Thursday, April 29, 2010

Response to the Bang Zoom and Yawara Situation

I wasn't going address this until the end of my Anime Industry article series but with Astronerdboy currently reviewing Urusei Yatsura and just because I want to get my opinion out there before too much time passes.

To backtrack, earlier in the week the CEO of Bang Zoom, Eric Sherman released a controversial article blaming anime downloaders for the decline of DVD sales. He then went on to announce the Bang Zoom was retiring from dubbing anime in 2011. For those of you not in "the know" Bang Zoom has dubbed many of CLAMPs works including Card Captor Sakura Movie 2, Chobits, X TV, and Magic Knight Rayearth. Outside of CLAMP they dubbed Samurai Champloo, Haruhi Suzumiya, Rurouni Kenshin, and Gurren Laggan.

Now let's clear the air here, Bang Zoom is located in Los Angeles. There is more than one dubbing company in Los Angeles including Studiopolis (Digimon, Naruto, Bleach) and Animaze (Cowboy Bebop, Ah My Goddess Movie) and various others that are still active and use the same pool of actors. Bang Zoom is like, the cheaper version of Animaze. It actually makes sense that they are not dubbing anymore. Their biggest employers, Geneon and Bandai, have encountered issues. The former going under and the later downsizing and limiting the number of dubs they do. Funimation has been helming the industry these days and they have their own dub studio. Then there's the fact that Bang Zoom hasn't had that much presence since Geneon called it quits. While I've been a big fan of their dubs I do admit they lack the naturalness of many of Funi's dubs and often times come off more "manufactured" like safe casting where you know X actor will do Bishonen voice Y. Still, big loss.

I'm far more reactive about Animeigo's being unable to license the rest of Yawara. Behind the admission that Bang Zoom is retiring from the anime industry this is a bigger slap in the face. Think about it, unlike Geneon, ADV, Bandai, Viz, and even Funi who always try to get into the newest fad Animeigo has always been the underdog of the anime industry. Next to RightStuf/Nozomi they have always aimed for series that had small niches of popularity among the anime fandom. It wasn't about the BIG series that everyone was into but the smaller quality stuff that went under everyone's radar. It was this type of dedication that allowed them to finish Urusei Yatsura after taking so loooong to release the series. It helped that they put out the remainder of the series during the height of the anime boom but they always had the patience to see things through with their licenses. So to hear that they cannot get the rest of Yawara is really a red flag about the state of the American anime industry. It's one thing when the anime companies that try to hard mess up, but when a small company has trouble securing the rights to something that is NOT good.

In the end this leaves me pretty numb, but I get why things are happening the way they are. My thing is if companies like Nicklelodeon and Disney are putting investments into keeping anime on TV there is "something" there BUT at the same time with anime having a more online presence through legal streaming (think Galaxy Epress 999 on Crunchyroll) DVDs have become more of the "middleman" and if that is the case it make sense they are gradually being phased out.

I will go into more detail about this when I finish my anime industry series but thought I should put some thoughts out there.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 3: The Anime Boom Era Part 2 : They Got Those BOOM Anime Babes That Make Me Think The Wrong Thing, Toonami Era

After doing some research (thank you Wikipedia), I decided to go on about how Toonami heralded the Anime Boom era. To me, Toonami (and later Adult Swim) were more or less the “anime channel” for the everyday man. In its early incarnations, Toonami was a kind of “retro haven” for classic cartoons that aired in my childhood. The standouts being Thundercats and Robotech. Toonami was actually my first exposure to Robotech, which eventually led into me getting into Macross. Around 1999, Toonami caused two major events. After airing the reruns of both Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon, they pioneered their anime original status by resurrecting both series. It was here that DBZ earned its newfound popularity that made the series almost as iconic as it was in Japan. While Sailor Moon never received the same attention it was able to air the remaining three movies, the remainder of the second season as well as the following two seasons.
After this move, Toonami began to invest in more anime series. They brought Ronin Warriors back on the air in reruns, they resuscitated ReBoot (yeah, not anime but given how the later seasons turned out definitely aiming at the same fan base), and then the crowning achievement Toonami became the home of GUNDAM! Selectively airing Gundam series based off of popularity we got Gundam Wing (2000), Gundam 0079, Gundam 0080, Gundam 08th MS Team (all 2001), G Gundam (2002), with things winding down with Gundam Seed (2004). Gundam Wing also, seemingly, set up the existence of Adult Swim by having uncut airings of the series during Toonami’s Midnight Run.
Throughout the early 2000s, Toonami continued to expand by giving public exposure to much anime including the Tenchi Franchise and Outlaw Star. It also caused a few phenomenon’s to happen. The first one was airing Big O. Big O apparently did so well on Toonami it convinced the Japanese studio to commission a second season. The second event was Dragon Ball FINALLY getting its proper 143 episode run on TV. What really made things excellent was years BEFORE it got a proper DVD release CN was the only place to see the re-dubbed first 13 episode of the series.

The crowning moment of achievement for Toonami was the acquisition of the Naruto anime series in 2005. The series was a “golden child” for Toonami but it also was the last great hurrah of Toonami as things went downhill gradually after this year and the anime recession began claiming victims.

Still, Toonami played a major roll in giving anime a lot of exposure during the Anime Boom Era.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 3: The Anime Boom Era Part 1: The Golden Era Begins

THIS. For me, this was a Golden Era for American anime fans. Instead of jumping right into the article I think this era needs a little bit of an introduction into what was going on at the time.
Now everything that had happened before was like the bubble was expanding. It’s 2000, a new century (yeah, yeah 20001 is the REAL new century but bear with me). Going down the list here’s where all the anime companies were at:

Viz-Continued to release manga in flipped comic book form, they started to release Dragonball and Dragonball Z in Japanese format as an experiment. By this point they had released a good chunk of Ranma and was on the 4th season of the TV series, they had less success with Maison Ikkoku which they only released 1/3 of the series before putting it on hiatus. They also continued to release various anthology magazines to get exposure to more different types of manga, at the time their currently anthology was titled “Animerica Extra”.

Funimation- They had started releasing their in-house dubbed Dragonball Z videos with mixed reviews and were in discussion with “a certain network” for a revival of the franchise on TV.

Disney- Had two Ghibli films dubbed. A “certain media format” would result in them releasing one of their movies with a subtitle track.

Pioneer- Was one of the most thriving anime companies in the US due to the popularity of Tenchi Muyo, El Hazard, Fushigi Yugi, and Armitage. They were beginning to jump onto the TV series wagon with stuff like Lain and various other AIC shows.

ADV- Neon Genesis Evangelion had completely revised them as an anime company. They started to put out more TV series and got gradually better at dubbing. It was around this time they were putting out Sorcerer Hunters, Those Who Hunt Elves, Nadesico, and basically any thing an anime club has viewed in the last year.

Media Blasters- More on the map with their release of Magic Knight Rayearth.
Animeigo- Continued to trut out a volume of Urusei Yatsura once or twice a year, with the occasional release of something that would prevent them from completely falling into obscurity (Oh My Goddess, You’re Under Arrest, Bubbllegum Crisis, etc.)

Tokyopop- Remember that AWFUL magazine they released that contained the Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth adaptation. Nothing good could come from that…riiight? Just so you know this would eventually become Bandai! Started a new line of videos (remember in the big clamshell cases) of some popular series like Saber Marionette J, Escaflowne, Clamp School Detectives. Oh, and they also finally brought Gundam to the US with the first three movies and this little new series called…Cowboy Bebop.

4Kids- Because of the success of Pokemon they invested in another show called Yu-gi-oh, and then they began to hunger for the taste of the dark side.

Now I’ll leave the article off here for today but as you can see a lot of the big names in anime were doing a lot of things and for those of you who know where a lot of these companies are going to end up it’s kind of funny to see the foundations for where they were going to go.

Up next I’m going to discuss how Cartoon Network and the prospect of DVDs changed things.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 2: The Pokemon Era Part 2: Animania, the Dub Haters Club, and Anime Takes Theaters By Storm…Temporarily…

Despite Carl Macek's unfortunate passing the show must go on...

I’m gonna rewind the clock for a bit to give you an idea of what type of anime I was into during my college year pre-Pokemon Boom and how my college anime screening club Animania made me sick of their anti-dub stance. During my first year my exposure of Fushigi Yugi (subtitled) finally took head and I got into the entire series. Toward the end of the year I also got into Galaxy Express 999 (thanks to Viz dubbing the movies…WHICH NEVER GOT A DVD RELEASE!). My second year expanded my tastes as, along with Pokemon, I officially got into Slayers (dubbed), Key the Metal Idol (dubbed), Utena (dubbed but later switched to sub, dub vs. sub article explains it all), Rurouni Kenshin (subbed, but got into the dub during the DVD era). The reason I’m mentioning what language I got into these series is because I want people to get an idea of how I get exposed to anime but to tie into the next part of my exposure.

As stated, the University of Michigan anime club Animania had a very strong anti-dub stance at the time. What I mean by this is, I can understand if an anime club chooses to screen all their shows in Japanese and that is fine, but when I was watching stuff at Kodocha and Manna Anime they never went out of their way to put down the existence of the dubbed version of a show. I have to admit, this was all pre-Cowboy Bebop where dubs were still not solidified as being good but still I don’t think you have to snipe on the English version of a show EVERY TIME you want to show the Japanese version. During one of their suggestion polls I made an anonymous remark that maybe they could tone it down and focus more on what made the show good in general. I believe they made a public announcement defending that by showing the Japanese version they were giving anime fans the closest thing to how the series should have been seen. Oddly enough, the dub bashing stopped after they made that statement.

Animania, did however got me into Irresponsible Captain Tylor that year (1998) and Cardcaptor Sakura the following year. 1998-1999 is the year that began building the foundation for the Anime Boom. Disney began dubbing the Ghibli Films starting in 1998 with Kiki’s Delivery Service and then the following year released Princess Mononoke in limited release in theaters. 1999 is also the year I got into Digimon, the series often accused of being “a Pokemon rip-off”. Digimon had a lot of things that Pokemon did not, I got into the series during the popular Digimon Adventure (Season 1) “Eighth Child Saga” which drew me into the realistic settings and the fact that characters actually have tragic backstories and DIE! I mean, I was still into Pokemon at the time but Digimon was a far more dramatic show. Later on that year would see the release of both Pokemon: The Movie which had a series of “build-up” episodes in the television show before the release of the movie (ironically we actually did this better than Japan who made said episodes AFTER the movie came out). From what I can tell Pokemon was the highest grossing anime movies released and this set up the upcoming Anime Boom era (and just so you know, Digimon was the Sixth Highest which was just below Spirited Away…which got an Academy Award).

R.I.P Carl Macek (1951-2010)

You know, in the last few entries I mentioned a man by the name of Carl Macek who was responsible for bringing many anime, including Robotech, to America. Sadly he passed away today because of a heart attack.

My personal reaction is just of shock. In the midst of me writing about my history with anime it seems almost ironic one of the key figures passes away in the middle of my blog writings. You can say a lot of things about the man but he was one of the main reasons anime was pioneered in the US, and his passing such a great loss.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 2: The Pokemon Era Part 1: Wizzywig and the Pokemon Phoenix

Well I’ve already went through the VHS Era which covered the majority of my high school inauguration into anime through my early college years. The reason why I define this era as the “Pokemon Era” is because this Pokemon created a rebirth of anime on TV (as well as resurrecting the popularity of the Nintendo Gameboy) that led into the big Anime Boom that dominated the early 2000s. Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z had a marginal degree of niche popularity but it wasn’t enough to make anime significant in the public’s eyes. But before I get into Pokemon I wanted to bring up an important aspect of my growth as a anime fan, Wizzywig Collectibles.

These days Wizzywig Collectibles has descended into a Japanese gimmicky store that sells the likes of Beerchan T-shirts, Japanese Nintendo merchandise, fluff pillows, and candy and it was that way during its humble beginnings but there was a period of time where Wizzywig was the definitive place to rent anime VHS/DVDs from as well as buy various anime related paraphernalia (calendars, figures, posters, and the like). Before Pokemon aired on TV, Wizzywig opened up a store just down the street from my dormitory on the University of Michigan campus. Gradually they decided to start anime rentals and many hard-to-find series (i.e. Urusei Yatsura pre-DVD) became available to me through their rental program. Wizzywig played a humongous role in my continued love of anime fandom as I no longer had to commit to buying a series to see what it was like. It’s rare that an anime fan (during those days) could test out a series without committing to it so this was a humongous blessing.

The second blessing came in the form of Pokemon airing on US TV, as stated before Sailor Moon and DBZ only made a slight scratch in advancing the popularity of anime in the US. Pokemon, OTOH, was like the second coming. Much like Power Rangers that came before it the marketing of the Pokemon name was a phenomenon in and of itself. It was kid-friendly, pimped by Nintendo, and engaging. Now of course my history with anime guaranteed that I was going to be into the series and I can actually vouch that I’m a rarity in that I got to see both the Japanese version (thanks to Wizzywig having a Japanese copy of the first VHS tape) and English version of Episode 1 on the same day. I was impressed how outside of Misty (Kasumi) slapping Ash (Satoshi) almost nothing, including music was altered from the US broadcast. Of course, over time 4Kids would get worse with such things but during that time they actually were doing a better job than the English versions of DBZ and Sailor Moon.

I recall that even my very Japanese specific friends applauded how Pokemon took risks (the episode where Pikachu and the others were separated from their masters and the majority of the episode was subtitled to translate the Pokemon speak) with their format. The fact is, Pokemon was a major event for anime fandom and video gamers. On the anime end it’s popularity opened a door for companies wanting to license more shows to show on public TV. The show proved that anime could succeed and thrive on television in a way the previous efforts could not. Even it present day it’s one of the few anime shows that Cartoon Network had not dropped because it has the financial backing to support it.

This has a dual effect of sorts, on one hand it gave the opportunity for the growth of anime in the US. On the other hand it spearheaded the very things that would eventually lead into the big anime recession. Nevertheless, for now, Pokemon made anime something that, possibly, gave it a stronger presence here than even its home country.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 1 Final: Where I Stand on Dub Versus Sub an Extended Commentary

When I wrote the original draft for this article I felt something seemed “off”. I realized that going into this aspect of anime fandom there is no right answer. How can there be a correct answer when it all comes down to preference, and perception? Instead I rather use this article to expand upon my personal tastes and why I did not subscribe to the seeming “hive mentality” on anti-dubs back in the day. I want people to know going into this that this is the way I choose to watch and be entertained by anime and it in no way should influence others to take my position. I’m not arguing for or against since I think both sides have valid points but in the end it is completely personal choice.

That being said, I guess you could call me a “dubbie”. Even while writing this article I’m currently watching the English version of Sgt. Frog (Keroro Gunsou) which has gotten much controversy for its “punched up” script and constant ad-libing. It’s kind of funny since it was the dub that got me into the series, then the manga, and just earlier yesterday morning I was watching the first movie (thank you, You Tube) in Japanese and I didn’t find the differences so jarring that I could never watch the dub again. Yes, the characterizations have a harder edge in the dub but thanks to DVDs I could always switch to the Japanese anytime I felt like it. But I don’t. Because I enjoy the dub. This is what it has always been like for me as an anime fan. I never say the English version is “better” because in many cases the Japanese version is, at least, more consistent in terms of acting, seiyuu’s, and overall production. Doesn’t stop me from watching dubs. Unfortunately, when some fans go into how I enjoy a flawed product or an inferior version I tend to get defensive. It’s hard to argue when the ugly truth is if you watch a show in one language and get used to its presentation it’s difficult to watch it in another language without things seeming off. This has happened to me on many occasions whether I start watching a show in Japanese or English, either way there’s a “language lag” where it takes me some time to get used to a different performance. A lot of anime fans tend to take this as a blanket statement that all dubs are bad and therefore anime should only be watched in Japanese. What I discovered is if you look at a dub as how it stands on its own versus how it compares to the Japanese version you tend to get a different reaction. But, once again, this is just my viewpoint. Because there are people out there who are just uncomfortable with the concept of anime being dubbed, period.

My fascination with the anime dub was pioneered by my love for Ranma ½. During this era outside of Ranma the only other prolific company was Carl Macek’s Streamline and U.S. Manga. Their dubs for stuff like Akira, Fist of the North Star, Project A-ko were just appalling. Typical dubs during those days would be a combination of bad voice directing, overacting, under acting, wooden delivery, wrong sounding voices, no matching to lip flaps, bad scripting, and very little consideration for the source material. Because of these factors, I could understand the fan base’s cynicism towards dubs initially. The problem was that as dubs got more creative, better, and improved the reputation stuck and only recently has receded.

Now, outside of Ranma ½, as I delved further and deeper into anime fandom I noticed that the dislike of dubs (this is completely from my perspective) seemed rather blind and not very critical. One time I remember during a break at Manna Anime someone accidentally put an LD (laserdisc, think DVDs shaped like records) of Tenchi on the English side for like 5 seconds and everybody freaked. I didn’t get why because the few seconds I heard didn’t sound horrible. Going back to the whole “hive mentality” deal, I really felt strongly about forming my own opinions on what was good and bad and determined that all dubs deserve a chance to be viewed.

This does not mean I love anything dubbed. Two series, in particular, I thought were “bad” dubs initially and I didn’t change my opinion about them change until the DVD era where after seeing them in Japanese so many times I decided to give them another shot because there were a few things that intrigued me about some performances. Those dubs are Neon Genesis Evangelion and Maison Ikkoku. If an average anime fan asked me what language these shows should be watched in my default response would be Japanese, but if a fan seemed open minded enough I would suggest that whatever language they choose if it doesn’t bother them then continue in that language. Eva’s dub was an interesting case because it’s what I categorized as an “evolving dub”, a dub where things aren’t very polished in the first episode and improved gradually as the series goes on (MI, Bleach, Death Note, Naruto, DBZ, and Escaflowne all fall in this category). Evangelion was the dub that seemed responsible for transitioning ADVs dubs from “meh” to good as all the dubs that came from that company post-Evangelion where far more thought out and polished. For Maison Ikkoku it was a simple case of just turning my brain off and watching the dub and at some point, I was so absorbed in the story I forgot I was watching it dubbed.

The other aspect of dubs that is more of a guilty pleasure of mine is dubs where they don’t follow the Japanese script at all and just make up their own show. If you ask why, the simple answer is “’Cause it’s funny!” while the more complex answer is “Because I want to spite all those pro-Japanese fans by liking something they would naturally hate!” Now I already gave Sgt. Frog as an example, and to be honest, its dub changes are mildly tame since it more or less is just a more Americanized slant on what was already present in the Japanese version. The earliest example of the “punched-up” dub can be traced back to the early Saban days of anime dubbing with the show Samurai Pizza Cats (pictured above). The show was basically one big lampooning parody with an English script that was remarkably witty, accurate or not. Often times you would have characters being very genre-savvy, constantly breaking the forth wall, and having extreme personality makeovers…and it all worked. While you could argue that all dubs on TV fell into this category Robotech (at least the Macross part), Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon attempted to keep most of the elements of Japanese version (albeit very Americanized) while SPC just went in a different direction. There were quite a few TV dubs that followed suit like 4Kids Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E, Mon Colle Knights, and a few others I can’t quite rack my brain about. The second movement of dubs like this came in the form of a man known as, Steven Foster. As ADV became a more prolific company their dubs were divided into two categories, ones that accurately represented the Japanese version and then the ones that if you put on the subtitles you would have a case of “How They Lied-O-Vision!” The “HoTLOV” dubs tended to be helmed by this individual who took a fairly innocent show and turned it into a pop culture savvy (which would end up dating itself in a few years), potty mouth talking, and personality altering gag fest. Some of the dubs “tainted” by this man include Those Who Hunt Elves (mainly the first season), Orphen (same), Saiyuki, Steel Angel Kurumi, Sorcerer Hunters, and Cromartie High School. This all culminated in his dubbing “project” Super Milk-Chan. This show ended up being his own little personal soap box as the DVD release was a kind of ADV voice actor skit show with the anime being interplayed between skits. The DVD itself contained two versions of the show the one I mentioned with an actually funny script then another disc that contained a direct translation of the Japanese version. Ironically it was the later that had a run on Adult Swim, instead of the former which fit their format better. His last big project was the dubbing of Ghost Stories. Cliff notes version, Japanese version was a Scooby Doo-esque kids show the English version would give South Park a run for its money (one episode involved a teacher being good with her mouth and doorknobs…yeah…). While Steven Foster has been more or less quiet these days this tradition has continued in the Funi dubs of Shin-Chan and Sgt. Frog.

Now there are dubs I have very little tolerance for I wanted to cover what shows I not only hands down prefer the Japanese version but some have an English version that is so horrendous I would never recommend it to anyone.

First is Macross: Clash of the Bionoids. Aussie accents, bad editing, and complete rape of Macross: Do You Remember Love? the only thing they got right was the names. Next is the Crest/Banner of the Stars series where the acting was so stilted I couldn’t make it past the first episode without switching the language track. Most of 4kids series I tend not to come down too hard on but I do not know what the hell they were thinking with One Piece, at least Dragonball and Sailor Moon were watchable. Speaking of Sailor Moon, this is a perfect example of a “de-evolving” dub. The first 65 episodes were decent but everything that came after was a gradual descent into crappy with inconsistent performances and no quality control. Then there is the Saber Marionette series which suffers from multiple dubs of varying quality. While stuff like Oh My Goddess can pull this off by always having good performances, this was the reverse and it didn’t help the Japanese version was perfect. I hesitate to put Revolutionary Girl Utena on this list because it actually is a decent dub but unfortunately the performance of a major character and their importance in later parts of the series brought down the whole dub and makes me prefer watching it in Japanese instead. Finally, Urusei Yatsura, hasn’t had one competent dub to save its life. Dubbed 4 different times (Obnoxious Aliens dub, Beautiful Dreamer dub, the international British dub, and the in-house movie dubs) it has never carried over the series humor or characterization (and is just plain‘ bad). A lot of fans consider the Beautiful Dreamer dub is the closest thing to a “good” dub but outside of certain performances the dub is wooden and screams mediocre something the actual movie is not. The British dub is much like the punched-up dubs I mentioned earlier and is actually really funny…if it wasn’t so…English. I do think if Viz’s Ocean or Funimation handled the dub of this series it could have a successful dub but otherwise, no dice.

There is one pro-dubbie stance that I never understood. The whole “I like dubs because it hard to read the subtitles and it distracts me from the visuals.” What?! I don’t know how this argument holds any water. I do think dubs are great for multi-tasking like if you’re on the computer or reading manga or drawing but the whole hard to read subtitles thing is a fairly easy thing to do and I don’t recall having to massively adjust to reading subtitles.

In some cases a lot of Japanese only fans are getting their wish. Most shows aren’t even given a dub these days and with the phenomenon of digital distribution the quickest way to get into a show is to slap a sub on it and watch it on Crunchyroll or Hulu. Still I believe the whole phenomenon of CN/Adult Swim proved that dubs have done their job and there’s no such thing as a show that’s impossible to dub. Also most of my favorite shows are still getting dubs (the Evangelion movies, Slayers, Haruhi, Sgt. Frog, Naruto, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, etc.) so I’m pretty indifferent to whole matter in present day.

Whew. That was a mouthful. However, with that out of the way we will now cover the anime fandom and how it evolved during my college days kicking things off with the Pokemon Era.

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