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by Zac Bertschy,

Welcome to KUROSUFAIYAH!, Anime News Network's newest feature. Twice a month, Zac Bertschy, Rebecca Bundy, Bamboo Dong and a special guest will convene in a round table discussion of the hottest topics in anime and manga today.


Zac: Welcome to the first installment of KUROSUFAIYAH! This week we'll be discussing .Hack, Spirited Away and Chobits. First, I'd like to start with a round of short introductions.

Zac: My name is Zac Bertschy. Former Answerman columnist, I now write for both Wizard Magazine and Wizard's Anime Insider. I'll be moderating this discussion. My favorite anime series are Revolutionary Girl Utena, Berserk, Witch Hunter Robin, and Great Teacher Onizuka.

Zac: Brian?

Brian: Hey! I'm Brian Hanson. I'm a Media Arts freshman at the University of Arizona and anime enthusiast. My favorite series are Lupin III, One Piece, Dragon Ball, and Berserk.

Rebecca: I'm Rebecca Bundy. Currently I'm writing for the Ms. Answerman column while finishing up my last semester in the Japanese department at the University of Arizona. I've worked on two anime preview guides for ANN, and will be writing reviews when I can. Favorite series are Naruto, Berserk, Yami no Matsuei, and Hikaru no Go.

Bamboo: Ahoy! I'm Bamboo Dong, although most of you know me as SakechanBD. I started writing reviews for Anime News Network circa 1999, and currently write the Shelf Life column for ANN as well. My favorite series include Rurouni Kenshin, Watase Yuu series, GTO, and Initial D.

Zac: First Topic: Spirited Away. What chance does this film have of getting nominated for best Animated film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

Brian: Personally, I think it's a lock for Best Animated Feature. I think all but one of the major critics groups have awarded it the "Best Animated Feature" award. The Las Vegas Critics Circle, or some such, gave the award to Lilo & Stitch. Plus, Disney is promoting it rather heavily. On Oscarwatch.com, you can find dozens of Disney-sponsored "For Your Consideration" ads. One other important thing: Spirited Away has the support of not just critics, but all of the animation community.

Zac: So you think it'll not only get nominated, it'll take the award.

Brian: Definitely.

Bamboo: I think that Spirited Away will most definitely get nominated for the Best Animated Feature Award. As for winning it, it all depends on the Academy. There are times when the Academy will follow it's own whim separate from that of critics, and one can never be sure. Comparatively, it's by far one of the best animated films of the year, with it's only enemy being Lilo & Stitch.

Zac: Do you think it deserves the award?

Bamboo: I personally didn't like Spirited Away as much as everyone else did, but in comparison to the other films in its category, it is by far the best, so I think in terms of artistry and story, it deserves the award hands down.

Rebecca: Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away were the only decent animated films of 2002. Spirited Away will definitely be nominated and has a good chance of winning the award.

Zac: I'm confident that Spirited Away will be nominated for the award, but substantially less confident in its chances of taking it. It faces competition from both Lilo & Stitch and Ice Age, two critically adored animated films that academy voters will most certainly have a soft spot for. Spirited Away is almost too alien, I think, to appeal to the historically domestically-biased Academy voters. As for whether it deserves the award.. Lilo & Stitch was a very creative endeavor for Disney and I certainly enjoyed it more than Miyazaki's fantasy, but I'm capable of seeing that Spirited Away is probably the better picture.

Rebecca: Ice Age is visually stunning, but the story is weak in comparison to Lilo and Spirited Away.

Zac: Ice Age will be nominated on the basis of critical support and sheer box office numbers. Personally I thought it was a weak, empty film, but that's how the Academy tends to vote.

Bamboo: As for Best Feature, I don't feel confident in saying that it will be nominated. While it was a major contender in the Japanese market, it was only approved in America by the circle of critics, whose opinions really have no affect on the academy.

Brian: Let me just say that I loved Spirited Away, and thought it was Miyazaki's best since Totoro. I'll go to my grave with that sentiment. It's foreign, yes, but not SO foreign as to be confusing, like Totoro and Mononoke.

Bamboo: I, personally, enjoyed the ending of Spirited Away and thought it made the whole movie worthwhile. I found the first half of the movie to be somewhat dull, and in that respect, Lilo & Stitch is more appealing to a wider market.

Brian: Lilo and Stitch is great, it's tons of fun, but I just don't see it as a big awards contender.

Zac: Brian has a point that the animation industry will probably cry bloody murder if Spirited Away doesn't take the award.

Bamboo: The Academy tends to be shallow and mainstream-indulging at times, so in that respect, I wouldn't be surprised whatsoever if Lilo takes the award.

Brian: Well, if, for some strange reason the Academy passes on Spirited Away, then the award will definitely go to Lilo. There were actually over a dozen animated films released this past year. Most of which were foreign films in limited releases made specifically for a shot at the Oscar. I find it sort of amusing that the race is between two films and two films only.

Zac: Okay, next topic: Dot Hack.

Bamboo: Overrated. Next.

Zac: Let me finish asking the question.

Zac: Bandai's Marketing juggernaut is set to be unleashed in February, with the animated series coming to Cartoon Network, a PS2 video game being released with a new OVA anime series along with it, another TV series seeing eventual release, and even a manga.
Is Bandai betting too much on Hack? What sort of success will this series see in the US, and why?

Bamboo: I think .Hack will actually be a success. With all the hype that this release is generating, the marketing trends will follow it. The majority of anime fans tend to believe in what the rest of anime fandom tells them, and with the over-excitement over .Hack, it will definitely make a dent in the anime market. The anime series itself carries an interesting premise of being inside an RPG game. Given that a large number of anime fans are also gaming fans, a series such as this will undoubtedly appeal to a vast percentage of them. With a series about an RPG game, it's only natural that the video game would also sell, and vice versa. It is unlike other video game based series in the sense that it was made to be a multi-platform release, and as a multi-platform release is the only real way that Bandai can release it.

Rebecca: Considering the quality of the anime as well as the game, I don't believe that Bandai is taking a large risk. They're targeting two types of people; anime fans and gaming fans. An anime fan who enjoys .hack and learns there is a game out will likely go and buy the game, even if they are not interested in games. And vice versa for the gaming fans. By hitting both markets at once, they'll likely make a lot off of people who would not normally go out and buy games or watch anime. The series itself will likely do well in the US.

Brian: Wow. Well, I guess I get to be the first skeptic here. I don't think it'll quite work out. The only other mass-market anime to follow a multi-platform campaign have been stuff like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!: safe, kid-friendly shows with simple Game Boy and card games behind them. Game Boy and Card games are pretty cheap little toys, one of the reasons kids really bought into it. New PS2 games are a wee bit pricy for most of middle-america. Don't get me wrong though. I like Dot Hack. I wish it the best of luck. But I think it only has a chance of being a hit among the hardcore anime elite, or those who spend on very little else besides anime.

Zac: I'm somewhere in the middle on this one. I've seen what Bandai has to offer on this one. .hack is a quality series but it moves incredibly slow. In addition, consumers will get a hell of a lot more out of each product if they play/watch them in sequential order.
Since Bandai is releasing everything all at once, people are going to be really confused and probably fairly upset at the pacing of .hack://SIGN. The start of the video game makes almost no sense at all unless you've seen the end of the TV show. I think Bandai should have released .hack://SIGN last Fall and launched the game when the entire anime series was finished being released. That having been said, the show is appealing enough to be a big success... but not big enough to keep the brand alive long enough to last as long as they need it to in order to sell four 20+ hour RPG games, a manga series, and another TV series.

Bamboo: Bandai needs to release a time chart for it, like they do for their Gundam releases. This way, people will at least know where everything fits in.

Zac: Perhaps they will, that's a good point.

Brian: I also see this other possiblity where the anime becomes big and does well, but the game is a complete flop.

Rebecca: They should have released the anime earlier, but while the game does make more sense after watching the anime, someone could still play the game and keep up with it.

Zac: You think so?

Bamboo: About what Brian said, I agree that it won't be as widely successful as kid friendly shows like Yu-Gi-Oh!, but in the anime/gaming niche, it will do well. Anime fans may not be rich, but they definitely have the sacrificial money to support such a multi-platformed release.

Zac: The pacing of .hack://SIGN might kill it, though.

Rebecca: The pacing of DBZ didn't kill that anime though...

Zac: DBZ is all action. .hack is Tsukasa moping around and people talking about player addresses and BBS systems.

Bamboo: What might irk some of the rabid fanboys though, is if they watch the subbed series, and then hear the dubbed game. This might unnerve some of the most rabid type. Many video-game based series don't do that well. With this, however, people already know in advance that it comes as a "set" and are most likely willing to bust out and get the whole thing, if they're as completionist as most are. Bandai is taking a risk, but they won't lose too much on it, no matter how things go

Rebecca: As long as Cartoon Network shows commericals for the game to LET people know there IS a game out, it should be alright. It can't be assumed that the people watching Cartoon Network keep up on anime news.

Zac: Final topic, series discussion. Pioneer's big spring release, Chobits.

Bamboo: *cough* Overrated *cough* panty shots *cough*

Zac: Technically it's Rebecca's turn to go first.

Rebecca: *pouts as Bamboo cut in line*

Brian: This can only be decided in a bout of Mortal Kombat! FIGHT!

Zac: Brian, Mortal Kombat is not about death. It's about life. Rebecca, you go first.

Rebecca: I've only seen the first two episodes, and believe that I can die a sane and happy woman without seeing the rest of it. I've heard it gets better and is worth watching, but the first few episodes made my head hurt. Suffering through earlier episodes isn't really worth it, even if the ending parts are better. Kind of like finding out how many licks it takes to get to the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop...it's probably easier to cheat and read a series summary than to suffer through this series.

Zac: Alright, Bamboo?

Bamboo: Chobits is a series that appealed to fans for two reasons. Girls were attracted by the cuteness and the potential of cosplaying as Chii to get dates at anime conventions, and guys were enthralled with her naivete and sporadic panty shots. The first episode is entertaining, but it goes downhill for five or so episodes. It picks up later in the series, but never really hits a high that would allow it to become anyone's favorite series. The characters have a tendency to be annoying. Sumomo is aggravating beyond belief, and Chii's slow learning curve is frustrating beyond reason. Altogether, it's a series that can be watched for fun, but never be fully enjoyed. With Tokyopop releasing the manga first though, Pioneer might have a better shot at getting more viewers for the series. Who knows?

Zac: Brian.

Brian: My interest in Chobits is dead. Zero. They say Chobits is cute and fun. And maybe it is. But I'm getting tired of simple cute and fun. And Chii, as far as anime characters go, seems like a cynical CLAMP amalgamation of whatever stock cute-and-subservient female anime cliches they could dig up. Chobits will have its fans, and its far from terrible, but I'd much rather watch something else.

Zac: OK, I'm in the minority on this one, then. Chobits has the unfortunate problem of having a very poignant and intelligent statement to make on man's relationship to technology that's been buried under heaps of fanservice. The last... I'd say 12 episodes of Chobits are examples of very good storytelling. And the message, that some people are happier loving a computer than loving real people and the damage that inflicts on those people, is certainly one that hasn't been explored much in today's media. But, of course, most people won't see past the panty shots. Which is a real shame, because this is CLAMP we're talking about. Decry them all you want, they don't write bad stories. And none of their work can be called truly shallow or vapid. Well, except maybe Clamp Campus Detectives.

Brian: Miyuki-chan in Wonderland.

Zac: Okay, none of their major works. While I would have appreciated less fanservice, I think the message and themes in Chobits warrant a solid look from anyone interested in theses on man versus technology versus emotion.

Bamboo: The problem lies not with the latter half of Chobits, which is decent, but getting there. The road to get there is a bitter one; by the time viewers reach the second half, they are already under the impression that it's pure fanservice, so they don't really look any deeper under it. Also, the messages in Chobits are subtle ones that are not recognizable by a large number of anime fans. Alas, CLAMP's messages are lost amongst a sea of panty-eyed fanboys. In order to really like Chobits for what it is meant to be, it has to be analyzed. This is one part of the series that many of the viewers are not prepared to do. If it's going to sell, it'll be because of the cuteness and service.

Brian: And in that sense, it'll be hard to explain CLAMP's message in a truly educational context given that the panties will cheapen the message to many other people.

Bamboo: CLAMP's idea of getting their medium out to a wider market may work, but their original intent is inadvertently lost before their goal is met. Looking at boobies versus thinking, which one is a fan going to do first?

Zac: Yeah, well, maybe they'll pause in between Kleenex orgasms and think about the internal emotional dysfunction it requires to fall in love with a computer and the psychological damages it'd cause on those around you. Inherently i don't think Chobits' racier content is enough to invalidate the series.

Bamboo: It doesn't invalidate it, but it masks it. Interestingly, series often explore the attraction between man to a machine/android, but the implications of such a fatal attraction are seldom discussed. In that respect Chobits is unique.

Rebecca: They might think about it, but by the time the show gets around to the issue of man and technology, those who prefer to think would've likely moved onto another show.

Zac: Very true. Good points all around on that one. OK, then we're finished. See you all next time on KUROSUFAIYAH!

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