Categorization Is Death

by Justin Sevakis,

It's Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer! I hope you all have something fun planned. I try not to go anywhere this weekend, because everyone inevitably tries to go on a road trip, and it all turns into a traffic nightmare. I live in Los Angeles. I get enough of those already.

I think I'll stay in the area and hang out with friends. Drinks will be consumed, and Mad Max will be viewed. I am looking forward to it. Let's all have a good time, shall we?

Vee asks:

I was just wondering, when do you think Japanese record labels will embrace streaming services such as Spotify? I'd love to listen to anime songs and tracks by my favourite J-pop or J-rock musicians, but they're simply not on any real streaming music service.

To be honest, I have my doubts that the Japanese music publishers will ever put their stuff on Spotify. I mean, it could happen, but I'm not holding my breath. iTunes Store has been around for TWELVE YEARS now, and the publishers still won't consistently put their songs up for sale there internationally.

Honestly, I have my doubts that Spotify will even be a thing (in its current form) for more than a few years into the future. It's true, the service is extremely popular with consumers, millions of people love it and and rely on it for their music consumption. But the revenue it brings in, particularly for the free users, is so minuscule that the service is hemorrhaging money. Financial results from 2014, which were published only a couple weeks ago, reveal that the company collected a record €1.08bn in revenues, but ultimately lost €162.3m -- three times what it lost the year before. Taylor Swift made headlines by pulling her catalog from the service last year, and that quickly turned into an avalanche of artists going public with the pathetic earnings they receive from the service. Nobody is happy. Unless things turn around soon, I can't see this lasting. The music industry will lose patience at some point.

It's true that the Japanese music industry is both ridiculously luddite, and ruled by thuggish talent agencies with delusions of worldwide grandeur. They want to hold back their precious artists from America until they're ready to make a big splashy debut, but when they do, they refuse to Play Ball with American media and expect their completely unknown artists to be able to throw their weight around like they do back home. But even if that weren't the case, I can't blame them for not jumping on board with services like Spotify just yet. An on-demand streaming service that comes so close to ownership that it makes owning music pointless, without providing much revenue to replace ownership, just isn't a functional business model. I think services like it will eventually evolve to be something workable, but that could be years from now, and who knows what it'll end up looking like. If I were a Japanese record label, I'd be keeping an eye on those services, but I would certainly not be on board.

cheangelcazares asks:

I have noticed that Sentai is increasingly dubbing fewer and fewer of their new shows. Last year they dubbed about half of their stuff, and this year they are dubbing around a third of their releases. If this trend is going to continue, I have been wondering if it makes sense for Sentai to close their in-house dubbing studio, Seraphim Digital, and outsource their dubs. I realize that having an in-house dubbing studio in non-union Texas is a big plus (money-saving wise) for Funimation, who virtually dubs everything. But if Sentai is going to keep dubbing less and less going forward, is owning their own studio that beneficial? Would it not make more sense in the long run to simply pay Bang Zoom for a more expensive California dub?

Sentai Filmworks, Section23 and all those companies are pretty secretive entities, so I have no idea what their financials look like. That said, the fact that they're not dubbing as many shows these days could be read any number of ways. The first is that they were throwing good money after bad, dubbing a lot of shows that weren't selling, and they've simply raised the threshold at which they consider a show to be worth making a dub for. Given that we know several Sentai shows were slow sellers, this is almost certainly a factor. Sentai has also received a lot of criticism for producing shoddy, rushed-out-the-door dubs. Perhaps the lighter workload means that they can concentrate on getting better performances, or taking the time to find new actors to add to their stable.

If they already own the studio space and equipment, and they already have people on staff to do their directing, rewrites and mixing, it would take a very sizable downturn in production to make it no longer worthwhile to produce dubs in-house. Dubbing in-house is ALWAYS cheaper, simply because you don't have to pay the managerial overhead of another company. If they were to hire Bang Zoom or Studiopolis or NYAV Post, the price they would pay would include things like the studio's rent, the CEO's salary, the computers and all the gear owned by those studios, the taxes they pay, etc. None of those costs have to be covered if they do it in-house. Never mind the higher wages that many of the in-demand voice actors in Los Angeles get versus those in Texas.

The only scenario in which it would be more cost effective to hire out this work would be if Sentai lost whatever salaried employees they have on staff that could do the work, and maybe if they had to downsize and lost the studio or equipment. I have no idea how many people they have on salary or what they make, but the difficult and expensive part of having a dub studio is basically already done.

Geoffrey asks:

Sometimes anime series are based off of popular American franchises, but are all-but-ignored here in the US. Stitch! was dubbed, and only 4 episodes were shown on Disney XD at noon (probably for contract reasons), Powerpuff Girls Z was dubbed, but never released in the US, and Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers has yet to see a dub or TV broadcast. Why is that? You'd think those shows would be almost guaranteed to be marketed here in the states.

Those shows aren't released in the US because the American networks don't want them. If they wanted them, they'd have made those series themselves. Those anime are made specifically with the Japanese market in mind, and the original owner usually doesn't care to have it go any further than that.

Properties like The Avengers and Disney shows are so tightly controlled that anything that isn't part of the basic strategy for that show -- anything that deviates from how the people in charge want those properties to be presented and marketed -- is usually nixed. At the very least, it's not taken seriously. The anime market in and of itself is not seen as big enough to bother with.

One point they make is that they don't want people to get confused. When American properties are made into anime, the American studios that own those properties basically sign off on their creation, and might approve things like character designs and scripts along the way, but they are essentially letting the Japanese side of the business go do their own thing.Since they didn't keep a tight reign on the anime, it may deviate from story canon, or it may be different in some way from how they wanted to present the show.

Whatever Avengers or Powerpuff Girls material that gets marketed in the States has to appeal to EVERYBODY that likes those things. That means not deviating very much from the main way in which those properties are being presented. The general attitude is, "well, the Japanese can make whatever they need to support the show in Japan. That's fine. But why would we release those materials in the States? They aren't for us. That wasn't the plan."

There is definitely a sense of propriety at work here, but also a need for everything related to those properties to be a big hit -- otherwise they worry it could drag the whole franchise down. So there are lots of reasons why it doesn't happen. It's really something of a miracle that Stitch! saw air in the US at all.

Juno016 asks:

How are manga (among other media) classified into their respective genres like "shoujo" and "josei" and so on? Obviously, there is some overlap, but are there official genre classifications for every (or nearly every) series, or a method to determine genre classification in Japan? Is there even an official way of classifying this stuff or is it all unwritten consensus with a little leeway for individual subjectivity?

By looking at the end product, what demographic category a manga fits into can be extremely blurry. A manga can be shounen and yet appeal primarily to girls, like Prince of Tennis or Kuroko's Basketball. A manga can be shoujo and be primarily action, like many Clamp series are. Factor in the adult categories josei and seinen, and the lines can get extremely blurry and subjective. Especially since many manga artists do different series for different audiences throughout their careers.

No, the only definitive factor in how you can categorize manga (or light novel, and any resulting anime) is the original magazine it was serialized in. That's it. The reasons go beyond who that magazine is sold to, and whether the ads in there are for idol videos or mascara. The editors of that magazine shaped the story and the look of the manga, by demanding that the manga artist bend to different popular tropes or style their art in a certain way. Those editorial demands are absolutely intended to attract the magazine's target demographic, and to make the series popular. Series that are popular with the target demographic sell the ads that keep those magazines afloat, after all.

Those demands have effects on the resulting manga that can be very hard to detect after the fact, especially considering that magazines such as Shonen Jump have intentionally broadened their demographic (to include women, in this case) to try and boost their circulation numbers.

The system of categorizing manga and anime by magazine demographic is largely outdated. Manga and anime used to be sold like that, and some still are marketed to a specific gender, but a huge percentage are made to be enjoyed by male and female fans alike. This forced categorization often does a disservice to those works, because it can add a stigma: male fans are less likely to pick up shoujo and josei works, when they could be something they'd enjoy. I hope we can come up with a better categorization system, although to be honest, I sure don't have any ideas.

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 real, strange stories from the anime business, Tales of the Industry.

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