Monthly Archives: December 2010

On Shopping Lists: Consumption with Monetary Costs

In our media-rich economy we do a lot of economic pushing and shoving (read: consumption) that revolves around the media. In other words, we buy and sell a lot of things because of media. Usually just buy. So in the two circles of blogs that I read, which are anime/manga types and gadget/personal electronic/tech blogs, shopping guide for the holiday season is not uncommon.

Shopping guides are something worth thinking about. At some level, core otaku fandom has to have a “monetarily active” wing of it that is focused on consumption. In the stipulated context of available and free programming it is all very natural. It would be no different than being a fan of, for example, Glee. That is a foundation in which we build a perspective about Japanese anime fandom.

For Americans, it’s definitely not quite so much the case although some generations of fan do come from that. Those who caught it on Sci-Fi, or those who caught Sailor Moon, or those who saw Speed or Astro Boy, and so on, are not too different as they start. However the focus on the fandom soon shifts from that.

I would go so far and to say that American anime fandom is overly concerned about consumption, and not enough about what they are consuming and why that is the case. I think the anti-moe thought has at least challenged some people’s notion of that, but that is just one opinion in a sea of them.  I think a big reason why this is the case is because that anime fandom in the west is rooted in that illicit but also low-monetary-cost, high-human-resource-cost form of consumption that is known as old school fansubbing.

And realistically speaking, consumption of anime as a pure medium is not where the money is. Anyone who’s seen Japan’s industry-wide reports about where the money is when it comes to anime/manga/game franchises know that it’s in merchandising. Or for that matter you can find out about this through any of the variety of books or websites that detail how mainstream anime business models are–often times they are ads for toys or for other products. The money is in those things. The animation is more of a vehicle.

As the difficulty of media piracy (and fansubbing) drops over the past 15 years, we see pretty clearly that the nature of consumption has changed among fans. More importantly we also see the nature of consumption changed among some non-fans, or specifically, pre-fans and casual fans (that’s an oxymoron amirite). I’m talking about people who are not quite fans, but those who did grow up watching Pokemon and is otherwise curious about a couple franchises. We’re talking about the average Millennium Generation American. I highlight this group just to note that the problems they bring to the table is mostly unique to them, but being such a large group of people, it also presents an unique challenge for companies trying to make money off them. This is where we can segue into a rant about New Media and what have you.

But those fans who actually spend a ton of money, at least before 2002, would remember the days where buying VHS at $30 a pop for 2-4 episodes is piece of cake since you were spending several hundred up to the 4-digit range regularly on imported LDs, and more importantly, shipping (or worse, plane rides). Today we enjoy luxuries such as DVDs and Blu-Rays, and better shipping (though the exchange rate right now is horrid, and nowhere as cushy as the 120+ to 1 valuation from the 1990s) options. Online sites provided easy access to Japanese goods versus human proxies that you had to contact by phone or mail. Life is good for the anime prosumers today.

In as such, writing a shopping list for the average English-language internet user in 2010, even in the world of anime and manga, is kind of “mainstream” don’t you think? It’s no different than making one for sites like Engadget or Kotaku. When I wrote mine I thought about things I actually owned or would like to own, and had some kind of novelty factor that made writing and reading about why I own them more interesting than their intrinsic value. Except the Detolf. Because that’s just one of those “if you knew about this, you are truly an insider, a 仲間, the real deal” kind of thing that more people should know. And you should know; it’s not really a gift-giving kind of thing, it’s more a “better living in 21st century as a geek” kind of thing.

For the real you-should-buy this holiday season kind of list, everyone who really needs it has it, and if you’re shopping for one of those people, you can only ask. I mean my list would be like, “hey, go to j1m0ne’s blog and pick something.” Most genuine anime fans are pro at consumption; they  know what to buy (if they can afford it). The real adages about gift giving is true always–you just have to know who you are caring for.

Year in Review: The Funnies

Over yonder at the blog-in-data-recover, I’ve written a list of the amusing stuff that happened this year. I guess I could have added the bouncing boobs from High School of the Dead on the list because it’s one of those Grenadier moments. You know? Except it only looks amusing and really doesn’t do anything. I don’t think breasts are good absorber of recoil, and whats-his-face Komuro should have gotten beaten over the head by Miyamoto for giving her purple boobs. That’s just the beginning, and the one anime probably everyone watched (outside of JUMP crap).

This year is an amazing year for comedies in anime. While we never had an outstanding title this year on par with FMP: Fumoffu, there were scores of great shows that will make you laugh out loud. At least it made me. Then again I laugh a lot.

The one I want to highlight is Seikon no Qwaser. It’s like Yosuga no Sora but without the pretense of seriousness. Plus, it’s got none of the “boning your twin sister while your girlfriend (soon-to-be-ex) stands and watch, along with ero-minded Iichou-san” big ball of fire mess; or rather, how do you top that? On the other hand, I thought the “keeps on going” thing works better with Nao being boned and Sora watching, but that’s just how she is. Qwaser just has unslightly people being unslightly, mostly doing all kind of weird stuff that defies imagination. I mean in some sense, the whole walking-on-the-sex-scene bit was not unexpected. It’s gawking, but it isn’t out of mind. Stuff like boob hypnosis is.

It brings up this notion that you can bridge the gap between awful and comedy. It’s kind of like how Fist of the North Star is enjoyable, but it’s also enjoyable. You get what I mean? There are too many shows making that gap this year it is starting to bleed into proper comedies.

But with offerings like Seitokai Yakuidomo, I can’t really blame them.

To wrap this point up, I’m just going to say that 2010 is an abnormal year in anime comedies in that I’ve seen more moments in anime this year that made me laugh than probably 2009 and 2008 combined. Maybe it speaks as much to how bad 2009 and 2008 was in terms of comedies, but really, if you are not laughing this year, you are not watching the same anime I’m watching.

The sad thing is there really wasn’t just one show that stood out besides the Qwaser, which is remarkable for other qualities besides that it’s hilariously over the top. That it’s terribly hilariously over the top.

The Garden of Whiners

Anime fans whine a lot; that is nothing special since most fans whine as a part of their necessary inclination towards obsession to peculiarity. But I understand this whine even out of  the context of fandom. It is the popularist whine.

I think this post from Sub sums up basically what I think is apropos of the whiners on Aniplex of America’s Garden of Sinner local-sales package. For those not in the know, basically Aniplex’s Garden of Sinner, a series of 7 films and a bonus OAV episode, is hitting Blu-Ray for the first time in a deluxe box that comes with the entire thing, some bonus features, and a LD-size artbook. The thing goes for about 60,000 yen in Japan, but savvy shoppers and importers can have it for about $430 USD, give or take whatever the exchange rates are by the time the box set ships the first Tuesday of February 2010 (and shipping). I say importers and savvy shoppers because the Japanese box set comes with English subtitles, and is not region-encoded (like most Japanese Blu-Rays).  Aniplex of America, then, announces that they will be importing an English-language version of that 60,000 yen box for sale exclusively at RightStuf and the Bandai Entertainment USA store. It even comes with a smallish discount and an additional booklet (with a unique cover) that contains translation for the big LD-size artbook. Discount, I said, because they are selling it at $400.

The real problem is in how Aniplex of America handled this announcement; it should have either approached it via some more narrow venue by soliciting the import fan community directly (maybe they don’t have an in) or otherwise try to mitigate the issue that the average retard will probably balk at the $400 price tag. The generic-sounding PR doesn’t help, despite it is carefully written to make the distinction between what Aniplex is doing and what licensing for a domestic market reads like. It’s almost meme-like on twitter when people reacted to it. Simply put, the majority of media consumers just do not pay that kind of price, American or Japanese. It is a collector’s item. But somehow people actually get offended when people price items above and beyond their willingness to spend. I guess it doesn’t matter why, since it’s not like it doesn’t happens on a regular basis in Japan, that it is not a license announcement, that it is not exclusive, or that they can still pirate it anyways, or what have you–it will automatically get detractors once things like that pop into their radar.

I should backtrack. To put it in other words, when you make something very desirable and make it also very expensive, it will naturally draw out the ugly in some. It’s the vices of luxury, in a nutshell. So when you make an elite product (and I think the Rakkyo box qualifies) and put an equally elitist price on it, it will draw that populist ire. It’s a bit of that sour grape thing, it’s a bit of plain envy. It’s dumb and worse of all, counterproductive and bad for everyone when people whine on it as a gut reaction and not based on reason.

In some sense, American consumerism almost treats our media as a right, rather than a privilege. And maybe it is better that way. But I’m not a fan of crap metaphors about rights and privileges; I’m more about actual rights and actual privileges–anime is neither since I last checked. So I’m just going to say that you should just make a choice:

  1. Come up with the dough. $400 is not ridiculous; I mean a particular whiner I know owns an iPad, and if you can enjoy that kind of luxury and cries on this one in this economy then you’re just a cheapskate.
  2. Give up on it. The idea is nobody is going to buy it, and that is true considering people like myself is nobody. Or I should say, comparatively very few people will be able to shell out, let alone willing to shell out four Benjamins just for some Blu-Ray Discs. Avatar 3D isn’t even that expensive. And like Avatar 3D, eventually you can buy it for cheap too. Rakkyo is not guaranteed to be licensed in America, but if it is like any top-selling BD title, odds are you can find it in Mandarake for 40% of the total cost a year or two later. Or in Book-off another 2 years later for even less. And if you get lucky someone might still license it for US release, at US price points.
  3. Find yourself a magical sister. It may works.

As long as you shut up about it for #1 and #2, you’re in good shape.

Homework: the ever cheapening of anime begins at home. Before even moe attacked, anime was an expensive hobby on its way to worthless-ville. Honestly I think it is good that it no longer is an expensive hobby per se; but it was never meant to be the sort of business that can survive on one single mode, a single business method, a single stratification of the market. Just because a bunch of kids that grew up on Pokemon are old enough now to have real jobs and real income doesn’t mean they will buy whatever that comes next after Pokemon. The genre, the medium, the art form, the business, or whatever, is simply too diverse. In order to capitalize on every anime that can sell, you will have to capitalize on “everyone.” Which is why Funimation goes both high and low, both Shuffle and DBZ, both Strike Witches and One Piece.

But the increased price-accessibility of anime brings no real long term benefit in some sense; anime production is still insular and for the most part the west and international monies play very little role in its direction as a marketable property. For example, just because DBZ sells a lot in the west doesn’t mean Japan is not aiming for its Number One market, and that domestic market of theirs still holds the rudder. To that extent, localization houses are pushed between a rock and a hard place, and somehow the only way forward is to either not license something at all and select only what works within the licensee’s mode of operation, or take small risks on otaku properties that are actually not the same tried and true JUMP formula refined to a tee. Because you will need to have already licensed DBZ to pay for those. And because now you’re just playing safe and not taking any risk.

Well, it’s like what they say, if you know the market you can diversify your risks, put your eggs in the combination of baskets that will guarantee long term growth, and if your plans work out, also short-term profit. I think in some sense there are conclaves of the US anime fan base in which make their purchasing decision based on a set of branded values; that they are basically the creation of hard work from US distributors and licensees (or of fansub distros and bittorrent sites). When we being to experiment with other modes of distribution and monetization we will hear more whiners with their whining. I suppose it is just the job of the market leader to turn a negative into a positive.

The Reimagined Non-Existent Youth Bill

Dan Kanemitsu has been at it for so long, and for so much, he is one-stop shop for all your needs. I find no need to parrot what he has to say.

But I want to repeate it. So I will, with my own thoughts added:

  • Understand this bill only adds authority from Tokyo prefectural government to further direct anime/manga/games to be rated “adult-only.” You can still buy and import them, but it will impact the sales of certain games/manga/anime because they cannot be prominently marketed as they are AO.
  • There are already a ton of stuff that is adult only before the passage of this law, like your average rape manga or porn games. This will just further include things like lolicon crap that shows but doesn’t “do” anything and other seinen-level servicy things, assuming they’re edgy enough. Yosuga no Sora anime, Qwaser (LOL CHAMPION RED), etc.
  • The real problem is the chilling effect in which additional level of censorship will do. Some estimates the largest harm that comes about will be for ero doujinshi (which is a whole lot of them) and aforementioned seinen stuff. BL and Yuri stuff should be unaffected unless it also crosses over into those categories. Rape may be the biggest trip wire, but we’ll see.
  • The biggest economic harm will be afflicted on publishers of those sort of seinen stuff, which is why the big 10 manga publishers are boycotting the Tokyo Anime Fest next year, which is chaired by the governor of Tokyo prefecture, Shintarou Ishihara.

See the translations from DarkMirage for some post-rape luls. Who Framed Shintarou Ishihara would be a great idea?

Look and Feel

I originally had planned to revamp the blog this year with new layout and a look. It probably will still feel kind of the same, much like what the site looks like when grated through Readability, with some holes and edges thrown in. Holes and edges is what makes one human being different than another human being, right? Same with blogs.

The big change is making my site’s layout, at least on the books, 100% copyright kosher. Doesn’t mean it will still contain images that are taken without permission, but that’s content, and not layout. I would be giving away a copy of Choux’s artwork to the public under CC ShareAlike (like everything else that actually is mine on my blog). You can get a preview here on the header (yeah the old header lasted less than a day, maybe just a day). I mean, after all, it’s only fair…get it hur hur. As an aside, nothing on the version of this blog is licensed under Creative Commons terms… heh. Not that it matters much.  Anyways, I rather like Choux’s simple design and it is moe enough for me! I just need to get her to draw it more, or recreated it or something. I have money and I am not afraid of spending it on generic looking (and I mean it in the best way possible) characters named after myself. (Now that is a business idea.)