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Christmas Goodies
by Christopher Macdonald on Wed Dec 24, 2008 1:27 pm
I'm not sure if it's meant as a holiday gift, or if the timing is just circumstantial, but I received this from the SPJA today:

The AX button was separate, I just put it on the plushie for the picture.
Something you'd only hear in Tokyo
by Christopher Macdonald on Sun Mar 30, 2008 9:08 am
Overheard on a Tokyo JR (Train) platform, "I wouldn't want to live here. I prefer New York City, it's quiet."

What can I say, I like Tokyo because it feels more "alive" than any other place I've ever been, but perhaps for some, it's too lively...

I think the only thing I really don't like about Tokyo, is that public transit shuts down around midnight, which means that most of Tokyo pretty much shuts down around midnight.

Thing to do in Tokyo and on your way there
by Christopher Macdonald on Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:55 pm
Evan recently mentioned his secrets for making the best of the long flight from North America to Japan. Since I just arrived in Japan last night, I figured I'd share my somewhat different recipe.

Step 1: Board plane
Step 2: Get drunk
Step 3: Sleep
Step 4: Deboard plane.

This truly is the secret for making a flight pass so fast that you don't even remember being on the plane in the first place. But actually, it isn't what I do,in fact, it's far from it.

Unlike Evan, I try to get a full night's sleep the night before, although unfortunately last minute packing and early morning flights often make this impossible. Fortunately this time I was able to get a full 8 hours of sleep before leave. Once on the plane I do not sleep. Sure, sleeping on the plane is a great way to make the flight pass quickly, but it's also a great way to arrive in Tokyo completely jet-lagged, and not able to fall asleep until 7am. By staying awake for the flight, I subject myself to a 28-hour or so day (28 hours from the time I wake up back home, to the time I go to sleep in Tokyo), that way, when I decide to go to bed in my hotel in Tokyo, falling asleep isn't a challenge at all.

Of course, by staying awake for the entire 14-hour flight, I'm certainly left with a lot of time to kill. Movies are a big part of any flight for me. I don't get the chance to watch even a third of the movies I'd like to, so I use trans-pacific flights to catch up. With flights now allowing you to plug in and power your laptops on board, you could bring 14 hours of movies to watch, or just watch the movies available on the onboard entertainment system. Of course, this only works if your seat's headphone jack doesn't die 3 hours into the 1 hour flight, like mine did yesterday Sad

Talking to people on planes can be really cool. Even if you don't have the perky conversation companions that Evan seems to run into, there's a lot you can learn about the place you are about to visit from the people who have already been there. And chances are, a lot of the people on the plane have already been there. At this point, when it comes to Tokyo, I kind of fall into that category and spend a lot of time giving people suggestions on what to do in Tokyo, but I often do pick up new recommendations from fellow repeat visitors, and those who are returning home.

Some of my most common suggestions:
- See the Sakura Blossoms and the Sakura watchers if you are going at the right time of year (Hanami season is upon us).
- Visit the Tsukiji fish market at 6am. I actually haven't done this yet, but Bamboo says it's a wonderful experience. I hope to do this on Monday or Tuesday next week.
- Eat at Jangara Ramen – Did this last night, in fact, most times I come to Japan, it's my first meal. I've even spent an extra night in Tokyo for no other purpose but to have Jangara Ramen. Last night I got the joy of introducing Japan's best Ramen to Justin and Evan, they weren't disappointed.
- Try out the Kaiten Sushi at the 105 yen Kaiten Sushi restaurant in Shibuya. Actually, just try out Kaiten Sushi at any Kaiten Sushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi), but the 105 yen place is generally considered to be one of the better ones, and very affordable. Kaiten Sushi unfortunately is rarely as good as a traditional sushi restaurant, but it's still pretty damn good.
- Visit a combini (convenience store) and a department store. Nothing like what we're used to in North America.
- Visit the Edo-Tokyo museum, probably the best historical/culture museum in Tokyo, and the only major museum with all it's exhibits in English (In many major museums you're lucky to have the exhibit name in English, let alone the description).

Also, be sure to watch the countryside as you travel from Narita to Tokyo by train, about a 1-hour ride.

Obviously, if you're an anime fan (and you are), there are various must-see anime attractions that I don't recommend to the average traveler, these include:

Akihabara on Sunday
Tokyo Anime Center (in Akihabara)
Nagano Broadway
Ghibli Museum (going there with Evan and Justin today)
Manga Kissa
Suginami Anime Museum
Bandai Museum

Interestingly enough, I still haven't been to a real maid cafe. If we can find the time, we're hoping to hit both a maid cafe and a buttler cafe on this trip, but other than the novelty of seing what they're like, neither really interests me,

For the most part, my short visit to Japan is going to be crammed full of business. Today, Wednesday, is the only day that I have free on this entire trip. The plans for today are Ghibli Museum, dinner with a friend, and then joining 10,000 Japanese people in Ueno park and enjoying fine alcohol and wonderful company...and may be looking at some flowers while we're at it. Tomorrow through Sunday it's Tokyo Anime Fair, I generally try to avoid going on the public days, but we weren't able to avoid it this year. Monday and Tuesday we have meetings at studios, and then Wednesday I head back....

Fortunately I'll be returning in a few months for a friend's wedding, and the plan is for that to be a vacation (certainly I'll use the opportunity to do some ANN related business, but only for 1-2 days).

Well, it's off to Ghibli Museum!
Car rentals :-(
by Christopher Macdonald on Wed Dec 19, 2007 10:12 pm
I hate renting cars in North America. Most of the rental agencies only carry fairly generic American cars. Not that American cars are bad, but my preference is for small luxury car, ie a BMW 1 or 3 series, Mercedes C30, etc....

I'm trying to rent a car right now, and the "small" car is an econobox, while the nice cars are huge... Huge is good if you're ferrying more people around, but I just want to drive myself around for a few days while my car is in the shop...

Core Fans Not So Homogeneous
by Christopher Macdonald on Tue Dec 11, 2007 7:33 pm
At the ICv2 Conference on Anime and Manga Marketing to the Otaku Generation panel, I made a point about how core anime fans have split into more than one group in regards to their spending habits.

When I say "core fans," I mean those that seek out anime to watch, as opposed to someone who is a fan of anime simply because they've seen a bit, and are open minded towards the medium. In other words, I'm talking about the people one might call "Otaku."

A few years ago, anime fans had to buy or rent boxed media (VHS, LD, DVD, etc...) in order to watch most of the anime they wanted to see. Sure there was a bit of it on TV, but most of the shows were only available in North America on boxed media. Rental options were also pretty limited, so the average anime fan purchased boxed media, not because it was the way they wanted to watch anime, but because it was the only way they could watch anime.

Today, things are changing, fans have alternatives. You can split anime fans into two groups, consumers and collectors. Consumers are those that merely want to "consume" (watch) anime, not necessarily have it on their shelves at home. Collectors are the ones that actually want a permanent, physical product to collect at home.

As with mainstream entertainment, most people don't actually have any overwhelming desire to own boxed media. Even many of the collectors are turning to other forms of merchandise to collect. The result is that today, most anime fans don't buy a lot of boxed media. They might buy their favorite series, OVA or movie, but most of the other shows they'd rather just watch.

Regardless of whether or not it is right or wrong, the Internet has enabled consumers to watch these shows the way they want to watch them. Producers, distributors, broadcasters and retailers have two choices, evolve or perish.

Japanese Companies and American Press
by Christopher Macdonald on Sun Oct 14, 2007 6:02 pm
Japanese niche market press has a very different way of doing things than its North American equivalent. Although Japanese magazines publish plenty of interesting articles, you'll notice one thing missing from them. Articles that the companies don't want you to read.

In North America, all journalists write for the benefit of their readers. If the readers will be interested in a particular article, the press will publish it. In fact, North American press has a long history of giving the finger to companies that would censor them. Of course this blanket statement isn't always true, there are many American magazines and websites that enjoy fellating their sponsors, and there are a few renegade Japanese magazines that piss companies off.

But the difference is where the norm lies. Anime News Network can publish a scathing review of title X and the distributor for that title probably won't hold it against us. They understand the holy grail of editorial independence, and they understand that a few negative reviews aside, their relationship with us is mutually beneficial.

Things get complicated though when Japanese companies enter the North American market and do so with an entirely Japanese staff. On one side, we desperately want to develop good relationships with these companies, without going against our editorial guidelines. On the other side, they to desperately want to work with us, and have us be their marketing tool just like the Japanese magazines and websites.

Any, and all business involves a lot of mutual back scratching, but as far as I'm concerned, no matter how good of a back scratcher the other person is, there are certain things we, as journalists can't do. "$x0,000 ad-contract? Great! You want me to bury a story? No, sorry."

As the adage says, "When in Rome..." so I hope a few people learn that while they're in North America, they're free to continue to try to work how they do at home, but they also need to learn how to interact with their new market.

Top 1000 Websites!
by Christopher Macdonald on Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:46 am
ANN reached a small milestone this week.

On August 5th the website's daily Alexa rating was 861, the first time we broke 1000. What this means is that, according to Alexa, ANN was the 861st most popular website on the Internet on August 5th.

ANN's Alexa rating has been continually increasing since we first started out. I remember only about a year ago, some friends at ADV sent me a bottle of wine to celebrate ANN's first peek above 4000.

Please don't read too much into the Alexa rating though. I'm quite proud to have reached this "milestone" but it doesn't really mean anything. Alexa is a rather inaccurate barometer of a website's traffic, and only valuable for comparing two websites within the same niche with very similar readers. And even then, it's only good for an initial comparison, as it can still be quite inaccurate.

CmdrTaco of Slashdot recently complained about how "Alexa drive me nuts." In it he explains very well what every webmaster already knows (or should know), that Alexa is seriously flawed.

But still, for all the flaws, breaking 1000 was pretty damn cool.

The future of the anime industry?
by Christopher Macdonald on Tue Jul 31, 2007 12:52 pm
It's no secret that the anime industry is faced with a very daunting challenge. Too many people simply don't want to pay for all that much anime. Most fans want to watch a lot of anime, but are only willing to pay for a few shows.

Anime companies have been working in a variety of directions in order to deal with this. It used to be that anime companies would allow some TV networks to broadcast series for free, hoping that the exposure would help with DVD sales. Today, most, if not all, TV deals are done with revenue in mind, the networks pay the licensor for the right to broadcast the series. Companies are also looking to the periphery to make money, with intensely popular shows, it is possible to make significantly more money off of merchandise sales than off of the actual anime itself. This is a very significant part of the reason that companies want master licensee/licensor rights, without those rights, all they have is a TV series, with those rights they have many more possible revenue streams.

Another area that companies are actively exploring, are alternative distribution channels. Digital downloads like iTunes, ADV Universe and Azureus Vuze, as well as the Video on Demand like The Anime Network and and Akimbo.

Akimobo is the product that interests me the most, because it is Internet based. Regardless of their location, Internet provider, or TV provider, any person in the United States that has high speed Internet can get Akimbo.

The big problem with Video on Demand services like Akimbo, is that you can't download to own like you can on iTunes and Azureus. For me, the ultimate video platform would provide the end user with a number of options in two categories, payment structure and rental/own.

Payment structure is important, we know that many anime fans don't want to pay for their anime, so allowing them to download it for a fee, just isn't going to be any good. However we can look at standard broadcast TV, as well as ADV's various experiments with The Anime Network in order to find the obvious solution to this problem, ad-sponsored downloads. Already one company is trying this with music.

Imagine for a second, if you wanted to watch the latest episode of Genkinkaizer Zeta, you could log into to the distributor's website, and pick one of the following downloads:

1) 48-hour, ad-free, HD Quality, $0.99
2) 48-hour, ad-sponsored, HD Quality, $0
3) Download-to-own, ad-free, HD-Quality, $2.99
4) Download-to-own, ad-sponsored, not-hd-quality, $0

I don't know about you, but for the anime that I'm not willing to shell out $19.99 for a DVD, I'd certainly be willing to go for one of the above options. Somewhat content in the knowledge that, even if I pick the free, ad-sponsored download, I'd still be supporting the company via the ads.

The biggest problem in achieving the above distribution model is the licensor. Japanese companies are notoriously shy about allowing online downloads. They're primary concern is that downloads made for one region (say North America), would, regardless of all the security in the world, become available in other regions (Europe or Japan). Why would a European company then pay for the license if everyone in Europe who wanted to see it had already downloaded it from the USA? And why would Japanese people pay 4000 yen for the DVD, when they can download it from the USA for $2.99 ? These are the questions that licensors ask themselves before allowing licensees to take the show online. There are a lot of answers to these questions, but it will take a long time for the licensors to be convinced. My only hope is that the licensees are trying.

So far I've addressed the fact that many fans don't want, or aren't able to pay for every anime they want to watch. But there's also one other thing that many fans don't want to do. They don't want to wait.

A few months ago, when I interviewed John Ledford, CEO of ADV Films, one of the topics we talked about was dealing with the delay between Japanese release and English release. It's hard to estimate the numbers, but a certain percentage of the people that download anime do so because they don't want to wait 6-months to two years for the English release. Some of these people buy the DVDs when they do come out, others don't. I'm pretty certain that if the North American licensees were able to release the anime concurrently in Japan, then most of these people would be happy to pick up the legit release, especially if it's available in the formats I discussed above.

The big problem with this, is that it would compound the Licensors' fears. No longer would they have to worry about North American downloads competing with Japanese releases a few months down the road, but they'd have to worry about the downloads competing with Japanese TV broadcasts and immediate DVD releases.

Another problem is that it takes time to produce a translation. Fans often look at fansubs and say "Fansubs are released within 24-hours, why does it take American companies so long?" Let's ignore dubs for a second, because it's obvious that the dubbing and audio-engineering process can not be done very quickly, and look at subtitles. Why does it take an American company longer to subtitle anime? The answer is "process." although a few mistakes do occasionally creep though, commercial subtitles have a much more rigorous error checking process than fansubbers. The largest delay is often consumed by the approval process. The finished product often has to be sent to Japan for licensor approval. With DVDs, the entire 4-episodes, package, dub, subtitles, everything, can be sent at once. But if the Japanese licensors require that the full approval process be done on just the subtitles, for each "concurrent" release, it goes without saying that would add a significant delay for each episode.

The only way for North American companies to release anime concurrently, even subtitled only, is to ask the Japanese licensors to delay the Japanese release. The English production can't start until the Japanese production is finished. So at this point, not only would the Japanese companies be looking at potential competition from American releases, but they'd also have to delay their releases, thereby delaying the return on the money they invested in producing those episodes.

That's a lot of hurdles for American companies to overcome, but personally, I think it is feasible, and not only feasible, but possibly necessary.
Convention Hell
by Christopher Macdonald on Fri Jul 27, 2007 6:30 pm
San Diego Comic-con is my third convention in 4 weeks (AX, Otakon, SDCC), but it's also the least stressful for me since there's a lot less for ANN to do at SDCC than AX and Otakon.

This is my first time at San Diego, when I arrived yesterday afternoon I decided to check out the Comic-con exhibitors hall. For those of you who have never been to Comic-con, the exhibit hall is nothing like any anime convention. The exhibit hall here is many, many times larger than the Anime Expo exhbit hall, with over nine-hundred exhibitors and dealers. The large trade-show booths aren't quite as huge as the massive ones seen at E3 in years past, but many of them are larger than the largest Anime Con booths (such as the famous ADV 2-floor booth (which is at SDCC, but in a smaller format than usual)).

A quick estimate of the physical size of the exhibit hall on my part puts it at about a third to half a mile long.

Of course, there's over a hundred thousand people here.
Not able to drink in San Diego
by Christopher Macdonald on Fri Jul 27, 2007 6:02 pm
Apparently I can't legally drink in the state of California. I went to a bar at the Hyatt yesterday (beside the San Diego Convention Center) and was denied entry because none of my i.d. listed my weight. The bouncer had a very official looking document from the state of California that said i.d. needed to have the owner's date of birth, sex, heigh, weight, eye and hair color. Canadian i.d., including my passport, has none of this. Fortunately the other bars in the exact same hotel weren't quite as anal in enforcing the rules...


[edit: I meant to say that none of my Canadian I.D. has my weight on it, it has everything else, but how retarded is it to have a person's weight on their I.D. Wight changes!]
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