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.


HOW DID WE GET HERE?
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?


GETTING OUT OF THE RUT
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.

DRAGGING THEIR FEET
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.



LAST CHANCE
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.

-

T.A.O.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Rose Tinted Aviators:

New York not just City… It big state!”

I would like to take an opportunity to delve into some of the issues specifically covered in Fast Karate for the Gentleman’s Episode from 02/13/08; “Tell It To The Judge (My Gun Is The Judge).” I have to say that my i-pod is a bit backed up and so I was just getting around to listening to that on a long train ride yesterday.

I won’t be doing a ton of background on the subject, so I would encourage anyone to go and listen to Dave and Joel’s Fast Karate for the Gentleman show from Feb 13. However the main points will reveal themselves as this entry continues, and if you can’t figure things out, then go look it up on the interwebs or something because I don’t care.

As pointed out, “Angel Cop” is probably the most extreme example of this type of gonzo-ultra-violent action anime production which can still stay within realm of a basic appreciation of American anime fandom in general. Like it or hate it, Angel Cop still has its place in the early days of the “third age” of anime in America for better or for worse.

What was ignored in their critique however, is the commercial impact of that title. Much as modern otaku would rather it didn’t, at least the first volume of Angel Cop sold incredibly well, while volume two did very well for being a #2 in a series. Manga smartened up relatively quickly and soon put the whole thing on one tape, editing out the bits where there was too much talking and not enough splatter. If I recall correctly there wasn’t a subtitled version of this single release made available, and that of course was because the customers buying this thing weren’t anime fans at all, but just a mix of various youth cultures looking for “Akira Part 2” or at least something as “awesome as Ninja Scroll.” As far as sales went, this title was smoking and sold out more often than just about any other release out there at the time. The two separate outcomes of this popularity were one positive and one negative. First, this made anime (or at the time still commonly “Japanimation”) an attractive area for retailers who saw these spiking sales, and secondly the subject matter of the title served only to confirm the pre-existing notions of mainstream media that “anime” was nothing more than borderline pornographic blood-soaked horrific manifestations of sick individuals for strict relegation to the adults-only area of less than reputable entertainment media retail establishments. Thankfully, that effect was short lived, but the economic effects of Angel Cop are ones that were indeed important up to perhaps even the present day.

The next release from Marv’s Manga Entertainment label to push these boundries was Mad Bull 34, an insane romp through a fictional New York City police duo’s crime fighting (and crime committing) adventures, so full of impossible gunfights, even more impossible decapitations, and a plotline so outrageous that even well over a decade later it continues to be unintentionally funny. Looking at this turd, it’s very difficult to imagine how anyone would imagine New York in such a way as this… that is until you realize that this was made in Japan.

The average Japanese has no idea what the rest of the world is like beyond smatterings of popular culture, pressure molded into preconceived notions of how things are “supposed to be.” You ask an anime Otaku over there what America is, and you’ll get a strange picture of New York on one end, LA on the other, and somewhere in the middle is Chicago, Disney World, and nothing else. One reason for this is that suburban sprawl and car-culture simply do not exist in Japan. The average commuter takes a very well maintained and highly developed public transportation system to work and has no need for a car. Ever. This kind of lifestyle simply leads to a notion that the majority of the population is clustered around major urban centers and things like the sprawling developments of Long Island and Indiana simply can’t exist, and therefore no one lives in such areas. When going to undergrad in New York, I ended up in that “upstate” part of it, where I encountered many a stranded Japanese exchange student stuck in places like Albany, Buffalo, or Plattsburg, all of whom simply saw the name “New York” and figured they’d be living in the Empire State Building and walking to see the Statue of Liberty in Central Park (yeah I know… but they didn’t). Another one of them came up with the following revelation only after getting over here; “New York, it not just city! It Big state!” (Yes that’s a quote).

Even here in the city itself, there are plenty of very jaded and disenfranchised Japanese, who simply assumed that New York was just Tokyo with white people. What’s interesting in this particular instance is that Japanese women ex-pats seem to be light-years more prepared than their male counterparts. I am personally chalking this up to the fact that a great many Japanese women here have no intention of returning to a culture and economy where one becomes a pariah for passing 30 without having kids, and the best job you could hope for had the letters “O” and “L” in the job description. One friend of mine even brought her Japanese “NYC Preparedness” book with her, and in it was a graphic illustration of the differences between the Tokyo Met Police, and the NYPD. You didn’t have to know a word of Japanese to figure that as far as this book was concerned “The NYPD is NOT your FRIEND, DO NOT APPROACH” ...a rather accurate depiction I am afraid.

So maybe it’s no wonder that something like Mad Bull 34 is more than a possibility when coming from an insulated, over self-policing, borderline xenophobic culture with a fascination of violence stemming from historical amnesia so strong that contemporary college students know the kami kaze only as that rainstorm that prevented Genghis Khan’s army from taking over Kyushu and not that whole crashing planes into ships thing. Yes Mad Bull 34 is the product of such a morbid violence fascination combined with an immense (or perhaps willful) ignorance in both the fields of American life, and mechanics of firearms. This latter ignorance is prevalent even in some of the greater works of anime such as the works of Kenichi Sonoda where Bean Bandit can somehow stop 9mm auto fire from 2 feet away simply with the mass of his forearms (no it wasn’t the bullet proof jacket thing) and come away with nothing more than what looks like wounds from an airsoft. Yes my friends, it has long been known that anime involving guns has operated in a world where most physics do not exist and “recoil” is something heard only in ancient legends.

But that’s ok. As any otaku will tell you, when physics intrudes into an otherwise enjoyable anime, it ruins the fun, and many a title has been embraced by the fans while still thumbing its nose at one Isaac Newton. So what makes Mad Bull 34 different? It’s that other deficiency, the one about not knowing America, or more specifically New York. The program does its best to try to look sort of authentic by incorporating background images from actual location photos (hey Dave, that grocery store they rob in the beginning is that Key Food on 5th Ave and Baltic over by where the Ninja Consultants used to live), and that seems only to make worse the amazingly comedic criminal types that are presented such as roller skating armed robbers that dawn day-glo hockey masks, or crazy gangs of slash-happy cop-killer lesbians with pink hair which would only seem genuinely believable as criminals to a Japanese audience. Remember this is the same country where you are supposedly a tough guy if you drive around in one of these:


After laughing at the owner of one of those things in the parking lot of a Sizeria, I have to say that the only thing I am now scared of in Japan are the ごきぶり.

Decapitation by 12gage might be believable if this were happening in some sort of future world, which is what allowed Angel Cop to get away with similar jaw dropping stupidity. But in Mad Bull 34, that’s just too much to ask for, and with the exception to the plebeians of Cyberpunk from a decade ago (I’m not calling Cyberpunk plebeian, just saying it has a whole section of wannabes), or unless you are looking for “Akira part 2”, there is no need to actually watch this program.

However this is not the end of what Mad Bull 34 was. We must remember that it if not for the rapid growth of the Anime market in the U.S. that this thing would have stayed buried in Japan along with things like Devil Hunter Yoko, Burn Up, The Humanoid, and all that other fodder that lead the way into the international market and have probably been seen by more Americans at this point than Japanese. It had straddled that portion of the timeline where releases went from catering to a general youth crowd and labels simply saw otaku as a minimized fringe group which although they spent the highest ratio of dollars per person on releases there were simply not enough of them and acquitted as such, to an era where the habitual anime buyer would become a dominant market force made possible by a rapid proliferation of anime on American TV for the first time marketed and presented as “anime” and not just another program. Mad Bull 34 was one of the last of the anime properties brought over for exactly the same jaw dropping graphic depictions aimed at the non-otaku anime buyer of the mid 1990’s who was only after explosions and nudity. If you are reading this, you are not, nor were you ever, part of that group no matter how much you wish otherwise.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

I Hate it When I'm Right:

I must be psychic.


Why I am worried, and you should be too:

SiamGX, a regular contributor to many things involving Cosplay, not to mention many a commercial anime endeavor, the host of Anime Select’s first Tokyo Reporter series, our very own !Pon itself, and participant in the New York episode of Cool Japan has just had just had his Youtube account Ban-hammered hard. Now taking into account that much of Youtube contains pieces of video which violate some nebulous copyright regulation in some form or another this might seem nothing but a culling of various videos for new owner Google to show the rest of the IP world that they are serious about protecting profits while at the same time allowing the gobs of web traffic to flow free enough to keep the advertising revenue at a good level.


Well fellow North American Otaku readers (and Cosplayers especially), as you continue to learn more about this incident you will surely see what a truly dangerous precedent this represents. The over 50 original video productions that SiamGX had made available on Youtube were nothing near the blatant violations of copyright that oh so many fansubs and AMVs embody. Yet only one was tagged and resulted in the complete destruction of the entire library of work. No, not Mortal Peep Fight with over 2 million views, no not any of the original creation “Dosanko-Gaijin” episodes… no my friends, what was the target of a “violation of copyright” flag from TV TOKYO themselves, was nothing more than a COSPLAY VIDEO. It contained no proprietary music, no pieces of animation what so ever, just people dressed up as “proprietary characters.”

Anyone who read the previous post on this blog from October 16 2007 (“Hey baby, how bout you pull your top up and show me the fine print?”) may have thought that such a era of dystopian fandom where a simple home-made costume and engaging in the Japanese-inspired tradition of “Cosplay” would be subject to a fee for the copyright holders enforced by various goon-squads, was something quite far off on the horizon of fandom, and almost impossible in these American States United, where our constitution seems to guarantee the right to dress up weird and make fools of ourselves so long as public safety is not in danger. It would seem that such a nightmare is now on the doorstep of American fandom and is being delivered by a Japanese company no less! With this action, a Japanese company no doubt steeped in the traditions and allowances of Japanese anime fandom, has made it evident that they have absolutely no intention of extending such courtesies to us across the Pacific. That company is TV Tokyo..


If this sounds almost impossible to believe, then let me summarize the very important message that was delivered at the New York Anime Festival in December of 2007 (TV Tokyo has offices here in New York by the way). A lot was said, and if you want to hear it exactly, then stop by the Ninja Consultants. As a professional in the home media and licensing business since 1996, I can tell you that there was only one thing that Japanese reps came away from that presentation with. One single impression that has now been sadly confirmed by the fall of Geneon and the seeming implosion of ADV, and that is; Japanese anime doesn’t make money in the U.S. on DVD because of the internet. That’s it. That’s all they came away with, and if you listen to the questions that the Japanese specifically asked, it becomes apparent that that specific issue was all they cared about. Once that message got in their heads, aggressive consulting companies jumped on everyone from Soujitz to TV Tokyo, VIZ to Kodansha, and “guaranteed” they could show them how to safeguard their properties on those big bad internets. In reality all they will do is feed these gullible Japanese companies basic strategies long since proven to be counter-effective and which simply serve generate resentment in existing fanbases.


Believe me, if there is one thing that Japanese companies are slow to do, it is figure out when something isn’t working. From the great gouging of Sony Pictures by Peter Guber and John Peters, to the travesty that was the American division of the Japanese talent agency Creek & River Inc, they take a very long time in realizing their methods are causing major problems in the very market they are trying to correct. Major problems which will hurt their bottom line and drive people out of a lifestyle that they love.


Believe me when I say cosplayers are in trouble. This dangerous precedent of successfully arguing copyright infringement over simply wearing a costume has now been set. First it will be the high-profile cosplay videos and fan generated Cosplay-content web-sites that are forced down for fear that they are somehow detracting from the content which is being sold as a home media product, and that has already begun. If this goes on unopposed, the conventions themselves that will come under pressure to control and regulate the costumes you chose to wear to their events. Pressure exhorted on conventions to deny entry to cosplayers based on their choice of costume, and to limit or even exclude all together cosplay events by the Japanese rights holders of the characters themselves, will be great enough that the impact of that pressure will most assuredly be felt.

Now to go all "Project Chanology" here, Cosplayers must see this as a CALL TO ACTION which is needed at this very moment, early on when such things can be prevented. Here is what you can do:

  • Get into your Youtube Cosplay videos and add to the description “The costumes portrayed are individually unique and user made, and this event took place in public view and is therefore not subject to copyright infringement.” (who knows if that will work but it’s worth a shot).
  • Contact TV Tokyo and (politely) let them know that slamming the hammer down on Cosplayers is not the way to sell more DVDs and tell them you’re concerned.
  • Make your own web and video banners that read “COSPLAY IS NOT COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT!”
  • Whenever you are asked where any single piece of your costume came from, simply say it’s self-made (the burden of proof lies with them, so don’t give it to them, and remember it’s only illegal to lie to police and court officers, not other private citizens).


Get out there and SPREAD THE WORD. Post on forums that this is starting to happen, write in to magazines like Otaku USA and Anime Insider. Let them know you are concerned that the Cosplay community being subjugated by misguided profit hungry rights holders which don’t see Cosplay as a threat on their home turf but want to regulate it here in our own backyards. I have cosplayed once in my entire life over 10 years ago, and don’t intend to ever again really, but that does not mean that I am simply as shocked as I can possibly be, that this development has happened so unexpectedly and to such a rapidly growing area of the fandom. If you do nothing, I fear for my Cosplay friends.


C.I.N.C.I.
Cosplay Is Not Copyright Infringement!

Photobucket



Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Where do babies come from?



While anime continues dealing with a core demographic which is growing ever younger, the amount of general ignorance of the basic methods of production and the finance of the anime we hold so dear is bound to manifest itself more often and in ways we the anime-enlightened (... ok "enlightened" my-ass, it's jaded not enlightened), find incredibly irritating and befuddling. Now to be fair, this kind of woeful lack of basic knowledge about an anime’s genesis has been around a long time and is not specifically exclusive to one specific age group. Listening to the various podcasts out there one can find misstatements and assumptions taken as fact from even the most (seemingly) experienced fan podcast with a large following. I sometimes find myself listening along and then reaching a comment or two, which by the commenter’s standards might seem a feasible occurrence or reasonable thing to say.  But when it collides with the hard wall of factual reality it will just jump out as something so detached, that I have to count to ten and do 3 miles on the treadmill to avoid going into a Berserk-style slicefest on my i-pod out of sheer frustration induced rage.

So what is one to do about this seemingly spreading phenomenon? In all reality, there is nothing we can do but continue to extol the unattractive truth for those who wish to listen and learn. In doing so, I don’t expect to make many new friends as I may be shattering little bubble-worlds and dashing on hard rocks of reality the hopes and dreams of many a school aged otaku (weebo) who think they will have a career as the next Miyazaki or something.  At the risk on engaging in the sort of behavior I recently wrote against in a previous post, I am going to go through the steps that I myself have gone through, as a small participant in the attempted production of an anime series, and detail the progress that those efforts made, getting almost to the finish line before exploding in a fire-storm of epic fail.

It was only a few years ago, when a Japanese producer had the idea to make another anime. Having so much experience in animation production, he was already more than a few steps ahead of absolute zero, and had this not been the case, such a project would have been over before it even got started. So remember kids anime production is one of those catch 22 businesses where in order to do it, you need to have already done it. The only way to get new blood into the fray is for it to attach itself in a remora-like fashion to what may or may not be a successful project lead by someone with previous experience. This is a tough industry to get into and an even tougher one in which to achieve recurring success.

So this opportunity comes along because my “home team” as it were, had an existing distribution contract with a third party distributor that had an impressive sales network in North America, and was also attached to a former major player in the toy/merchandise business which still had the occasional multi-million home-run a few times every decade. That sounds unimpressive, but when one considers the position of the other side of this equation (the Japanese producers approaching us in this project) which was more or less the same, meaning that they had already approached the power players in their league and had been rebuffed, such a combination of underdogs begins to make more sense now no?

So the stage is set, both parties are looking to someone to come in, fill the gap that would make the production an attractive investment, and then present the whole tempting package to financiers. The problem was that while one of these two halves of this newfound partnership was a well oiled machine, the other was a disaster waiting to happen, but that contingent could hold it off if funding came in for the short term. This meant that the “bait on the hook” could only stay in the water so long before falling apart. Both sides realized that there was only a small window to get some interested parties to the table in any case, and the courting began.



It was one fish in a sea of many to be sure, but what set it apart was that it was one of the only potentials out there specifically designed launch in the U.S., Japan, Europe (including U.K.) and Australia at the same time. So because of this, the news coverage of this endeavor was substantial in Asia, and the United States when you consider the PR was done more or less shoestring pro-bono, and press events were held both in New York and Tokyo (and a little one in L.A.).



Moving forward, a full pilot episode complete with opening and closing sequences was made at a cost of just under a few million dollars. It was screened in the U.S. and Japan, all the while the courting of finance company representatives continued in both cities. A promotional video with the series creator was filmed (but never released until much later) at the Tokyo Anime Fare in 2004. Reps from America came to Tokyo and did the rounds, and Japanese MITI reps even flew from Tokyo to New York several times to see the “American partner.” Things were looking good, but it was obvious that everyone who was brought in for the first round could not seriously be expected to bring in any investment capital. That was ok though, just “strike one”, and we had a lot more time at the plate... or so we thought.



Then it happened, the main name behind the project, the writer and producer, died. So; we had a pilot, music score, script, actual entire first episode completely done, designs, English and Japanese tracks recorded and ready to go…. All we needed was a broadcast deal and we were otherwise good to go for any financing out there. But losing the man behind it all made that insignificant. The Japanese contingent fell apart almost instantly, and took with it all the arranged studio deals, animation and voice obligations, certain rights, and just about anything else needed to get off the ground.
We tried to keep the momentum going, but without a burning core, a star does die. So the efforts and the hope we put into this project were all, in the end... wasted. The concept finally ended after becoming only one, 30 minute anime episode. In case you’re wondering where I am in all of this, well I’m behind the camera for most of these.

So what does this have to do with what was written at the start of this entry? It’s about the lack of understanding of the general knowledge of the multi million and sometimes multi billion dollar anime industry which leads people to believe things that are totally wrong. . After 10 years, The Angry Otaku got the chance to help pitch an anime, made by a man who has been making Japanese productions for over 50 years. It was solid. It was written well. It had a 30 minute pilot and more behind it, yet ran right into the wall (one day I’ll fan-sub that episode and let the internets see it. Or if anyone wants to fan sub it before me, then send me your JLPT score, and if yours is higher than mine, then better you than me).


So there you have it, in a very long and drawn out way I have simply stated that making an actual anime is not easy, it’s actually damn near impossible. Even if you have the basics, the chances of success are still against you. It is the fear of economic failure which leads to this gauntlet of trials and tribulations a concept must go through before it is thrown into production, and then after all that it has to be a profitable one. The fact that anime even exists as successful commercial enterprise on an international level is almost phenomenal in itself.

For a great many anime fans out there to act as if it is some sort of natural resource and will continue to flow unobstructed into the world as long as there is salt in the ocean shows that their understanding of why productions are made in the first place is sorely lacking. Yes, there is a very real detachment that causes one to think of anime as something that just appears at a click of a mouse, but this detachment then feeds uninformed assumptions about why things happen in the anime industry. Such assumptions formed by the misapplication or general knowledge to a pin-hole camera glimpse into a world that they themselves truly know nothing about simply from lack of experience.

For these people to say that “such and such” a company is doing “X“ action because of “Y” reason often smacks of such uninformed presumptuousness that it puts me off not only to hear it being said, but to know that it is being taken as fact by many others out there who simply do not know that such reasoning is extraordinarily unlikely. I have often thought of taking these instances on individually, and take the real risk of sounding like an anime know-it-all in an effort to try and simply give a better understanding of the very real business that anime fans have built a lifestyle around. However, in the end it is much better simply to march forward under the banner of “ignorance is bliss” and keep anime production something that is so often mixed with the realm of idealized imagination by people who don’t want to see it as a sterile impersonal industry, but rather as something simply positive and fun, or in the most extreme cases so life affirming that it takes on an almost religious quality in its importance.

So remember, the creation and distribution of what we hold dear is a commercial enterprise, and as such, the various private entities that operate with that enterprise often do not act in a very forthcoming way with information about why bad things happen. This leads to the time-honored and perfectly normal behavior of people using speculation to form opinions, but know this; the difference between an informed and uninformed opinion is not always easy to spot, nor is the damage it can cause easy to undo. In this era of failing economics, industry belt-tightening, the collapse of the American home video market, and the negative reaction of Japanese companies who are just now finding out that the reason their properties are so popular will not positively effect their earnings (don’t forget, that’s going to come with a nice big side order of resentment), the fan base is going to be watched more carefully and may have its greatest effect yet on the future of anime production as a whole. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to stick your head in the sand, but please don’t panic, at least not until you’ve reached your own, informed opinion.