KUROSUFAIYAH!by Zac Bertschy,
Zac: Alright, Welcome to Kurosufaiyah. Our panelists this week are Robert Bricken, Mike Toole and Daniel Zelter. I'd like everyone to introduce themselves; tell us what you do and your favorite anime series, please.
Robert:I'm Robert Bricken, the managing editor of Anime Insider magazine. Our bi-monthly mag is full of previews, features on hot anime, and other assorted wackiness. I'm utterly obsessed with FLCL, but I also have an Urusei Yatsura tattoo. If you can tell me which of the two is my favorite, please let me know.
Daniel: Alright, I'm Daniel Zelter, contributor/writer for sites like Anime News Service , Akadot and Jagged Team . The series I'm into right now are Shin Hokuto no Ken, MazinKaiser, Ninja Scroll, Jojo and Lupin.
Zac: I'm Zac Bertschy, your moderator. I'm a professional freelance journalist. My favorite series right now are RahXephon and Peacemaker Kurogane. Alright, let's get started. First topic: Video games and anime. Is this a fatal combination? Fans always seem disappointed with the results.. is this genre cursed, or is there a silver lining?
Robert: I don't think we can condemn the whole genre off-hand. There have been plenty of misses, but of course that never foregoes the possibility of a future hit. Especially recently, there seems to be a fair chunk of beloved titles based on videogames. .hack and Sakura Taisen, just to name the two most prominent. My belief is that as videogame narrative has improved over time, the anime based off those videogames have improved as well. And of course, it's always easier to make an anime of a game with a plot than say...Missile Command.
Daniel: It really depends on how much quality the company behind the game actually wants. I mean aside from SF 2V, CAPCOM anime's been pretty decent so far. (SF: Zero and Rockman.EXE come to mind so far.) when you get a company that just wants people to buy the anime, just because of the name(*cough* Square and FF:U *cough*), then you're obviously going to get a lesser quality title. So I guess adaptations should be more than the video game licensor taking money and looking the other way, but participating in the production.
Mike: I think that anime based on video games isn't necessarily "cursed," but it's certainly hobbled, mainly by two factors: Firstly, the fact that a large chunk of the production budget goes towards licensing the characters and branding from the game. Secondly, the anime is a tie-in product, and therefore is going to have a built-in audience that will buy it no matter how poor it is. (Just watch how many people buy FF:U, for example.) As a result, we do end up with fare like FF:U, with a talented production staff that don't care about making a quality series. There are certainly exceptions (Jojo's, Arc the Lad, Sakura Taisen) but that's just what they are— exceptions.
Zac: Alright, the reason I ask is because of two new shows this season, F-Zero and Gungrave. Gungrave is, in my opinion, a complete misfire, and represents most of what's bad about videogame anime: poor characterization, a reliance on familiarity with the game, compromised production budgets, so on and so forth. F-Zero is a goofy kid's show that takes most of the right steps towards producing a decent anime version of the game. It's come to a point where the genre no longer seems cursed, just split down the middle. Back when all we got were Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Art of Fighting, all that nonsense basically cursed video game anime series, but now, especially with a Xenosaga anime coming out, and the sales of videogames nearly trumping the film industry, I think we're going to see games mined more and more often. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I too am curious to see how many disappointed fans we have when Final Fantasy Unlimited hits the shelves. Does anyone else have anything to say on this?
Mike: I think it's incredibly funny that titles like F-Zero are being mined for anime tie-ins to begin with. The games have always had such bare-bones stories. It brings to mind the hideous 1980s "Q-Bert" cartoon— how do you build a story, world, and characters around an orange creampuff hopping around on a bunch of squares? It is worth noting, though, that we've come a long, LONG way from 3D World Runner and Super Mario Bros, which were the first videogame-to-anime tie-ins. I think the marriage of the two has definitely produced some nice results.
Daniel: First off, I just wanted to add that it's important to note that a recent trend in the anime industry is that it's become oversaturated, forcing many artists to work in videogames. So adaptations are no coincidence. Second off, videogame anime has always been hit-and-miss. For every Fatal Fury, we got Gowkaizer. Third, I consider a Xenosaga anime another marketing ploy to compensate for weak sales and reception of the game in general. So I guess as long as the market is there, there will be adaptations. But I don't think the type of game being adapted has anything to do with the quality of the writing.
Zac: Xenosaga is promising because it was basically a movie already, with a very well written and intriguing script. It would have made an excellent series, and now they're making it one, which is why I say it's a good thing. And the more they adapt games with decent writing, the better the shows will be.
Daniel: I could swear the biggest complaint about Xenosaga were the movie sequences. So it could just turn into another Spirits Within.
Zac: Alright, next. Boy's anime - shonen - has seen a gigantic influx of female fans. With series like Naruto and Rurouni Kenshin pulling in more female fans than male, are we seeing a content shift? Is what used to be about fighting now about pretty boys? How has this scene changed since the fangirl invasion?
Mike: I see no change. The "manly romance" that artists like Leiji Matsumoto and Takao Sato were pimping back in the 1970s is still alive and well. Heck, Matsumoto is more popular now than he's been since his heydays in the 1970s. I see it as encouraging that a lot of the Shonen Jump and Shonen Sunday fare is becoming more general-audience but I'm not seeing an appreciable decline in shows pitched towards males— at least not in Japan. The shift in western fandom has had its effects, though. At AWA, Carl Horn told me that Viz were having some trouble figuring out how to market Golgo 13 because, in the words of the marketing department, it was not "girly enough." That's certainly interesting, but like I said, I think it's more to do with the influx of females in western fandom than with the target audiences in Japan.
Robert: I agree with Mike. I think most of the change has been in the Western audience. I don't think too many boys are going to complain about the abundance of girls arriving in anime-dom. There'll always be guy-centric anime in Japan, and it'll get licensed and brought over. Anime is popular enough to fill all these sub groups beyond fan, especially one as broad as "men." Frankly, I'm happy about the huge influx of titles that appeal to both sexes; chances are is they're broad enough to appeal to both, they'll likely appeal to both the core fan and the mass market, and that's good for everyone. But guys looking for pure guy's title won't need a new hobby. And hentai not withstanding, of course.
Daniel: Well I'm one of the fans who gripe that it has been dumbed down. But I still find that comment about Golgo 13 funny. Why? Because over the years, I've noticed female fans who're checking out the more masculine titles. For example, we have a few on the Lupin Mailing List. I saw a few, when they screened the Fist of the North Star oav at BAAF. And many were at the Hojo panel at BAAF(Because, as Raijin pointed out, City Hunter's a bigger hit with girls than guys in Japan.) So it just goes to show that if you have strong female leads, any series will sell. (In fact, Golgo 13's enemy in Queen Bee was a woman.) So I don't see the point in making it flowery, when girls outgrow that garbage and want something more mature.
Zac: I, for one, am seeing a content shift. I think shonen is the new shoujo. And the fact that shounen titles have mostly pretty boy characters now and have become something for everyone is not only a good thing, it takes the best of both genres and makes them one. Most of the new shounen titles are highly entertaining and can be enjoyed by just about everyone. On the other hand, we have almost no straight romance titles anymore; the days of Marmalade Boy are over, perhaps forever. Now that women seem to prefer their guys combat-ready (and ambiguously homosexual), flowery romance is all but dead. Japanese content IS changing to meet American needs, if you look at any new shonen titles from the last year or so. It's mostly a blessing, I think, and fascinating to see how much the American fandom has changed and how that dictates what we're getting.
Mike: First of all, I would contend that straight romance is by no means dead, it's just been sticking mostly to manga. My favorite example of this is Paradise Kiss, an absolutely outstanding manga series and a straight-up teen romance. It's unconventional in both art style and story subject so perhaps that's why it hasn't been animated (even though its predecessor, Neighborhood Stories, was.. and didn't get so much as fansubbed). Second, I'm intrigued by Daniel's comment that anime has been "dumbed down" in recent years. What is missing now that was present before?
Zac: For the record, I have a fansubbed tape of Neighborhood Stories.
Mike: Episodes one and three, right?
Zac: Yeah, heh.
Mike: I find it puzzling that there's no more.
Daniel: Well I think ever since titles like Gundam Wing and Pokémon, it's just there to sell more toys. Even Spirited Away seemed derivative of the genre. And frankly, I wasn't impressed by Paradise Kiss either. It seemed rather shallow, and probably explains why Zac believes the romance genre is dying. Pretty people can't hold together paper-thin plots.
Zac: Dan, I'm not even going to begin to tell you what's wrong with that statement. Paradise Kiss is an excellent example of shoujo done right, and I don't need to argue on Spirited Away's behalf.
Robert: Since I don't believe any of the shonen titles are losing any of the boys audiences while gaining females, I'm not sure we can talk of it as a shift. Certainly there's plenty of shonen anime adding touches of pretty boys or romance, but I don't believe that's anything new. Anime has always been best at combining genres for a deeper, more appealing story. Girls may love Naruto in 2003, but there were plenty of female fans of Ranma 1/2 and its wacky love story. And Ranma was by no means a pretty boy, at least a traditional one. Pure anime romance may be in a bit of a lull, but it's not dead. There'll be plenty more, especially with the popularity of shojo manga titles in the U.S. Watch and see. And Dan clearly is insane.
Zac: It's more my contention that they are now purposefully adding this content to attract females. Since if they put romance and pretty boys in a fighting show they can get both audiences. And make way more money than just a romance or a Fist of the North Star would. Ranma didn't have bishounen, but Inu-Yasha does. Inu-Yasha is subsequently more popular than Ranma ever was, and it's mostly with females.
Daniel: You sure about that? Takahashi recycles her character designs so often I can't tell.
Mike: Ranma 1/2 had Pantyhose Taro— a very pretty man.
Robert: Inu-Yasha is on Cartoon Network. Not Ranma.
Zac: True, but I think Sesshoumaru is pulling in more females than anyone in Ranma ever would have.
Daniel: I do think they're marketing anime more to women, but that's not why it's selling. Anime's a lot less exclusionary than other male pursuits, such as sports. And women fans are actually desired. So that's why it works out.
Robert: I loves me some Heat Guy J. I get mad when anyone says "I'm surprised it was so good!" Because I don't want anyone to dismiss it. It has an android and it has two buddy cops. And it's incredibly entertaining. Great action, intriguing story, but most of all—it's got two well thought main characters, and it doesn't hurt the voice acting is top-notch. As for MTV, I can't predict it. While one might worry about how the mass MTV audience will react to an anime for the first, two things come to mind: 1) They've done alright with their Spider-Man animated series, so there's at least the potential for do alright nowadays, and... 2) MTV knows how to market their shows. There's no reason to assume they'll get Heat Guy J wrong, and so it could end up doing pretty darned well. It certainly deserves to.
Daniel: I haven't seen it, but I don't think anime on MTV matters, since even if it becomes popular, it'll just be repeated so often that people will get tired of it. And contrary to Robert's opinions, I don't feel MTV knows anything about marketing. But then judging by its low stock this year, neither does Viacom. *
Mike: I love Heat Guy J's visual style. It's absolutely gorgeous. I'm also of its core concept, which strikes me as simply taking the Terminator, giving him excellent taste in clothing, a police badge, and the brain of Ernest Hemingway. As for the actual quality of the episodes I've seen so far (through the 7th), it's curious. Here is a series that's so run through with pretension that it could go straight down the tubes at any moment. But I think that's actually part of its appeal— it's a rush, not food for thought. I think that it will perform well for MTV provided that they give it a regular time slot, rather than "This Wednesday at midnight! Next Tuesday at 11pm! The following friday at 2:00am!" And I also think that its top-notch English adaptation will continue to chip away the "dubbed version = poop" mentality that a lot of fans continue to have.
Zac: I started out disliking Heat Guy J, then saw it on DVD in English and it ws love at first sight. Rather, second sight. I love the mafia stuff.. I don't think there's enough mafia stuff in anime, and this show gets it just right. J is a great character, so is Dice, and they're a joy to watch together. It's a really fun show. for MTV, they have a history of taking chances with animation (The Maxx, Liquid Television), but they usually wind up getting buried after 10+ episodes of Punk'd and a Newlyweds marathon. Not that this will happen to Heat Guy J, but it's hard enough to find out when Spider-man is going to be on, so as it stands, I have no idea. I'm not sure the TRL crowd will eat it up. It seems like it's more for older teenagers and college kids, many of whom have tuned out MTV since the tweens took over.
Mike: Black Heaven would be a hard sell based on the fact that its target audience— thirty-something heavy metal fans— is a pretty small one. John Sykes and Michael Schenker aren't exactly household names. As for Heat Guy J, I just view its emergence on MTV as a direct reaction to Adult Swim snatching MTV's late night audience away. I think that Adult Swim fans will tune in to see Heat Guy J— that's a given. I am very interested, however, in seeing just how many new fans Heat Guy J can bring in. I think it might have a chance with some of the TRL crowd.
Robert: I disagree with Mike; I find one of the best things about Heat Guy J is its utter lack of pretension. But I agree with Zac. The relationship between Dice and J is one of the best watches in anime right now. They surely bought Heat Guy J because of Adult Swim, which is why I think they'll do better with it than their other shows. They know there's an audience for this. I hope the TRL crowd does watch it; it'll be better for all of us fans.
Daniel: I also disagree with Mike. Beavis and Butthead had a lot of metal references, and it was MTV's longest running animated series.
Zac: That stuff was way more popular in 1992 than it is now, Dan.
Daniel: It lasted 4-5 years though.
Zac: Black Heaven is just too strange to get a big audience.
Mike: Beavis and Butthead mentioned currently-popular acts. Did any of Sykes' projects, aside from his one-album stint with Whitesnake, break 100,000 copies? I'm not a big fan of the guy, incidentally. I remember Blue Murder, but that's about it.
Zac: Yeah, I agree with that.
Daniel: Maybe Sykes wasn't popular but the fact that the show continued, even when it ended up with them just watching music videos of bands like White Snake obviously didn't hinder its appeal.
Mike: Yeah. I'd LOVE it if Black Heaven got big. I wrote the official website for it. a shame the site never "went live".
Zac: Alright, we're out of time this week. I'd like to graciously
thank my three panelists for their time and consideration. Thanks for reading,
see you next time!
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