Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trouble at Tokyo Anime Fair 2011; No silver lining on the publisher boycott.

Kadokawa throws a hissy fit over foreign entanglements.

The upcoming 2011 Tokyo Anime Fair is now home to some controversy as 8 companies (with Kadokawa being the largest it seems) have withdrawn from the TAF in protest over the Tokyo Met. Government’s new regulations regarding manga “content” and regulating (sort of) who can buy what… in Tokyo at least.

Although this is a “city limits law” and it may sound as trivial and rediculatarded as Pennsylvania liquor laws and just as easy to get around as simply driving across the state border to buy beer the proper way, in Japan this is actually a real problem for the following reasons;

1) Political landscape: Japan literally is Tokyo at this point. It’s a major problem that had had a great effect in pushing Japanese society past the event-horizon of absolute collapse. Everything is in Tokyo, government, major company headquarters, industry, and above all it’s the source of all culture from TV fashion and technology, to traditionalist activities like publishing and Sumo. 2008 says that Japan’s population is 127.7 Million, and the Greater Tokyo Area is 39.19 Million. That’s over 30% of the population and the GDP of the area alone is $1,759,000,000,000. Yeah it’s got that many zeros and it’s bigger than Canada, the country. So, much like the disastrous Texas textbook situation, something that effects business in Tokyo is going to have a national impact. Japan really needs to spread out and separate some government operations from the private sector geographically, but that’s a whole other post in and of itself.

2) Stupid Gaijin: Like the unending trouble caused by the artards who drive the Sea Shepard, this new regulation is a result of foreign intervention in what the Japanese consider a domestic matter. Most of the uproar over the objectionable content in these manga is coming from very non-Japanese, Valerie Solanas-brained, porn-banning, artist-assassinating, breast-beating, kvetching screaming, moan mamas, ...and Unicef (yes that Unicef that was caught with real child porn), and also the U.N. That’s right, the same organization that thinks it’s a good idea to put Saudi Arabia in its Women’s Rights Agency (read that again, let it sink in) is leading the charge against naughty picture books in Japan. Granted, these are some of the nastiest pictures which I have no desire to see, and the people who get off on this crap are living breathing arguments to the favorability of implementing a style of law enforcement that is half and half “Minority Report” and “Law & Order SVU,” but they are drawings not photos, and that is not even half enough reason to really care in the grand scheme of things. I hate to have to defend the kind of freaks who like this kind of thing over at sankaku complex, but there are much more worse things happening in the world. Real genital mutilation continues in Africa and other countries, Iran is executing 16 year old rape victims for violating the dress code, and child labor picks 1 or 2 out of every 5 coffee beans in your hipster morning drink of choice (hey tea or hot choccolate drinkers, don't think you're off the hook either). Yet for some reason, people think that ignoring those problems in favor of forcing their will in assigning moral propriety upon the comic books of Japan is totally worth their time. But in reality, the complaints by white Europeans and Americans against this material being made and sold in Japan smacks of colonialism, and is as stupid as the English telling the Spanish to stop bull fighting, or PETA demanding sushi be called “sea kitten meat” because it bruises their fragile sensibilities. The more the rest of the world tells Japan what to do… the more Japan is not going to do that… and before you go dismissing that kind of thing as immature, think about what would happen in the U.S. if the rest of the world signed some resolution condemning the 2nd amendment and demanding it be abolished, after all it does far more real damage to human life than these manga could ever do. All of a sudden the “Don’t Tread on Me” banners seem totally reasonable.

3) Making it worse: Those directly involved are only exasorbating things. This is really being made worse by Kadokawa and the rest of the companies themselves, not by simply withdrawing from the TAF, but in holding a competing event (seriously guys?). This legal resolution was for “self-enforcement” more or less of the manga industry in terms of who can buy what kind content. Yes, in the Japanese way of doing things, that’s still a big deal, but it still means that if the issue stayed quiet for a bit, it would more or less just go away. But no, they’ve got to make a big deal out of this and put the government in an impossible situation; either further crack down and actually enforce what could have been ignored without notice, or risk the loss of business from other completely unrelated industries (pharma, auto, textile, IT/software, tourism) in some sort of international protest because now this mess is in the f-ing spotlight. There are really better cases to “up the anti” on in terms of publishers vs. the government. Think about this situation and look at the best case scenario for either side… yeah both suck, so why are we doing this?

If you are an American and you’ve ever read a manga, it’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for these publishing companies stepping out of the TAF, as this legal restriction would be a clear constitutional violation if done in the US. Here we have the TAF which is put on by the Tokyo Met Government, the same government agency that has just told you what you can and can’t publish based on the reactions of a bunch of foreigners who have never bought a single product your company makes, have never been affected by such products (beyond self inflicted moral outrage when informed of their existance), and couldn’t even read the damn books even if they did get their hands on them. So these publishers are wholly justified in giving the finger to this show if the money they have to pay to exhibit there goes straight into the pockets of the government organization that is telling who they can and can’t sell comic books to. Remember, this is Japan. In the USA, things are permitted unless they’re prohibited. In Germany, things are prohibited unless they’re permitted. In Japan, everything is prohibited, but anything is possible. The “self-regulation” aspect of this mess could have meant anything from “forgettable” to “do it or else.” Kadokawa has taken the repercussions of this mess from intangible to very tangible (the tangibility being the lost revenue from exhibitor fees for the TAF), which is a very dangerous thing to do in Japanese politics. Philosophically, I must support this decision and this group (honestly, I wouldn't give my money to an organization that just made it harder for me to do business as part of a sad political capitulation), but realistically, there is no way this will end well.

When your building is this big and then some, your "guidelines" are more actual rules.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You keep on using that word... The JBPA, Apple, and Copyright


I do not think it means what you think it means.

The JBPA brings up a copyright problem, but do they have a solution? Then again, why the hell should they solve Apple’s incompetence by design?

So in what’s pretty much old news by now, the JBPA and three other groups have slapped Apple with an “angry letter” regarding the apple app store and the sea of illegally available manga that resides therein. Much like in similar situations, the Japanese rights holders are angry and concerned that their commercial IP is being distributed by entities who aren’t licensed to do so, and realistically… that’s a very reasonable way to feel. They are also upset that, while it seems the Apple App Store can instantly take down an app that has fart noises or boobies, they seem to leave the copyright diligence up to the copyright holder. This kind of action of a huge company passing on expenses to smaller content providers is all over the history of the fall of the anime industry in the US, when small home media labels were bombarded by all kinds of chargebacks and “so sue me” kind of contract violations from giant retailers and national distributors. Unlike Craig’s List, or eBay, Apple’s app store is directly selling units of commercial goods to the public, and this situation would be no different from WalMart or Sears simply not checking at all to make sure that the products they sold were real and not counterfeit or stolen, instead leaving it up to the manufacturers to send people in to browse the isles and then raise a red flag if they find something wrong. Businesses just can’t do that.

Apple has a lot of growing up to do, and with Jobs at the wheel, they’re never going to do it. He’s still way too bitter about getting booted from Apple the first time, and he was never ever a nice guy. Sure, both Jobs and Gates dropped out of college and "computer genious" and blah blah blah, but while Gates seems to have left college because it wasn’t moving fast enough for his super-brain, Jobs seems to be the guy who left because he pissed everybody off in record time. Just compare the commencement speeches the two have given (look them up your damn self), and the whole personality difference starts to jump out at you. And while Gates is long gone from Microsoft and busy giving away billions of dollars to charity, Jobs is parking his $130,000 sportster with no license plate in handicapped parking spots whenever he drives down to the office to bitch about the new iWhatever being the wrong shade of off-white. He’s made the mistake of letting his company become his identity, and that never ends well.

Apple is now bigger than Microsoft. But it never learned how to really be that big, and so is still acting as if only a small portion of the market is watching what they do. They’re also still designing products for that small portion of the market, but are always first across the line with the features people never knew they wanted. Apple has the potential to remain a majority stakeholder in the emerging world of mobile devices, or pull a Sega and shrivel up again.

That will depend on many things, including how they deal with this manga issue raised by the JBPA. Apple has plenty of quantitative people who have been able to point out that doing even a minimal amount of copyright diligence on these apps (beyond the major properties like Harry Potter or Beyonce) would end up costing so much, that Jobs would fall behind in the imaginary dick measuring contest he has with the rest of the world to see who has the most money. But in reality, that’s just too f-ing bad. Let’s remember, this isn’t the “app exchange” it’s not some Mac BBS or Macworld cruise where the top of the pyramid get together and trade crap with each other. This is a formal division of Apple, the company, selling digital products made by third parties. And a large company like Apple, who is going to sell these digital products, has to do that diligence whether they like it or not. Microsoft knows stuff like this and would have crunched the numbers beforehand to see if it was worth it. Manga publishers have an existing protection under international copyright law and should not have to use their own limited resources to police another company which violates that protection, especially if it’s a company bigger than Microsoft.

It is also important to note (accordig to the Financial Times article) that the bulk of the as yet uncovered infringements are Chinese translations. American otaku will once again undoubtedly gripe when the obvious is mentioned, but if they’re unhappy about the insignificance of the American market compared to the Japanese one, they’re really not going to be happy about how small the potential Chinese market is going to make the U.S. look. What does a 10% sales figure look like in China? It looks like one third of the entire USA. The high population, close proximity to Japan, and lack of cultural hurdles in product acceptance that manga is up against in other parts of the world, makes the Chinese market the only ripe fruit on the tree at the moment. Combine all of that, with a super strong Yen and a hyper expanding wireless market in China, and you have an environment where the only strategy that’s going to get any attention is that of expansion in the Chinese market. Don’t be surprised if it turns out that the money that Japanese companies are pulling out of the U.S. operations ends up going to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

One could argue that he Japanese side of the equation is part of the problem in that they’re doing what they have always done, just bringing up piracy issues without addressing causes or coming up with a proactive solution. But it's actually not true in this case, in that the solution that they are proposing is that Apple do what any other retailer do responsibly; Make sure the stuff they sell isn’t bootleg, fake, or stolen. Apple is not “putting a buyer and seller together” or simply “providing a service” for people to buy and sell directly. They are straight up running this show, and with that comes certain obligations as a global retailer… And like a French tourist in New York who simply can’t understand why they aren’t allowed to smoke on the subway even though it’s late and it’s their birthday*, Apple can’t seem to figure out why those same obligations that apply to the “other companies” like WalMart, Amazon, Dell, or the pawn shop down the street, should also apply to them. Do I really think there’s some sort of mentality at Apple that holds a “rules don’t apply to me” stance? Sure, in Jobs’s head there’s gotta be, but there are enough smart people at Apple who actually have to run things over there that they know this is just a case of keeping costs down to keep their stock as high as it can be. So combine those two and what we’re going to have is a situation that is going to get bad enough so that the royal bean-counters eventually have to approach the king, who probably won’t want to budge on principle until he can actually see money coming out of his pockets (and then you know he'll blame someone else anyway).

Now there are some otaku and Mac fanboys (notice I didn’t say Apple there) who are so religiously into this "Apple as a whole can simply do no wrong" idea, there will be no reasoning with these people. But lots of Mac fans out there might simply notice that this is a case of Apple entering an industry and not playing by the rules which naturally help the smaller players. To see Apple shit on smaller businesses out there, in a kind of cliché Captain Planet sort of way is a sad thing to see indeed. If nothing else, to see that Apple is acting like a real life OCP, should snap a lot of people out of any idealogical daze they're in. The “…have a scale problem but not a willingness problem” (FT article) is such a non-excuse and is patently rediculous if held up to legaql standards of other businesses; “McDonalds wants to make sure the food they sell is up to federal standards, but we just don’t have the man-power, so the customers can look out for that ecoli on their own” or “Foot Locker wants to make sure that all the Nikes we sell are actually made by Nike, but that’s up to Nike to send their people in here and check, we don’t have the resources to do that” …and so on.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit redundant here, but Apple seems to get a pass all too often when it comes to entering an industry and doing it “their way.” But this is actually just the way of “I’m big and tell you what to do haha” and because this M.O. has an Apple logo on the front of it, people seem to reign in their otherwise hostile reaction. This time I am hoping that most otaku out there see that the JPBA is an organization that represents lots of publishers, small companies that all put together aren’t worth as much money as Apple farts in a day. The JBPA is the little guy in this story, and Apple is damaging their business by selling stolen goods, plain and simple.

"The Japanese have hit the shores like dead fish.
They’re just like dead fish washing up on the shores."

-Steve Jobs, 1985.

Way to see the future Stevie, those Japanese never got a foothold in the computer business did they…? Think his opinion has changed much?

Watch how many mac-boys start crying foul at that one. But at least they can have a place to go in Tokyo to pray 5 times a day to the mighty Apple.

*That French thing is based on a true story which happened at Jay St.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Xmas in Japan

ahhhhh ...xmas.

It's actually starting to get to me, but there are things about Life in Japan (not just Tokyo) I miss, and the upcoming Holidays are starting to tug on the ol' nostalgia heartstrings. One thing that seems to remain the same however is Chanuka and Kwanza coming and going without anyone really noticing -snark-.

It would seem however that some Cross Cultural Christmas Creep is ...Chappening between Chapan and Camerica. (ok I'll stop with the retarded illiteration). Yes friends, there is no greater shame than someone who calls themselves an Otaku, yet remains ignorant of the connection between the beloved Colonel Sanders and Christmas in Japan. (Link. Another Link with creepy accompanying photo, and finally to bring it back to grown up land, a more reputable Link).

Yes friends, the Colonel owns Christmas in Japan, where he dawns his santa hat and provides round-eye style deep fat fried poultry to the masses for $50 per order. You'll see some refrences to this in the popular culture of the Land of the Rising Sun, but none more concentrated as the short contribution they make to Duane Johnson's very classic and skillfully made AMV (back when there was such a thing), "Dare to be Stupid."

It's somewhere in there I didn't upload the thing and only know it form other sources... Hey, I've had this thing on VHS since 1997 so ....get off my lawn!

So here I am, sitting in my jail cell of a room with a TV on, always looking for ways to make obscure connections between marketing and Japanese pop-culture (I haz MBA, I kan make teh smrt) when I notice a KFC commercial air that was obviously made for domestic U.S. audiences.

Now, while KFC has been running Holiday themed advertising for years (was it KFC that did the Lake Wolbigon spots way back when, or was that Wendy's?) the particular spot that has aired this year is different. Now the following observations may not be new, since by living in Tokyo I was not watching American TV last December, but the observation none the less is the following; That while many winter holiday advertising from KFC (and many other entities) has taken a Xmas "flavor" so to speak, this seems to be the first that I've seen to explicitly suggest purchasing and eating this KFC product on Christmas itself. The message of "saving time" is simply, don't cook, buy and eat KFC, not "it's a Kuriisumasu thing" that those gaijin celebrate.

Is this a correlation = causation instance? Um no. The reason that Japan loves KFC on Xmas is very far removed from the reasons that an advertizing agency believes that this will be effective in boosting sales, or the Yum!Brands Marketing Department believes it would be profitable to keep a significant number of KFC locations open on Christmas. Still, it's nice to see yet another creepy Christmas cross cultural commonality ....c-develop between Japan and the US, if not for this one being one of the few examples of the door swinging the other way.

So there you go, you American Otaku. Now there's no excuse not to sink your teeth into a piece of golden deep fried awesome. Whether it's to bring the family together, or to avoid them all entirely, get to a KFC, where they'll charge you 25% of the price of the same than Japan will, because America has illegal immigrant labor pick lettuce, slaughter chickens, and work in food-factories for less than minimum wage, all so you can buy 12,000 callories provided by the cheapest third party for the lowest bid price. ...Enjoy.

... I miss Tokyo, but not it's prices.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Caffeinated Fan Service

This is going to cover some concepts that on their own are not substantial enough to make a post in and of themselves (that's saying a lot since this blog has previously spent an entire post detailing the subtle nuances of the Angry Whopper). Therefore they are all going to get put here, in this lovely collection of things Japan, juxtipisitions of previous assertions, and other points of interest. There will be photos of things and such.

Happy 50th Birthday, Sanrio. While Hello Kitty isn’t 50 yet (she’s 36 and still single), Sanrio was founded 50 years ago on August 10. Little did they know that the pushers of a cuteness factor stronger than crack would end up creating branded booze. Still haven’t found any of this stuff around though. Someone go buy some and let me know if it sucks or not.

Second:A while back I was on the Ninja Consultant cast of the pod, and mentioned 眠眠打破, the Japanese wake-up energy drink pronounced Min-Min Daha, and which literally translates to “don’t drink this.” Ok no not really, it actually literally breaks down to “Abolish Sleeping Sleep” or maybe "rid the sleep need" more or less, and is so powerful that if you slammed this with a shot of Makers Mark it would make Four Loko look like baby formula. 5 Hour Energy is gecko piss compared to this stuff. But I mistakenly described the label in the show (I was actually describing the slightly cheaper competing product which is not as awesome), so here is what it actually looks like:

Now, Chuck Schumer temper-tantrums aside, the reason you’re not gonna see this stuff being hauled into the US en masse, is that many of these Japanese drink supplements contain things like: Ephedra, guarana, caffeine, alcohol, animal brain fluid, and nicotine, and can range from genuinely healthy to something like MY GOD IT’S FULL OF STARS!

ThirdLast post turned into a doozy, with a plethora of different issues and directions that discourse could go into. I’m inclined to just let it die at this point, since the whole political-ness phase has already come and gone with this blog with the participation in Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.

What I do want to do though is mention the other side of the equation in regards to the notion of groups making wholly incorrect assertions and an inexplicable refusal to submit to facts, because the facts come from a source they can’t understand. Younger generations are just as (if not more) susceptible to falling into this kind of behavior, and one need only to look at the sadly abundant number of Anime Music Videos on Youtube out there that use songs wrongly attributed to Weird Al Yancovic. From “Ugly Girl” to “What if God Smoked Cannibas,” moronic teenyboppers keep labeling their crappy videos using these songs as being by Weird Al, when a mountain of evidence including Weird Al’s own press releases says otherwise. Because their illegally downloaded version of that song they got from Limewire or whatever has “Weird Al” as the artist, they are going to defend that blatant falicy with a sidestepping fervor that is rivaled only by creationists.

The difference here, is that these moronic boppers making such mistakes are more of a bottom-up dynamic, where various checks and balances are in place that prevent what little damage these notions are capable of, whereas the previous SCOTUS example is a top down dynamic, capable of sweeping and unchangeable damage to how we live.

FourthZOMBOOBIES! Yes friends, the success of Walking Dead makes me hopeful for more zombie-tastic media entertainment across the board, including High School of the Dead. Before leaving Tokyo, I had to just take one more chance to go to Animate:

Interesting business model. Reminds me of... oh yeah.

After visiting 2 locations in 1 day (awesome), I ended up at the flagship location over in Ikebukuro, where I violated the no photos policy and saw this:

Want a closer look?

Just in case you aren’t sure if that is what you think it is,

Yeah totally. While I usually roll my eyes at manufactured controversy this is just awesome. In reality, as I’ve been catching every episode that has come out so far, even I am getting to the point where the T & A is becoming over gratuitous (bullet dodging boobies …seriously?) and starting to distract from the overall awesome factor of the show as a whole. So despite the presence of two huge annoyance factors that American anime fans often face; 1) Anime’s love of guns while the Japanese don’t knowing the first thing about how they actually work or how fast bullets travel etc, and 2) the unending Japanese deficiency when it comes to actually learning the difference between “R” and “L”, I am still going to keep HSOTD near the top of my “it” list. Dead Ruck? RUCK? What the Ruck kind of Rit is that?

Opinion. S.2847 and why the movie Office Space is still relevant:Dear President of the United States;
Oh please please please sign this bill. My opinion of congress has from one of 99% worthlessness to only 95% for actually getting this through, and if you sign it I might actually forgive the fact that you've turned into a neutered sicophantic mirage of what I voted for, and I'll come out and vote for you again if I have to (but not in the rain, it will take getting rid of DADT for me to do that).

This whole commercials-louder-than-the-show thing is another prime example of business consultants run amok, looking at a short term gain while forgetting about the rest of the future. These same people who thought that was a good idea, would advise a car salesman to quit, based on the staggering savings created from not having to print any more business cards. They would advise burning the window frames and a wall or 2 in your house to keep warm in December. But what's that you say? February's cold too and now your house has gaping holes where windows used to be? Well fuck February, I'll have my consulting fee and be long gone by then so February is your problem which you can hire me back for. I'll just have you burn the chairs and beds that grandma and your kids were using, but don't worry, we outsorced them to Malaysia so they're not using them now... see you next winter.

In urban spaces this practice has actually gotten someone fined for violating a late night noise ordanance, because they were watching a quiet show, went to the can, and while they were in there the commercials came on 10x louder than anything else, and the old lady next door complained and caught it on a decible meeter (apparently she's got nothing better to do).

S. 2847, or The CALM Act, is little more than empty calories in terms of solving real problems, but comfort food has meaning... seriously, can you remember the last time you ate carrots or spinach? How about the last time you got your hands on a Chocodile or chowed down on good foie gras? Yeah, you know which one you gona remember. That's what this bill is... a worthless gesture turned into an intense memory. Teabaggers and Treehugers alike have got to put aside their differences and put the volume controll of the TVs in our own homes back in the hands of the people!

So that's that. I got my new computer finally. My old Toshiba ended up going kerplunk in August, taking all my contacts and emails and files with it, so it's nice to have something that I can configure the way I like it.