Saturday, July 17, 2010

Galapagos Effect in My Manga? It’s more likely than you think.

How the Margaret Barbaree situation can show us potential problems for the future.

A three part series on why anime and manga stand to become less relevant to Americas, and why there’s nothing you can do about it.

Part I;

While the recent events in Florida conger up fond memories of the “good old days” when manga and anime were the spearhead of true counterculture, it is a reminder of an endemic habitual problem of cultural separation with manga (and the anime that is produced from it) across international borders.

In these “good old days” fan communities could hold a special solidarity together, one that could only come from the collective misunderstanding, cultural mistrust, and feelings of ignorant repugnancy from mainstream Middle America which was directed at those subversive perverted unchristian Japanese comics and cartoons. This kind of story is indelibly marked in any otaku who is old enough to have actually bought a VHS tape; Morally overzealous sheltering parent is appalled that a book in the library might contain a reference to something other than good ol’ 1950’s family values (sex, supernatural powers, profanity, etc) and flips her lid because the mere fact that it is a COMIC makes it deliberately aimed at 11 year olds and couldn’t possibly be geared towards another audience.

According to the story the complainant mother said her son “lost his mind” when he read the book, and “Now he’s in a home for extensive therapy.” I would have to say, that “losing your mind” isn’t exactly easy and the only singular events that can trigger such things usually involve traumatic brain injury or smoking lots of crack. The fact that he’s been put in an institutional environment (basically jail with therapists) to "repair the damage" and isolate him from the rest of the evil world leads one to believe that there is a very P.Z. Meyers explanation that can be assumed: Bible thumper mom + young sheltered son saw cartoon boobies = freak out of a Margaret Perrin GOD-WARRIOR magnitude. It reminds me of a time when at Anime Crash we got a letter from some Christian ministry in Texas admonishing us for selling the “occultist poison of Japanese animation” to young Christians. They really hated Sailor Moon for some reason.

Other facts that should tell people that the source of the problem in this case lies not with manga, but with this Margaret Barbaree person, is the fact that her unsupervised son surreptitiously removed this book from the general stacks of the library and then took it home. HE STOLE THE BOOK, he didn’t check it out. Now this woman has refused to return this stolen property and has taken to using deceptive political techniques to get people to sign petitions to “ban pornography in the library” which she then re-brands “ban all anime in the library” (yes she did call it anime). Granted the manga in question Gantz, is probably not what I would recommend for an 11 year old, but this lady has as much credibility in her anti-manga cause as if she wanted to ban Playboy because her son stole one from a news stand.

Part II;

Why the hell does this matter? Well it’s certainly not a harbinger of some sort of neocon movement where the tea-bagger birthers are going to storm the likes of Jim Hanley’s and the CBLDF and start burning things. The problem here is more abstract.

Japan is “turning Japanese,” to use the phrase. There have been political speeches, economic seminars, and countless articles written about the Galapagos Effect shaping Japan’s future. This has been recently highlighted by the article about Japan’s “Digital Homeless” concept (you can see my apartment in that photo there), where high-tech gadgetry mask a very low-tech culture and life-style. Where technological innovation and service innovation live in two separate universes are the ATM machines which can do everything from count your change to write all your transactions in your bank book for you, but that completely close when banking hours are over. Corporate offices where everyone works like crazy but then everyone takes lunch at the exact same time, bringing tasks in progress to a stand-still, and employees who are given extra medical insurance and told by their companies to get checked up to combat potential alcohol abuse, but the next day receive a memo telling them that not attending this week’s nomikai (drinking party) with the boss would be bad for their career. In Japan, there is no negative stigma to being 31 years old and living in your Mom’s basement, because if your family is rich enough to have a basement in the first place, you’re in great shape.

The Galapagos Effect is most prevalently felt in terms of the technology and development of products in Japan. Phones that do things no one but Tokyo kogals need, cars that get an extra 0.2 km per gallon but all look the same, and TV subscription services that think it’s much more important to have that extra bit-rate than to develop original programming and provide a website where subscribers can communicate with each other about why they like the shows that they like. In Japan, that’s progress, but to the rest of the world, that’s meaningless. Japan has given us extraordinary innovations like instant ramen and the air-bag, but the people who develop these things are the exception, not the rule.

There’s also the generation gap, which is incontestably the most pronounced in all of recorded history. The “graying of Japan” will effect three things more than anything else:
1) Public spending: Get ready to see a lot more money go to retrofitting infrastructure with elevators, escalators, and resting spaces, along with policy put in place regarding any new construction.
2) Japanese pharmaceuticals: That’s the new power industry of Japan. People with macular degeneration don’t give two craps about 1080p versus 1080i. The DO care about the ability to properly give-a-crap, in the quite literal sense. Get ready to see some deregulation in the laws which govern the sale of pharmaceutical products and advertising (which here in Japan are very very tight… so tight that it is ILLEGAL for a non-pharmacy store to sell… wait for it… aspirin). FYI another company that is going to get a bump from this are the beverage companies like Asahi, Suntory, and Kirin (have Suntory and Kirin merged yet?), because the “drinkable health supplement” market is not as tight as pharma and these companies know it.
3) Advertising: Pay attention, because that's to do with Part III.

To answer the earlier question however, the basic crux of the argument is that Japan is changing as all cultures do, but unlike other cultures, there seem to be no inroads for future influence to come from outside, and the previous few sources of outside influence are long past the possibility of resuscitation. English speaking ability among students is down, the rate of students studying abroad is down, no real immigration is happening, Japan is a political joke (going through prime ministers like sticks of pockey at an anime convention), it had to bend the rules to maintain status in the G-20, and there’s a general malaise that no matter what anyone does, the rest of the world all has it’s eyes on China. It’s like the older sibling who gets demotivated when the younger one shows up and gets all the “awww how cute” attention.

The economy and culture is changing into its own unique and very disconnected introverted species.

Part III:

OK, so why the hell does THAT matter? Well that matters because if you are outside Japan, you DON’T matter. Japanese advertisers have Japanese products to sell and Japanese TV ads to buy. Ads on TV pay the bills at the end of the day for anime. These ads are now catering to this new Galapagos Effected audience, who don’t necessarily have totally different tastes (yet) than the rest of the world, but definitely a different thought process and hierarchy of priorities. UniQlo the clothing retailer and designer is one of the biggest firms in Japan and just won the Porter Prize for innovation and profitability. But you won’t see them advertise on anime (much). That company has enough money to make their own anime series if they felt like it, but they don’t. That means anime titles are going to get developed which specifically can demonstrate that they can get viewers that advertisers are going after, and those viewers are responsive to certain advertising while other types are not effective. This dynamic has become dissimilar enough from other cultural groups outside Japan, that the actual content of the anime is becoming less appealing.

For Manga, it’s still sales that pays the bills, but that doesn’t mean they will stay relevant. How manga is consumed by people in Japan is well known (daily train rides, down time, and the ever present manga-kissa). These people are all going to have lifestyle trends that move towards the more detached, and just like the Galapagos Effect is internalizing sensibilities towards technology, ways of doing business, and politics, it is internalizing tastes in entertainment media including manga. Since many anime titles are developed from manga, this trend has quite the ripple effect.

Stories and ideas that make for good reading in Japan, will continue to diverge from the kinds of subjects that international audiences can resonate with. If you’re an American otaku, chances are the kinds of titles you like, will continue to be gradually less relevant. At the moment, there’s nothing you can do about it, and the reason is simple. You. Don’t. Matter.

I’ve said this before, but every time I see a thread like this it just makes me want to scream about how ridiculously introverted it is and then send angry e-mails to people at AWO about the same thing. You may consume and really love anime. You may even understand the tip of the iceberg of Japanese culture because of anime, but you are not helping anime. As a matter of fact, you’re actually doing the opposite, and it’s insulting. By watching fansubs or reading scanlations, you are taking away any chance these works of art ever had at finding an audience in America that can support the people who work to get these made. Once that fansub is out there, the property’s freshness seal is broken for all time. No going back.

America had its chance. Japanese companies licensed properties that American companies said in good faith that the titles would resonate with American audiences and they could expect $x amount of TV ad revenue, $x amount of home media sales revenue, and $x amount of value to be added to other licenses like merchandise. Each title is different and each title got valuated accordingly. To avoid self-contradiction I will maintain that often the home media rights were inflated in the heads of the American licensees and they were seemingly willing to pay exorbitant amounts for titles that needed lots of expensive localization and overhead which was all very unrealistic to be made back in the then current state of the market. On the whole however, these numbers were actually not that big, but they did depend on a high percentage of very involved fans accessing these products (or “productions” if that makes you feel better) through the channels that licensed them in order to make revenue that would then be shared with the licensor. Japanese companies would take the proformas given to them by the American licensees and add them to their accounts receivable, which is s short term asset, and a factor in many important ratios which indicate a company’s solvency, credit rating, and things that a company needs in general.

What happened was that bootleggers (or fansubbers, it’s the same thing) got copies of these products, they localized them, and then they distributed them before anyone could even come up with a reasonable number of how much they were worth. This made the value of any license, $0. Companies didn’t initially notice this, and so they licensed properties that had long since started their product life cycle in the American market, and thought they could provide royalties. Fansubbers, and people who watch fansubs who think they’re not hurting the industry, you are the reason that the Japanese publishers and production companies don’t care in the least if you like what they produce or not. They owe nothing to you, and you are the reason that an entire generation of Japanese media professionals believe they lost the American market and the potential sales that could have come from that… sales that would have earned enough money so that they didn’t have to fire their friends.

So if Japanese companies couldn’t be profitable in their licensing to the American market, and if every time they did licensing something they would have to write off losses, then they are going to do the next best thing. Ignore America. Ignore you in their business, ignore your input, and ignore what stories or genres you would like to see. They have no reason to care, and so now the Galapagos Effect has worked its way into anime even stronger.

The American market has lost any chance to have significant input in the kind of anime productions that get made outside of directly investing. Get used to being on the outside looking in. And if you want to see more anime and manga covering the topics you like, and in the style you like… go make your own if you have the time and money. Or manga will eventually be as alien to Americans as mayonnaise on pizza. Still different, still uniquely Japanese, but quite unappealing. Difference in and of itself does not exclusively create appeal.

Welcome to Japan. These aren't the droids you're looking for.


There's always been something different about anime and manga from American sensibilities and sometimes the mainstream still pitches a hissy: That's good.

Japan is becoming more introverted and the kinds of things that appeal to the Japanese market are not that relatable to the American market no matter what. Creating fewer titles that anyone in America will like/follow: That's Bad.

The American market contributed just about nothing in terms of revenue to anime companies, so despite how many anime fans there are outside Japan, it will not effect mow many of those unrelatable manga and anime titles get produced. That's really bad.

The only way to fix that is to make the American market a source of revenue so that it can have any clout in the evolution of manga and anime: That's Impossible.

This problem goes away if it can get a foothold in China, after-all, 1% of the Chinese market is all you would ever need to stick around and stay healthy (that would be 136 million individual sales by the way).  Will companies ever think that the Chinese market will be anything other than the Wild West any time soon? probably not.   Will that get in the way of making lots of money? probably not.  So there's hope here.

To Commenters:
FYI; This blog for some reason gets lots of Japanese (and now Chinese) Spam ever since this. So the comments were moderated, BUT lots of messages still end up in the que. If your comment and it doesn't show up, it's because I didn't notice it in there during a purge.


Miha said...

And I thought Western anime fans like Japanese cartoons because their content is inherently different from what we're used in the west. It may be cheesey and repetitive and a lot of it is crap that won't sell, but it's too different to ignore, and as you say, Japan is continuing to evolve, even though its evolution may not resonate well with the rest of the world's.

d. merrill said...

I am totally 100% in favor of Japanese animation studios completely ignoring the wishes of the American market. Mainly because when they try to produce works aimed at satisfying American sensibilities, the result is really, really boring.

If Japanese cartoons weren't a reflection of the Japanese cultural landscape, weren't informed by their own context, and didn't make their own creative choices free of worries about how it might look on the other side of the Pacific, there wouldn't be a devoted following of the medium in incongruous places like America.

There are plenty of American artists and writers creating work deliberately aimed at Americans. Give their work a shot before wishing the Japanese would adapt for our sake.

Anonymous said...

This is a pretty silly argument in the face of all the anime producers now racing to get their series streaming and / or on TV before they try to sell us the DVDs. The Japanese product is aimed at a more global audience than ever, and the fact that they're fighting for that audience now shows that they finally *are* aware of the US and elsewhere, more than they ever have been. Anime is becoming globalized *because* of the aging population in Japan. They know that they have to reach out elsewhere to grow.

Anonymous said...

Huh? In the first part of the article, you say that changing demographics and an increasingly closed Japanese culture is going to result in anime that the N. American market will want to watch.

But then you turn around and say that because of the boot legging, N. America will have less of a say in what type of anime will be made.

Doesn't that amount to the same thing? Even if pirating magically disappeared, Japanese companies are not going to start making anime only for the US market. And even if they did, would it actually be anime? It would be made in Japan, yes, but if the intended audience was solely American, is it still anime?

The Angry Otaku said...

The comment that begain "This is a pretty silly argument in the face of all the anime producers now racing to get their series streaming and / or on TV before they try to sell us the DVDs." is indicative of exactly the kind of head up the ass mentality that I am railing against. So here are some rebuttals to this extremely colloquial flat Earth reasoning: A) Producers? Producers like who? Gainax? Mad House? TV Tokyo? TBS? ...or are you thinking CrunchyRoll or Funimation are producers? They are labels who license and distribute (diditally or home media, self/3rd party) properties that they license from a slew of others based on what they think will work. Bringing up what's happening in Japan as if the graying of Japan is the reason that anime production companies are turning to markets that are demonstrably unprofitable makes it seem that you ...don't live here, know much about Japan, and don't know how this business actually works, and how these companies earn revenue (never from DVDs). Anime BECAME globalized because the properties that were made had the ability to resonate with global audiences. Some do a better job than others, and now the domestic tastes are changing what is made, which is drifting away from what resonates with the rest of the world. International markets are no place that these companies can survive. Next thing you know you're gonna defend fansubbers as if they perform the same function as Japanese TV broadcaster to you, the anime fan who's desire to watch anime is somehow worth taking away the chance of putting these titles on TV for a wider audience and to recoup what it cost to make them.

Uchenna said...

First of all, Funimation IS a producer, as seen here

So please, do a little bit of research before screaming at a newbie.

Honestly fansubbers ARE cancer, this is a fact. Fansubbing made/makes sense for shows that due to legal/age reasons will never come over (the infamous music rights to say M7, Legend of Galactic Heroes' age and "niece" appeal, but when you have groups ripping subtitles from Crunchyroll, it seems all is lost am i right?

But to be honest, I agree with the Anonymous poster, that Japanese animation is looking to international now more than ever just because their core internal audience is fading away as we speak. The Otaku can only buy so many products before as you so gracefully said, they grey as well!

The Angry Otaku said...

Reply to Uchenna;
These are my own semantics but that story doesn't peg Funimation as a producer, but definitely as an investor. I realize that by the dictionary definition that makes them a "producer" but in terms of creative development, there's nothing to indicate that they are doing more than provide capital and distribution. The last co-pro I was involved with wasn't one sided, but the hands that were on the wheel and where it was going were clear. The Funimation case seems more like an acquisition of a title that isn't made yet, but if Funimation is basing its investment on going to the American DVD market as their primary source of future recoup on this, then it's more like an American re-make of a Japanese property, even if it is animated. Pick a title of a popular game, and make an animation out of it, but that's not really what anime and manga are. Finally, not to be snotty (but it's going to sound like it), Funimation isn't a producer YET... They will be when this thing is done, which looks like it will be (they know what their doing), but things still have to happen. So yeah, that's me being unclear and re-defining some perspective without proper explanation.

As for the "outward looking" mentality among Japanese producers do to a shrinking market... After being in the environment at several companies that fans know well, (that sounds like D-bag bragging, but I don't know how else to back up my conclusions) it's pretty apparent that the general mentality is one of Home Market First, Home Market Last, and nothing in between. The prospectuses I've consulted on never ever include possible international markets unless its a property that has existing licenses in that market already (for a major example think Pokemon) -or- the company has their own US office (that's very few companies). But in the branding analysis, no foreign markets are given thought or input. However most big properties have brand managers to handle that stuff who are physically in those markets. But c'mon, you really think they're sitting there going "well the American market likes 'XYZ' so let's take our property in that direction (so they can download it and we can't sell any licenses)." I mean even WITH situations like Galactic Heroes, a nice bit of future cash flow from foreign markets (home media, broadcast, designer shoes whatvr) might make those extra points of difference in a tough pitch, but now that the cat's out of the bag, it will NEVER be possible to have that leg to stand on. It's a crappy situation for fans, but until the middle steps can get in sync with the business physics involved.

Anonymous said...

At what point does the "freshness factor" turn into complete obscurity? Without fansubbing, my interest in anime probably would have ended after Cartoon Network replayed the Namek arc of DBZ for the 10th time in a row 15 years ago. Now, let's take Seto no Hanayome. It's a show I like a lot. Without it being fansubbed (before it was even licensed in North America), how would I even know it existed? Even after it gets licensed, how am I suppose to know it exists? Am I supposed to be trolling the lists of licensed titles at Funimation or any other company every week? And based purely on a 3 sentence description that Funimation put out, how am I supposed to know if I will like it? Granted, at least Funimation is now streaming some of its titles for free, so my last question can be answered, but that still isn't available for a vast majority of the titles I've seen. But the point is that I would never have bought the DVDs for it had I not been exposed to it from fansubbing. I'm sure I can't be alone in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late on this topic, but I feel I have to give my 2 cents. I'm not gonna waste my time arguing the fansub (Bootlegging) vs non fansub angle. Minds have already been made up and it's like digging up the corpse of a dead horse and then proceed to beating it's rotten carcass at this point. The Galapagos syndrome has become intense in anime to the point where it's hard to be a fan (I've been watching anime since 99 or 00). I already know American taste and preferences are flat out ignored. Because it contributes nothing to the process and so we've fansubbed ourselves out of the market for the most part. For anime fandom in the English speaking world it's one big shrug and they don't mind the galapagization or at least they say they don't and I have no reason to doubt them. Fandom is longer tied to consumption, this is evident in the fact that cons have grown exponentially in North America as the market has shrunk exponentially. So, clearly being a fan is different than being a consumer. Which is why I prefer to identify as an anime consumer rather than a fan. Specifically in regards to buying DVD's and Blurays which is primarily how I watch anime now. I would advocate simulcast more but the ad revenue is a joke. Despite what the average Crunchyroll user thinks about his paid subscription adding to the industry. What Simulcast really are is one big torquinet to stop the cash hemmoraging that arose from fansubs. So, while it means I watch less shows and I'm essentially in the back of the "fandom" in respects to the fact that I primarily do Bluray and DVD purchases, it's still what makes the most money for the companies and if it means that I can offset Galapagos even by 1% it would be worth it. Just wanted to say that.

The Angry Otaku said...

Yeah, but I said this in 2011... when half the people complaining about it now were like, 15 or something.