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.