If Anime Is Dead Then Death Has Never Looked So Good

With the timing of Al Gore and the intelligence of Joe Biden, the recent rant by Bang Zoom’s President about the impending death of anime is so sad, it’s hilarious. If it was a well-written piece I might feel like I needed to write a rebuttal but it wasn’t, not by a long shot, which leads one to ask – “Why are you bringing up Mr. Sherman’s rambling rant?” Well, I’d answer, there are some things I wanted to mention related to issue at hand and this is as good of a time as any.

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Where I Blame Mr. Sherman and Bang Zoom For Being 35% of the Problem Facing Anime In America

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I bought an anime DVD the other day.

Not a big surprise; I, like many people can be enticed to buy something even if we have access to it for free. That goes for my copy of the latest Dresden Files book and it goes for this DVD. What is this mysterious anime DVD that I, as a member of the dark underbelly of the internet bought? The complete box set of Baccano.

The big surprise to this purchase is that I bought the complete box set of Baccano for it’s dub. That’s right, I bought an anime DVD for it’s dub. Crazy, I know. Even more crazy when you start listing all the awesome Japanese voice work done for this series but here I am, giddy in anticipation over watching an anime dub.

Someone well acquainted with the past dub quality in anime might ask what makes this dub different from the years and years of mediocre dubs that American fans have had to put up with? Simply put, Funimation used voice actors that sounded right for their role, had genuine talent, and the drive to give a performance on par with their Japanese counterparts. I wouldn’t think it was possible but Funimation did it and if you don’t believe me, you can go to their website to watch the dub episodes for free.

Fine, someone might now say, why does a sublime dub convince me to buy the DVD? Another simple question :) , Baccano’s dub gives the DVD a much higher value in my eyes then a sub-only DVD or a lousy dub DVD would. For instance, I can now watch Baccano even when it’s not possible to read subs all the time like while I’m cooking or cleaning or eating or, in the case of my sister, when she wants to do a bit of knitting. Also, most Americans don’t like to read subs so having a quality dub of Baccano means I have an anime to show those people when I want to convince them that anime can be awesome (without having to worry about the voice acting souring my chances with these potential converts).

I can hear the question coming at this point – what does Baccano’s dub have to do with Bang Zoom and the problems facing anime in America. At the time of reading Mr. Sherman’s rant I knew Bang Zoom was a dubbing studio but I didn’t know of what shows so I went to the ever informative Anime News Network. And according to ANN, Bang Zoom had nothing to do with the Baccano dub but they did do the Haruhi (my #1 top anime of 2006), Lucky Star (my #2 top anime of 2007), and Gurren Lagann (my #1 top anime of 2007) dubs.  A light bulb clicks on at this point. I have the limited edition Haruhi DVDs and found the dub just slightly better then mediocre; Haruhi’s English voice actor totally failed to make Haruhi as awesome as Aya Hirano was able too and the whole show comes off as a much lower quality show because of it. I saw the trailer to Lucky Star and was so turned off by the dub that I refused to even consider paying money for such an inferior product. In the case of Gurren Lagann, I watched it dubbed on the Sci-fi channel and was so infuriated when a poorly picked English voice for Kamina was able to completely change his character for the worse.

In all three shows I sensed a common theme – Bang Zoom pumping out a mediocre dub which might have saved a couple bucks but hurt the show in the long run. Consider what an anime DVD is worth if the dub track will never be listened to and watching it subbed means putting up with that ugly yellow font and poor handling of signs and watching it as a DVD means having to settle for the resolution a DVD offers? Even Mr. Sherman must know, in his heart-of-hearts, that an anime DVD like that isn’t worth very much. If, however, that same DVD offered a great dub then it’s worth would be much higher and as a result, more DVDs would be sold because the consumers would be able to get something they like in return for spending money that could have gone to a dozen different diversions and hobbies.

As I looked at it more the more I became convinced that Bang Zoom and Mr. Sherman have been more detrimental to anime in America then fansubs have ever been. Consider the anime companies Mr. Sherman mentions in his rant as having closed or suffered massive trouble. Two of those four companies (Bandai and Geneon/Pioneer) use/used Bang Zoom extensively to do their dubs – coincidence? Could it be, those market forces of capitalism that work in so many other industries to keep prices down and quality up have shown up here as well? Could it be, American consumers aren’t quiet the dumb sheep that people like Mr. Sherman think they are?

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Where I Show Mr. Sherman’s Statement That Japan Is “struggling to bring out quality titles” As Another Symptom of The Problem Facing Anime In America

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Assuming, of course, Mr. Sherman wasn’t lying through his teeth and he knows that Japan isn’t struggling to bring out quality titles. Which is a possibility but if one looks at what types of shows that generally get licensed and brought over then his statement fits into an idea I have.

I was looking at the those wonderful charts that chartfag has been putting together and I noticed something when I compared the 2008 chart with the 2001 chart. Here’s the charts, can you see it too?

If you look at the 2001 chart, it looks like the TV stations and animators where targeting young boys with the overwhelming majority shows being action shounen shows and the secondary market seemed to be young girls with the cute shoujo shows. Now look at the 2008 chart and something strange has happened. There’s still those action shounen shows and cute shoujo shows but there’s all these new types of shows: Aria, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Spice and Wolf, Natsume Yuujinchou, Hidemari Sketch, Clannad, Natsu no Sora, and Kaiba to name just a few.

It’s almost like the audience watching anime in Japan is diversifying and getting older; shocking, I know. A look at the American anime market shows that, for the most part, it’s still a 2001 mindset. It’s very slowly getting better (thanks in part to fans refusing to accept business as usual from the DVD companies) but there’s still a wide gulf between how shows like Bleach and Naruto are treated in America as opposed to how Natsume Yuujinchou, Clannad, or Aria are. What must American anime company people like Mr. Sherman think when they see shows like Bakemonogatari as being top DVD/Blu-Ray sellers in Japan? Their years and years of relying and pushing action shounen titles must make it so they can’t comprehend how a show that’s hyper-stylized and spends all it’s time showing characters talking could ever possibly sell in America.

So these American anime companies pass on shows like Bakemonogatari and wait for the next Naruto and complain that fansubs are killing anime because their waiting for the next Naruto obviously means something is wrong with anime. The funny thing is they might be right about the difficulty in their ability to sell shows like Bakemonogatari to America but let’s remember that it’s these same company executive’s limited mindset that has stunted the ability for the mainstream anime fandom in America to grow with their Japanese counterparts, causing a near incompatibility between the two.

To further compound this problem, American anime companies sticking to a 2001 mindset also cause yet more problems. People, including anime fans, get bored of watching the same type of shows over-and-over again; look at the cyclical nature to American prime-time television as a great example of this. So what do these bored anime fans do when they get tired of watching anime that bores them? Either become former anime fans or head to the dark, dangerous underbelly of the internet and find all the titles they’ve been missing out on. And even if you can find anime fans that don’t tire of watching the same type of show over-and-over, by watching only those action shounen titles targeted towards the younger audience it’s very probable that these anime fans will decide one day that they’ve “outgrown” anime because it’s meant for kids and, unless someone steps in and shows them the wider possibilities found in anime, they will stop being anime fans.

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Where I Mention Another Market That Alarmists Have Said Will Die “If Something Isn’t Done!”

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Print science fiction. Except in the case of print SF, people have prognosticated it’s immanent death since at least the early 1980’s. Hasn’t happened yet and it probably never will, provided great SF books/stories are still being written. So, I put little stock in any statement about the immanent death of anime as long as great anime is still being made and a quick look shows that plenty of quality anime is still getting made.

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Where I Remind Mr. Sherman the Easiest Way To Get Rid Fansubs Is To Put Out a Superior Product

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I asked earlier how much is a DVD worth if the dub track will never be listened to and watching it subbed means putting up with that ugly yellow font and poor handling of signs and watching it as a DVD means having to settle for the resolution a DVD offers. The answer is not very much and it looks even sadder when compared to the standard fansub I can find in the dark recesses of the internet put out by unpaid amateurs.

If anime companies in America can come up with a better way to give anime fans their anime then fansubs would go the way of the horse & buggy, the record/8-track players, the canals, the walkie-talkies and the elevator operators. Until that happens though, the anime companies in America will be the ones in danger of disappearing and not fansubs.

And will anime die if every single American anime company shuts down? To answer, I’ll first have to assume this scenario is possible because if anime is anything like print SF then as companies close down, new people with new ideas start new companies and pick up where the old companies left off and there’s never a point when somebody isn’t producing anime/manga/ print SF. So, assuming this worst case scenario, would anime die if every single American anime company shuts down? I’d have to say no, I don’t think so.

For all the bluster that Mr. Sherman displays in his rant – America don’t actually make the anime, we’re only a secondary market to Japan. If we were truly important to them then we’d be able to leverage better treatment from them. Remember how in the case of Haruhi the overwhelming amount of fans in America wanted the DVDs released in TV order and the Japanese license holder would only allow the TV order as an “extra” for the limited edition DVDs and only as a subtitled release. Or the continued reluctance of the Japanese rights holders in allowing us Americans to release anime Blu-ray discs. They couldn’t let the remote possibility of reverse importation mess-up their true cash cow even if that makes fansubs all the more enticing to everyone else.

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Where I Write a Conclusion and Hope Someone Has Read This Entire 2300+ Word Blog Entry and Derived Something Positive From It

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Let’s Recap: Mr. Sherman, President and CEO of the dubbing studio Bang Zoom writes a rant about the impending death of anime and I find it funny for being so out-of-touch with reality. It didn’t rate a response until I realized this was a chance to talk about how unexpectantly awesome the Baccano dub was (thanks Funimation!) and to snub Bang Zoom for screwing up three recent great anime shows by providing poor to slightly better then mediocre dubs and to talk about how the worth of an anime DVD changes drastically depending on the quality of it’s dub. I also realize that I can take this opportunity to voice my displeasure about the history of licensing only certain types of shows for America and to point out how these studio executives are too short-sighted and/or dumb to realize the consequences of their licensing patterns. And I realized I can mention what I think about all these Chicken Littles who want to make us believe the sky is falling and also to remind Mr. Sherman (who probably won’t actually ever read this post) that the surest way to get rid of a product is to produce a superior product and watch capitalism work it’s magic and let the inferior product disappear.

So after realizing all this, I got to writing this blog entry and here we are, a dozen hours of writing from me and 2300+ words written. I hope at least one person out there enjoyed this post and got something from it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some anime to watch.

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18 thoughts on “If Anime Is Dead Then Death Has Never Looked So Good”

  1. Allow me to be the first: great post. Despite the title and chapter heads, there’s a minimum of beating Mr. Sherman with a stick ( he’s stopped moving anyway) and much good analysis.

    And a great dub of Baccano! Who’da thunk it? My desire for good dubs is that, besides the novel pleasure of listening them (it’s been so LONG since the You’re Under Arrest OAV’s!), they’re handy in ensnaring new crossover fans. My ideal dub is of a children-friendly show – subs wear the little tykes down – but I guess Baccano would be a bit much for my neighbour’s’s four-year-old daughter.

    I rest easy at night knowing that Japan’s anime industry is supported perfectly well by the Japanese people. Thanks, folks -

  2. Excellent point inserting the Library War image (a really interesting show that can only be watched via fansubs).

    I would also like to point out that Mr. Sherman is complaining that people aren’t buying HIS product. More and more American fans are able to indirectly support the anime they loved in fansubs by buying associated products such as OSTs and figures, etc. The American companies are making little if anything off this, so they are complaining. I as a fan, however, am not primarily concerned with keeping Bang Zoom and their talent employed.

  3. Excellent stuff.

    I guess I’m always fond of letting the market sort things out, which is why CEOs of doomed companies ranting about how consumer behavior is bad and oh so evil gets a roll of the eyes from me.

    I’d also add that anime does have a good traction with the video game crowd (there’s plenty of crossover imo) and if the marketing folks did a better job of hitting that demographic, we might see a greater influx of fans who will hopefully not be slammed by crap dubs and the like.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with your post. Funimation’s consistency in not only providing a high quality dub but making anime quickly available to fans impresses me very much. Not only does Funimation stream dub and subs of their shows on the website (almost as soon as the titles are purchased by their company), they have a strong presence on Hulu and YouTube. They also allow fans to purchase individual episodes for a very reasonable price before DVD release and are very quick to hunt down illegal fansubs — while making the anime they’ve purchased readily, and legally, available.

    Not only that, Funimation is paying attention to the popular and more diverse titles and purchasing a wide number of genres from Japan. I believe they’ve licensed Claymore, Air, Spice and Wolf, as well as mammoths like Fullmetal Alchemist and One Piece — which enables them to not get stuck in a rut.

    Their actions as a company show me that at least one business is on the ball about knowing and serving their customers. The fact that Funimation is offering quality service and product gives me hope that other companies might one day soon follow suit.

  5. This is really interesting; a topic that I myself have pondered (although I never heard anything about the speech you reference so much in this blog).

    I am not sure I can agree with you about some things though.

    First of all, I loved the TTGL dub. Sure, it wasn’t perfect (and Nia’s voice actress was a little twitch-inducing), but Kamina didn’t do such a bad job and I really liked Simon. ;)
    [I had to watch the dud version because my non-obessive anime friends were getting tired of reading subs after watching several other series...]

    Also, I don’t think that people buy anime discs solely for the dubs. First there are those tantalizing special features which, for very “challenging” series or ones that one particularly enjoys, are must haves. Even if you can find downloads of some of them on the web, it’s just not the same. And it’s not just about the quality of the dub; a lot of the time it’s just about owning the DVD. Feeling the graznhy things in your sweaty little hands. Having it displayed on the shelf as part of your collection. And all that cal.

    I know that half the world is not as OCD as I, but people do like to have hard copies. That’s pretty much the only reason why the manga business is still booming (I think sometimes with all these scanlations and manga exchanges going on).

    Anyway, I’d just like to make a final note that I love reading your blog. It keeps me up-to-date with the NEWEST COOLEST ANIME or just what’s what, and I really appreciate that (since I don’t always have the time to drag my lazy fingers all over the internet to figure these things out for myself), even if I don’t always agree with you (not a big Lucky Star or Haruhi fan…probably just because they’re too “main stream;” same thing happened with Twilight, lol).

    Anyway, thanks for your time and KEEP ON WRITING! Love your blog. ;)

    Posty- Adored the Naruto comment & explanation. It makes so much sense…and it’s so true. ;_;

  6. BTW is there a way to say where the pictures come from, because I don’t recognize some of them that look interesting…U.U;

  7. @everyone: thanks for the comments.

    @Overcast: In regards to the pictures, there is a reason why they were used as Joojoobees seems to have guessed, at least in part. Most of pictures used come from series I really like and would almost assuredly buy in DVD/other format but remain unlicensed, the first two pictures are the exception (though I purposely used a screen shot from my HD fansubs and not from my low-def dvds for Gurren-Lagann.)

    The third picture down of the woman acting surprised comes from Kaiba, my favorite show of 2008. The fourth picture down, one past the 2 guides, is of Dennou Coil – my #5 show of 2007. The fifth, and final picture, is of Library Wars.

  8. Funanimation seems to get it. Some of their competitors did not.

    Which is how it should be. The only question is, how much political influence does Sherman have. Because the easiest solution for a failing company is to get backup from the government in the form of taxes on competitors or subsidies.

  9. I watched Baccano because it was mentioned it. It was very interesting and it was also based upon a light novel. Light novel adaptation to anime can be very tricky. You can only cut so far before you destroy enough detail that the world makes no sense.

    Of course, Americans have the benefit of a cultural understanding of those times, especially if they live in Chicago of today. So the material and details that didn’t make it into the anime from the light novel, did not necessarily impact the understanding of Americans on the period and setting.

    I was researching Beggar’s Style in martial arts history and I came across an interesting factor relating to alchemy and Taoism. It seems Taoism was a religion organized in the Era of Warring States in Japan. Thus the point was to get people to stop fighting. The healing arts and such were admired, but the destructive killing arts were shunned as anathema, a heresy. However, if a person knows how to heal, they can also know how to kill. So there came about a split in the religion which focused on healing and killing. Alchemical potions such as poison from mercury, black arts such as Dim Mak nerve point destruction, or various other things relating to the healing arts of acupuncture and physical medicine.

    Alchemists, then, were searching for the ultimate in both longevity as well as destructive techniques. That’s the cultural background that Americans wouldn’t get starting off. After all, alchemists in the Western setting were scientists or technicians or snake oil sellers. Not martial artists or religious practitioners. So whenever alchemists appear in a Western setting, it’s always like a mad scientist type that makes a golem, frankenstein, that goes on a rampage. And if their purported talent is fake, we have a different story entirely.

    The right period accent in the english dub really made it fun to listen to. Although I still prefer subtitles because I have a clearer understanding of words that way. I hate rewinding movies and shows because I missed a word in the audio or didn’t understand what it said.

  10. Another issue is that American producers are almost trained by hard M methodologies to look for long running seasons. Look at NCIS for example or any popular cable show or mini series, Sopranos included.

    They don’t want “variety”. Only the market wants variety and diversity and creative demonstration of worth. The producers want a series they can milk because it is safer.

    In this vein, the Japanese market is strangely more competitive than the United States, often noted for its cut throat competition, guns, and what not.

  11. It’s about money and anime is no longer mainstream as it was 10 years ago + when it was everywhere. It’s gone back to being a niche market as it was before. Big companies are not pushing it as they did before; no money. Adult swim and Cartoon Network used to be filled with it on TV, not now- no money.

    It just doesn’t generate interest in the same amount of numbers as it did before, and probably won’t.

    With that said, anime is not gone and won’t be because there are diehard fans, but these fans are not in the majority like once was.

    It’s just back to a niche market, and even I don’t like it like I used to……..

    I suppose I have outgrown it as many others….

    Oh well……..

  12. Anime may be a “niche market,” but I TOTALLY disagree that it’s losing popularity.

    Even with the discomforting closing of several of the largest manga-translating corporations in American, I see anime as growing in popularity.

    If you ask around some place like a school (since, we are not Japan and it’s true that most anime fans are younger-aged) there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t at least heard of anime or doesn’t know what it is. Most people can name the most popular titles. It’s been around for so long and people are beginning to get used to it and not think it’s “childish” or “perverted.”

    Plus there’s a lot of help from TV companies broadcasting anime showings like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and the SciFi channel.

    For the time being the world economy may have caused a blip in anime-purchasing and the success of companies that endorse it, but that’s not just limited to anime.

    And most of the time anime is something that doesn’t need to be “outgrown.” Sure, maybe the more action-based or highschool-focused series…but there are tons of anime that have a universal appeal. Those that are “true fans,” as in the people who dedicate more than an average amount of time to watching anime, should surely know this as those are the kinds of series that mean the most and can really change someone. The others work more just to get people to know about anime.

    Let’s not let anime die in America! Besides, there are a ton of people working in the business, or who would like to as animators or such themselves, who would be devastated to see it die. I don’t think it would ever happen.

  13. Japanimation is dead. Don’t be fooled by blind faith and ignorance. It rose from the small translation houses and it has now faded into a nothing. Funimation can’t save Japanimation by a long shot. Their parent company, Navarre, filed for bankruptcy in 2011. And the way Japanimation is shown on Adult Swim is by Viz and other translation houses purchasing the airtime like an infomercial. (This is how Japanimation is aired in Japan, Korea, Red China, Taiwan, Thailand, etc. Of course, you idiotic otaku wouldn’t know that, because you just make up “phacts” and try to pass these off as “facts”.)

    Japanimation is dead. It never gained a following in America. If it did, there would be fans, and translation houses wouldn’t have closed. Central Park? Dead! Viz? Dying fast! Tokyopop? Dead! Eros? Dead! Dark Horse? Cancelled the titles! Nintendo Power? Dead! (Last issue is Dec. 2012, and I mention Nintendo Power because my LOVE of Japanimation came from Nintendo games, phone-book manga . . .) Electronic Gaming Monthly? Dying fast! (I mention EGM because they used to have, during the Japanimation book, fueled by Mai Shiranui, a section in their old tyme issues called “International Outlook”, which provided in-depth reviews of Japanimation, manga, and Japanese video-games.) CMX? Dead! Dell Rey’s sad attempt into manga? Dead! J-List? Now just one guy running the place! International Channel’s Japanimation bloc? Cancelled, channel is dead! IFC’s Japanimation shows? Cancelled! G4, when they used to be TechTV, airing Japanimation shows? Cancelled, channel changed format . . . though they are airing Japanimated Marvel TV shows. Go figure! Antarctic Press? Dying fast! (Gold Digger is only title they produce now.) Japanimation is now sold at 99c Stores, for, well, $0.99! And these are well-known titles, too!

    I know, I know, you otaku are oblivious to the world. Shame on you. Shame on you for NOT supporting the Japanimation translation houses enough.

    Oh, and just so you know, since I travel to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan ALOT (yes, it’s a word), manga and anime is dead. Theaters aren’t even showing anime movies anymore, and anime airs after midnight now. Phone-book manga just pile-up, not selling at bookstores. There’s the reality.

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