In re-reading the previous post, I was all of a sudden reminded that there's a significant example of the exact type of "solution" evolving out of the current gulf between anime markets. High School of the Dead, is airing at just about at the same time in Japan and the US, (or at least as close as reasonably possible, I mean really). Now, good on them for doing that, it's really one of the only ways that anime can circumvent the erosion of sustainability in the US market which comes from fansubs devaluing licenses. However, this is an example of the embryonic stage of that, and is in no way going to be a final template for how to do this. I'm sure that American fans have become so used to consuming fansubs, that there are pirated copies on the internet still serving the exact same people that the Anime Channel is counting on watching through their own distribution channels (either cable or online). It's going to take an ongoing pattern of this type of distribution to make a real dent in this problem, and this title is not only just the beginning, but by nature of it being first on the learning curve, it's also a weak example.
I've been doing my best to catch High School of the Dead at 2am here in Tokyo, and therein lies problem#2. I don't know when the Anime Network airs this thing (I just don't feel like looking it up), but I am fairly certain that the first siring does not happen at 2am. Now for those of you thinking that the reason for a 2am time slot is because of content, it's really not. The same cable package that gets you AT-X gets you plenty of other content in the middle of the day which makes the boobie-jiggle and brain smashing factor of HSOTD look pretty tame (though that is a portion of the explanation for 2am). Sure it's not for kids and could be on late, but there is no way this property can compete with the more valuable programming that's on at 11. So it ends up at 2am because the top of the pyramid is going to be committed enough to follow it there, and everyone else is not necessarily a group that can be counted on. So, the HSFTD pull factor might be stronger in the US than Japan, and now we come back to the cultural divide, where the top anime programs in Japan only have a few which also occupy a major spot in the US market (DragonBall, One Piece, all that).
To talk about High School of the Dead itself, it's been a long time since I've gotten into an anime series enough to stay up to 2am, but this one looks worth it. Smashing zombies is fun, oppai are fun, and the mid to high level of Japanese youth angst isn't actually the driving force of the story. I am sure it's being censored to high-heaven on American TV so I would be interested to see how the DVDs end up. I don't like to buy DVDs in Japan, because they are just much more expensive, so whenever I see a Japanese movie I like, I check to see if there's a US release first. If there is, I just add it to my list of "pick it up when I go back home" and wait for my next trip over. However, if it is censored (Kill Bill anyone?) I'll go out of my way to get the original work of art to make my own decision about it, not deal with the version destroyed by the MPAA or FCC. That being said, I think the sexualized scenes in the series are a bit overboard, but at least I can make that decision for myself.
But this series is worth checking out if you like zombie flicks(there have already been references to Shaun of the Dead and Zombie Land) and some animation that is a real step above the rest in terms of quality. The only downside, is that the series uses a lot of flashbacks of the same footage to save money. But it's still totally worth it. Also, look what I found.
So sometimes Japanese TV works a bit differently in terms of commercial breaks. They run just about the whole show commercial free, and then run a 10-15 minute block of informer-style adverts. You can't really tell from the image, but this commercial is for premium WHALE BACON. Yep, get your premium whale meat delivered right to your door for a great price. Call now. So... who wants to see a review of a whale bacon omelet? OM NOM NOM
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.
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.
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.
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.
SHORT VERSION OF ALL THAT:
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? ...no probably not. Will that get in the way of making lots of money? ...no probably not. So there's hope here.
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.