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.”