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San Diego Comic Con 2014
Anime Programming in the US

by Bamboo Dong,

Thursday's Anime Programming in the US panel was moderated by Nerdist.com gaming editor Malik Forté, and featuring Funimation Channel's Director of Programming Amanda Nanawa, Starz Entertainment's Senior Manager of Programming and Acquisitions Jill Snider, Bang Zoom! Entertainment's International Business Development Azusa Kudo, YouTube's TV and Film Content Partnerships Paul Snow, and Funimation's Digital Business Development Manager Mario Rodriguez.

Please note that this is a partial transcript of the panel; some sentences and segments have been trimmed or paraphrased for length.

Forte: I'd like to talk to you guys about this crazy challenge of getting Japanese content over here, especially with some of the cultural differences, and things that are taboo here. What are some of the challenge you had to overcome to get this content to a US audience?

Nanawa: For us, it's basically for broadcast reasons. There are certain things I obviously can't air during day slots. Most of the time, if I have a title that's problematic, I try to push it as far into the late night hours I can, but still get viewers who are able to stay awake who may not have a DVR, and still have them tune in real time. I coordinate with Mario (Rodriguez), and he and I figure out what's best for a certain title. Some are appropriate for TV, and some aren't. Dance in the Vampire Bund will not be on TV, I'm sorry. It'll be on VOD, but not on at midnight. It takes a lot of maneuvering, and so far, we haven't received a complaint from anyone who feels that they have a problem with our programming.

There was one customer in Charter's service area in Mississippi who actually did complain about one certain title. And it was for Sankarea, actually. It was that scene where the father was talking about his daughter… it had sexual connotations because of the way he loves his father. But it's part of the story. And that's one of the challenges. You can't delete or edit that. That's what the Japanese creator intended. You have to roll with it sometimes. If a customer has a problem, we have to try and explain to them that this is a part of the story. It's simple for a customer… if you don't like it, don't watch it. If you have family members who want to see it, talk to them, explain to them why this is in the story.

Regarding localization:

Snider (former Senior Manager of Brands and Broadcast at Funimation): I can speak to a title called Shin-chan. Shin-chan was a very special title. It was a big deal to bring it to the US. It was sold to Adult Swim, but it had to be completely rewritten for the US, because the Japanese translation was not funny to a US audience, especially when you sold it to a mainstream audience like Adult Swim. It's a good size, so you can strip it. Not only that, but Shin-chan is about a little kid. There are things that that child was doing that are not acceptable. People were comparing Shin-chan to Family Guy. This is not Family Guy. We can write some crude humor, but mainstream US audiences are not going to accept a small child peeing on his parents. It was hard working with the Japanese distributor to get them to understand. But there are certain licensing fees that helped pave the way.

Forte: Did I hear that right? He peed on his parents?

Snider: There are things that are considered acceptable, humor-wise, to a Japanese audience that are considered horrifying for an American audience. It's not just Japan. I get content from France or the UK, and they'll say, "This is the funniest show in France!" and I'll say, "This isn't acceptable here in the US; he set his house on fire." With Shin-chan, we had to rewrite the humor just to make it funny in the US.

Forte: I can only imagine the challenge. It's like you have to know the sense of humor of every region in the world.

Snider: I remember an episode where he's running around naked. We had to draw him some clothes. The context really wasn't funny; it was creepy.

Forte: To a lot of people who don't watch anime, they think a lot of it's creepy. Anything you want to add to that?

Kudo: I grew up in Japan, and I grew up watching these titles. I often feel that there is an acceptance level and tolerance level of the jokes, and the social behavior is very different between countries. These are things we always run into. How to make appropriate adaptations to certain titles to make them more acceptable to a broader audience in a target area. For us, it's North America, but once we license a title, we want it to be successful. With that in mind, we need to make appropriate adaptations to it. Understanding both cultures is an important part of that process.

Forte: How involved are you? Or do you just steer the process?

Snider: Shin-chan was the one example where we really had to take it apart. But mostly with anime, you just change some dialogue here and there. Mostly if it targets a younger audience, like Yugioh or Dragon Ball, a lot of that doesn't need to change a whole lot.

Kudo: We just worked on Doraemon, which just started airing on Disney XD. That was one of the titles that we had to have a lot of meetings with the Disney people, the Japanese side, the writers, directors, artists, to really make a decision as to what's appropriate and acceptable. We replaced a lot of pictures accordingly, so it would be more acceptable to a broader audience. Because it's airing on TV, and because it's a Disney channel, they have a lot of requirements.

Rodriguez: Censorships happen. Even with Dragon Ball, it's a kids show, but we had to paint out a lot of Goku's penis. Even stuff like that, unless you buy the uncut version, but you can't air that Saturday morning. But I'm not the one who does that. There's a special team that does that.

Forte: I feel like you're innocent superheroes for the anime fans. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. With content distribution, the way that people are being fed anime is changing. What are some of the changes? Where do you see anime distribution going?

Snow: For us it's interesting, because you have complete control over where you want to distribute on Youtube. What country, whether you want to allow fans to distribute clips. It's important to understand where your fans are, and it's in a language that they know. For us, everybody would be able to guess the top two markets for anime on Youtube. US and Japan. For the next three, I'm not sure of the order, but it's Mexico, Brazil, and Thailand. I don't know how much of it is in their language, to be honest. For us, it's good to be able to reach a global audience instantly, and understanding where that passion is, and how to harness it. On Youtube, that represents itself by people sharing content, or people becoming creators on your behalf.

Forte: What do you see Youtube doing to progress anime's growth?

Snow: I assume everyone in this room has tried Youtube at some point, but everyone uses it differently. The trouble for us is to serve all your needs so that everyone gets the most value.

Forte: With hardware advancements like Roku and others, do you see the hardware distribution model changing anytime soon? What's next, an anime set top box?

Rodriguez: Our goal as a company is to be accessible everywhere. Whether it's Roku, or Xbox, or Sony, we try to find out what ecosystem that person has. If they're using Youtube, for instance, or if they have an Xbox at home. It's based on what you have, what you have at home, and what you turn on. We just want to make sure we're at every touch point.

Snider: As the new generation grows older, they're going to be using consoles and apps like Roku way more often than they're going to be tuning into something like cable. For me to say this is blasphemous, but working with interns and college students, I haven't met anyone under the age of 25 who uses TV as TV. They're streaming everything. They're using Hulu, Netflix… they couldn't even tell you what channel a TV show they're watching comes from. As the industry progresses, something like Youtube is where you're going ot be finding your content. I don't know if it's about a set top box, as it is about what kind of software you'll be accessing your content from.

Seeing what cable networks are doing, like Comcast, or TV everywhere, if you look and see how the next generation is accessing their content, and you polled them how they watch their anime, they'd tell you they stream their anime, or watch it on their phones. That's how content is going. That's the challenge to people like us who bring it to the US.

Rodriguez: It's an interesting balance. People still turn on TV. We still have things on Adult Swim, Starz… it's a balance catering to everyone's viewing habits… Everything's available at the touch of a button. Anime fans are very smart, very tech savvy…early adopters. We have people from MIT emailing us all the time about security bugs… We have 1.5 million subscribers on our Youtube channel. It's massive, and to keep up with that demand is a challenge. We're constantly releasing titles to satiate that, because if we don't, someone will steal it.

Kudo: From a service company point of view, we're doing more and more simulcasts right now. When original anime series air in Japan, we put English subs on it and we put them on Crunchyroll or another streaming site within a 24-hour turnaround time. So US audiences can almost watch it at the same time. One of the ways to combat piracy and fansubbed material on those illegal websites is that we put legitimate subs on it, and stream it so that no one here would lose their jobs. And we will still have an anime industry going on. Like [Rodriguez] was saying, it's more important to have content in as many places it can be reached. Business models used to be based on packaging deals like Bluray and DVD, but that's not the way it works anymore.

Rodriguez: Making subbed anime available for purchase the next day… also gives us a window to let us educate people about the series that are available. Like with Attack on Titan, it hit a really mass level online, and we made it available subtitled very early. .. It got to the level where the dub is on Adult Swim now. That's an example of building a brand. We don't start the marketing push until we start subbing. It's just word of mouth from there.

Forte: Was there a moment when you realized things are changing?

Snider: Netflix.

Rodriguez: That was a game changer. It's really just in the past three years, I think, that you see more hunger for content. We get a lot more partners reaching out to us for it. It's become a very big world sector for video. It's because anime fans are so quick to move. Anecdotally, our Bluray adoption rate when BDs came out, it was ahead of the industry. It was like 50% when the rest of the industry was 30%... Our demo is tech savvy.

Audience: Anime consumption is rising, and interest in anime is rising, but the supply of anime and the creation of anime in Japan seems to be stabilizing or shrinking. Most of the directors who are good are getting older. Animators who want to enter animation are entering the gaming industry instead of 2D animation. Is there any way to increase the availability?

Rodriguez: There's still 40 titles a season.

Audience: But they were at 100 in 2005.

Rodriguez: Anime is an expensive venture. You have cancellations when anime doesn't work out. We've done co-productions before and we've gone into that space before. Japan has its own cultural affairs office that deals with that as well. I'd hate to see things go away… Animators are aging. If you've ever been to an anime studio, it's a lot of people in a very small room drawing. It's a tedious industry, and we're lucky to have it still exist.

Audience: What degree does piracy hurt the anime industry abroad and on US soil?

Kudo: I don't know if people here realize how bad piracy affects our industry, but every time you watch something illegally, it decreases the budget of the production in Japan. The [other audience member] was saying we're not getting more and more anime. It's because the budget is getting lower and lower, and people can't produce anime anymore because they're not getting enough budget, because it's not selling overseas, or they're not recuping what they're putting into it. This is a business model where people need ot make money every way they can so they can fund the next project. Every time you watch something for free, you are taking something away from the next project… We're losing the whole industry by watching something illegally.

Snider: Just working in broadcast, there's a stigma that anime is a genre that people watch for free… You have a lot of power as a consumer, and you should put those dollars where you want to see more. If you want to see anime on TV, or anime in stores, spend your money on anime; don't watch it for free.

Audience: Sometimes supporting an anime by buying it isn't possible or feasible. Like, Gundam Build Fighters aired on Youtube and it was great. I watched it a few times. But sometimes when I'm traveling, I can't access it. There's no way for me to support that series. So then what do you do.

Nanawa: That's a Sunrise/Bandai question. That's where it comes to Tokyo, that's the disconnect. When we go to Tokyo to do deals, we encounter the disconnect right up front. This is what the US needs, and what the US wants; why are you giving it to me?

Rodriguez: …Pirating is the worst thing that could happen to the anime industry.

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