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GUEST BLOG: Michael Pinto Has a Request

This week's guest blog comes from Michael Pinto of Fanboy.com!

This week-- yes, I'm TRYING to get one per week, but no promises! --we have a guest blog from Michael Pinto, editor of Fanboy.com and someone who, at risk of sounding mean, has been a fanboy for longer than many Vice readers have been alive. He's also quite the media expert and lists among his clients Scholastic and MTV. So you should take a good long look at what he has to say!

...Then you should offer your own opinions in the comments, of course!

Guest Blog: Dearest Gaijin Otaku, Please Stop Using the Insulting Phrase "The American Anime Industry"

From time-to-time I'll hear well meaning local otaku use the term "The American Anime Industry" and as a creative professional who's worked on a few television projects this always makes me cringe when I hear this. The reason is that "industry" implies actually making something – and while as an old time anime fanboy I'm grateful that today companies like VIZ and FUNimation are aggressively bringing over series from Japan, in fact that's all that they're doing. At the end of the day they're just importers, they're no different than any other company that imports any other product from abroad - be it sake or giant robot toys.


As far as I'm concerned the only real Anime industry that exists is in Japan. After all, that's where they're doing all the real creative production work on any show (although the grunt work may be shipped overseas). It's in Japan where you'll meet the manga artists who inspire the shows, the writers and storyboard artists who adapt that to the small screen and an army of people who kill themselves doing everything from designing every bit of mecha to recording foley effects for the show.


And sadly many of these folks in the trenches are very poorly paid – so when you use the term "Anime Industry" to describe anybody but those poor little foot soldiers in the army of filmmaking you're in fact insulting the artists. This quote from an Anime News Network article sums up the silent heroes that deserve your praise: "90% of the animators and directors are freelancers, and those who have trouble making ends meet are expected to face increasing hardships as they grow older. In particular, there are veteran creators in their 40s and 50s who are getting by on 3 million yen (about US$30,000) a year."


Also I don't know how many anime fans are aware of it, but making animation is damn hard work. For starters it's much more difficult than live action because there's no room for fudge time in the production process. In a live action film you can do a few takes on a scene to get it just right, but when you're doing animation you never get that luxury due to the cost. You have to create 24 frames per second (or 30 for NTSC video) – the amount of work in creating animation is painful and much more expensive than live-action. By the way that's why you no longer see any American animation on MTV. It's not because Beavis and Butthead went out of style, but because reality TV shows cost a fraction to make and are more profitable even if there are less viewers.


Now does this mean that I don't respect what companies like FUNimation are doing? Hardly! But what they're doing is adapting existing creative work and then doing the sales and distribution. And while that can make or break a show (for example how 4Kids ruined One Piece), it's just not the same game as making a show from scratch. In fact even on a corporate level you have to respect the Japanese companies because they're taking that initial investment risk in producing a show. Frankly, by the time an American company is looking at a show it's already done well in Japan, so there's less risk involved.


To me the closest thing to an "American Anime Industry" is in fact the studios in the United States that produce their own animation. So to me Pixar is a direct peer to Toei because they're really both in the same business. Now when an American company commissions an anime series (like Cartoon Network with the second season of The Big O or FUNimation with Afro Samurai), at that point to me they're in the same business because they're doing that hard work which is filled with risk. At the end of the day it's about putting your money where your mouth is.


For fans it also pays to look at the long term trend for anime through this lens, because as time goes on the old model of American companies slowly repacking anime will give way to simultaneous digital releases of TV shows and mangas. Wanting more creative control over the process you'll see companies like Viz and Bandai become the winners. Speaking of Bandai the real money in Anime isn't in DVD sales – it's in the merchandise! This isn't anything new because ever since Disney in the 1930s, the name of the game has been selling trinkets that tie into popular characters. Often American distribution companies won't be granted these merchandising rights which is a long term financial poison to their interests. And when you look at a company like Bandai Namco, their main business is toys - they're in fact using the anime shows as commercials to sell everything from Gundam model kits to video games.


Lastly anime fans should also realize that anime like any other form of entertainment is driven by the mega hits which carry everything else that's being done. So "the industry" is less about the genre of Japanese animation itself and more about blockbuster titles that open the doors to a new generation of fans. What has always driven anime in the United States has been those breakout titles that come along every few years - from Astroboy in the 60s to Naruto today. There is no proven formula for a hit show, but it always involves someone taking a chance on something fresh. So if you're seeing anime having a hard time right now it's because with a recession people are willing to take less chances and order "more of the same". But as a long time anime otaku I've got faith that it always just a matter of time until the next big thing happens.


Credits

Michael Pinto is editor of fanboy.com, publisher of anime.com and creative director Very Memorable Design. His professional client experience includes work for MTV Networks, Sesame Workshop, Scholastic Media, PBS Kids, and Time Inc. His otaku credits include founding the Star Blazers Fan Club in 1981 and helping to organize the first anime video room at Lunacon '83.


Images (c) Yumeta Co. (from Animation Runner Kuromi)


So what do you think? Should I rename the "US Anime Indusry" concept page?

bakatanukion May 8, 2009 at 6:38 p.m.
I certainly get the point of the article, and it was a good read, but I don't think anyone is actually considering the work of R1 distributors on the same level as the Japanese creators. It is just a handy way to refer to that which is related to the domestic licensing companies and all that is involved with that.
HeeroYuyon May 8, 2009 at 7:20 p.m.
His argument makes sense. Personally I don't care either way, I think it's just a technicality or buzzword so that people know what you're talking about, but I can understand why calling it that would be technically incorrect. Then again, calling Type-Moon a company is technically incorrect (they're a label for Notes Inc.), and calling black people African Americans doesn't make sense since you don't see me calling myself "Italian American" or anyone else for that matter, and ...well...you get the idea. Things don't have to always be technically correct.
Gundampilotspazon May 8, 2009 at 7:52 p.m.
I've had this argument with another Anime Blogger about a year ago. The argument involved him believing that as anime fans we have the duty to promote the American "Anime Industry" and my rebuttal was that now the internet is here the licensers have been obsoleted. The heroes of the licencing companies, like Greg Ayres, have been hailed as defenders of copyright. But what they are just desperately trying to hold onto thier jobs in a dying market. It's clear that now that we are entering a global market thanks to the internet the original animators don't need a third party to handle the translation and distrabution in the United States, or anywhere else. I look forward to the days when I can buy anime and merchendice directly from the original companies.
Count_Zeroon May 8, 2009 at 7:56 p.m.
With all due respect to Mr. Pinto - this whole thing comes down to a matter of Semantics. I see no reason to stop using the term "US Anime Industry" to reflect the inter-connected web of companies which make their income around the licensing, localization, translating, dubbing and subtitling (where applicable), sales, and distribution of anime and manga in the US (and Canada). To simply call them Anime Importers* would be to understate the amount of work that goes into that process, and also risks confusion with the companies which simply import the raw DVDs, and manga from Japan, as well as those who import figures - which, by the very nature of the beast, do not require the same amount of back-end work before they get into the waiting hands of consumers in North America.

If anything, I would say that the "US Anime Industry" is too focused, and (due to Canada being within the same region code, thus allowing DVDs from US anime licensees like Funimation, ADV, and Viz to be sold in Canada), and due to some Dubbing companies being based out of Canada, the "North American Anime Industry" would be a better name.

*Oh, and Mr. Pinto, if you have a suggestion for a name that would adequately reflect the amount of work that goes into an Anime DVD release in the US, and is specific to Anime, I would be happy to hear it.
Gundampilotspazon May 8, 2009 at 8:14 p.m.
@Count_Zero : I don't think that Michael was trying to say that the importers don't do a lot of hard work. However, in the end they are still doing work with content that belongs to someone else. But they are not in the business of making anime. They are in the business of distributing and selling plastic disks. It's not an "anime" industry. It's a media industry.
RedRoseson May 8, 2009 at 11:26 p.m.
As many have already stated, people just use the "American anime industry" for easy labeling. I'd like to think most anime fans know the difference between what companies do here versus what anime studios do in Japan.

It's like comparing people who are into videogames, anime, and manga versus the more "normal" people. How do you label people who aren't just into those type of entertainment? Yes, it is odd to call people not into those hobbies "normal" but it's easier for the sake of labeling.

The blog itself was a nice read but due to laziness, I like to label things easy and quick. And plus, I would not know an alternative way to call these American companies. It may sound discriminatory to some but people could just be a bit too sensitive? It's purely based on a person's perspective.
Lunarmothon May 9, 2009 at 10:36 p.m.
As many have commented before me I will just point out that Mr. Pinto just have given just food for thought. And, that I believe that the term "American Anime Industry" dose fit it definition of Industry. They are companies that does sell product regardless if that product is imported or not.
omoon May 10, 2009 at 5:41 a.m.
Maybe I should call it North American anime non-industry :3

Seriously though, I don't know who's taking risks or what (I would hardly say Naruto or One Piece are such risk takers artistically) but in the information age, manipulating and distributing information is a trillion+ dollar industry. Google, for example, doesn't generate content either... My problem with Pinto's post isn't the semantics but the fact that it's using an obsolete idea to give props to the real grunts out there.

There is no proven formula for a hit show, but it always involves someone taking a chance on something fresh.

I don't know, there are a lot of hit shows based on recycled things.
NovidAnonon May 11, 2009 at 10:36 a.m.
I Thank Mr Pinto for his comments. Now the issue wether or not there is sort of an industry, I never use the term. I call them the Dubbing Franchises. That being said sir (and I can call you sir because you have worked during the good times of MTV and PBS Kids, Sesame Workshop when it wasn't filled with Elmo and the like and Time when it had Life), a lot of your words do ring true - however i cant see Viz or Bandai making it an easy transition to this digital age. When it comes down to it though - this "down period" as you call it doesn't fit other models. Ill get to that in a moment.

But to compare Bandai to say a Pixar and say their in the same business is a bit hard to swallow. Pixar/Disney have to deal with Unions (mostly TAG, SAG, and WGA) and since the unions don't really get along the Corps use the weaker Unions. Japan's system has one very loose union and as you said before, 90% of these folks are freelancers. But both Industries only have a few TV hits (the main 5 in Japan and once in a while a newer type series, Family Guy in the states) and the movies are either hit or miss. 

Amid Amidi made a comment on cartoon brew some time ago (in which PBS Kids Co-Chair Linda Simisky works and does a guess blog from time to time) that it has been long since time that animators and animation production companies move to an automated production system not all unlike the way they do manufacturing in the states and elsewhere. Somebody has to make the tool (there are several in the works) and connect them to other tools. This will get certain aspects faster and bring the cost of product lower. Now heres the problem - will the final product look beautiful? In the end of the day - it may not matter. We went through childhood with limited animation and the biggest animated series go into the HD age with Limited Animation for the most part. The issue has been does it make money and can it get a fan-base. I go forward to say that in some cases this will free Doga's issues when it comes to product - but it cause many problems because in 2 to 5 years you would have made more product than networks or stores to sell them. That would lead into another correction.

The wisest thing is to use this on the products that needs limited animation (i.e. many non action series) - such like K-On and the like. The manga authors might bitch about it - but the author does gag/ slice of life manga and he/she cannot expect the same type of animation that say Transzor Z or Eden does or needs. The Otaku get what they want, The Manga Author get what they want and everybody's happy.

As where it comes to repacking anime, this is where i kinda disagree with you. I think sometimes Funi, Viz, Bandai get ahead of themselves. You might say that 4Kids didn't do a bang up job when it came to One Piece, but i believe that whole issue was the thing that exposed the problem with the dubbing franchises - the three companies I mentioned above maybe fan friendly, but their not US friendly. You worked in the American side of the Industry before so you know how it works. And its almost amazing to me that you want Viz and Bandai to do day and date TV and Internet airings or something close to it in the future. Sadly, i disagree with you and it has nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with promotion. For all the crap Saban has gotten, Digimon was well handled franchise, and for all the Crap DiC got Sailor Moon was a big time franchise but it never reached mainstream (it was very close) and for all the crap 4Kids got Pokemon was one of  Anime's greatest franchise for nearly 3 years. These where the folk that brought anime to the fold and to bite the hand that feeds isn't good business wise nor in life. 

The problem was that Funi, Viz  and most other Anime dubbers mostly did not diversify - they couldn't because they would be would be called Union busters from TAG and the like and get disrespected by the Animation intellgenia. In the end of the day though the successes far outstripped the name calling.

The real problem i feel is that there is no JJ Abrams nor Seth MacFarlaine in the dubbing franchises that can speak the same language of the Executives and the rest of Huluwood because as much as Huluwood uses Doga's tricks and types, they refuse to admit this and even worse refuse to state that they smatter their love of the franchises in their movies and TV shows (I.e. There is only 8 to 10 truly american shows based on American and European ideas, archetypes and tricks - 24, House, Fringe, Lost, NCIS, Mentalist, Lie To Me, all of the CSI's, all of the Law and Orders at times Gossip Girl and 90120 the rest are Spanish based - Ugly Betty and or have Anime's archetypes). 

I also believe that Toonami had the right idea and made these dubbers a hell of a lot of money, it would be wise that these dubbers follow the Toonami model - and have there bigger based franchises stand alone and have the smaller episode, smaller series be on that model. This way they can figure out which smaller franchises they need copies for and to be branded by that model. Everybody recognizes Toonami but nobody recognizes (mainstream wise) Tenchi Muyo etc. 

And the thing that has also hurt the dubbing franchises has been the merch. They thought that DVD's were the way to go and they are wrong. Bandai isnt fucking stupid. The fans need a keepsake of the franchise they like. They need to work with the Toy Makers and Advertisers and promote their franchise. When Sailor Moon had their second run on Toonami -  the advertisments were for the plush toys - why? Because Toei had to make money. The same way with the trinkets.

Its been high passed time that the dubbers need to work on the Physical, Advertising and Social side of working with TV industry and not always given what the fans want because the fan base wouldn't be here without those three companies i mentioned paragraphs before. And until they do - and treat Crunchyroll as nothing more than a Fad and Ponzi Scheme, then when and IF the Japanese companies decide to mark there own territory - there never gonna make not even a dime because they don't know how the TV business works in the states nor how the advertising works. There is more to say but I got other things to take care of, but I thank Gia for giving you the opportunity to speak.

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