Friday, January 11, 2008

On Anime, pt 1

In thinking about the recent posts discussing the situation of anime in the U.S. I wanted to say something. but what would I say? the economics has been analyzed, and the argument had reach the stalemate familiar to movie studios in Hollywood and pirates. The argument had been boiled and distilled down to the simple statement of "When the anime producers and consumers find a happy medium, everyone will be happy (generally), get what they want, and thrive." But I've thought more about the response from the anime company, Bandai. Bandai's response reflects what I mentioned above. That eventually, U.S. anime producers and consumers will agree on something and find a happy medium. But now, as I've thought about it, I realize that is simply not so.
The producers of anime in the U.S. are no longer doing so for the market segment that spawned their business. In the beginning, these companies sprung up to serve a need in the marketplace. Great programs were coming out of Japan in the 80's and the fans of the 60's and 70's had done a great job of inspiring new fans of the medium. The tweens and teens of the time were getting Voltron and Robotech on television, and in rare cases a few VHS tapes and laser discs at the local rental shop or niche import store. The market and the consumers began to mature. As the 80's broke into the 90's stores like Suncoast and FYE began to offer a place where anime could be found regularly. As interest grew so did the selection, and in many towns across the U.S. the local mall, or comic book shop, became the only place to find Japanese cartoons. The amine market would continue to grow in the 90's, translating great shows, toys, comic books (manga), and preparing itself to inject anime into the American mainstream. The injection they were preparing should have included a vaccine against the Internet.
Everyone knew it was coming, because they knew it was already happening. For as long as there had been video recording devices there were video tapes of Japanese programs in the U.S. The fans in the 80's were adept at finding and translating Japanese cartoons in to English. Sometimes was simply a group of notes passed around with the tapes, but with increasing commonality the tapes themselves were being subtitled into English buy groups who would come to be known as fansubbers. Seen as no big threat in the 80's and early 90's they passed under the radar of legitimate production houses. After all, the fansubbers could neither hope to produce a show of such quality, nor reach as many people as the national corporations. So the fansubbers were left alone like weeds in a garden. A threat for sure, "but," the big studios seemed to say, "If we flood the garden with enough great flowers, the weeds will be killed off by them." perhaps they were really thinking about flowers and gardens, because they seemed to miss the economics of a situation that was fast approaching.
The economics have been discussed elsewhere. It's long and boring, and makes for dry research. So I think a very quick summary will do. Anime studios produce content that is mostly made for Japanese TV. That equals about 26 episodes for a regular show, and 2 or 3 times as many for a popular show. For an anime studio to stay in business they have to consider how many episodes to release on a single DVD (or VHS a few years back). They have to consider how far apart each DVD should come out. They have to consider how much to charge for each DVD. Then they have to worry about how much shelf space a store will give them. Add to that the fact that a company can't simply survive by releasing only the popular shows. Just like regular TV there are shows that are good, and ones that stink. The money that comes in from the ones that stink help pay the bills, but you still have to find space for that show and sell it. Finally, one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. anime industry was the difference in time between the TV broadcast and DVD release of the shows in Japan, and the DVD release in the U.S. Generally, that time was closer to years than it was to months, and never was it weeks or days. That time lag was only being suffered by the studios that had to deal with Japan. Fansubbers, through their network of 'friends in Japan', K-band satellite and other means, were recording and distributing the Japanese shows faster and with better quality than they ever had before. They were pushing the limits of the technology available simply to get what they wanted, and they were about to be granted a golden ticket with the advent of a technology that would forever change the landscape of what it meant to be a fansubber.
--part two coming asap: the internet, the anime, the otaku, and why fans aren't too worried about U.S. companies going belly up. should they be?

About Faking Normality

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Faking Normality. The one place we don't do it. All is not well. The world is not coming to an end. Don't fake normality, achieve it.