Record Town and Media Play

by Justin Sevakis,

This is a special kind of torture. All week, I've been wanting to do do nothing but watch Shirobako. I got to episode 5, and I'm hooked. The only problem is, this has been one of those weeks where I've been up working 'till 2 in the morning every day. (On anime, of course.) And since Shirobako is subtitled, I can't have it on in the background while I work -- I have to be doing nothing but watching Shirobako.

Guess what I haven't been able to accomplish all week? This is hell. Hell, I tell you.

Skyler asks:

I've noticed that a lot of older TV anime tends to lose facial detail in medium and long shots, even very well animated shows like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Is that because they weren't broadcast in HD? When did TV anime transition from SD to HD?

Well, no, it isn't because the show is in SD, but because the drawings themselves are only so large (and probably originated on paper), and so obviously when the image is small on a piece of paper, the artist is simply going to draw less detail inside of it. You are right, however, that now that everything is in HD, they definitely try to cut fewer corners. Also, many digital drawing methods are now vector based, so if, say, the camera zooms in on a character, the lines themselves won't get thicker and there will probably be more detail in the drawing.

Digital ink and paint anime has been in HD since nearly the beginning, since the first handful of high-profile digital anime productions were, in fact, feature films (Ghost in the Shell in 1996 being the most prominent example). However, TV shows didn't start making the transition until around 2002. The earliest one I can think of off the top of my head is The Twelve Kingdoms, which, despite being 4x3 aspect ratio, is clearly animated in HD if you see it on Blu-ray.

The resolution of an anime project is simply a setting that everyone follows during the scanning and compositing (photography) process, so the settings being used are somewhat fluid. For a long time many shows were in lesser HD, such as 720p or even 540p, and were only scaled up to 1080 when finally output to master tape. The last mainstream anime that I know of that was produced in SD was the Lupin the 3rd vs Detective Conan TV special in 2009, but there may be others. I wouldn't be surprised if the occasional OAV was still produced in SD, especially something really low budget, like hentai.

Bob asks:

Some people seem to think that DVDs and Blu-rays are already obsolete and will soon be replaced by streaming. I believe, and hope, that they will be with us for a long time to come. Everything that I watch is on disc, and my Internet connection is not suitable for streaming or even downloads. I do not doubt that streaming will keep getting more popular, and discs will get less popular because they will no longer be necessary for some people. But I think that we can have both, and as long as there is a market for the discs we will have both, assuming that the discs can be sold at a profit. So I am wondering how much extra a disc release costs compared to streaming. If a North American company licenses an anime for streaming how much extra would it cost them to also do a disc release? Do they need a different license? Can the video and audio files, including subtitles and dubs, that are used for streaming also be used for the discs? I am sure that it is not as simple as just recording the stream on a disc, but how much more involved, and expensive, is it?

Every time some new technology comes around, people like to declare it to be the death of something else. DVD was the death of VHS, for one example. However, this actually happens pretty rarely. Usually both the old and the new format have their plusses and minuses, and consumers have the choice to go with what works for them. The business behind the old format gets shaken up, and has to change quite a bit, and the market might decrease, but once the dust settles, both co-exist peacefully. Vinyl never completely went away, and now it's experiencing a resurgence. The Kindle has been around nearly 8 years now, but physical books aren't showing any signs of going away (though the business behind them is changing rapidly).

And so it looks like things will be with streaming versus physical media. Netflix's streaming platform has also been around for about 8 years, and while streaming platforms of all kinds have come a long ways, they really don't look like they'll ever carry everything, all the time. What they have available on demand will satisfy most people, but fans will always want to own something they really, truly love for posterity. There will always be collectors.

The mainstream media world is still reacting to this change in consumer behavior, and DVD sales are still dropping. Blu-ray, however, is doing pretty well still. And in the anime world, Blu-ray sales are actually up, pretty much across the board. Ain't that a thing.

The original video masters that were used for a stream can also be used to make a DVD or Blu-ray (assuming there's no separate, improved "home video version" of a show), and we're really just talking about files on a hard drive in most cases, so if you know what you're doing, it's very possible to keep production costs down. Authoring and packaging design might cost you anywhere from a thousand to five thousand dollars per disc, or more if you want to make something really fancy. Replication has to be done by the thousands of units, and that can run a few thousand dollars more. I wrote about this ages ago in my Anime Economy articles. Home video rights can and often are sold separately from streaming rights, although recently they're being sold as a single package more and more.

Quoll asks:

I'm a 15 year old student without a way to pay for things online, which means I tend to watch anime on nonlegal streaming sites rather than Crunchyroll or Funimation. Apart from DVD sales is there any other reasonable way to support the anime industry? I don't want to be a blind consumer, but I also want to get my anime at the same time as it is streamed on those sites.

Well, the easiest way, if you're broke, is to watch anime on a legal site with ads on it. Hulu might have a lot of ads, but those ads pay HUGE money -- literally millions of dollars per month -- to the anime publishers. That is an insanely important part of anime making money these days, and you might do your part by simply dealing with sitting through the ads. I know they're boring, but your browser has multiple tabs for a reason. and Crunchyroll both have free versions of their sites.

It is best if you can somehow get a subscription to those sites. Even if you're completely freeloading, it's still way better to give them a little bit of money than to give money to the jerkbag pirate websites that give literally nothing to the producers of the shows. Honestly, I'd rather you torrented your anime than use those sites.

Other ways to contribute include watching anime on cable when it comes up, and buying merchandise. But you knew that already.

Nick asks:

In the series Shirobako, a large part of the drama in the final episode is the act of physically getting the titular "white boxes" carrying an episode of a fictional anime series to the various networks and broadcasters carrying it. Some of the characters fly or rush via express train to do this. It certainly makes for a great scene, but I wanted to ask if this is how anime episodes are still delivered, in reality. I do know that episodes are sometimes finished mere hours before their airing time (which happens in this series), but even under those circumstances, does it still entail physically delivering the copy as opposed to email?

First of all, THANKS FOR THE SPOILERS. (There were worse ones originally in this question, but I deleted them.)

Secondly, yes, SHIROBAKO is terrifyingly accurate in its depiction of the Japanese side of the anime business. I've visited a handful of anime studios myself (Madhouse, TMS, Toei Animation and Satelight among them), and while some things are, of course, played up for drama, on the whole the show barely even seems like satire.

To answer your question, let me ask another question. A broadcast-quality master file (let's say, a 1080p QuickTime ProRes HQ file, which is pretty much the gold standard in video production) for a 24-minute TV episode clocks in at around 39 gigabytes. As it so happens, I am uploading a Blu-ray master around that size to a replication plant as I type this very sentence. I only get 5 megabit upload speeds on my cable modem, so the Aspera file transfer client is estimating it'll take about 22 hours. And that's if nothing gets disconnected or crashes in that time. And if the file comes through and it's got an error, I'd have to start all over again.

Obviously if I had a faster connection that would go quite a bit faster, but there is no fiber connection in my neighborhood. You could compress the video more, but each step adds yet another layer in something that could go wrong. Then, somebody at the TV station will have to manually download it, transcode it into whatever format their On-Air broadcast servers use, and upload it to those servers. Fiber connections capable of transmitting full, uncompressed HD video -- which is how South Park Studios in Los Angeles gets new episodes to Comedy Central master control in New York City each week -- are insanely expensive, and not many anime studios can afford that.

Or, you could just have somebody messenger the final master HDCam tape across town to the TV station. That tape can then go right to master control and be played back directly into the feed. I hate to sound like a luddite, but I think that really might be the best, most reliable option. Or at least, I'm hard pressed to argue with it.

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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