Monday, December 22, 2008

BCI Eclipse and the Inevitable.

"Be water my friend."

Formerly known as Brentwood, the Navarre-owned BCI label is being shut down as, according to CEO Cary Deacon, its “operations have been unprofitable for the past two years.” There’s a lot of news out there already about this story, so I will not go into much of a rehashing of the general history regarding this development and simply dive right in to the commentary.

For someone who has been in this business as long as I have, to look at “unprofitable operations” for two years begs the question of just what the hell kind of operations were they running to begin with. The answer is an obvious extrapolation we can make from the outcome, they were home media operations and nothing else.

Marital arts libraries in particular tend to be full of titles that, even when bundled together in groups of up to 10 for the price of one, just don’t sell. Also, if you are getting licenses from Toby Russell there are all kinds of other things you may want to worry about (the guy George Tan was working with before Toby, went and got himself cut in half for playing musical licenses with a movie made by a certain group of film aficionados called the Triads).

Moving back to the point at hand, although this may only be compared to the fall of Geneon in America in a bit of an abstract way, the final realization that playing follow the leader with a blind person in front has brought you to a “cut your losses” moment, falls into that general category of business shenanigans. This was a case of a Hollywood mentality being applies to a New York business model, and that’s always a recipe for companies following suit of some “ground breaking” market freeze-frame, without any model which will guarantee continued profits via contingency if the primary goal proves unsustainable. Has the same happened with anime, yes. Will the results be the same… not really. Modern martial arts productions are not really going to slow down. They have a big domestic market (an increasingly media-friendly China), cost very little to produce, and do not depend on international licensing for putting gas in the tank.

The demise of this entity is yet another example of opportunity lost when it comes to older niche material which has exhausted a single product lifecycle (DVD/Home media in this case), but exists in a large library owned by a company with some substantial resources. Unlike many other products, entertainment media need not simply become a drag on resources once it has had its turn as a home media product which fails to cover its own costs (especially this classic martial arts stuff)… There is light at the end of that tunnel and that is where having the right licenses comes in. As I am currently actually involved in such project, I won’t be going into detail of what should be done, because that concept is worth money and is proprietary (to me). Sufficed to say that it doesn’t take a vast array of licenses to produce a vast array of commercially viable material. If you want me to come in and save your assets and make them profitable now without having to lay out much new capital, then let me know, there’s a little piece of paper in the Library of Congress that says I own the way to do it.

"Running water never grows stale, so keep on flowing."
-Bruce Lee

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Meme-ing of American Entertainment

You don’t have to make sense to make dollars.

The universe in which an otaku lives is often one of a perceived righteous insulation from the “Americrap” entertainment which makes the Japanese entertainment media look so appealing. There is a stage that every otaku either passes though or becomes permanently stuck in, which has a basic premise of “Japanese manga and anime are the better than anything else, so I don’t need to pay attention to American anything because it’s all crap.” This was once a sustainable idea, in that in no way were the two markets ever going to significantly interact with each other, however for about a decade that has not been the case.

The problem… one of the problems… one of the many problems in the process in which the previously stated otaku isolationist sentiment is being made an impossibility, is that the domestic market always seems to have just the right elements to bring the most unredeeming elements of each entertainment methodology together in massive commercial endeavors. The specific element that is having a particularly noticeable effect is the 2 second attention span.

Now the quick non-substintive way of deciding what to make a movie/TV series/toy line/etc by looking at a presentation package for 24 seconds and then making some sort of decision whilst uttering le catch phrase du jour is nothing new. What is new is that this laser beam of unintelligent arbitration of creative commercial entertainment is now slicing straight through that otaku bubble of insulation mentioned previously. We have now the evidence that this beam has simply increased in strength, in this ghastly piece of gloriously expensive reptilian anal spew:

It’s important to point out that Chow Yun-Fat is and shall forever be awesome. However like anyone involved in the actual filming of this impending crapfest, he was simply a person paid to do a job and anyone in this group can not be held responsible for this cinematic post-natal abortion. The responsibility is that of the executive producers and investors that greenlight this very idea. Caught up in the moment of flashy 1 minute sizzle videos of Aeon Flux, Speed Racer, or any other animation made Hollywood live action, the frenzy picked up Dragonball too. That frenzy was unabashedly unconcerned with anime, continuity, originality, or anything else that would be associated with cinematic integrity. No, all they were concerned about, and all they had time for before putting down millions of dollars to make a major motion picture, was “the energy” of the title, and there’s a word we can use for that; meme.

Like the Speed Racer production, this film will be generally regarded as a failure. It will probably be a financial failure for the cinema operaters (not the studios) and is already an artistic failure. However there is hardly an American now who has not gotten the message loud and clear that failure is often rewarded and is by no means an impediment to financial gain and the ability to further replicate such monuments to failure. The smug satisfaction that an anime fan can take in the failure of this film is quickly evaporated in the knowledge that every Hollywood adaptation of an anime have all been abysmal failures, and none of those will make a dent in the momentum of further efforts in the same vein. Hollywood will not save itself.

Working in show business makes an atheist out of you very quickly when confronted with things like this:

This is real. There is no god.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Land of the Fee and the Home of the Gray:

They Graying of Japan.

This should scare you:

So there is this guy who is a vocal part of a podcast that I went and listened to (yeah Daryl I’m talking about you) and one of their past episodes touched on the graying problem that Japan still seems to be in the midst of both experiencing and ignoring. For those readers that don’t know what that above term encompasses, here is a basic look down that particular black hole of doom:

Location Japan; as early as the 1980’s sociologists began to realize there was a declining birthrate amongst Japanese citizens of child bearing age/capacity/whatever you wanna call it. The teenage wasteland became noticeable to the news-media and thusly the general public over the 1990’s so that by 2000 it appeared as a giant freight train only a decade or two away from smashing headlong into every aspect of society. Japan’s unique 20th century history and cultural indifference/economic proclivity to contraception also explains why, unlike countries like India or China, there has been no upward population explosion in a straight line that comes with ample food, availability of health care, and fan-service.

Throw together a baby boom and combine that with a rapid increase in life expectancy (no hydrogenated oil or hfcs over there) and you’ve got two thirds of the perfect storm. The other third is simple to state and complicated to explain and that is simply that a disproportionate number of Japanese women, Don’t. Want. Kids. Find one who feels that way and she’ll give you a whole bunch of reasons why, from the staggering cost of what it takes to raise a family over there, to simply that they would rather not get stretch-marks or even that they find the Japanese approach to sex rather off-putting (that last one is a whole post in itself but let’s just say that if you censor your porn and make crying during sex look like the norm… people are gonna end up confused). This aversion to reproducing is exacerbated by the fact that there is a small reverse immigration where professionally minded women are leaving that country and never coming back. The prospect of having to feed little juniour and grandma out of the same jar of mashed peas every night is not something they relish.

So now we have pensioners starting to overload the tax base, shortages of a work force for manufacturing, financial services, and public service, and a private sector which is looking at an aging consumer base. It is that private sector area which you anime fans should worry about. Anime is made by and bought by the private sector, and much as people still may not want to acknowledge it, anime is a youth product, and its domestic market is literally running out of youths. Anime productions and the things advertised on it are being outsourced to China not just because it’s cheaper but because there are workers there. Japanese universities are "going out of business" due to lack of students. A few more years it’s going to be dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

The graying of Japan will have an effect on anime and manga, end of story. How much anime is made, who it is made for, and how it is delivered (talking manga for those who can’t read small print anymore?). The current political administration in Tokyo has publicly stated it views anime and manga as a potentially valuable export - and as whenever the Japanese government likes something they tend to give it subsidies. That may mean producers could start seriously working on world-wide releases, delivering their animated media to global markets all at once. Either way, anime will change and for the first time it looks like the climate of the rest of the world will have an active and direct role in changing it.

The effects of the Japanese aging problem on the private sector was my economic thesis for my undergraduate work almost a decade ago and what was true then is true now; buy pharmaceutical stock on the Nikkei. For those with a netflix account I would recommend Katsuhiro Otomo’s Roujin Z (already over a decade old) as an interesting look into how popular culture was already handling this impending issue. Although this film unfortunately débuted in the U.S. when most of the audience was expecting “Akira part 2,” (I must have been the only one in the theater that thought it was interesting) anyone familiar with the way Otomo works will recognize the continued saturation of Japanese social issues poured over menacingly futuristic technology.

Unfortunately the available solutions seem to remain the same as well:

1) Waves of immigration (Japanese xenophobia a go go).
2) Massive amounts of young people fucking (picture unavailable) along with equally massive tax breaks and housing benefits for couples with children.
3) Robots… hey, why do you think they’re working on them so hard?

Yes Japanophiles, there may come a time where they will really want you to come live over there and pay them your taxes. But remember even if you live there for the rest of your life, it will only be your great grandchildren who will be eligible for citizenship.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mission Accomplished.

So as we continue to move into the future, I shall be physically moving someplace else. Now I know there are not many places in the world that would be on par or a step up from New York, and as such that is not something this piece will focus on since where I am going is on par with New York. So beginning in 2009 I shall once again be living half a world away, this time in Tokyo.

As I have mentioned previously, living in Japan is not like being in some 24 hour anime convention anime-otaku promised land that weebos make it out to be. In fact the one major negative thing I have to say about Mega Tokyo would be that deluded readers tend to think of it as a documentary rather than fantasy written about a place the author knows sadly little about. However there is something to be said for being closer to the source as it were, and I do plan on taking as full advantage as possible personally and professionally. The future of anime and manga might just be brightening as the new Prime Minister continues to laud it as a viable economic force for the country, and being on the ground where government involvement might happen will hopefully open up serious opportunities.

But back to daily life for a moment, I thought I'd list things that one could be happy about going to Japan for:

Things I won't miss:
SUVs and the people who think they need to drive them.
Daylight Savings Time
High Fructose Corn Syrup (yes I DO know what they say about it, and it's
all bad).
The Wal-Mart Waddle (you know it when you see it)
Fox News
Daryl Surat

Things I will miss:
The Mets
A Subway you can ride at 2am
The Daily Show & Colbert Report
Uncensored porn
DVDs costing less than $30
Otakon (I might come back for that tho).

So yes friends and reader (I think there’s only one) I will soon be updating this blog from the land of the rising sun, and hopefully more frequently as well.

So until the I plan to be on the long road to being back on the ball with things. Based on what I’ve been doing the past year, that’s not going to be easy, but hey that’s life.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's the Economy Baka,

When Akira goes from Dystopian to Utopian.

Now that the sky is falling, is the very way of life for the new century otaku going to fade away like SUVs, air travel, and free trips to the salad bar? Anime has already made the irreversible step from niche export to global entertainment media, and as such its fate is tied to the health of global markets in general as a source of financing, and as a means of sustaining healthy consumer sales (sagging economy means people buy less).

The world has seen for a while now that the health of entire economies and not just industry specific issues is what will affect the ability of anime, manga, and the culture that goes with it, to continue as a commercial product. Something it must do in order to survive at all. So let's look at Japan's situation, which can be summed up in the immortal words of Generation X's own answer to Winnie the Poo, Peter Griffin; "Had better days Lois... Had better days."

The Japanese economy has been acting strangely ever since NOVA hit an iceberg (of their own making) and went down hard, followed by political shenanigans, and now we have a NOVA repeat with academic services provider Gateway 21 having to announce this past Sunday they were "broke." For those not in the know, they ceased operations after running 12.9 Billion Yen in now unrecoverable debt. 12.9 Billion Yen from young students paying for study abroad courses which they will now never get to attend, nor will they get that money back. This is a minor news story to most of the world but a little inside info is that the Gateway domino might just knock over larger firms such as Education Japan Corp. This sector toppling over with Enronian results to customers and investors may not hurt the Japanese anime/media/entertainment industry directly, but at this point the impact on the National economy is enough to make just about everyone except sake brewers and Cup o' Noodles nervous.

With America's core anime market dependant on mommy and daddy's money than their own a sagging economy means less direct purchasing power as well as less of an ability to purchase products from advertisers which keep anime on the air, where it needs to be in order to sustain itself.

Evolution doesn’t happen when things are going great, but rather when drastic changes in the environment make adaptation necessary or face the consequence of extinction. The adaptation that seems to be the nicest looking right now is simultaneous global delivery, the only way in which the consortium of companies attached to just about any anime project can pool their resources and actually earn revenue from the true size of their audience.

For most of the past year, this is where the story has ended. From the conspicuous absence of ADV from the New York Anime Festival (if they don't show up to A-KON, stick a fork in them) to the sucking sound that is Japanese anime production and 4 Kids taking their money elsewhere, there seemed to be no real hope of making things happen other than the fact that the few remaining players in the Japan-US field had found a way to minimize the down time and shave a few points off of sales and meager licensing. Add to the mix that shows like VSDA and LIMA are dinosaurs living out their last dying days in Las Vegas, and there was very little hope for the future. Until recently.

Current Japanese Prime Minister Aso has on more than one occasion publicly stated that his government is looking at Japanese IP with an emphasis on Manga Anime and Video Games as a global export which can bolster the Japanese economy. As soon as a delivery system comes across the table that works with the same kind of security as Komatsu gets for heavy machinery (ie you get actual revenue from global markets instead of fansubs taking money away from potential earnings by making advertizing guarantees worthless).

So yes anime fans it seems like what we want and consume, otaku culture itself is getting a v.i.p. trip to the front of the government subsidy line in the land of the rising sun. If by some miracle, the right kind of person steps up and uses that to create a new media delivery infrastructure and not simply prop up a failing antiquated system, we are looking at a new golden age born out of the greatest economic flux in almost a century.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The good old days: Comic Book Speculation

Trading will open up heavy.

So DC comics is either genuinely full of people who don’t know what they’re doing, or they are very calculating. Either way, they’ve pulled off a major comic PR coup with the All Star Batman and Robin #10.

For those of you who don’t know, there is a 2 page story in this issue where there is plenty of Batgirl profanity. Now in comics, the way to censor that is to black it out so you can tell there’s a word under there, but can’t see the actual word. Yes, for the first time DC has realistically portrayed the type of things that would be said by some drug dealing thug who just got his ass kicked be a smoldering hot giant boobed red head with a bat fetish (yes we get the “C-word”). You can read the news story here.

Unsurprisingly, this has created a frenzy of speculation the likes of which haven’t been seen since X-Force issue 1. Unsurprisingly, I dived right in. And unsurprisingly, there were plenty of opportunities to buy these books at comic retailers who have to worry about paying rent this month and can’t wait for DC to come back 2 weeks from now with a book they’ll probably sell less of (thanks Forbidden Planet). DC can bully the major distros into pulping a lot of these things, but not the shrewd retailers here in a city where commerce and money rule with an iron fist (even when the DC offices are right down the street here).

Collectibility and a market for it have always seems to develop together in some form or another for almost as long as fandom has existed. However, this is where fandom of culture and imagination meet the harsh realities of supply and demand. One of the more immune fandoms to the growth of collectability as a function of pure economics, is anime. With the exception of genuine original artwork, there are no real strong areas of anime collectibility save for those which more imitate American constructs. There are the few items like those UCC coffee cans and the old Viz color issues of Ranma and Inu Yasha from back in the 1990’s.

So with that in mind, I have some of these Batman issues and if anyone wants one, they’re $75 ea. You’ll see Batgirl say “Fuck” and what not.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

OTAKON 2008, Artist's Alley, Commercialism, and Life after Weaboos:

Another Otakon has come and gone.

I’ve finally been able to reach a point where I believe I can give you an Otakon report that is only interesting because you, dear reader have already gourged on Otakon recaps to the point where you are looking for any last morsels of media to stuff in your face before the sugar rush wears off and you cant take another bite.

This year was markedly free of the type of licensing industry presence that had been seen at Otakons that had recently come before. This particular development was something that should be understood as inevitable regardless of the health of the industry. When one realizes that the presence of such corporate booths do nothing to recoup their high costs at a fan-event, as the dealers room of Otakon shall forever remain only a retail space and not a place to take major industrial steps forward. As happens at non-business conventions like Otakon and in the whole media industry itself, the major labels have passed on the burden of shouldering the costs of the home media market to the retailers because they have to. Even the big boys such as Funimation, and Bandai had retail partners there, handling product sales. The upshot of which, was that there were serious deals to be had, such as Funimation box sets for $30 (I picked up Tenchi and Shinchan), all of Cowboy Bebop for $40, and talking down the non-descript table people selling ADV titles to let the platinum Evangelion set go for $45 if you asked nicely.

I didn’t bother taking many photos. You wanna see photos? Go watch this.

Moving on to another phenomena of Otakon which is the Artist’s Alley; it is interesting to note that the dealers room has become slightly less of a hotbed of contention. The debate focuses around a point which seems to universally exist in the balance between the fandom and the people who create anime itself ...I mean make actual anime/manga for real, not you at home working on your flash for NG or you over there with the bloated deviant art account and drive full of crappy fanfics (that’s all of them). Billed as the “convention of the Otaku generation” sadly most of that actual generation no longer attends and the event has been overrun with “the weaboo generation.” If there is anything that is endemic of the latter, it is an unmistakable cone of ignorance they carry of how the world works, stemming from a terrible combination of youth and social maladjustment. Nowhere is the juxtaposition of these two groups more easily observed than in the Otakon Artist’s Alley. The weaboo misconception is that that this is going to be like comiket and the internet level of lax rules of intellectual property where it’s ok so long as a C&D doesn’t get sent apply, and there is plenty of modest profiting from sales of art made by people who are copying the work and designs of other people. The idiocy of the younger (and less talented) generation’s argument that their wholesale offerings of character goods which earn creators no royalties is ok to do at Otakon because it’s legal in Japan, can be summed up by this following example of “what’s legal in Japan”: In Japan I can bang a 16 year old schoolgirl and her twin sister in the family TV room while chowing down on dolphin meat and wiping my forehead with used panties from a vending machine, then spend the rest of the night at a cockfight drinking beer in public (also from a vending machine).

Now if you are one of the 3 people who read this blog and have never been to the Otakon Artist’s Alley, it is quite large and the space it occupies is bigger than most convention dealer’s rooms and in some cases bigger than entire conventions themselves. Their ability to compete with the dealer’s room is a genuine concern of actual retailers, who are held to higher standards when it comes to the legal status of what they sell to the public, and who pay a lot more for a table ta'boot. Vendors have a valid concern when it comes for arguing for fair play against a room full of other people selling character goods for a cheaper price at tables which are a fraction of the cost of dealer space. And herein doth approach the grey area of enormous magnitude, contained within the simple question “what is art” or in this case “what is fan-art, and can is it ok for it to be a commercial product?”

I always spend more in Artist’s Alley than the dealer’s room, but I spend it on original art, not works of commercial characters that the artist didn’t create on their own. To buy unlicensed character goods assumes that the industry and original artists are in such good economic shape, that this kind of sub-market can exist without hurting the whole system, which is simply not the case. Art is art, but just because you drew a great picture of a character you have nothing to do with (other than you like it) is not valid entitlement to sell that as a commercial product. The right to create is not the right to sell. It’s great to be a fan and want to own things of the characters you identify with (or think are hot) but to sell such items on any scale other than single commissions, is like a cosplayer asking for a dollar for every photo taken of them, and that dear readers is a dick move.

There are many who disagree with this and think that all should be fair game in this situation and if the artists want to sell home made unlicensed commercial products at the highest possible turnover then they should be allowed that because not only is that allowed in Japan, but as true fans, their love for the anime and the characters makes what they do more genuine. That is not true, since nothing says “love” like a royalty check, just ask an actual manga-ka, or seiyuu, or director, or producer, animator, studio, composer, HR director at an anime company, or a cashier at the Osaka Animate store.

And that’s how we solved the mystery of the butthurt weaboos.

Other things that happened at Otakon was that the Ninja Consultants had their wits about them enough to have the great idea of recording the mother of all anime podcast episodes in their convention hotel room at 1am Sat/Sun, with a rouges gallery of podcast people who’s names I can’t really remember completely, but it went something like 2 thirds of AWO, the big guy from Fast Karate, the guy who sounds like a chick from R5central, MT, some teenager, and I think I was there. There was also a guy outside who went to a wedding but then got hit for no reason and the police came. FYI when you listen to that please keep in mind that some tequila was involved. Pics or it didn’t happen? Here’s the string-bean saying something I am sure he thinks is important.

This year didn’t seem to have as much of a swell of energy to it. It didn’t seem to have the energy of growth to it, and that may be in no small part a result of the former major players in the game all falling out of the picture. Say what you will and my previous post not withstanding, ADV is probably outta here. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing but it actually seems that there were slightly less cosplayers as well.

In addition Otakon once again showed that it really is run by fans for fans, as the press office failed to deliver on just about everything we were after, and I became aware of this lack of competence quite a bit too late, so あ!PoN will not be having any episodes filmed at Otakon, even though we went down with a full set of gear. Fear not however, since we did have a long sit-down with director Satoshi Kon (preview here), and we’ll be talking to plenty of people at the (better run but more commercial) NYAF. Next year we’ll also be at the Tokyo Anime Fair so look forward to that also.

So is this going to be the very start of the sucking sound made the vacuum created by the rapid departure of the weaboo flood that will soon find something else to gravitate to now that the anime industry is going to have a hard time “giving the people what they want?” Honestly it is possible, but what is also (more) possible is the sustaining of at least a higher plateau, and as Katrina 2 gets ready to kick New Orleans in the still-sore nads, and we’re about a week from having Sarah Palin’s fake pregnancy explode all over CNN, one must continuously remind themselves that Executive management in just about any field has an unlimited potential to bumble their way into an unending forest of epic fail.

See you next Otakon.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

So obnoxious as other people's luck

I know how this crap gets made, but that doesn't mean I am any less frustrated.

So it is now apparent that history repeats itself on the macro and micro level, and we are all in store for another rollercoaster ride. A ride not so much a rollercoarster, but a twisted funhouse wherein everything that had a strong influence in growing Asian pop-culture into something of a staple of entertainment and cultural identity of the generations who have no idea what a dos prompt is, is turned on its head. As if run by the same idiots at the U.S. Mint that get their panties in such a bunch when told they must design a functional dollar coin and then do just the opposite out of nothing but spite, so too has mainstream American entertainment media finally admitted that the Japanese beat the crap out of them when it came to the battle for the hearts and minds of a generation that’s aware enough to see that the Boomers in charge have lost their minds and have refused to adapt formulas that no longer work. The kids in the fandom take it personally, and then in turn, so do the baby boomers running the show.

So what happens? Well if you have ever read Japan Inc, you’ll have a pretty good idea that we are in the “too little too late” phase of the death march of this market as we know it. Case in point; the new polygonal abomination that is the DC vs Mortal Kombat offering.
Gameplay is irrelevant: They can make an awesome fight engine for anything these days and have it look cool.
Platform is irrelevant: There are very few games that can spur noticeable increases in sales (especially when not combined with other hardware pricing promotions). This game will not be one of them.
Marketing is irrelevant: With 2 brands that such a long embedded history, people have already made up their minds. The pitiful e3 demo recently shown, where Superman ends a match with Sub Zero by pushing him down with a single punch, was either a tremendous marketing blunder or a symptom of a fatal abundance of "fail" in the game that they wish to prolong the exposure of as long as they can.

This game is an attempt to take Marvel vs. Capcom, and make what would hopefully be a modestly profitable franchise out of such a similar pairing. There are a great many things that are being done wrong here, but to keep the bullet points going:
Too Little: In this case, it’s a situation where too much in the easy parts (the “bling” of the game) and not where it belongs. The result is a game that’s going to be old in 5 minutes.
Too Late: Camcom vs. Marvel was first released last century, and like begrudged losers, the old guard is finally realizing that there is no reverse (or standing still) in the world of entertainment (although we have seen a lot of “reincarnation” however).
WTF?: The most glairing problem here is the inability to reconcile the boy-scout image of DC characters (even Lobo never actually attained true bad-ass status that wasn’t at the level of some sort of nicktoons joke), with the bloodthirsty realism of the Mortal Kombat game series, which has been putting ants in the pants of the likes of Captain Kangaroo, Jack Thompson, and Hillary Clinton. With 2 diametrically opposed psychologies, one of them is going to lose.

The sad truth is that by overemphasizing the technical capacities of the game, while at the same time having those technical achievements show an unfolding series of events and game play that are disingenuous to what the market is going to expect, effectively re-alienates an audience like a second Bush term. The minor steps forward in entertainment media searingly branded with the “we’re still in charge” message of the old guard, will send the new generation right back to their p2p fansubs, Japanese imports, and set the bar even higher for when a truly good piece of domestic work is made.

Now when starting with “video games” one loses a part of an audience, so in an attempt to lose the part of that audience which stayed on up to this point, I shall now bring up the same topic, different example. That example of course is Avatar. It has its faults, the sometimes seemingly arbitrary sprinklings of Asian culture here and there, the campy “feel-good” message of a GI Joe episode or Voltron Dub where hastily out-of-place lie is shoehorned into end dialog to falsify the notion that “nobody died,” or the character development that resembles the real-time action of a shrinky-dink (remember those?). For all those faults however, no mistake should be made that this program is perhaps one of the best examples of the new for of entertainment that newer and smarter generations of consumers expect and deserve… and that’s not saying much. The sad fact is that Avatar actually pushed the envelope in the eyes of the old guard, and may have pushed to far for their timid senses, while at the same time it showed the other end of the equation just how chicken-shit the powers that be still are, when it comes to accepting the inevitable.

For all of the steps that it seems we have made, in reality there’s only been one that has been indelibly taken up to this point, and that is the shaking of the taboo in animated TV that episodes can’t connect to each other to form an intelligent and entertaining storyline. The rest of these lessons, things that the audience takes for granted because we’ve gotten so used to them it’s like second nature, will all perhaps never be learned by the old guard, as they take them down with them to the dog-track in Daytona on their motorized chairs with their legs wrapped in airport blankets.

Their exit will not be the final hurdle to intelligent and well made entertainment, because as they have forced their will onto the creative minds of these programs, those creative minds have learned to take the path of least resistance; self-censorship. The notion of “don’t put that in the story, they’d never let us get away with it,” all too quickly leads to such an unbreakable mindset, that the potential illumination out of the animated dark ages that the next generation had in it’s luggage, was tossed off into a storeroom like a shampoo bottle by the TSA, while the rest of the passengers continue to fly on foreign airlines.

Now that the end of licensing as we know it has made the need for domestic creations a reality, the most difficult task in evolving animated entertainment into the thing that caused the great shift in the first place, will fall not to the old guard (they’ll go down screaming that “we’re doing it wrong” and take as many ships down with them as they can), but to the ones that take their place. The ones that spent a disproportional long time underneath aging company superiors who wouldn’t let go, and who by that time, will have to fight a serious battle within themselves against that “self censorship” which was so embedded into the industry, by a generation that in their own eyes “just couldn’t be wrong.”


So I keep hearing these rumblings of the Evangelikon UCC coffee cans being worth something if they are the originals from 1997 and unopened. Anyone know where I can find out?

UCC Evangelion original coffee cans from the 1990's. Unopened.

PS; that "Dirty Pair: A Plague of Angels" back there is signed.
PPS; Bonus points if you can name all the books there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Return of the King: Google buys youtube

In case anyone out there was wondering, the reason for the previous prolonged absence is one simply of technology. In short, my home computer had a little motherboard issue, and while I wait for the 4th attempt at a replacement taking over a month (let’s just say I’m glad I’m a fedora-sporting Bluetooth-wearing Amex-using douche, otherwise I’d have been f-ed over by some unscrupulous internet sellers passing off OEM parts as new), I decided to pick up a notebook computer to use. No, I’m not that kind of money stuffed jerk who can just “do that”, but rather I am preparing on finishing up the graduate degree in a far away place and will need something more portable in the near future. Besides, with B&H right here, how can you not?

Some updated information:
-If anyone has tried to e-mail me via the e-mail listed on this site, chances are I haven’t seen it because by simply putting that e-mail address out there, it’s getting spammed like crazy. Don’t call me I’ll call you.
-I will now be resuming regular postings.
-I will be at Otakon.
-I got Invited to Sitacon, but am not sure if I can make it.
-No computer means no i-pod updates so I haven’t listened to any other podcasts since about early May.

That’s all for the basic info. …well here are some things you maybe didn’t know:
-I’ve eaten kaiten sushi at 2 different places in the past 2 days.
-My next door neighbor is a senior exec at Kodansha.
-I can’t drink diet soda because of an allergy.
-Harmony Gold still hasn’t sent me a copy of the DVD where I interview Tommy Yune.
-I think the Litepanels Micro is the best on-cam light ever.
-We interviewed TM Revolution for あ!PoN, but... there’s an issue about that which is gonna hold that up.
-I got all teary-eyed at the end of Maison Ikkoku.
-I recently had some nice conversations with actress Kato Ai and her boyfriend the F1 Driver. They declined appearing on あ!PoN.

Now to begin the speculation into anime business, or; Why we’ll win in the end, but that’s a long way off.

Recently, the largest juggernauts of the media and software business world have been rocked back and forth with some major news about this that or the other seriously negative economic development.

Case in point Google’s recent admission that Youtube was basically the largest “impulse buy” in the history of money. Lots of people realized that their plan looked suspiciously like some underpants gnomes we all know;

Step 1: Buy You Tube
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!

At one point or another, every business that has failed has someone within the power structure pop their head up and say “Hey, what’s step 2?” It is usually at such a point where the stockholders make an assessment and then pull the plug on an otherwise unprofitable quagmire. It remains to be seen whether Google will take that oft trodden path or be second only to the Bush administration in moving forward into a world of epic fail with no discernible “step 2.”

Now those in the business world were not surprised at this development, but what was felt was a profound sense of disappointment. Google had defied the odds up to this point, and now it’s all going to come crashing down as something unsustainable in some horrible Enron-esque scenario which involves global warming and killer butterflies.

What does this have to do with anime? Well if you look at what happened to Geneon, you’re looking at a picture perfect example of the underpants gnomes business plan at work. Although what’s most tragic is that “step 2” in this case was known on the Japanese end, but what they didn’t know was that it wouldn’t work:

Step 1: Buy your way into the U.S. home media market.
Step 2: It will be Just like the Japanese home media market in security, but a massive bonanza because Americans buy everything.
Step 3: Profit!

Now look closely at Step 1-2. Notice the term “home media market” and not “anime market.” This is important, since the “anime market” encompasses everything from animation production to merchandise licensing. But that’s not where Geneon put its chips down. They put them solely down on home media, which was the worst possible place to put them.

The rest of this is wrote. Dominoes fall, and soon the only players left in the anime on dvd game will be those who can treat it as a loss leader, such as Bandai, 4Kids, Funimation, Manga, and who knows maybe a broadcaster will get into the mix. Time and time again the industry will blame fansubbers, and time and time again the industry will be right. But I’ve mentioned that all before.

So now anime is in a state where it can no longer count on the vast American market, full of people who love anime, to even support basic licenses that they could once count on for revenue.

What will they do? They’ll adapt of course. Anime is once again leading the way in terms of media development. We’ll see a long dry spell for sure, helped by general economic downturns in both regions at the same time (not something that has ever really happened before), but entertainment and the people’s need for it will always be there. As long as that need is there, someone will be there to fill it, and someone will make a buck off of that… which is good because this anime stuff is pretty expensive to make.

NEXT TIME: I'll try to sound like less of a broken record.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Go (away) Speed Racer, Go.

Yes, "Lost in Translation" really was terrible.

Much like the way they’ve taken total control of this country’s political process, the “old guard” of baby boomers who insist on doing things their antiquated way, will not let go of the entertainment empires that some of them so desperately hold on to in an attempt to convince themselves that they’re still relevant (or the notion that somehow they still don’t have enough money). At the same time in order to garner even a small modicum of success, younger players in the game are forced to play follow the leader and present creative empty calories as true cinematic work, either out of fear or greed (In Sophia's case however, she is just bad at it).

There’s a lot the American movie mechanism doesn’t know about Japan for that previously stated reason, they’re basically still stuck in decades past when it comes to what they think. Herein is a conundrum I am having then with reconciling the Speed Racer movie. Is it a blunt over-hyped Hollywood special effects blundering remake of a classic American TV show? Or is it actually a blunt over-hyped Hollywood special effects blundering remake of a Japanese Anime? Don’t kid yourself, because the answer to this question will only be known in the long term, as that long term will also be where the effects of said answer will be felt. “Anime” as a part of modern culture which has finally entrenched itself in American life, may just bee seen as only a tiny blip in cultural evolution by 2012, with Speed Racer part of the centerpiece of epic fail that destroyed its fragile foothold. Then again, this celluloid turd might not harm anime much and just go take its place in the ever growing group of shitty Hollywood remakes of TV shows (those shows were never really the way anyone remembers them, and the aforementioned old guard just likes to make them because it helps them feel relevant again, and hold on to their money by minimizing risk on something that's actually new. Could you imagine if someone today had tried to make the movie Alien in today's Hollywood? It would have been sidelined so fast by studio execs anxious to get Sigourney cast as Jane in a remake of The Jetsons alongside Will Ferrell as George and Lindsay Lohan as Judy, featuring cgi Scooby Doo as that stupid talking dog).

What the anime market doesn’t need right now are Hollywood remakes like this, and the disastrous results that they may bring. As with many things that come out of Hollywood, there is a right way and a wrong way to treat a property, but it is also important to remember that this difference between right and wrong rarely has any bearing on profitability, since the brain dead Uwe Boll is still out there making more money. It is hoped that the scenario of shitty movies being able to bring in any kind of profit will finally be behind us one day far in the future, BUT the anime market as it is now can not afford this to tarnish an already weak position, forcing anime back out of the American market back into obscurity. This scenario would make the entire scope of anime fandom in America just an asterisk in VH1’s undoubtedly already planned “I love the 00’s.”

We’ll have to hope for a few things if we really want to keep this market from shrinking back to the size it was at the beginning. The Speed Racer movie has to come and go, and the word “anime” should be distanced from it as much as possible. More importantly, we must hope that this does not usher in some morbid parade of the carcasses of truly good anime as remake after remake, starting with Voltron and going all the way through Lupan III and Ninja Scroll ending with a cinematic abortion that would be Michael Bay Presents: Ghost in the Shell. In the heyday of Anime as a consumer good, surviving such an onslaught might have been possible, but in these days of an anime market devalued by digital fansubs, it’s an economic execution with far reaching effects (no Michael, not those kind of “effects”).


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Failed Experiments.

Will VIZ lead us out of that dark night to a new era of anime?

Or are we in for another roller coaster ride down into a media famine? Well, I love this video. Aside from the obvious cuteness factor and art imitating life intelligence of this video, there’s a specific point which the video almost perfectly (and completely unintentionally) illustrates a point that I’ve made quite often and hopefully does it in a way that even the most hard core anti-business anime otaku out there. The case of the hard work that went into getting the little ball, became a wasted investment when the big ball was brought to the scene first. In the case of anime, the actual commercial licensed product is the little ball, made totally worthless by the larger more proliferated digital fansubs which are always first to the party. The license has to have value in order for anime to be a commercial success, and anime has to be a commercial success if more is going to be made. And I shall say once again, sans massive explanation why, that watching fansubs is NOT the same as being a TV audience, and fansubs are NOT simply stepping in to fill a gap left by an absence of anime on American television networks.

The reaction by the industry was at first the same as our little pigtailed preschooler with the political ambitions... to kill it. Kill the big blue ball and then your problems will go away. Well if killing it were at all possible then that might seem like the correct course, at least in some sort of blunt mathematical sense. But as surely as Anonymous has taught Scientology that which is born of the internet can not be killed by anything (other than its own inward desire to die), the big blue ball of digital fansubs delivered on the internet can not be stopped through confrontation but only by changing the environment to make them useless. Personally, I like having high quality video, with correct translations and not losing an entire collection should I have a hard drive failure. Sadly, your average 13 year old weebo not only doesn’t have the money that I have, but they also have no ability to comprehend how their sense of free entitlement and consumption habits are hurting an industry who’s product is very expensive to produce. Oranges grow on trees and you don’t get them for free most of the time, so anime is definitely going to have to fall under that same law of economics.

So this big blue ball won’t die, and the obvious way to keep the business alive, was for simultaneous delivery in both markets, which would make licenses commercially viable again and make broadcast of those anime programs truly profitable since there’d be no fansub out 6 months out before airing. Obvious tho’ this solution was, it was and remains not well loved. In addition what was no so obvious but essential, was how to figure out how to do any of that in a cost effective and sustainable way. Well VIZ has decided to take the first baby step, and considering who’s left in the schoolyard, if they had not started doing this, no one was going to.

The short of it is that VIZ is going to begin publishing manga in 2 languages at once in two markets (although I'd reccomed prepairing to ship gobs of the new English mag over to the E.U. and U.K. as well, with such a strong GBP and Euro that could really help keep the ship up). Should this work, we may see some interest in VIZ’s Japanese parent co. in delivering animation to both markets the same way and reaping the benefits directly by collecting the advertising revenue and not just selling a broadcast license (better to own the goose than a single golden egg). By the way if anyone from VIZ is reading this, I have over 12 years experience as an executive in consumer media, distribution, and licensing, I speak Japanese and I love to travel.

As someone who currently has the task of representing several series here in the U.S. (one of them is even from Production IG), I can tell you that it’s not an easy sell anymore. There is an immense cost and large amount of time needed to get something out there that will please American media distribution (notice I didn’t say the fans. You have to make a distributor be it home media or a TV company, want it first before you get a chance to make the fans want it). Time and money are things media companies that try to make a sustainable business out of Japanese animation simply do not have when it comes to competing with free fansubs. Manga being print media seems to have avoided the kind of fatal blow that scanlations could have been and may be a very good place to start this new world order of anime business. Because if anime stops being a business, then pretty soon all titles will be thought of as “old school.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

ニューヨーク IS ゴー!

The New York Comic Con

In the spirit of getting stuff out there, I do feel obliged to write a bit about the New York Comic Con, and what the developments that we see at this event may mean for the fandom.

When looking at the fandom, we must remember that it’s a business. Try as they might, the “true otaku” who have such love for anime, manga, music, and art, never seem to be able to out-reason the fact that what they love live and breathe is a essentially a consumer product, and so for more to be made business has to get done. The NYCC is a place for those business interests to show off their creation to the ever growing crowd of people who are interested in buying them. But enough of me sounding like a broken record, let’s talk about the con.

There was a serious amount of anime at this show, and Stan Lee announcing the fruit of his labor with VIZ, and TM Revolution a part of the headline programming, it was a bit difficult to tell if anime itself had arrived as one of three legs that keep up mainstream commercial American popculture. What those three legs are in fact is entirely debatable, so I’m not going to try to define them here.

Anime news consisted of some serious announcements from Viz and Yen Press. But conspicuously absent was the soon to be dead ADVision or Media Blasters, and now that CPM is just a ghost while AnimEigo stays cryogenically frozen next to the dead carcass of Geneon, there are few of the old guard left to represent the home media market. Home media used to be the only dependable anime could make some decent money in international markets, but no more. The new generation who think of fansubs an some sort of indelible “right” have made sure that the Japanese companies that work so hard to make the anime that they love, won’t make a dime in the international market. So the first to fall are of course the home media companies that have no big parents to lean on, or no other divisions bringing in sales to the point where DVD can be looked at as a loss leader (which in anime, that’s all it can be).

One of the major things to avoid this from happening to them in the publishing world, Viz is going to publish Shonen Jump in English and Japanese to avoid the dreaded “lag time” in which crappy scanlations are made by people who honestly and mistakenly think they know enough Japanese to accurately get the point across as good as a professional translator, with an editorial staff. Will this work? Probably not. The age of the target is such that it may be hard to get them to regularly buy something that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. The trick will be to get the thing out on time, every time, and not quit after the first 18 months of sales are abysmal. Then there’s the price point, which will have to hit the bull’s-eye right off the bat. Too high and even a price drop won’t get readers to pick it up again, and too low will have your sales numbers in a nice place, while revenue is nonexistent. Let’s not kid ourselves, Viz is a Japanese company and the old notion of the Japanese doing things for the long haul will need to come into play here or we’re looking at epic fail.

Of course Stan Lee was there with Viz to talk about Ultimo, their new collab with an American creativity but done in the much nicer and more appealing manga style that younger readers almost demand when looking for new illustrated media. I'm pretty sure I was in the room when the idea for this thing came about back in 2004 during the TAF Preview show in LA where Stan was a major guest and schmoozed the room talking to people. Funny how sometimes you know what's going to happen but circumstances (or one idiot in particular) keep you outside looking in.

Also Yen Press is doing something. But I wasn’t paying much attention.

The NYCC is a hybrid of modern entertainment, and the old type of convention, but much more of it is that modern part. The actual comic dealers (you know the ones that give you dirty looks and aren’t nice to talk to and look shady) were thankfully relegated to a small corner of the massive floor, which could be avoided. The thing is that the comic companies (even the smaller ones) were there to promote brands, not sell stock, and that’s what a modern show has become. Not a place where you get some washed up scifi actor to sign an old toy or something, but a place where masses of people would be exposed to sneak peaks of upcoming massive projects. What’s good about this? The younger crowd shows up. And that’s the only way a show is going to survive is if it reaches the younger crowd that wouldn’t be caught dead at an old style “comic convention” in some dank hotel ballroom where you come and go in less than one day.

That’s not to say the little guy was squeezed out of this one. For one thing, there was a podcast area that was free for podcasters if you got in your request fast enough (it was in an unsellable corner of the floor anyway). This gives an air of fan legitimacy to the con by being able to allow for independent perspectives to come in and do their thing unhindered. There was an artist alley that would rival Otakon’s in size, and surpass it a million fold in quality of art, especially original art, which is what an artist’s alley should be in my opinion, and not a stunt double for the dealer’s room where you can order a pencil sketch of gender swapped Harry Potter characters make out with Naruto and Sasuke and half the cast of Fruits Basket or whatever you sick little freaks who have DA accounts do. No, this artist’s alley was actually worth it, as it had a much nicer mix of style and art, being that this was a more general show.

Of course TM Revolution was there. He’s nice, and very friendly. We talked with him a bit, and hopefully SONY Music is going to let us play what we recorded (audio only). They can be guarded about that since TMR is kinda old but he still has to impress teenyboppers, and when we talked he was fine, but he did look like he just crossed half the world on 15 cups of coffee. I really like him tho. He’s not like some rock star full of himself, and to go through all of that and still be in a good mood, there’s a better man than I.

In the end, ticket sales were in a happy place, dealers sold plenty of goods (except for those old comic guys… they must be kicking themselves for going to this thing), I got to see the Shaw Brothers action figures which are coming out soon, and I told the people who make the costumes for Hellboy 2 that it was a crappy first movie and looks like it’s going to be an even more crappy second, “now get the hell out from behind the Ninja Consultant’s booth.” And yeah, I had a golden ticket this time too, but I gave it to a guy from Kodansha I wanted to impress.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Convention Season

For those who have been doing this long enough to remember when “Anime USA” was just a glorified Halloween party, you may remember a time when the “anime convention” was quite a different animal. As has been said before, there is a feeling of nostalgia that many in my situation feel for the “old conventions” which is genuine but also to a large extent more or less fabricated by those of us who look back to a bygone era through rose tinted non-digital photographs.

Obligatory Apollo Smile photo for Daryl Surat

Left to Right: Marvin Gleicher of Manga Ent., Mike Pascuzzi of CPM (later of Media Blasters), Apollo Smile, Scott Mauriello of Anime Crash, and Chris Parente of Anime Crash (owner and senior partner).

You found this blog because you Googled "Apollo Smile" didn't you...

As “con season” approaches, the massive amount of things going on seem to almost overload one’s ability to plan for a fun filled unabashed wallowing in fandom turning thoughts of summer into a “left behind” scenario of pseudo-panic. The old names that have survived have evolved into such teaming masses of attendees, that a theme-park feel (complete with long lines and annoying people from Middle America) has asserted itself as an inescapable pervasive entity firmly entrenched over many years of quite surprising growth. This massive proliferation of mass attendance at conventions with long-standing histories and the appearance of many smaller satellite conventions themselves is almost exclusive to anime. Looking at other events, one sees the same thing twenty years later as they do now with long running shows such as i-con or Big Apple Comic, which seem to operate as if forgotten by time.

The question which occurs at this point is does the door swing both ways? Is it possible to see a rapid decline in the same recent tradition of rapid growth enjoyed by anime conventions? It is important to note, that unlike other consumer based conventions, which revolve around specifically printed media, or meeting individuals like authors and actors, the anime convention has gone from a gathering who’s main goal was perhaps to watch anime titles that were new to the public or otherwise hard to find, to an event where the antics of the fandom itself are the main backbone of programming. Conventions have become large social events but the need to provide what they used to provide outside social activities, such as anime screenings, rare dealer’s room merchandise, and so on have all been proliferated via the internet and so a central event to provide such things is now unnecessary. This leaves anime conventions as nothing more than themed social gatherings, unless some other type of activity starts happening there. For a while it appeared as if actual anime business was going to start happening at the larger ones, but the way things are going now, it’s more likely that all that licensing that was supposed to happen is going to go scurrying back to MIP where it’s always lived. In fact, the devaluing of anime as a license which comes from fansubbing will probably lead to a decreased ability of conventions being able to afford the kinds of facilities that they have used in the past (Geneon won’t be buying all that floor space this time will they now?), based on the fact that exhibitor companies won’t be spending as much as they used to simply because of their shrinking revenues from the abysmal DVD downturn from which there is no end in sight.

In addition to all that, enter now the new animal. Sleek, for-profit, professionally run destination events like New York Anime Festival and Comic Con, which can change revenue formats from door-based to exhibitor based in a single year if they have to. Anime and Japanese pop-culture in general has become such an important part of American entertainment that Comic Con gets TM Revolution as a major guest. American comic shows used to be (and many in the old style still are) like kryptonite to an Otaku, and a celebration of everything that drove us away from the tacky, badly drawn domestic entertainment media we loathe. But that’s now a thing of the past in more areas large enough to support this new kind of corporate convention event, where content is king and paid employees rarely drop the ball.

Anime Convention Trifecta now in play, and completed with the last of the three kinds of anime conventions, the “hotel con.” I often vacillate between not liking these things because they are exercises only in frivolity and do not advance the fandom as a whole or the industry much, and thinking they are a very important component of the continuing development of a market and lifestyle that is ever evolving. I often think that if cataclysmic change rocks the convention world, that these humble little conventions will be the true survivors and keep alive the kinds of things that seem almost second nature to a conventioneer.

There is now a divergence, based around different groups who in reality would rather not share convention space with other groups. The upcoming convention in Providence RI that restricts entry to those only over 21 is one of the new breed of boutique conventions that serves a specific group within a fandom that is so large, normal demographic rules now apply, and the forced unity that was made prevalent simply because of a feeling of being surrounded on all sides by a community that failed to understand the otaku appeal, is no longer omnipresent and so the disunity that comes with all things at this level is forcing this new evolutionary step.

In most of the outcomes the possible rippling effect that the downturn of the U.S. Market might have on anime, the convention is probably going to be one of the last segments to feel the negative effects, which would mean a decrease in available material, but would that translate into a marked decrease in actual attendance? That alone is probably not going to be able to cause such an effect, but if coupled with a potential downturn in the popularity in general of anime in a post-Naruto world (it can’t go on forever) and the possibility for a non-profit large con to experience a single year of epic fail from poor planning, make a Bermuda Triangle that conventions as we know them today will have to navigate through in order to continue doing what they do.

I am still waiting for the American convention that restricts cosplay to one specific area... (they already do that back in the source country... you know the one I mean).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This is Not New

It seems to have reached a crisis level, and is the talk of the world of American anime economics, the notion that there is an impending collapse of the anime market in the U.S. in general, because of very poor DVD sales.

So fansubs can be seen to hurt a license, but also help it by creating brand awareness. “Brand awareness” however, is totally worthless if it can not be translated into sales of consumer goods of any kind. In many cases the ability of a property to make money in other fields of licensing is killed by fansub proliferation. It is a form of “bootlegging” in a way, not quite different from another segment of Asian entertainment that went through something similar over two decades ago in the 1980’s; Kung Fu.

One of the most pirated genres out there is the martial arts film. Now what’s important to realize that the audiences for anime and for martial arts films have only the slightest bit of overlapping (Fred Perry), and are mostly made up of groups that have nothing to do with each other. However a comparison of historical context is still worth something.

Like a combination of Adult Swim titles, Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon set off a huge explosion in interest in martial arts both as an activity/sport and as entertainment. There was also a new technology coming out at that time as well, one that the industry said would ruin the viability of all video entertainment, and that was the brand spanking newfangled contraption known as the VCR. At the point that martial arts became popular, the primary delivery method for such media was shifting from the cinema to the home. By the early 80’s there are back rooms in small shops pumping out bootleg versions of every Gordon Liu and Chan Seng chop saki basher to be sold on the street, in mail order catalogues, or at conventions.

The result of this was a large market for such material, but a market with standards which would make legitimate operation of media companies almost impossible based on the levels of pricing and sales would support. At the same time, there was a little known phenomenon that got around the language barrier, and that was Hong Kong colonial law. It stated that any cinematic media made in Hong Kong had to have an English version made as well. This is why all those old English dubs of kung fu flicks are done by drunken Australian sailors. Without this, the spread of kung fu in America would have been seriously hampered by a need for subtitling and a general audience not ready to accept anything in a subtitled form. That, coupled with the ethics of a martial arts movie consumer making fansubbers look like media boy scouts, brought a rapid growth of material with an underdeveloped legitimate infrastructure.

After a while of legit and bootlegs warring with each other on the video shelves things seemed to collapse when production could no longer be sustained due to the inability of the money generated in the U.S. make it back to the studios to finance ever more expensive productions. Throw in a change in tastes in the domestic audience, and you have a dark age for the genre. We are now out of that dark age as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has become the Akira of a new era of martial arts as entertainment, but one that still has quite visible scars.

Now what does this remind you of? Let’s run down the list:
• Entertainment from Asia in high demand.
• New Technology circumventing the industrial infrastructure.
• Language barrier overcome without use of commercial means.
• Production of more original content stymied by lack of revenue.

The main difference is that the unlicensed copies of media in anime are being distributed for free, even further damaging the market since the information gathered about the market based on taking a free product is almost worthless and can not help companies make plans for the future.

The recent developments over at ADV are sending ripples throughout the industry and the questions about the future that are being raised now, are very different than those from just 6 months ago. Some questions are bleaker than before, others smack of the denial and ignorance running throughout fandom which simply serves to feed the burning anger and frustration of guys like me.

Like Ancient Rome, American fandom has sucked in the resources from the producers and have built a massive city, all without producing a single thing in return to help further that production. Simply “liking it” does not mean a thing if it operates outside the areas which provide economic subsistence. Like Ancient Rome, anime in America is surrounded on all sides and has no way to pay its own army. Like Ancient Rome, anime in America may see a long dark age before technology or a new method of international collaboration bring us into the light. We have seen it with martial-arts an era ago, and history may be about to repeat itself.


AWO used this incident in their latest episode in their news section, very cool. I can now declare victory, in that I have been mentioned twice in a row on AWO and not once has Daryl uttered "Apollo Smile" not even once, as my bluetooth deception master plan is finally complete!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What You Don’t Know Can Make You Look Dumb:

Something I have been meaning to write down for a while now, is a scathing indictment of the ignorance of American Otaku when it comes to transferring what they have learned from anime into what is and is not permissible in Japanese society. But rather than simply start a war of egotistical posturing, I shall instead look to the formula pioneered by David Letterman and condense my thoughts into:
A top 5 list of things that shatter American Otaku’s views once they visit Japan.

1) Anime isn’t anime: In Japanese “anime” still refers to all things animated whether it be Full Metal Alchemist, Wallace and Grommet, or Fantastic Planet. Otaku-no-Video is not a documentary, and even if it were that time in history has long since passed. You will not find a 24 hour anime convention, nor will you find “anime” labeled with the specific connotations that have come to so strongly define it in America. Thusly in Japan it is viewed as simply another consumer product in the entertainment world, and not a lifestyle. This thusly effects the domestic attitudes towards anime productions, and the retail of licensed goods.

2) You’re a gaijin: No, that’s not awesome, nor is it something that you want to draw attention to. It is not to say that one should be ashamed, but aware of. No matter how well spoken you are, absolutely nothing will trump that physicality which will effect everything else you can and can not do. Conversely, if you are of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean decent, then you are going to be the one they go to first to try and talk to, even if you don’t speak a word. This is not a culture where differences are celebrated, and for Americans putting that grade-school E Pluribus Unum indoctrination out of the way when one reacts to every day situations that confront those notions, is quite a task indeed.

3) Anime Documentary: Yes there is much that you can learn about Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary by watching their entertainment. However, acting like an anime character in public is not something that would ever help your situation out, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, no matter what anime character you think is OK to imitate (even KareKano isn't real, and no one else can see that imaginary sweat bead). Individuality as a concept is something that always takes a back seat to a notion of “the greater good” in the land of the rising sun. This may be because there has never been much of an “internal struggle” between competing groups within Japan itself for its entire history. After the recent post war period where unity was maintained as the key to winning a very real struggle to get enough to eat, this notion is very entrenched, and even the most rebellious Japanese youth does so with the confines of “the greater god” (look at the fact that School uniforms are still in widespread use). What this means to the visiting Otaku is that when you think your “inalienable rights” are being impeded when you get those dirty looks or polite requests to move along, it’s not an affront to your individuality or “free speech,” it’s that you obviously don’t know how to properly comport yourself in public in Japan. There is a difference between putting away fear of embarrassment and ignorantly crossing social boundaries.

4) Beer in the Vending Machines: If they had beer vending machines here in New York (we basically do, they’re called “bodegas”) but regardless, I don’t think I would drink less, but I would drink more responsibly. Life in Japan in general places much more responsibility for one’s self in one’s own hands, and so the notions of extreme behavior being acceptable so long as it violates no law, is practically nonexistent outside the Karaoke club. That’s not to say Japan does not have its nanny-state-isms, because they do. But they are some of the most advanced nanny-state formulas on the planet, relying on very long term policies and subsidies held in place with the ever present Japanese social glue, shame. Simply stated, a lot of the activities and methods of communication a young person engage in, in America are simply not done by their Japanese counterparts simply by the mere notion of “well you could, but why would you want to?”

On a side note, Japanese beer is a good way to represent the country itself. You take it from every region north to south, and it’s the same. No matter which beer it is, it’s always the same style and same taste. That’s one image the world sees of Japan, one big pile of sameness. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover saké. Saké is found throughout Japan as well, but that is about all beer and saké have in common. Move even one prefecture over and the saké becomes something totally different, and that’s Japan to the Japanese. Still constant, but very different from one end to the other... But they’ll never admit that to you.

5) Tokyo Sucks: Hey, I am a big city fan and I love Tokyo. But if you are young, and looking for Japan, Tokyo is the last place you want to bother with. It’s for business people, let them do business there, but for you my otaku friend there are other places with are nicer to look at, and cheaper to stay in. You can get your anime fix just about anywhere, so consider anything from Sapporo to Fukuoka as worth checking out.

Now if you’re going to Japan for a week, this list really only applies on a very basic level and there’s nothing here for you that a good guidebook can’t do better for you on. But if you’re going to be buying your own groceries, commuting to work/classes, and wandering into places where the Japanese haven’t seen a foreigner since the Dutch, then these things will become apparent as you experience them, and the only thing this list will help you do, is recognize them the first time they happen.

My final tip only applies specifically to Americans, and that is when you plan your trip, don’t fly on any American air carrier. You know they suck, the suck hard. So get on JAL or Malaysia Airlines, or Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, or even British airways or whatever, just don’t bother with an American carrier, because you’ll really be sorry if you do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Response to Justin Sevakis:

Better late than never.

In the infamous words of Rockwell, “I got a feeling somebody’s watching me. Although the comments may indicate otherwise, it does seem that a number of people do actually read this ongoing muse into anime as an entertainment market, and as such is the case I believe it my duty to make it worth reading.

Not so recently (late November 2007), Justin Sevakis wrote Editorial: An Open Letter to the Industry over at ANN, where he is Director of New Media. In contemplating a response there were a few key points that were very interesting and carried with them many more industry related aspects than they may have appeared on the surface, to an audience on the outside looking in. After mistakenly thinking I had sufficiently addressed the heart of those issues back on a few audio podcasts I may or may not have made it into (I don't check up on these things), I believe that the indelible written word is the only forum for this expression that is truly appropriate.

Justin Sevakis's article is not going to be reproduced here, as doing so would cause this entry to reach a level of tl;dr approaching biblical proportions. Each section of Justin’s piece has a title and it is that title that is listed in red at the head of each section of my response to it.

Editorial: An Open Letter to the Industry
Link to Article

Justin’s opening simply sets the stage of what being in the fandom used to be in terms of obtaining anime. It was a time when anime (and almost all international media for that matter) could only exist in a physical form subject to the same rules that govern any commercial commodity whether it be shoes, bread, MRI machines, or heroin. Those commercial maxims are simply those of production and distribution, and for a long time their effects dictated market growth extending into and past the DIC era of anime exposure and the basic creation of an actual anime specific market.

Then came a market boom. At first it was truly a boom in the traditional sense, that of product sales, and because the only product that could be both easily licensed and easily produced was home video, that’s where those boom sales were to be found. Eventually this made the consumer market grow, and people wanted modern anime and more of it as well. Strong home media sales were the only thing that allowed anime on TV specifically labeled as anime. More shows got on TV, there was still no internet to get to the viewers first, and anime became a more expensive media commodity. When Toonami/Adult Swim and Tokyo Pop combined to create almost the perfect storm of more than doubling the size of the anime market in a single year, the speculation passes an event horizon which can only be seen in hindsight.

Yes the market grew huge, convention attendance soared, and moreover there were tons of cosplayers there. To add to the frenzy, a staggeringly large number of cosplayers were appearing as characters from titles that were not even licensed in America yet. What does that mean? If you are the Japanese, you start thinking that for every attendee, you are going to see DVD sales, and you are thinking this because that’s what history has shown. This is where Justin fails to take into account the very real impact of the market mirage created by this growing fandom, which gave the impression of a safe investment and a strong belief that these immense asking prices for licenses were justifiable. It’s not as if 100% of the license price was simply the Japanese thinking they had the greatest thing since sliced bread or simply wanting to make a big quick buck (though there can be no denying that is as equally responsible) but a signifigant portion was simply a genuine assumption that a very large fan community support a consumer market on a certain level. After all, this is a very solid conclusion to draw and is still something that rings quite true outside the entertainment media industry.

What happened instead was the perfect market killer otaku was born, with a combination of otaku aspects that are individually very good for a market, but in specific combinations absolutely deadly. This new otaku was consumed not only with a simple desire to absorb as much anime as was possible, but a willingness and eventual demand that the anime they watched was as close to its original form as possible. That acceptance of “that which is subtitled” combined with a distorted picture of how markets and licensing work fueled by youth and willful ignorance, and a final notion that watching anime as a basic right and not a consumer good (a notion amplified by aspects of American lifestyle such as car-culture, consumerism, over-eating and a ridiculous belief that Youtube videos are protected by the first amendment) meant that the attitude of wanting anime and wanting it now would be tempered neither by the natural obstacle of needing an English Dub, or an awareness that such activities are damaging to the market. Investors, producers, and media labels walked onto what looked like a very solid foundation of a growing fanbase with large amounts of brand awareness, only to have it turn out to be quicksand. Fool them once shame on one, fool them twice and shame on the other.

Link to Article

Once technology made it possible for video footage to be taken straight off the airwaves, then entirely put into software which allowed for rapid subtitling without the previous need for extra hardware (production), and then made available via the internet in place of needing to have a physical piece of media (distribution). In the previous sentence “made available” is very appropriate while “sent via the internet” would be a tremendous misstatement. To explain, “sending” requires a “sender” and specific recipient, much like VHS fansubbers were contacted by a party whishing to receive something by providing direct or indirect means of fulfilling that request, the fansubber then undertook to allocate specific resources to send which was requested on a media capable of containing it. I am of course describing the days of padded envelopes and Maxell tapes. Days now long past and about as alien to the modern anime fan as a modern person relying on passenger pidgins to send e-mail.

When everything changed in the world of fansubs and moved away from the need for physical media, these very real rules of production and distribution were effectively taken out of the fandom equation. Their absence completely rewrote the laws of physics for the universe of American fandom on a scale so vast the only analogy I can possibly think of is one in which biology ceased to be a factor in human existence and we never again needed to eat, sleep, breathe, age, and so on. For the first time, an anime fan could find a fansubber, get the anime episodes they wanted, watch them, and then throw them away (delete) them, all while the fansubber themselves slept through the entire process.

To summarize, “how we got here”: An expanding market brought in loads of people, but almost no consumers, and nobody figured it out until it was too late (“consumers” in the traditional sense, meaning people who buy things).

Now because of this, I must take extreme issue with the almost complete absolution that Saint Sevakis gives to these modern fans, suggesting that their activities are something as natural as hurricanes in the Caribbean and those in the industry and something a well run industry should be able to deal with without batting an eye. He completely dismisses the fact that this development is known to be detrimental on all levels of the media production and licensing business and is simply a manifestation of the otaku public’s inability to control itself. The counter analogy Justin gives to Arthur Smith’s i-phone comparison is wrong in every respect, even by the standards he sets up in his own article. I will try to explain why I feel this way as succinctly as possible since this is already getting a tad long:
Earlier the article states that Anime was a consumer good, provided by fansubbers using a traditional set of maxims which govern all consumer goods while otaku watched anime via tapes that required storage space and money, and this was done out of pure necessity as there was no alternative. Enter digital fansubs and the market explosion in America, and all of a sudden the rules and limitations no longer apply for better or for worse, all the while otaku keep doing what they do best, watch anime. What’s wrong with this picture? The technology making getting fansubs as easy as checking e-mail is beyond any industry’s control. This is not the industry putting a box of i-phones on the street unattended and then being surprised they’re gone. It is a radical change in what it means for anime to be a consumer product, all brought about by that external force. The more correct analogy would be the Apple store being smashed into by a truck and chronic grand-scale looting commencing; all the while the owners, managers, investors, third party manufacturers, A&TT, and the police all look on, powerless to stop it from happening. Or perhaps a better analogy would be one that uses actual technology as the external factor, such as if all of a sudden Star-Trek transporters became a reality and all you had to do was push a button and an i-phone appeared in your house, never mind that it was beamed out from the store that you didn’t break into.

From a media perspective, it would be like someone leeching the satellite feed of the final episode of an immensely TV series (MASH, Seinfeld, Sopranos, whatever), then airing that episode before it was scheduled to go on TV, on a pirate station or the internet or both, without commercials. Well that’s stealing, because the company that made that episode, (that paid the editors, office workers, gaffers bla bla bla) , needs to make the investment back by selling advertising based on a guarantee. A guarantee to advertisers that a a relatively certain approximate number of households will watch the program with that advertising, and that guarantee is legally protected and has been the source of fierce contention since the days Gilbert & Sullivan wrote HMS Pinafore. If you actually think advertising isn’t an important part of every piece of consumer media that gets made, then after watching “Good Night and Good Luck” come find me and I’ll punch you in the face just to make sure you got the point.

As is correctly pointed out Justin’s opening, getting the anime to the market first, effectively makes a license worthless, and from an anime company’s perspective (yes anime comes from companies, not from farms where it’s grown on trees) if what you make is going to be made worthless by people you can’t stop, then why bother… since the domestic TV ad sales and merchandising isn’t going to support your efforts alone?

It is important to note, that one download of an anime is not one lost DVD sale but there was a ratio for X amount of fansubs there were going to be Y amount of home media sales. But this external factor changed that and while convention attendance and anime fandom grew larger, that ratio shrank and DVD sales didn’t even stay level while more and more people entered into the anime market. Media giants like Viacom and Warner are still struggling with this and have no real solution, and a tiny anime company with 21 employees is supposed to be able to deal with this global phenomenon?

Link to Article

This “rut” came from the surrounding market growing up around a traditional industry which up until that time had worked well. I think that what’s happening with anime is a very good barometer for where general media is headed in the near future. This is where Justin Sevakis proves he most certainly does know just about everything there is to know about the mechanics of the media industry as a whole. Though I have to say the reason fansubbers fansub anime doesn’t come from some selfless proletariatism (that dies with VHS), no it’s the internet points.

Regardless of who is to blame and what is to be said, Justin’s piece nails it on the head that two tings remain constant. First, the anime fan will satisfy their craving (or simple curious interest) via the path of least resistance. Even though downloaders offer up the most sanctimonious self-excusing dribble such as the “well I wouldn’t buy the DVD anyway and it’s just replacing the function of what TV would do” line (even though no ad revenue can be realized by the production company so they can't make more anime) and these same people completely obliterate any validity to that notion by showing up to conventions dressed as characters from that very same show, or review that show on a blog, or recommend that show in a podcast, etc, completely feeding into that false inflation of the market, all the while eroding the viability of the show as a viable license. This will most certainly continue as long as there is a mechanism which allows it to operate. Secondly, the only way for the industry to continue in a way that will allow for sustained productions and further growth, is to make fansubs and their downloaging, obsolete and unnecessary. Correctly noted is the fact that no matter how many carriers an anime channel can get on, if the only offerings are an existing home media library or mostly acquisitions from a single production studio which are not up to date, the channel will have little viability in sustaining sales, or advert sales.

Coming up with the magic pill is not an easy task seeing as how no other aspect of consumer media has been posed with the same life or death situation, nor have they come up with an existing solution. Anime companies make anime, not trail-blaze the technology of media delivery.

Link to Article

Nobody’s dragging anything really, it’s just that this could not have come at a worse time. The entire American home media business is in decline, and that’s partly because the entire American economy is crap thanks to another 8 years of a Bush Whitehouse. Japan’s economy isn’t that great either, making it a time to tighten belts and refrain from investments with questionable ROI. A few entries ago I extolled to the public that the ICv2 Panel at NYAF simply gave the Japanese the impression that if the “big bad internet” went away, this giant market would support those geysers of DVD sales that the licensing agents out in LA assured them were a slam dunk (hey they got their commission so what does it matter now amiright?).

Yes making a co-pro is almost impossible. I have been involved with two (One with the Shiden production and Micronauts with Mego, Takara, and Geneon Japan though we approached Aniplex first but SONY couldn't play nice with Takara because of Mego's bad blood... long story. It’s always one side arguing that they know what the market wants more than the other), and so far it hasn’t happened in the true sense of the word. Appropriately noted is the more practical solution to minimize the time between a TV licensed anime’s airdates between the Japan and America, and to find a delivery system that can get subtitled anime to American audiences that can somehow be monetized. The problem is that aside from embryonic concepts from the start-ups Node Science, and RayV TV, (which both seem great), there’s nothing out there that the anime companies wouldn’t have to invent and then maintain themselves, making the overhead of such a system prohibitive.

As far as what we’ll see in the future, after checking out some of the announcements and sneak peaks at the NYAF, I am happy to say that I don’t think we’re in for a Soujitz sponsored moé flood. It really does look like in general things are getting darker and more action oriented like Death Note and Ninja Scroll. But since what I am responding to was written before the NYAF, it’s fair to assume that such a moé flood has been a genuine fear since the TAF of 2006.

Link to Article

We are looking at a last chance of sorts. Something needs to come along and prove that investing ten or twenty million dollars making an anime series is still worth it, or that perhaps smaller investments for shorter productions will be a bankable commodity in the future.

Perhaps what we are living in is nothing but the aftereffect of a kind of vampire byte from the evolutionary force of entertainment culture. Perhaps east is east and west is west, and although the twain have met in both the best of times and the worst of times, no matter how bad or good those meetings are they are destined never to last. Anime may well have no choice but to go back to the rollercoaster of American interest ups and downs, as this latest influx of anime simply serves to change our own domestic American entertainment product into something that this and future generations will respond to, but more importantly, that domestic media companies can control. If this is true, then things like Teen Titans were the primordial walking fish that would later evolve into Avatar, an early hominid of what may become a new anime-born, uniquely American entertainment era.

There’s a fork in the road, and it seems like no one is at the wheel.