Monthly Archives: August 2012

The K-ON Movie Is about K-ON

You know you’ve done it when I can approach a franchise as an “experience.” Down in Orlando, FL, there’s a place called Universal Studios where big-time American film franchises (and increasing, TV shows) get their own “experiences” in the form of a ride or something. In those situations the customers literally put themselves in a place where their senses are surrounded by stimuli that represents that franchise. The Harry Potter theme park down there is probably the best recent example.

I’m not exactly writing the K-ON film review that way, even if there was a K-ON event sort of thing at Universal Studios Japan in order to promote the film back in December 2011. What I’m referring to is that ultimately, K-ON has been about a singular experience. It’s no longer about the story (which in K-ON’s case, the story is not much to talk about in a very literal sense) but more about the way the customer associates and relates to the franchise. Coming in to the film as a voracious consumer of anime media is not the way to go, oddly enough. Coming into the film as a fan of K-ON, however, you will be surely rewarded with both the emotional revisit to that “Tenshi ni Fureta yo” moment and being able to again see the same girls on the big screen that you previously enjoyed seeing.

Well, basically I’m saying is it only works if you buy in to K-ON. I do, so I thoroughly enjoyed the film. However, I was really suspicious before going in to the film–there wasn’t much in terms of encouraging things to say about the film for the most part. After all, the drink-tea-eat-cake reputation is as honest and truthful as K-ON being an anime about high school girls being themselves.

The funny thing is, after all this, I’m not too sure what is particularly moe about K-ON. The girls are cute (in the Hello Kitty sense) and the subject matters they broach (in the movie, that’d be their graduation, music culture, sightseeing London from a Japanese tourist POV, songwriting, etc) somehow don’t quite mesh with that image. It’s a dissonance not unlike what I find attractive in denpa music. On the flip side, tune to “No Thank You!” or in the Movie, “Singing!” and you can see how this girl power band stuff work just like how it does on the Billboard Charts, even to the degree that it projects this illusion to what the K-ON show is about for people who aren’t familiar with the show.

What is K-ON about? It’s easy to take the movie in conjunction with the first two seasons and see how the movie fills in the gap in the overall story and let it continue to build on what we already know. After the credit rolled, I thought about why the movie was about these things, which kind of fall neatly into 3 acts: before the trip, on the trip, and after the trip. That’s the same formula K-ON uses to tell all its stories: pre keion club, keion club stuff, and when after it is all said and done. Supposing myself as a total K-ON newbie, I can probably watch just the movie and get a good idea what K-ON is really about. It does a great job summarizing and boiling down what makes K-ON interesting and attractive.

Part of it, naturally, is the animation. This is the second Kyoto Animation film that I’ve watched, and I am so thankful it is a good 40-50 minutes shorter than the last one. In fact, it feels just right; the statements about the K-ON movie being two or three glorified TV episodes glued together has some merit here, so it is good to see the film keep things tight and not overstay its cake-and-tea-fueled attention span. You can tell the production team scoped out their shots from London and captured the more expressive motifs among the character animation for the Londoners. It probably is as much of a travelogue as it is a matter of sympathizing with potential domestic Japanese viewers on their own personal experiences. Is Azusa really 17 years old? Certainly, in cat years. And that’s just a little thing.

I always thought the most impressive thing about K-ON was its ability to channel zeitgeist. It captures sort of the feeling about life that you wonder about or occasionally witness. Maybe this is why there are more girl bands in schools in Japan today than there were in 2008. Uncharacteristically, the movie almost makes some outward statements about this in the film when Sawako-sensei reflects on her own high school experience. Life was somewhat different then. Life is somewhat different in London. But in the end that may not really matter.

The Tragedy of Cheap Localization

I wonder if there are any intangible benefits to dubbing a show, in the context of how a lot of shows are now sub-only as released in the US. I think that’s not looking at the big picture, after thinking for a bit. The point is, ultimately it’s about how much money you are willing to spend to produce a show. Given a certain price point and demand, you will only be able to extract a certain amount of revenue from a show. If dubbing makes this unreasonable then that’s too bad, but there’s more to a dub than the dub itself.

In other words, it does not stop there. In order to slim down on production costs dubs are not the only thing that gets cut. I’m basically just making a beeline argument for the value of marketing.

For most people, marketing is worthless beyond a certain amount. However I think that also means the marketing problems that I have begin to outline earlier will not get fixed if no money goes into marketing. The value of marketing extends beyond just advertisement, or sending review copies out, or partnering with RightStuf and send out snailmail postcards about specific titles to their VIP customers. For one, people like myself benefit greatly from marketing not via the aforementioned things, but via, say, convention partnerships and seeing some of my favorite creators at cons I go to.

But that’s not even all there is to it. Two basic points.

First, we need to internalize is that today’s popular media is largely commercial. It’s almost miraculous to see Homestuck or Touhou taking up such a large thought space both in the scene, at a con, or in certain online circles, but those are exceptions. Marketing contributes a great deal to that sort of thing/think. If we graph out the ideas and memes from popular culture that gets passed around on the internet today like it was territory, much of it would have to be commercial. This is not quite it, but it works as a proxy to show you how it breaks out. Note that a lot of those sites are used for marketing; people read/post/network with it. When you cut marketing, fewer people will, even if it is an artificial thing.

A good example is Strike Witches’ marketing about War On Pants. It’s cute and catchy and it helps to bring awareness to this title to a largely mute American audience. I don’t know how well it did but I guess the title sold enough to warrant the S1 BD re-released by FUNi. This is purely a localized creation and it’s that sort of effort in which adds to the internet meme compost pile. Or in other words, enriches the lives of the people? I don’t know. It’s a far cry from, say, Ufotable cafe or, say, OGI☆STAR MEMORIES C82. But given that Funimation is made up of dub actors, graphic design types, marketing people, video nerds and business people, I think they could do something pretty neat if they put their minds to it. Under the banner of brand management, there are more arsenals and more creative ways to both contribute as fans do but also as a way to advertise, that hasn’t been put into use.

Second, dubbing (or bigger localization efforts in general) helps marketing. It’s one thing to parade your dub actors around the local con circuit to promote a new dub, it’s another to sell through your dub actors because he’s worked on all your shows, so his fans will buy your shows. It might not sound like much but if we think of domestic DVD sales in the 4-digit scale, at an Otakon or AX you could push through a couple hundred easily just to promote that dub guest, during the various autograph sessions or what not. That’s not to mention every time that con does PR for that guest, your show gets a nod, and there are dozens of cons all across North America each year. In short, dub actors are PR people too, and they sell shows they worked on.

The convention context is where my gripe comes from. I like marketing from Aniplex and from NISA and RS whatever. Through their marketing, a real-life meet & greet with people like Yui Horie and Tatsuo Sato and Ai Nonaka were made possible. I think it’s a big loss for some of us when the US industry trimmed that down, although it might not matter much for most. In the reverse, I can’t say if people wouldn’t have had opportunities to do so even without the help of some of these companies, at least financially.

I really didn’t think about the implication of low-cost localization until I looked at how K-ON is treated. It’s safe to say that K-ON is a show with some mainstream success in Japan. It’s not a reliable indicator of its success outside of America, but I feel that it is a waste to see a title like that simply sits Sentai’s library, getting what little marketing treatment that it had. K-ON  gets as much marketing as, say, Book of Bantorra or Oblivion Island. Heck, probably less than Oblivion Island. It’s not given any chance to really thrive in a capacity where marketing is required. The whole word-of-mouth thing has limitations. Another tangent with K-ON is to see how the marketing was for K-ON when it was a Bandai title, and how it is now. Anyway, all this is to say that it feels like the whole thing is kind of under-promoted for whatever reasons.

Search Rank, Piracy, Anime’s Marketing Problem Part N

Google Search now consider DMCA takedowns in part of its rank algorithm. I want to know: how many people use Google Web Search for actual information, and not download links?

How many people use Google to search for download links anyways? When I did, pretty much one out of 4 or 3 links at best (first page) were legit, and rarely it’s the top link. Maybe one out of a handful of times. It’s very much a SEO game when we’re talking about obscure Japanese crap, the sites gets the better google ranks will bubble up, and often they have nothing to do with the search term I use. I guess I am just one data point, but I’m pretty much dissatisfied in the opposite case: when I google up a show, I don’t want to be shown half a dozen stream sites or scan sites that I’ll never click on because, well, I want to read up and research the show, not to pirate it.

This is kind of like, the ghettofying of the internet all over again. Wikipedia is great, but I don’t want to search specific sites if I can help it, and if Google supports that sort of cross-site search to begin with. It’s a totally different story when you google terms that are not some item in trade that you can’t just download.

I guess here’s the basic idea behind Google’s search. Basic in that, well, isn’t it ultimately about relevance? Regardless of the implementation, if the users don’t find what they are looking for, it defeats Google Search’s purpose. I believe by downranking download sites it is a win-win for Google, their whip-cracking masters in the media industry, and everyday Joe users like us.

I already whined about how anime industry in English-language realms have a marketing problem. Working with Google to get your links bumped up should be a priority, if anything, as a way to compete and provide a service that is currently filled by less-than-legit outlets. Funi submit DMCA notices for their stuff. I wish more poeple did; the internet is international and crap stream sites should only come up when people input the right key terms in their search queries.

In the case with social network type situations, there’s this. Yeah, why isn’t Youtube downranked (I guess it will be, however slightly; and probably not notably so if you do a video search), though I think they mean it in terms of DMCA takedown requests issued to Google Search, not Youtube or the website being ranked.

On the flip side, it’s generally something unpleasant when Google resorts to having DMCA takedowns as a metric. Not just the valid concerns in regards to the lack of transparency of the Google ranking process, but simply the DMCA takedown process is hardly foolproof and frequently causes false-positives. As anime fans, though, I feel this is one of those situations where if I look left, I see all this copyright infringing efforts, but if I look right I can’t even find a commercial or promo video or OP/ED of some show on Youtube, even for review/marketing purposes uploaded by the copyright owner. It’s really the same problem and the longer this problem is left to fester, the worse it’ll get for all of us.

Manabi Straight Blu-ray Versus the Most Worthless PQ Test

As I slowly work my way through the Manabi Straight Blu-ray box, you probably should expect a series of Manabi Straight blog posts. I think the show earned a spot on my list of favorites precisely because it evokes so much thought on watching it. And I really didn’t write all that much about it the first time around, just … a lot of posts “around” it. There are a lot of heavy themes and concepts thrown around in that show. Anyway, here are some more tl;dr about the Blu-ray release itself first.

My friend is a quality whore and he rigged his MPC-HC to whatever nonsense that these guys are saying. It makes some sense, when you own a Dell U3011, but to me the notion of “best” is kind of a lamer marketing term as PQ is to an extent subjective. When you start adding filters you are playing with fire. But I’m a live and let live sort of person, so it doesn’t bother me until the sharpening filter is depixelating grains or computer-generated visual effects from the video itself (which it invariably does with a show like this).

But man, my friend’s Dell U3011 is very nice. So we ended up watching some Manabi Straight side-by-side with whatever he found on BakaBT on his 27″ Dell monitor, whose model I forget (one of those 1440-line displays). We didn’t touch the BD video stream (played from a PS3) but he did (or whoever encoded it did) for the downloaded version of whatever it was. The results are pretty much what you’d expect. We also found how the home video went back and corrected some animation errors, mostly continuity sort of stuff.

We specifically checked out episodes 1 and 2 and I alone checked the last episode. We watched the first two because my friend actually never watched Manabi Straight beyond the first episode (his meticulous logging noted that he watched episode 1 in Jan 2007 at around 3:30 AM), and he didn’t quite remember what happened in the show besides Manabi’s “landing.” Olympics, right. The first two episodes make up a pretty solid pilot, if you recall.

To the meat of the post: the interesting revelation was that the last episode actually doesn’t look that much better, compared to the previous BD episodes. There were specific places where it did, but overall it feels mostly like just any other episode. The lines looked sharper than DVD, but compared it to a HD-broadcasted TV rip, there wasn’t really that much more details in the BD version. What survived largely were special effects and digital effects which died horribly on the TV rip both because of post-processing on my friend’s end or simply because the encode’s bitrate is just too low to capture everything. Like their later works, ufotable’s approach to composition is somewhat cinematic, featuring a lot of effects that create intentional blurring or things that look foreshortened. There is also a good deal of digital effects too, that as we know that tend not to survive upscaling well.

I guess the conclusion on this stuff is that the BDs are definitely the best version of Manabi Straight you will be able to find. But the TV rips were pretty good, if you can live with it. It’s not a night-and-day kind of a difference as with, say, episode 5 of Kara no Kyoukai. It’s probably less drastic than watching the DVDs (I guess I owe you guys that at some point) side-by-side to the BD. Of course this is also ignoring that the content is slightly different. The animation is patched up a little on the home video release. But with enough post-processing crap laid on top of it, the TV rips are passable, if that’s your sort of thing.

Continue reading

The Post-Simulcast World Is No Different

It’s jumping the gun a little bit, but it might be safe to say that simulcast is here to stay. I think it’s jumping the gun because once you remove Crunchyroll from the picture, there’s not much left. And despite the rosy picture painted by that Californian start-up, it is not a quantity that has fully solidified in my mind. Or at least in the back of my mind. Sometimes I worry that it is doing too good of a job, that there is nobody to replace them if something goes wrong. Which is to say that’s probably worrying too much.

I got a press account to FUNi’s elite doohicky and, guess what, it works like a lazy panda: ie., it doesn’t really work all that well. I tried to use it to watch some Eureka 7 AO on two separate occasions. Couldn’t get the video to load both times. I wonder if I will have better luck on mobile or on a tablet. Perhaps more importantly, FUNi (and similarly Viz, and to a lesser extent, Aniplex) pick and choose titles they want to simulcast, a bit like a strategic decision to deliver a full cross-marketing experience for their customers. The “full” deal markets the goods in a variety of channels, because after all we do not live in a vacuum; we do not buy our $700+ box sets of Fate/Zero or even super-delayed FUNi boxes of their ex-Simulcasted shows without first hearing about it from somewhere. By the time we wanted to pick up Bakatest we have already have made our minds up on it, and by “our minds” I mean the internet hive mind. Individual mavericks are still going to buy things blind or out of reasons unrelated to the show itself, but the internet word-of-mouth machine has a huge say on a small subcultural genre like ours. There are exceptions of course, maybe shows like Kenichi, but that strategy only works in the very rare cases to create entire markets from scratch. Simulcast or not, the internet hive mind will have an opinion on some show somehow. It takes no effort on the foreign distributor’s part to seed hits; it’s like wild flowers, tended by fansubbers and anime clubs and what have you. All they could do is to gently lend it a hand, and slowly change things in harmony.

Unfortunately doing nothing is probably not a great business model. I think this is why I worry about CR; the business of delivering simulcast as their main product is tenable but it doesn’t leave a lot of room to compete. If you do, you compete on the basis of quality of service and price. Thankfully they are bar none, but I suspect that is also why they are so good at delivering a positive customer experience, because that is their bread and butter.

But for the rest, they’re in for the long haul. When Funimation signs up one of their shows, they do a new dub, they do a neat little marketing doohicky. They declared war on pants! The joke aside, the full business from streaming to re-release to Amazon deals to whatever, is the sort of resources they commit to their titles. They can’t afford flops. So what happens if one of their simulcast titles flop? I’m thinking that is just the current status today. This is why they do a lot of license rescuing too; because they’re all vetted. Seems like a no-brainer.

I’m going to just say that simulcasting is one of those things that ultimately when the business is to make money selling home videos, it’s really not all that important. For one, you might be spending money on shows that will tank. Some say it cannibalizes home video sales, some say it does not. I don’t think it matters. Unless you play to win in streaming, the only thing you can do is partner up with people who do play to win, or else you get this Funi elite POS. So I’m glad FUNi streams on Youtube and Hulu, because those sites also play to win. But at the same time, it makes me wonder what choices did FUNi have in this matter. It’s like they want to make some money from simulcasting, because it is a thing they are doing and they might as well try to make a dime on it, or at least not lose out too much.

In the end, the simulcast broadcast is just one part of the broader, deeper, more complicated marketing strategy. Especially the pay-to-air model of media-mixed anime, when the original thing exists because there’s a manga or a light novel or because GSC’s logo is pasted on it or some such. Often anime is just a small derivative, even if sometimes, that is all we want. From another perspective, simulcast just one of the little things, like the rights to the seiyuu interview clips on R2 releases–either you have it (or pay to get it) or you don’t, does it matter to your bottom line?

I think that’s the ultimate question. I’m thinking it does in terms of protecting the brand, but what else?

As  a follow-up to that noitaminA post, I think looking at the side-by-side sales/viewership figure tells you a lot about what anime does well versus what anime does well for the home video publisher. Maybe some smartass down in Texas has a spreadsheet or two that figures this out by some kind of factor, so they can decide what price to license what and how much to spend on marketing. But the idea that some shows are widely viewed but nobody buys is hardly a secret. How to take that into account seems to be the key factor in licensing non-duds. Yes, even simulcast numbers tell you only so much about sales. This is why it is like pulling teeth to get Funi to release anything from noitaminA: nobody buys this crap. And I suspect this is why their year-long partnership ended unceremoniously.

Well, as stated in the previous noitaminA post, clearly people do buy Guilty Crown. This is why FUNi is doing a Blu-ray (looking forward to that). But I guess the smartass among you might ask about Mononoke, which I would have to point you to Ayakashi’s sales number and what happened in the US. At the very least, they tried, so I can’t fault them.

The take-home, I think, is that ultimately simulcasts don’t matter, unless you make your bread and butter from pushing stuff through the stream. And it shows.

PS. At least you would think simulcasting reduces fansubber drama. HA HAHAHAHA. Yeah. Sure.

PPS. Can someone explain to us how did Fractale get a release LOL.