Universal Appeal

by Justin Sevakis,

This is the first week in a very long time that I have not ingested any sushi. This is a problem. I have reservations for good, fancy sushi tomorrow night with family, but I am worried that I will not make it that long. Every pore is screaming out for raw fish, much like an alcoholic goes into withdrawl convulsions. I'll bet I even smell like sushi.

Yotaru Vegeta asks:

Why is the Universal logo appearing before anime like The Heroic Legend of Arslan and Seraph of the End? What level of involvement does Universal suddenly have with Funimation to warrant this? I know they have some tie to each other, but this is the first anyone's seeing this.

When you see that logo, you're probably thinking of NBCUniversal, the big Hollywood studio that releases a ton of movies every year and also has theme parks in Orlando and Los Angeles. What you are really seeing is the logo for NBCUniversal Entertainment Japan LLC, which you probably know better as Geneon. (To be fair, they are the exact same logo.) Once, they were Pioneer Entertainment (or Pioneer LDC if you want to go even further back). Then when the giant ad agency Dentsu bought them in 2003 they became Geneon. Then they merged with Universal Pictures Japan in 2009. For a while they kept both names (going as Geneon Universal Entertainment), but they've now done away with the Geneon brand. Since now they're just the Japanese branch of Universal Studios, they're using the same logo as their American parent company.

Despite all the name and ownership changes, Pioneer/Geneon/NBCUniversal remains a major anime producer, and is the licensor for those shows you mentioned, which is why their logo is on those shows. The company also is in charge of releasing most Comcast/NBC/Universal-controlled stuff in Japan. It remains to be seen as to whether things might flow in the other direction. The other major Hollywood studio to own an anime production arm, Warner Bros, has already started releasing anime into the US market themselves, having noticed that anime is virtually the only section of the American DVD/Blu-ray market that's currently seeing sales growth. Their first toe-dip into anime-colored waters being their forthcoming release of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.

Personally, I'm a little concerned that major Hollywood studios getting into this already crowded market will be less likely to listen to fans, or to follow established best practices for releasing stuff on DVD and Blu-ray. Large studios tend to not really understand how to tailor their product and marketing to niche audiences. More often than not, they just do their own thing, and live in a bubble based solely on data from major market releases. However, those large studios also potentially have the power to REALLY get anime in front of mainstream eyes, both on retail shelves and in other unexpected places.

It's anyone's guess as to where big studio involvement in anime will go from here. Pretty much anything could happen. Whatever they do, I hope they'll fully engage with the anime community in the way we're all used to.

Drew asks:

I'm watching TMS's Karate Master on Hulu. I'm 28 episodes in and I've noticed a few times on the show there are animation mistakes where two different characters are talking but they animated the multiple lines of dialogue from just one character. I thought this was weird because I've always read the Japanese animate first and record second, which would prevent this. Was there a period where the Japanese, like Americans, recorded first and then animated second? Perhaps just on this show TMS tried it? Its pretty odd. An example of this to spot is in episode 28 in case you wanted to see first hand.

Full disclosure: I produced and mastered the English subtitled version of Karate Master you see on Hulu. I like the show, in all its quirky 70s weirdness, but I never expected it to find an audience. Luckily, it looks like people are watching it.

Anime production in the 1970s was very kludgy and inflexible compared to what we're used to today. Computer-based recording, such as ProTools, wouldn't start coming into use until the late 90s. Multi-track analog tape wasn't all that common in film and video production until well into the 80s, and was very expensive. That means Karate Master was recorded and mixed on mag tape -- a bunch of strips of film covered in oxide like tape, all spliced together on a giant table of spinning reels of film. With a process that clumsy, you didn't have many tracks to work with or much flexibility -- every cut you made took several minutes of synchronizing the film, chopping it, taping it back together, and rolling it over the play heads to see how it sounded.

The visual side of things was just as clumsy. While the actual process of cel animation in Japan didn't really change much between the 60s and the 90s, anime started being mastered on video in the 80s. If a cut needed to be re-animated, it was relatively simple to just animate that one cut, and then replace the shot on the final master tape. But in the 70s and earlier, everything had to be finished on film. The negative had to be physically cut together and then the matching audio had to be physically matched with the correct frames and printed as a visual waveform onto the edge of the film. That final print of film then had to be duplicated in a film lab and sent to each TV station that carried the show. That took a great deal of time.

This means that if the actors ad-libbed some lines (which happens all the time), or the director saw how the episode was coming together and thought some additional dialogue needed to be added, there was simply no way the production could be nimble enough to fix the lip flap, or tweak a sound effect that's off by a second or so. With TV anime being perpetually behind schedule for nearly every show ever made, that extra time in the lab meant that the door for fixing things closed much earlier than it does today. A lot of general sloppiness, especially when it came to synchronizing audio with video, slipped through. And to be honest, that happened well into the 90s, until anime went fully digital.

Chris asks:

How does Toonami get broadcasting rights? Do they have to ask the original Japanese production committee? And then make a contract with the English publisher/producers, to air their version on TV?

Typically, if Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, or any other TV network wants to obtain broadcast rights to an anime, the people they talk to is the publisher for that anime in their territory -- in this case, North America. Funimation or Sentai or whoever may or may not have broadcast rights to that show, but if they do, they probably have to get approval from the licensor, who will then have to take the issue to the production committee. And if the US publisher doesn't have the rights, they can usually at least make the introduction to the right people in Japan. Like any other deal, the license terms are then hashed out, and a contract is signed. Usually the broadcaster gets the rights to show the series for a set number of years, a set number of times. Often, the ability to offer the show on cable video-on-demand is included as well.

Anime producers tend to really jump at the chance to get their shows on television -- they're made to be on television, after all -- so unless the license fee they're offering is appallingly low, they'll probably go for it. After all, broadcast on television is still one of the best ways to market the far more lucrative DVD release, even in this day and age.

Melissa asks:

It seems like when companies like Discotek license rescue older shows, they're usually able to get the old dub or subtitle scripts from whatever original company released it. I imagine this is because the licensor has taken the time to archive the English materials made for its initial release. I recently inquired about license-rescuing a manga title, and was told the licensors have no English materials, and that I should try to contact the original publisher (who is no longer in business). Why do anime licensors keep these things, and yet manga publishers don't?

I think you may be giving the anime licensors too much credit. I've worked on many re-releases of classic anime, by Discotek and several others. There are a couple of licensors who are very good about collecting old English dub masters and subtitle scripts, and now that such things are easily transmitted via internet the entire industry has gotten better at obtaining them. But for the most part the licensor is of no help in obtaining those materials. When asked, their answer is often, "if you can find it, you can use it."

License rescues are a dirty business that often involves some detective work in hunting down old master tapes. If none can be found, dubs have been ripped and restored from old DVD releases, old laserdiscs (imported or domestic) and even VHS. For some dubs, where the materials are just gone, you really have to take what you can get. For subtitles, if they were issued on DVD and are good enough they might be able to be re-used, but many old translations are so terrible that you're better off starting over.

For manga, re-using old translations would be even harder. There's no easy, automated way of ripping the English text off of old books and properly repositioning them. Prior to the mid-2000s manga boom, most English versions didn't even get the original art files from Japan, and were literally photocopied or scanned off of the Japanese tankoubons. That's why so many of them are blurry or washed out. Many early English manga releases simply don't exist in digital form.

Even today, most English manga releases aren't sent back to Japan for archival. The thought is that if a manga is later re-released by another publisher, they can do the (relatively simple) retouching over again. And until very recently, the technology for doing so improved so fast that things were usually worth redoing anyway.

A huge amount of work on English release of anime AND manga went unarchived and is lost in its native form. Yet another reason we should all be grateful for the switch to digital.

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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