Interview: Gilles Poitras

by Gia Manry, Jun 8th 2010
ANN: Lately you've been focusing on the sex trade in anime and manga. Why that topic?

Gilles Poitras: There is virtually no erotic anime or manga that has the sex trade in it. Almost everything else is seinen titles and a few josei titles and that's it.

So what do you think about some of the recent pressures from the Japanese government to "clean up" anime and manga as a cultural export?

That gets kind of crazy. Quite frankly, it's interesting because-- you talk about the lolita ban, and a lot of American fans assume they're talking about small children. But when the Japanese say lolita stories, they mean teenagers, which means literally almost every erotic title available in the US that has characters in schoolgirl uniforms would then be illegal, if there was a ban.

Obviously that would also impact yaoi titles, which are primarily about high school-age boys.

Yeah. But I'm Your Teacher would no longer be available. I love showing that title to people; I have no idea what's inside of the book but I just love showing the title to people.

But most of the material out there that includes the sex trade are seinen titles. Ikebukuro West Gate Park, for example. Or Great Teacher Onizuka.

Really?

Yeah, there's this one scene when they're on a trip on Okinawa, and one of the teachers calls another teacher, and they're in a club. The term "cabaret" has two meanings in Japan, one of which is the same as out here, and then there's a variant that's sort of like a host club, where every man has his own hostess, but she has hardly anything on, period. So as this guy gets the phone call he sort of blows the other guy off, and then you see him with a girl in his lap with no top and her tits in his face. That's in GTO.

And Super GALS, the manga, Aya is doing compensated dating. She hasn't done anything sexual, but she's getting close to that point. You've got Ouran High School Host Club and Club 9 is hostesses, that's a very respectable part because there's no explicit sexuality there but it's still considered part of the adult trade.

So there are a lot of these little things that pop up here and there. There's one section in GTO - GTO has a lot of these things --where his old buddy from high school, who's a cop, has been calling a "home health company." Health is a euphemism for fellatio. And they keep sending these women over and he just looks at them and says "Nope!" and slams the door in her face.

So do you think this is something that's becoming more prevalent, or...

No. It's just something that's been there for a long time, but there's been a huge gap in the number of seinen titles being released. In the early days almost all the titles were seinen titles, and then with the breakthrough of Sailor Moon and stuff they started bringing some more titles in for teens, stuff specifically for girls but also more stuff for teenage boys, and so that became a huge part of the market. But those titles tend to very quickly sell well and then very quickly decline in sales. Titles that are aimed at an older audience may not have that high climb but they don't have big plunge either. They tend to stay in the catalogue for a long time and continue to sell, so ten years later they're still in print, whereas a shonen title from ten years ago might not be in print because the sales just drop through the basement.

But in a seinen title, because it's aimed at guys in their late teens and twenties and thirties, you might have this element in it. Ikebukuro West Gate Park, there's a murder investigation and they're trying to find this particular man who picks up young women and he basically drugs them and ties them up and does things to them-- but it's consensual, and he always measures the drugs very carefully. Well, one girl who has apparently dealt with this guy once is found dead, and it looks like it might be him, so they start looking for him, and two of the characters get a report that he's been seen going into a particular building. It's a couples' kissaten, a couples' cafe. Only couples are allowed in, and they're urged to watch each other have sex or do sexual things. So this guy and this girl go in and they have to kind of fake it, and the girl is quite interested in NOT faking it, and the guy's looking around at everything and going "oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," and then he spots the guy. But that's the type of thing; it's just two pages in the entire volume. So you might have a five-volume set that has just one or two pages with that kind of content, and it's part of the story.

Few erotic titles that have dealt with the adult sex trade...Midnight Sleazy Train, in Japan there are places that mimic the interior of a commuter train that have the women dress up as girls office workers and stuff and the guys grope them. In Midnight Sleazy Train, they actually do it in an "after hours" train ride. But that's pretty much it...My Fair Masseuse, about a woman who works in a soap land, and there's a thing called "Cage" about a girl who's forced into prostitution and kept prisoner to pay off a debt, but that's literally all that I could find. You find more things about the housewife cheating, the husband cheating...

Or the really weird stuff.

Or you know, the anime based on U-Jin stuff, which is very tongue-in-cheek...I think there was one where a high school girl was working part-time in a no-pan kissa, a coffee shop where the girls don't wear panties and wear short skirts. I haven't taken notes on that series; I picked up several of those because U-Jin's sense of humor is so bizarre.

But most of it is just part of the story, not the story itself. And that's kind of interesting because you look at these things and you go, "What the hell is an image club? Why is it called an image club?" You know, or "Fashion Health," which is in 20th Century Boys.

How much do you think this is a modernization of the geisha, who entertained without giving sexual favors, and how much is its own thing?

The modern-day hostess is like a low-skilled version of the geisha. Geishas in and of themselves are works of art: they have to learn dance, they have to learn music, they have to learn all sorts of literary references, they're expected to have a high level of skills in traditional arts. In fact in the Edo period, geishas in several areas could not do sex for money, and if they did they could be sentenced for up to seven years as punishment. Any place allowing them to have sex for money in it would not only lose their business, the two adjacent businesses would close down as well, that's how strict the enforcement was.

But at the same time, there were areas where they had double contracts; a geisha would be a geisha half-time and a prostitute half-time, and the double contract was a way to get around that. And those were in Edo and Kyoto. I recently read an interview with a retired geisha who's in her 80s or 90s, very attractive woman still, and she talks about when she was younger, the geisha would traditionally entertain in the prostitution district, but their job was to do music and dance and then they'd leave and go home.

And the men would move on to the prostitutes?

Yeah. And so whenever they were walking down the streets the geishas would always walk behind the prostitutes to show them respect, because the prostitute's job was harder. And a geisha house, a real geisha house? Men are never allowed past the door.

The house where the geisha actually live?

Yeah. Because geisha would rarely marry, if a geisha did and she stayed a geisha, she would have a separate apartment that her husband would live in, and she'd live there and in the geisha house.

So that's the part where we talk about how geisha are not part of the sex trade because there was such a neuroticism about it. But then you also had this thing called onsen geisha, which are kinda-geisha prostitutes in hot springs town.

But the modern sex trade is part of the whole "play" culture. In the Edo period, there are accounts of merchant-class women who had money going to do the brothel districts and going to male brothels, and there are at least a couple of vague references to female prostitutes who specialized in female customers, who dressed in a manly style. But also for male customers who liked women dressed in a manly style.

Is there any relation to Takarazuka?

No. We're talking about something that ceased to be some 50-60 years before Takarazuka, Edo-era stuff. Mostly not in the Kyoto area, but in the Edo area and nearby.

Speaking of "onsen geisha," you've been cataloguing a lot of stuff as a supplement to The Anime Companion 2. Do you have any recent favorites?

It gets crazy. Mini-skirt police was a recent one, and almost impossible to find any information on in English, the only information I could find that was definitely reliable was in The Otaku Encyclopedia, and I try not to duplicate what he's got. But when I see wonderful examples in anime I just have to put an anime in there, and there are numerous examples of mini-skirt police, including in the Futari Ecchi OAV series when the guy has his girlfriend dress up as a mini-skirt police woman.

But the whole reason I started doing the sex trade stuff was that earlier, it was almost impossible to find reliable information. Most of the information out there is just really cheap fantasies, or it makes assumptions that would be true about the US but are definitely not true about Japan, so it's just garbage research. Or they're how-to manuals that don't talk about the stuff that's really handy. One of the books I'm talking about tonight is a guy who spent like fifty years in Japan, and one of the little tiny books he put out is how to go into some of these businesses and the proper procedures and etiquette and what's expected of you.

So I didn't do much, but then Pink Box came out, and Pink Box is a beautifully-crafted collection of photographs done in these businesses by a woman. She spent a year in Japan, most of that year just making contacts with people, getting to know people before she was allowed to take pictures. She took pictures in a variety of businesses and talked about a variety of things relating to it. Most of the sex trade in Japan is completely legal and is not prostitution by Japanese law. Japanese law makes prostitution a very specific thing: male-female genital-genital sex. Male-male, female-female, it's not prostitution. Oral sex is not prostitution, anal sex is not prostitution.

So it becomes kind of an interesting thing, since you have businesses that could be advertised openly that are not prostitution, but prostitution might be going on behind the scenes. There's one photograph she has in the book is this one guy in a shirt with a little bow tie, and he looks like a stereotypical clerk in some 1920s general store or something, and he's got this tiny mustache and a weird look on his face, and the counter has a sign that says "Don't ask for the real thing, we will evict you." And then it has photographs of guys who were kicked out. They have towels around their waists, and you can tell there's someone with a camera and someone really big behind someone with the camera.

You can do all kinds of other things, but don't ask for the real thing.

I noticed in Japan that being a female foreigner in a porn shop often meant that the male Japanese patrons would quickly evacuate. [Alternatively: Is it true that in Japan, men will quickly leave a porn shop if a woman enters?]

I remember being in a book-off store, the one in the Radio Kaitan building in Akihabara, with a friend of mine who'd been living in Japan since 2000, and he's going, "do you think they have any of the boys love stuff here?" and I can't read the floor signs but it does say that on the fifth floor there's a "BL" section, and the novels have pictures, and he opens one up and it's a very explicit scene, and he goes "oh my gosh, are there other pictures?" And after a while I said, "we've got to get out of here-- I've seen six very attractive women peek into the area and leave. We're disrupting the customers."

That's very much a girls' club.

Oh yeah-- which is great! That, to me, when that exploded, it was a sign that fandom had reached a new level. That women fans could be such a powerful force to drive a huge segment of a niche market in such a successful way.

It's generally said that BL fans are better about buying even materials they've already read in an illicit form elsewhere.

Yes. The advantage for that is also that most things are also one volume or maybe up to three volumes, so that's very advantageous. I got the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco to start stocking them. There's a little Boys Love section, it's very depleted right now. The manager was spending so much money buying up stock that the board told her to slow down her purchases for a while, so she's trying to work out better discounts right now, talking to the publishers. It's also very difficult to get the stuff once it's been out. It's easy to get when it first comes out, but a lot of distributors don't carry it after that, they do an initial distribution and that's it.

But when Pink Box came out I said, okay, I've got enough reliable information-- it has a glossary of the Japanese text in it, the woman's extremely meticulous, she's a corporate lawyer, and a very good photographer. Very respectful of the people. So it's the type of thing that looked like a very trustworthy source, and there was nothing in it that I could identify as false-- there are always things you can look for and say "oh, that's false, that's totally false." And that reduces the credibility of the entire work.

So I started doing entries but I decided first to start looking around soon to see if maybe there was another website that cited other books that might have useful information. I found one website that claimed to be the largest site on the web on Japanese sex trade terminology. The guy had like, five definitions...and I realized that he was right, it WAS the largest site on the web. Well, the largest English-language site on the web, until I started putting entries in The Anime Companion supplement.

And it's something I do very slowly because I want it to make sure it's accurate; sometimes I have to track down the original Japanese, or have someone in Japan track it down for me to verify if something really is a certain thing, because you never can know what word the translator is using. It becomes a very tricky sort of phenomenon. Luckily I have some Japanese friends who are willing to do that kind of thing for me.

You mentioned earlier how there are certain things that people will assume about Japan that aren't true; are there particular things that you notice that are common fan assumptions-- adult in nature or otherwise?

There are certain uses of terminology-- the use of "yaoi." The Japanese use the term yaoi to refer basically to doujinshi, though that's not its origin. But it quickly became used so heavily by the doujinshi crowd that it became a term used exclusively for doujinshi, and they use boys love for the commercial stuff.

Also the word "hentai." Most erotic anime and manga would not be called "hentai" by the Japanese; they would call it "ero-manga" or "ero-anime." The stuff they call hentai has to be "perverted." Any gay magazine would be referred to as hentai because of the fact that homosexuality has this veneer of being perverted since the Meiji period, rather than just an option.

Which is cool! I find it really cool, the way a difference goes from one culture to another, like "Fashion Health" in 20th Century Boys; a "Fashion Health" club is like an "Image" club that specializes on blowjobs. And of course when he goes there, the woman is dressed as a nurse, you know, kind of perverted cosplay.

But a lot of small assumptions about religion...things that are not exactly wrong but aren't quite right. A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their brains around the idea that there is no concept of one supreme god, and that's just the way it is. Because there are things that are common here that just don't fit there. So that's part of the situation...it's kind of a tricky thing, but it's totally different than it used to be, because fans now are far more knowledgeable about Japanese culture than they were twenty years ago. It would help if there were more anime released that were actually set in Japan and dealt with Japanese culture.

So what are you working on these days? Will there be an Anime Companion 3?

I've put forth the idea to my publisher that we eventually do a second edition, where we take all of one and two, rewrite and update everything, and then add in at least 700 new entries to make it a big fat volume. Now, that would not be for several years, because what happened a few years ago is that all of the chain stores within a couple of months of one another stopped stocking small press books. So that means chain stores as a whole are no longer stocking books from my publisher, from university presses, or a lot of other things. Individual stores might, if that particular manager is knowledgeable, but so I saw my royalty checks plummet by 90%. Because my books were selling in the chain stores, but chain stores stopped selling books from my publisher, so what I would sell in a month now became what I would sell in a year. And it's going up again, because as chain stores are closing down, the independent stores are getting more customers, and they're the ones that stock my books. So as my publisher starts recovering from that-- because it hit him across the board, and a lot of other publishers --there's a good chance that someday I will be doing it.

But in any case, every week I add SOMEthing to The Anime Companion. But the biggest thing I've added is the topical index, so if you want to go in and find what I have about religious buildings in Edo and Tokyo, I have a little topical index section just for that. I have one for secular buildings, I have one on religious terminology, on religious data in general, specific groups, I have a section on deities, a section on youkai and supernatural critters. Foods, I break it down by-- is it rice-based? Is it soup? Is it meat-based? Is it seafood-based? Is it an ingredient? So I've got all these topical categories.

Wow. Will it have recipes?

No. But the books I cite often do.

But having that topical index makes it easier for people to find stuff, otherwise you have to know the name of the term in order to use it.

You mentioned religion quite a lot in there, and you said it's something you think people often have misconceptions of it-- is there anything besides the lack of monotheism that people get wrong?

The nature of religion as a very private thing in Japan...not in the sense of "it's not anybody's business," but in the sense that it's just what people do themselves. They don't go to the temple every week, or the shrine every week; they might walk by and stop and pray for a bit, make a small offering, light some incense, and then they'll go on. There might be certain times of the year...there's a wonderful book called Practically Religious, about the practicality of Japanese religion. You go there to ask for something you need. It's practical.

And you know, that resonates also in the west because it's not unusual for a church, you know, during a draught, people pray for rain-- that kind of thing. But it's done on an individual basis [in Japan]; so you're a school kid cramming to get into high school; you go to the shrine, you pray, and then you go on to school. Maybe you pick up one of those little charms or things-- and of course there are certain shrines that are very famous for that. So if you go to Yutoshima Saiten in November and they've got the little ema wooden plaques of people's prayers on them, and they're hung up on the rack...and the stack is three feet deep. The rack is made out of steel sitting in the concrete. And I was reading one of them and it was from a guy in Brazil who was applying to medical school in Hawaii, written in Portuguese. There were some written in German, Dutch, Chinese, and of course plenty in Japanese, and you've got grandmas going there, and you've got schoolkids going there, just gearing up for the round of entrance exams, since in Japan you take entrance exams to go to high school, and you don't have to go to high school.

In fact, until this year everybody had to pay tuition for high schools, even the public schools. They're now going to be making public schools free, they're just starting that process. And 95% of all Japanese graduate from high school. Interesting type of structures.

Things are just done differently that people aren't aware of, I've found. And when they find out, they say "hey, cool."

There's been a lot of talk in the US about the possible demise of the anime industry even in Japan, being blamed on pirates, on moe fans, on the economy, etc. Where do you think the anime industry is heading over the next five or ten years?

It's already starting to contract in Japan. Companies that were doing very well are on the verge of bankruptcy. And that contraction is I think going to continue. In fact, some people in the industry in Japan have been predicting that there will be a collapse of numerous companies, and the best workers will survive, just they'll be working for other companies.

It's because the boom of money in anime started when the economic downturn took place, because people were looking for alternative entertainments, and watching anime and reading manga was relatively inexpensive, whereas a foreign trip was expensive. So there was a huge boom in that, and then it leveled off, but it's continued to be something that a lot of money gets invested in...but it's got sort of a limited appeal because a lot of things just don't make that much. And it's a tricky thing in Japan, because it's not unusual for a company to get its show on television and not make a penny off of broadcast. In some cases they actually have to buy advertising time to get it on, and that's true in the US too-- a lot of the shows on Cartoon Network, there was advertising by the company that was distributing the anime, and that's how they got it on Cartoon Network, they sponsored their own shows. Which of course increased the sales and paid for it.

But in Japan, a couple of years ago there were 200 new anime shows-- I think it was either 2008 or 2009, there were like 150 new anime shows. A lot of those were 13 episodes rather than the old 26 episodes, but that's still a lot of programs.

And there's a real need to get new storylines, to kind of diversify things. In a sense it's loosening up because they're redoing some classic things, like the new Cobra series.

And Casshern.

Yeah, and a lot of these things-- some of it's just nostalgia factor. But at the same time, it's bringing a style that hasn't been broadcast in a long time out to the public, so it could liven things up a bit. I hope it does. There were some great wacko experimental stuff in the '80s because there was just so much money you could get to do things; I don't think studio Gainax would have existed in the '90s because nobody would have given them millions of dollars to make a movie.

[Gainax acting president] Hiroyuki Yamaga was just talking about how they originally went to Bandai with an idea for a Gundam OVA and got turned down, but when they offered to do something original Bandai jumped.

Yeah, and they could do it! And of course, they bet the farm on Evangelion. If Evangelion hadn't been successful they would have gone bankrupt. And it was incredibly successful! But you know, where's the next Evangelion? There have been a lot of shows after that, some shows were wonderful, Cowboy Bebop...and there are certain creators that stand out, Satoshi Kon, Studio Ghibli people, and some other folks, Mamoru Oshii and so forth. And then there are certain creators you never hear of, like POLYGON PICTURES. They did all the 3D stuff for Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and for Sky Crawlers. They mostly do pachinko animation, they do almost all of the pachinko animation.

And they have some great people working for them. Leo Hourvitz, who used to be at Pixar, works for them. And Leo is uncompromising when it comes to the quality of animation, he is a very serious fellow. But look him up on Anime News Network, his name isn't there. I'm going to get out some of my old DVDs and see if Leo's name is on them so I can add him. I've known him since '99, very interesting fellow. He was basically grousing about his working conditions because he was working for Electronic Arts, and they would send him to Japan for about six months out of every year. He wanted to relocate to Japan but they wanted to keep him in the Bay Area, but then he got hired at Polygon. A Polygon guy asked him "well, what are you getting paid?" And then said "oh, I can beat that." Leo's a great guy; MIT grad, president of SIGGRAPH.

Yamaga also mentioned that they don't have any English speakers working at Gainax but that they used to, which was surprising since foreign interest in becoming a Japanese animator is probably way up.

Whenever I get asked that question when I'm speaking, I point out two things. One: I hope you're not going to get busted for this, but if you get busted for any prostitution-related crime, or any drug-related crime, you cannot work in Japan. You cannot go to school in Japan, you cannot move to Japan, those are the two things that will keep you from getting a visa. Whereas, you get busted for almost anything, you can't get into Canada. [Laughs] There's always some kid in the back who hears about the drug conviction thing who you go, yeah, he's going to change his life.

Do you think the anime industry in the US and Europe have to just wait for things to improve in Japan, or are there things they could be doing right now to improve their situations?

There's one thing that could dramatically improve their situations, and the Japanese situation, and that is a change of law on copyright enforcement. Illegal downloads are decimating the market. I mean, I was a huge supporter of fansubs back in the VHS days because fansubs were a great way to promote titles and bring in new fans. Nowadays it really erodes the market, and one of the ways it erodes is not that people aren't buying the shows when they come out in the US-- and many are not buying, I know people who brag about having hundreds of shows and never having bought one --but people don't have time to watch the shows they buy. All they're watching is fansubs, and so it's a matter of time, and if they don't have time to watch stuff they're not going to go out and look for stuff to buy. So it's a competition to the legitimate market, so if a title is getting downloaded and viewed a lot, even if it's a title that's not economically viable, those people who are watching it are spending that much time per week watching those shows, and that's time they can't spend watching something that's commercially released. And the same isn't just true about scanlations, because a lot of scanlations stay online after they're licensed, but people scanning the US release and posting that online.

That's been a big problem for hentai DVDs.

I find sites that have full twenty-volume runs of American commercials, regular shonen manga that they've scanned, and you can buy them for two bucks a volume! I mean, they're selling them, not just making them available for download.

Is there a specific change you'd make to copyright law?

I'd make it a criminal offense. Right now it's a civil offense, and it can cost an American company hundreds of thousands of dollars to shut an operation down and try to get restitution. In Japan it's a criminal offense; if you find somebody distributing something you report it to the police and the police will shut it down. There are people serving two-year prison sentences for basically doing peer to peer distribution. Several people in the last couple of years, and the sentences always seem to be two years in prison, very consistent. Not huge numbers of people, they go for the big ones.

The ones who are perhaps uploading to people in the US.

Right. And whenever I find somebody who's got stuff online for downloading, the first thing I do is look to see if they have any Studio Ghibli stuff, and if they do I report it to Disney enforcement and I also copy it to the International Vice-President of Ghibli, who I happen to know, and that works because they'll drop lawyers from the stratosphere. But an American company would have a really hard time, because it can cost a hundred grand.

So they mostly stick with the C&Ds.

And if that works, that's fine, but beyond that, if you bring in the police you've got to pay them overtime. It's a civil case, not a criminal case, so while they'll do the investigation, you pay for it and it's overtime, it's outside their regular work hours.

In a recent ANN interview FUNimation president Gen Fukunaga noted that he thinks FUNimation's future is in co-productions. Do you agree with that?

I think that's going to be a good money-maker, but as far as anime is concerned it sucks. Because quite frankly, most of those shows are not that interesting. They have a market because they already have established names. Afro Samurai has wonderful visuals and all that, but it's not that good an anime-- it's not really an anime. It's simply an American cartoon show that has Japanese animators working on it, like Transformers was. It's like saying The Simpsons is a Korean show because the animation work is done in Korea-- no, the control is in the US. And those shows would not really be anime, they would be US-controlled. Now if it was an actual partnership that could be a different thing, but that has very rarely happened.

American producers want control. It's not like the Japanese producers who say, okay, let's sit down, let's discuss what's going to be done. We agree on what you're going to do, here's the money, now do it, and how it's done is left to the creative side...whereas in the US halfway through they'll step in and say no, change this, change that, take this scene out, put this in, we want a romance, do this...it happened with Toy Story! Pixar kept putting in all the changes that Disney wanted, because Disney was putting up the production money, and they showed it to Disney and Disney said no, we're not going to distribute it, it's not that good. Pixar said, well, let's do a few things and we'll show it to you again. They cut out all of Disney's changes, and the folks at Disney loved it and released it.

It's an interesting phenomenon...but I think that co-productions would actually be the Americans doing the control and the Japanese simply doing the grunt work. They do beautiful animation, but it wouldn't be anime.

You've got Dragon Ball Z Kai on Nicktoons; Kekkaishi is starting tonight, there's a new Pokémon, there's Bakugan Brawlers-- do you think we'll see a new generation of anime fans coming from these series?

I hope so. What I really want to see is a new generation of older anime fans though, a new generation of teens through their twenties. And that kinda filters in, but you've got to have the equivalent of, you know, Cowboy Bebop or some other more recent show, some older-audience show, at a decent time people can watch it at. And that's going to be tricky. I would love to see something like Gundam 0083 on. Because quite frankly, it would blow so many people away. But I think the American media and entertainment industry thinks of animation as a juvenile product. It's either got to be for kids, or family entertainment, or it has to be for stoners. Those three types of juvenile entertainment, that's all we make in reality. Or it's got to be an artsy thing like Waltz with Bashir.

Paprika?

Paprika was submitted for an Oscar and never got past the nominating committee. Tokyo Godfathers was submitted for consideration, never got past the nominating committee. Millennium Actress never made it to the ballot. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Sky Crawlers, a huge number of just beautifully crafted anime that were not juvenile, and they never made it to the ballot. That's the barrier; if they break that stereotype it'll work.

Spirited Away was a bit on the darker side.

It was on the darker side, but it was still aimed at 10-year-olds. It's not that there aren't beautiful juvenile materials-- there's incredible stuff out there that's deserving of all the accolades it gets, all the Pixar stuff.

Do you think something like, if the Cowboy Bebop movie turns out any good, would that be what we need to break more the older market?

If we had a really successful adaptation of a Japanese product that drew the attention of people to the original product, yes. But usually they say "oh, it's based on a Japanese movie" and they never look at the movie. A lot of films are based on a European movie and are even noted so in the advertising, but people don't really see it. Or it's a piece of garbage. Look at La Femme Nikita, a marvelous tongue-in-cheek film, and look at the American film. No. It doesn't work.

But if you were going to pick a title to do that, what would it be?

You would have to find something that resonated with their expectations of what the Japanese are and then break them. Samurai things are generally safe. Samurai Champloo is a great example of a wonderful work. I first heard the idea and it sounded like the lamest piece of garbage in the world, I watched five minutes of the first episode and went out and got the box set.

The soundtrack is a big draw.

The soundtrack's good, but the story's what did it. I mean, I met Shingo, the guy who did the opening theme song, because he graduated from Berkeley High. He lives in Tokyo but he spends a lot of time in the Bay Area. I met him casually at a record store by one of the guys who worked there who had known him for years. That was before Cowboy Bebop, but I'd heard his reputation, how he was respected in the local rap community and so forth.

But it would take something that people would want to go see because it's got a Japanese hook that they feel comfortable with, but that would then go beyond that. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon drew people to it and kind of broke a lot of the stereotypes because they were more familiar with the old Chop Sake movies or with the newer Jackie Chan type of things. So it's gotta have a certain comfort level and then it's gotta go beyond that comfort level; I would love to see something like Sword of the Stranger get broadcast on TV.

I would love to see PBS pick things up! If PBS picked up some of the Japanese titles and showed them, it would be a huge breakthrough. The other thing is, if we could get the NHK live-action Taiga dramas on PBS, it would I think cause an interest in Japanese entertainment from a different group, a different market. Because there are people in the US who I think if they were exposed to good-quality anime they would start taking it seriously. But they're not going to be exposed to it.

The local Bay Area station showed Urusei Yatsura subtitled some years ago.

That's because a local fan set up a petition, and brokered the deal between them and AnimEigo, and helped AnimEigo broker the deal with the Japanese to get permission. They also showed Tenchi Muyo! and a few other things before it got onto Cartoon Network. There are all sorts of possibilities-- for example, Bandai Entertainment was founded to license to other companies. They had been operating for four years before they put out their first anime. The reason they did the anime straight to the consumer was because they couldn't afford to make enough VHS tapes to give to retailers, because they had to pay for it; one division of Bandai is not going to give it to another division of Bandai.

Bandai Visual was part of Bandai, and Bandai Entertainment was part of Bandai. If Bandai Visual sold it to Fox, they'd get a certain amount of money. If Bandai Entertainment wanted it, they had to pay the same amount of money because they're separate divisions. But they spent four years trying to license a lot of these programs to American companies, trying to get them on TV, trying to do all sorts of things, and no one was interested. That's how Escaflowne got on Fox, they had already done the complete re-dub and all the other stuff, and worked out the license with Fox, and of course Fox goes in and does such a crude re-edit that the story becomes incomprehensible and the show flops.

But yeah, if something Japanese in pop entertainment in general, not necessarily anime, catches the eye, it can become an entry point for many more people to watch anime.


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