospital, although only a small number ended up diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. Regardless, the anime industry met with doctors and other experts and ended up with a few new guidelines: First, flashing images that were red could only flash a maximum of 3 times per second, and only for two seconds total. (Non-red images could go up to 5 times per second. The Pokémon Shock effect was 12 Hz for six seconds.) The industry also steered clear of filling the screen with things like concentric circles, stripes and whirls. The warning screen you noted also began cropping up at this time. Pokémon's return to TV was preceded by a documentary special to calm down nervous parents, and also to show that kids really missed the series.
All of these precautions were not legally enforced, mostly because the show's producers (and the anime industry at large) were really going out of their way to show everybody how seriously they were taking the problem. But that was 1998. Today most TV anime isn't even aimed at kids (it's late night content, after all), and with no other incidents occurring in the last 15 years, it seems that the warning was no longer necessary.
In case you're interested, 4Kids did dub that episode (and slowed down the flashing to make sure it wouldn't cause a problem) but Nintendo insisted that it not be released again. It hasn't seen the light of day since.
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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