Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 3: The Anime Boom Era Finale: Con Going Madness and a Harbinger of Things to Come

Blerg. Life stuff. By the end of this week I’m going out of town to my second outing of Acen (Anime Central) and because of my “crazy” work schedule I have very little time to prep for the con (and see Iron Man 2) before I leave. I think I’ll try to wrap up my Anime Industry series before I go but given how I’m beginning the “Anime Recession” era with an article about Abridged Series that doesn’t seem bloody likely.

Oh well, so right now we’re circa 2003-2006, I’ve already gone on about what was going on in the industry but shortly after I graduated college I was invited to a friend to this community college anime con called JAFAX somewhere in the middle of Michigan. JAFAX held two significant points for me, it would be the first con that I cosplayed in (Shishio Makoto from Rurouni Kenshin) and it would be the place where I saw the premiere of the English dub of End of Evangelion (I had already seen the movie in Japanese several time and am still recovering from the mental scars). The friend who had invited me had a sister who was good at making costumes so it was fun getting measured for a tailored costume. I do have to say though that since the costume was a full body suit that thing became a nightmare if I had to use the bathroom. Yesh.

It was around this time period that the whole going to anime clubs thing started to dissipate. You have to think about what was going on at the time, I had Wizzywig to appease my rental needs (by this point that had enough rentals that rivaled my own DVD collection) and I lived in a student co-op (basically a combination student living environment, Smurf village, not quite a dorm and not quite an apartment deal) so I always had anime buddies to marathon stuff with, and with all the companies constantly licensing the new “it” shows going to public anime screenings just seemed futile.

Then shortly after I left the co-ops I met an acquaintance who work at Wizzywig. Suffice to say the bond was short-lived but he did reveal to me how much money the store was losing money and how within the next few years the store was going to be downsizing. Little did I know these were signs of the anime bubble beginning to burst. Similar to companies like ADV, Wizzywig’s financial gain relied heavily riding the anime boom bubble so when the wave was beginning to go down so was their assets. First thing to go was the CDs, then the new anime DVDs, then the old anime DVDs, and the kiss of death for me was when they stopped their rental program and liquidated it. After that occurred I found myself going there less and less, then they moved out of their large store to a much more smaller location somewhere near the local mall that was tucked away in some obscure mini-mall building. I recall going there 6 months ago just to buy a shirt for the last anime convention I went to and I was surprised how all they sold were a few anime/game themed nicknacks and that was it. This would be a sign of things to come.

But I’m going to leave off my the Anime Boom era series on a high note and speak of my first BIG NAME anime con experience Anime Central/ACEN. The irony is I’m returning to this con over the weekend so it makes some sense that I’m reviewing what my previous experience was like.

Well, after re-reading my Live Journal to revisit that era I could say that the whole experience was overwhelming. It was like a 24/7 anime party, the environment was really engaging and the experience was awesome. I went with a group of my co-workers (most who kind of split up during the duration of the convention) and despite all the intense line waiting and cosplay picture taking it was fun.

It was here that I got the autographs of Vic Micgona (Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist), Catlin Glass (Winry Rockbell/ FMA, Vivi/ One Piece), Steve Blum (Spike/Cowboy Bebop and Mugen/Samurai Champloo), Beau Billingslea (Jet/Cowboy Bebop), and Chris Patton (Greed/FMA and Sosuke Sagara from Full Metal Panic series).

…and with this we leave the Anime Boom era where dubs evolved, many series were licensed, and anime was very prevalent on TV. Now we enter a darker time where things aren’t flourishing as much, up next we enter The Anime Recession.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 3: The Anime Boom Era Part 4: The Company Wars

Earlier in my articles I stated where each company was at the very beginning of the Anime Boom. Well, Pokemon being a commercial success, Toonami opening up to prospects of more shows, and the birth of DVDs gave companies a HUGE push to get anime out there exposed in as many mediums as possible.

It was here that Funimation transitioned from an American company that simply own Dragonball to a full-fledged anime company. Their first post-DBZ acquisition being the sci-fi series, Blue Gender. Now I gotta say that there was nothing remarkable about this series except that it had the things anime was stereotyped as. In other words, Tits & Action, and Gore. I seriously think Funi licensed this series just to tell anime fans “Hey, look, we CAN release something completely graphic and not flinch!” and anime fans responded positively. Following this was the much more sedate Fruits Baskets but with each new acquisition Funi continued to hire more voice actors and put more thought into their production of their series. To most fans it almost seemed that Funi has a split personality disorder when it comes to everything else they were getting and specifically Dragon Ball Z as we are just NOW getting a properly translated dub through Dragon Ball Kai.

Viz was shifting their own priorities around this time. But I can’t mention Viz without mentioning Tokyopop. It was because Tokyopop pushed releasing very popular manga series in (gasp) Japanese order format and titled it their %100 Authentic Manga line. The longest series being the infamous Great Teacher Onizuka manga, along with that you had a handful of CLAMP titles (okay, pretty much EVERYTHING sans X and what was not out at the time), Fruits Baskets, Kare Kano, Marmalade Boy, the list goes on and on. This was met with much success and forced the other leaders in the manga industry (Viz and Dark Horse) to rethink their release strategy and of course eventually both companies followed suit (weird irony here, which are the ones they are still thriving with a good number of titles in present day?). Viz focused much of their attention on their manga line but the few anime titles they did have they made sure had a strong presence in the media, I’ve already stated Naruto on Toonami which helmed Viz’s focus on Shonen Jump specific titles but I’ll go into the other series later on.

Bandai found its own footing with the release of Cowboy Bebop and the support of Cartoon Network for the majority of their Gundam titles.

Cartoon Network made its own dramatic change, it was around this time that they created “Adult Swim” which started of as a spin-off programming block aimed at specifically college aged to adult audience. This not only revolutionized more mature anime airing in the US but also gave an avenue for American cartoons to thrive *coughfamilyguycough*. At the premiere of their channel on the anime end they aired Cowboy Bebop, airing on September 2, 2001. Note the date. Yeah… unfortunately, because of the 9/11 attacks (which were a true tragedy, and I would like to state I’m not trying to diminish the effect that had on the United States as well as the world) Cowboy Bebop’s initial airing had to have certain episodes removed but eventually the series in its entirety was allowed to air mostly uncut.
Over the years both Toonami and Adult Swim continued to push the envelope in their programming. Adult Swim became the home of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, Inuyasha, and far too many series to name (Wiki it people!).

ADV, OTOH, continued to do their own thing (which would eventually lead to their downfall). Running fresh off of the success of Evangelion they continued to license popular show after popular show. Now I have to be honest here, upon seeing where they ended up as a result, I can say that for every 2 or 3 good shows that the company came out with there was always 11 “fluff” shows that made me think the company was one of the worst offenders of “over saturating” the market. Still, much like Funimation, their dubs continued to evolve (and similar to Funi dubbed in TEXAS where apparently has become a dubbing Mecca of sorts) and helped make them a maintain a strong presence during the anime boom.

Geneon, suffered a similar problem, it simply could be chalked up as they tried to make too many niche titles viable series for the American market. I give them props though, since they acquired the rights to Chobits, Samurai Champloo, and R.O.D the TV which were all pretty popular at the time.

It was also around this time that 4Kids became the anti-thesis to all the companies I listed above. Their success with Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh led them down a dark path where they believed that ALL anime can and should be butchered to fit American broadcast standards. Unlike CN, which walked a thin line 4Kids jumped into the deep end of the crazy pool to make their point. This ultimately culminated into getting the rights to One Piece. Now, to be honest, I specifically only have issue with how 4kids handled One Piece. The adaptation of Pokemon was well done. Yu-gi-oh was a little dumbed down but was still an entertaining show. Sonic X suffered from just being a mediocre show in general (the Japanese version only excelled at certain points). I wish the English version of Shaman King got a proper DVD release, and I LOVE how the handled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But One Piece was an embarrassment to anything that had aired on TV before it. The editing standards that were put into the show (I.e. hammer gun) were just ridiculous and it doesn’t help that 4kids seemed to have no clue how progressively violent the series would get later on despite its cartoony appearance (then again, how many American cartoon companies make this mistake).

However, this was the big deal with the company wars, everybody trying to get their product out and promoted as much as possible. Of course, quite a few of these companies would suffer the backlash of doing this but I will get into that in the later part of my article series.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 3: The Anime Boom Era Part 3: DVDs are the New Hotness, and Fansubs Evolved

The Anime Boom hit like a tidal wave. One of the key things that happened in this era was the prospect of DVDs. To be honest, I don’t exactly recall how I got into DVDs. When popular media shifts abruptly you’re either in the “in the know” boat or you’re not. It’s kind of like how Tina Fey’s character in Date Night (peoplemustseethismovie) didn’t know what flash drives were until her husband, Steve Carrell, explained it to her and she realized she was just using a different name for them. Point is, I began to notice the shift to DVDs in the fandom much like how present day I find myself investing in more and more Blu-Rays. But there were some key things that made me a DVD buyer.

Around my 20th birthday I was given an APEX 5 Tray DVD Player by my parents. The player itself was a bitch to operate. At the time it could barely read any of my discs and often times it would freeze and I would have to restart it. It had long loading times and was just…annoying. My first series I put an investment on the DVD side of things was Battle Athletes Victory. I had already rented the OAV and TV series subtitled from Wizzywig and decided I wanted to own the TV series (having the superior, albeit stranger, narrative). I actually enjoyed the English version and it was fun comparing and contrasting the differences and similarities between the two versions. My second series that transitioned me further into the DVD was Rurouni Kenshin. RK was actually one of the last series I got fan subbed on VHS and I wanted to see how the series faired in English while also having access to the Japanese version. If anything, DVDs were one of the factors that helped mellow out the whole dubs vs. subs debate (the other aspect were dubs actually improving tremendously) since fans no longer had to pick a side. The remaining factor that made me switch over to the DVD Era was the prospect of the PlayStation 2. Around this time I was returning to video gaming after taking a hiatus during the later Nintendo 64 years. My gaming style had changed slightly as I was getting into Role Playing Games (RPGs) because I liked their character development, narrative style, and lush fantasy settings. Final Fantasy 9 was my gateway drug, but about a year later I was so impressed by the Final Fantasy 10 commercials that I invested in a PS2. Suffice to say is that because it could also play DVDs, AND PLAY THEM WELL, it also became my primary DVD player (once again, much like how my PS3 is a glorified Blu-Ray player).

During this era fan subs also began to change, as the computer and the internet were more common by this point many fan subbers went exclusively online and began to experiment with different font types and styles. Also, thanks to the internet they could easily converse and share information with others making the entire process much more efficient. Thus the birth of digital fan subs began to take hold.

On a personal note I should also mention that it was around this time I took a course in college that was titled “Anime: The Study of Animation in Japanese Culture” and it was a fun course. I learned of a lot of the WWII propaganda films, and the origins of Toei before they became “the people who animated Dragonball and One Piece”. It helped put a lot into context of how anime evolved within it’s own culture and how we, as Americans, absorbed it.
If anyone would like a context for how my anime DVD collection grew…

…yeah…that’s just A-M.