Hideaki Anno And The Commercial Future

A recent comment by Hideaki Anno popped up in the news.  Now, this has also caused a slight amount of discussion.  I’ve copied it below if you don’t want to open a new link:

The Japanese animation industry has hit a dead end — it will be tough to escape unless we can make animation without commercial considerations. It may even be too late.

I haven’t seen a direct link to his comments so I’ll address the quote above.  I’m not sure whether or not a later interview addresses the exact same topics (as I note the difference between him stating it’s a dead-end in the quote above and how he refers to anime as breaking towards a recession in the second interview).

So, What Does It Mean?

As I read the quote, a major issue is the broad strokes that Anno speaks in.  I’m not sure if it’s as broad in the original quote as I haven’t seen it but I think it’s key to note how general Anno speaks.  It’s very, and I mean extremely, easy to get lost within the specifics of that sentence.  Pinning down the source of the frustration or the specific notion he speaks to is difficult and tenuous at best.  Anno, as I think most of us know, is a man with a great number of concerns and the one he highlights in his words is a steep task.  Deciphering meaning from such words is subjective at best I think.

My first question is what a “dead-end” represents.  Is it the end of the line?  A withdrawal from a peak?  A recession?  Or is it even about money and size of industry?  That’s a fairly blanket statement and the interpretation, while not a significant aspect to the quote, helps frame the rest of the statement.

The major aspect I’d focus on is whether the concern Anno raises is one of industry size or of commercial creativity.  I feel these are the two major possibilities when describing loss in terms of “dead ends”.  I would also feel though that the former is automatically removed because of the fact that Anno is encouraging anime without commercial consideration.  So, the first aspect is that he’s speaking of a creative dead-end.  Easy enough.

But that leads to an even larger question: what does the dead-end represent?  Is it a catastrophic failure or one of minor loss?  Of course, it’s fair to even question the relevance of such a question, but I’ve added it for completeness’ sake.

The interpretation I see is one of fear.  I think it’s fair to think of Anno as an artist first and foremost.  He’s a man who seemingly lashes out against fans, hates parts of the culture they attach to, and even take shots at some of them in his own productions.  Though he has made his peace with the otaku culture in recent years, he never really appears a fan of it or enjoys it himself…just that he doesn’t bitterly hate it.  The tone of his words combine with this ambivalence to create a real cynical look on Anno still…that he’s still only halfway attached to the field.

Attaching the analysis of his first few words and I think the statement is a very strong and pronounced concern with anime; Anno sees them heading for a cliff and is pressing for immediate action.  The statement at the end, that “it may even be too late”, reinforces that notion.

Personally, this comments here strikes reminiscent of many artistic individuals who look to develop and create new mediums.  The type of individual which never stays around after there is no new artistic merit left (well, in their opinion anyways.  I have different opinions regarding artistic form and originality that I may put in writing one day).  And I think this is consistent with Anno.  This is a man who does not work on a great number of projects and seemingly deliberately pushes everything he has a hand in different directions.  Or at least a more postmodern one.  Heck, I struggle to think of an anime he’s involved in which doesn’t use some bizarre surreal imagery at some point.

Moving on though.  This leads to the second, and probably more difficult to read, question: what are the “commercial considerations” to forgo?  What exactly is he warning about that threatens to suck the anime industry dry of the artistic merit?

And I think this is where knowing Anno’s background comes to assist the understanding.  He and Miyazaki, as I’ve noted previously, are seeming brothers-in-arms in regards to moe character design and their avid hate of it.  It’s unlikely, in my mind, that the statement and the seemingly significant presence of moe characters in modern and current anime remain unconnected.

Of course, this is only one possibility.  As I noted before, there is a further interview where he states that anime’s own success created an industry which is unsustainable economically.  This would stifle show quality and damage the further interest in anime until, in sports terms, it undergoes a full rebuild where it drops into obscurity, re-positions itself into a respectable medium once again, and comes back with a vengeance.

I’d personally be inclined to believe this second interpretation of the two I theorized.  It’s not secret that anime is struggling in the economics.  Salary is pretty much nothing and hours are insane so many of the claims Anno points at check out in a general sense.  The economics just don’t make sense for the animators.  You’re basically in a world where you’re doing your work because you like to do it for far too many hours for far too little money.  You can only expand so far until overworked individuals say enough and you lose talent at a painful rate.

(Side note: It’s actually kind of funny that one of the titles in an articles that I linked to in that Miyazaki article is “The freefall of Japan’s anime industry” given how I reference it in an a post about Anno’s concern with an industry ready to freefall)

And if we read more from this second interview, then Anno’s primarily concerned with non-standard anime production dropping.  I’ll quote a specific aspect that I think highlights his sentiments perfectly:

The lack of staff and finances has gotten to the point that people recognize they won’t be able to keep working as they are now. It’s not the kind of leisurely atmosphere that Japan needs to make animation. We can’t make animation at this scale without economic stability. When you’re working as hard as you can just to feed yourself, you can’t get joy out of your work. You’re more focused on your next meal. That’s the real problem.

[…]

I get the impression that the contemporary Japanese animation industry is running solely on the remaining fuel of the past’s enthusiasm towards animation. We need to be more flexible with our ideas, and think about how we can continue to make work that’s compelling. That’s what my project with Kawakami-san is all about. (source)

I feel a summary of Anno’s argument is: Anime is currently at a state where pursuit of maximum profits in conjunction with the current working conditions of anime employees will strain the network of employees beyond the breaking point of quality.  Anime’s production value will drop and result in uninteresting creations which will drive away fans.  This will create a dead end in anime and force a drop in the anime industry.

Such a statement follows each of the interpretations of Anno’s comments above and is consistent with his later comments.

But…Is It True?

This, of course, leads to the million dollar question which is lovingly listed above anyways.  Is anime heading down a spiral?  There are two moving parts to this question: the industry’s sustainability and the anime quality.

We first must look at sustainability.  There are two ways to observe this.  One is the company profits and the other is industry talent.  Company profits are likely consistent.  I’m not privy to much company information but I do not see many doors closing.  Sustainability at a corporate level, at least from what I’ve seen, is viable.  But what about for each employee?  I think this gets a bit more sketchy.  Anime industry, as I’ve always mentioned, is one of love.  I don’t think losing individuals is the issue.

The question boils down to the quality of anime as more projects come into production.  A helpful user once tracked anime by year.

Following a similar process, here are the data points I added for TV series for 2012 to 2014:

– 2012: 160 TV series
– 2013: 185 TV series
– 2014: 198 TV series

So there’s absolutely no question that we’re hitting unprecedented levels of new anime in production annually.  But the statistic we’re concerned about is employees per project.  And this is a point where I’m stuck.  I can’t find the number of anime employees by year.  And I think this is a major issue.  Since the start of that graph, the anime industry has undoubtedly grown and therefore there will be more employees to work with.  It’s not like there is a drop from 100 employees per project in 1996 to 25 in 2012.

But let’s say for the sake of hypothetical debate that it is true and that industry does not hire employees to keep the number of employees per project constant.  Is this impacting quality?

Well, I think this is a subjective question.  I certainly haven’t seen the unusual and interesting anime from before but I’m hardly a good source and I don’t think my familiarity with all modern anime is strong enough to make a real statement about changes today.

But what are your thoughts?  Are we heading towards an abyss and inevitable decline?  Or is this just the concerns of a man who might not have anything to concern himself with?

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Anime and the World, Part 3: Animated Television

Anime has influenced the greater world of entertainment by its existence. I have previously noted this effect in the areas of live-action film and animated film.  This previous analysis, of course, ignores the most obvious (and in my opinion, the most important) influence: that of animated television.

I broke this post into sections based on the media’s origin area.  This lets us analyze a little further the origins of such development.

Note – A lot of my commentary comes from observation.  As such, I may state incorrect comments…it’s just what I’ve seen from different media.  Discussion is always interesting and I encourage responses if you disagree.

 

South Korea

I’m guessing not too many of you would put South Korea as a major influenced animation.  As an exporter, you would be right.  South Korean originated media is far less common than other major players.  But the influence of the world at large on it isn’t negligible.  South Korea is a well-known animation exporter and as a result imports animation convention from elsewhere.  It’s likely you’ve seen the fruits of their labour too as South Korea animates a great deal of anime and western animation of extremely variant quality.  From the infamous Lost Universe train wreck of animation which infamously accumulated into the Yashigani Hofuru episode (an episode so badly animated that the Korean animated version is no longer considered canon) to parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender to holding contracts with such largely known franchises as The Simpsons, it’s likely you’ve seen South Korean animation before.  Well, the business of animating other group’s works.  South Korean animation, to no surprise, takes from this wide swath of projects.  South Korean animation typically utilizes equal amounts of anime convention and Western animation convention.

This is much easier to observe with examples.  First up is a new-ish series, Hello Jadoo.  I honestly haven’t seen much of this franchise but I’m sure the anime and Western animation influence leaks through screenshots.

I…don’t know what’s going on here.

These frames make the anime influence quite obvious in this franchise.  The super deformed and chibi style proportions, massive visual expression in the face, and very distinct foreground/backgrounds are all very systematic and integrated aspects of anime.  But it isn’t all anime: anime heavily relies on sharp contrasting angles.  You can see that in the first image.  Yet the second image falls more as Western animation.  And, much more to the compare to an anime, the show features simplified hair whereas anime gets a massive and well-known reputation for extravagance in that facial aspect.  Of course, this doesn’t suggest that anime purely lives and dies off complex and intricate hair, but that this is one of anime’s calling cards.

On the opposite end, we have Aachi and Ssipak, a totally not safe for kids animation.

I…uh…what the hell?

Screw it. My sanity just dropped.

These frames, especially the latter, call from Western animation greatly.  Again, simplified hair is a terrific indicator here.  The formation of the character’s mouth and nose as much more visible than in anime, well-known for understating both of these points (heck, the general rules anime style tabletop game named itself Big Eyes, Small Mouth) greatly reflect the Western animation side.  Yet signs such as the first frame also reflect the anime angle (with an image style used to the point of parody).  The mixture creates an interesting result and South Korean original animation works as a hybrid of both systems.

 

“Western Animation” Europe

The title is clunky, yes.  I can’t speak for all Europe’s animation though as I haven’t seen a great side of it.  I’m familiar with the side exported to North America and, as such, will speak to that.

The integration of animated media in Europe deals primarily with borrowing much of the style outright.  I’m not sure I can explain this phenomenon at any level as it always seemed strange to me.  At any rate, the influences are both visual and trope based.  One could consider this almost outright “borrowing” the entire medium of anime as oppose to really merging it with other aspects.  That said, it is never a 100% conversion and differences in style remain.  But, as I contrast later, the amount of anime dutifully brought into their animation, when called, is much greater.

French cartoon Wakfu first came to mind as I typed the above.

I’m pretty sure that orange haired guy’s a ghost. His absolute lack of pupils tells me so.

Not sure if Slayers food joke or bloodlust…

The show highlights that anime styled right right away.  Complex and unusual hairstyles litter those images.  And yet this not the only place where Wakfu keeps those roots obvious.  Character traits frequently note its origin.  The character I jokingly describe as a ghost above, named Sadlygrove, rolls many shonen audience anime together…he’s a book dumb, overconfident, fighter who charges in headfirst.  I’m not sure how many different young male anime protagonists that describes.  Then the character on the far left of the first image, Eva, is an extremely competent fighter who acts as the group’s sanity metre and holds a fairly traditional tsundere personality towards her love interest.  This, again, measures very well against common anime trope convention.

Of even more fame, and of personal connection to my own anime history, are the cartoons created by Marathon Media, another French company.  While Totally Spies their most famous production, I’ll focus on one I’m much more familiar with as I’m Canadian and the show had enough Canadian effort to meet CRTC requirements (also, it’s just a better example in some areas): Martin Mystery.

Marathon Media apparently does crossovers.  This is a Super Saiyan, right?

Marathon Media apparently does crossovers. This is a Super Saiyan, right?

So...um...yeah.

So…um…yeah.

Again, the anime influence should come through clearly.  Marathon‘s original signature style included a visual style very similar to common anime.  The characters reflect a high level of detail to hair, a common eye style (see the first image), and a tendency to turn to super deformed characters at the show’s sillier moments at rates not seen since Rayearth.  The second image has nothing on the rest of the show.  And much like Wakfu above, Martin Mystery utilizes fairly common anime convention for its target audience (younger males): slightly book-dumb hero and an irritable tsundere female lead.  Oh, not to mention a pure love of overplayed emotions such as gushing eyes.

But Martin Mystery also effectively highlights a deviation from the anime style.  It’s small and somewhat subtle but effectively reflects the small deviation these anime-styled cartoons contain.  The first image shows us an outline of a character’s face.  The chin’s style, one which points forward and with a high degree of sharp contrasting angles, is a visual style similar to more Western cartoons.  This actually lightens and becomes less notable in later seasons which indicates a shift towards a more anime specific art style.

To get a strong sense of this level of faithful following of anime convention, I’ll contrast it to American animation.

 

USA

There is a great deal of contrast that animation from Europe exported as “Western animation”.  As I mention earlier, the approach is very different; USA approaches anime with an homage” mentality in mind in contrast to European “borrowing”.  The common aspects including satirizing the convention (such as gratuitous poor lip syncing) and integrating only certain conventions in.  An old example (and I’m sure you can tell by now that I love old examples) comes from Megas XLR.  You know, I feel kind of old as I can name this show very easily.

All the missiles is the best attack ever.

 

I find Megas XLR is the epitome of American animation in regards to anime as it represents the typical treatment of anime in these shows: the show utilizes elements of the style but not it in its entirety.  For example, the premise of Megas XLR is very much aligned with anime.  The basic concept is that the protagonists are defending Earth from alien invaders by use of giant robots.  Mecha in the animated medium is, by and large, still an anime narrative.  I made the description above so general that it actually could describe Evangelion.  Or Fafner.  Or most apocalyptic mecha anime.

But Megas XLR doesn’t take anything else.  It takes a primarily Western setting, namely New Jersey.  Also very evident is its more Western animation-styled art which gets even more evident when considering character designs (well, except for the female protagonist).  It also takes many character personalities with Western blends.  The male protagonist is Coop, a fat slob with no training.  And as far as I can remember, none of the above improve.  His sidekick, if you’d like to call it that, is another unemployed man with no real consistent positive traits.  These are characters fairly distinct from the traditional leading teams compared to anime.  Characters with such traits typically develop out of them, even in comparing a comedic lead.  The standard “lovable loser” that animated shows love tying themselves to shares change between anime and Western animation; the anime protagonist typically develops.  This provides most of the thrust in harem protagonists (and I mean most as there are exceptions) and provides the development of Shinji Ikari, probably the most famous “can’t catch a break” anime protagonist I can imagine.  Now, this difference’s existence could stem from cultural differences as Welcome to the HNK and Watamote provide examples possibly closer to the traditional Western animation, but then I’d consider that Western animation flavours itself in the routine comedy…the repeated episodes day after day.  Either option is quite possible and distinguishes itself from anime, a medium with more fluidity and possibly less episodic nature.

Which, of course, leads us to the possibility of more serious Western animation.  Does such a topic exist greatly?  It’s more difficult to find answers but this standard hybridization seems to exist.  I pulled from Xiaolin Showdown, a program oriented with a slightly-serious-but-slightly-children oriented show.

A similar situation appears where the show only pulls from aspects of anime.  As the second picture attests to, it also calls on the overreaction and visual comedy in anime.  This actually exists as the show’s standout in the regard (from what I recall – it’s been years since I’ve viewed the show).  Yet it also calls on more Western character development.  The characters fall into Western cycles, such as a man who typically doesn’t get upset unless you disturb his clothing, and an arrogant and haughty master of martial arts (and Asian to boot!).

Are their higher target audience examples?  The 10-20 audience typically encompass the focus audiences of the above two shows.  Well, less so.   Unfortunately, Western animation carries stigma of “child things”.  It’s rare and difficult to admit fandom of Western animation as an older individual.  It’s rare to break that stigma and the companies play up on it by rarely, if ever, testing mature Western animations.  It’s difficult to find comparable animation projects to some anime as a result.

Of course, all these rules are by no means hard and fast.  It’s very easy to come up with exceptions.  Franchises such as Avatar (well, the television series) and Teen Titans would contrast against the trends listed above, both being extremely similar in trope usage and animation style to more traditional anime.  Communities tend to acknowledge Avatar: The Last Airbender in this regard though and groups sometimes lump that fandom in with anime fandom.

 

Japan

And as the final topic, I want to bring the topic full circle and discuss how anime’s opening to the world influences anime.  Change in the medium is impossible to deny and it’s unfair to think of anime as only influencing and not influenced by such exchange.  Like many examples above, considering case studies are easier as, obviously, there are still no solid rules or total shifts…just examples.

The most famous I know of its Cowboy Bebop‘s premise, which borrows the Western genre very heavily.  This almost borrows completely from the USA styled semi-borrowing of style; Cowboy Bebop is carefully and meticulously anime in art form but borrows many narrative tropes from anime.  True…it hold enough different genres that one of them must have Western origins, but the narrative of an “old West” space narrative distinctly draws the “old West” part from American culture.

Probably of even more Western animation style though is The Big O.

Remind me to order lots of androids when they come out.

This anime is very unique as it borrows heavily from the Batman franchise. I’m sure it’s plainly obvious in the image above but the male protagonist, Roger Smith, parallels Bruce Wayne in many regards.  Lots of toys, an insanely exquisite car, and a no guns policy.  Yup, that’s pretty much Batman.  The show as a whole is an incredible blend of the two styles, mixing the traditional concepts of anime (such as the female character above, R. Dorothy Wayneright, holding many traits similar to the ever-popular Rei Ayanami) but also giving a heavy Western animation and cultural injection.  Animation certainly borrows from both animation styles, giving Dorothy a distinctly anime image with a lack of focus on mouth or nose to contrast with Roger Smith’s hybrid appearance (borrowing heavily from the studio’s last project of Batman: The Animated Series).  Then there are the aforementioned Batman lines and the film noir influences with many of the artistic choices coming straight from this genre.

And ultimately, this is where I hope anime goes.  These hybrids, these mixtures of cultures, are some of my favourite media ever.  This reaching between styles gives wildly unique results and, while obviously not all of them well succeed, the uniqueness makes interesting results.  Experimentation, such as The Big O above, creates inventive media.

But I digress, this post intends to describe the different ways anime influences the world’s artistic choice in animated television.  The four focuses included animation from South Korea, select Europe (again, only the ones I’ve seen myself), North America, and Japan itself.  The  international exchanges create a straight up direct mixture in South Korea, gets some wholesale borrowing in some European animation, and creates a blend in both North American and Japanese animation.

As this writing project wraps up, I must admit that I never really expected to complete it.  There are so many different rabbits to chase in the discussion that I intentionally limited my writing and length to prevent posts of insane length.  This one is by far the longest (reaching around 2500 words).  I know I haven’t touched on a great deal of subjects here and maybe a further, more detailed discussion comes up in the future.  Until then though, I hope this sparks a little discussion on the influence (and future of) anime.

Anime and the World, Part 2: Animated Films

So, my last post looked at how anime has influenced live-action movies.  This post, following that idea, extends to anime its forces on animated films.  More specifically, how anime directs the direction of animated movies.

One of the major, and probably most obvious, shifts is in the animation style.  I’ll use a simple example: the Disney princesses.  To the unfamiliar, it is simply a collection of the Disney female protagonists.  A chronological ordering of them is below:

Now, let’s consider a couple elements of anime art.  First and most obvious is eye size and style.  Anime is well known for its amazingly large eyes compared to the rest of the face.  While the best known examples worldwide tend to break this habit (coughMiyazakicough), this is probably one of the most iconic aspects of the anime art form.  Consider, for example, the general RPG rulebook Big Eyes, Small Mouth.  It is a game designed to emulate anime and allow tabletop game players a route to role play the anime atmosphere.  The fact that this game book even uses the definition of “big eyes” should be an indicator about how important famous this aspect of anime art is.

Random side note – It actually is kind of fun and recursive when there are rumours that the design of anime characters was influenced by the disproportionate eye size of cartoon character Betty Boop.  But that’s a story for another day.

But why bring this up?  Well, look at the “princesses” above.  We can see a distinct shift in many of the characters drawn since 1989.  You can see a major proportion change of the eyes.  Considering the increased focus attention anime had since that time, it seems a possibility that this style in anime shifted to Western animated films like this Disney franchise.  Of course, this is a jump of logic in that correlation equates to causation. and it is entirely possible that this is just pure and random coincidence.  However, it does seem less likely when the shape of the eyes are also considered.  Another distinct aspect of anime eyes is a reflection of light, often highlighted as a white dot.

I literally picked the first result from searching “anime character”

What interest this brings is the correlation this causes with the animated characters above.  You can see that this is distinctly visible reflection of a similar variety after the long jump in years.  In fact, if you search the original frames of the human characters in Disney’s older animated films, you will find their pupils are fully shaded as oppose to having a slight reflection ala anime characters (again, images were grabbed with really quick Google searches).

I think this subtle shift reflects a major adjustment in the animation style, one that comes from the anime industry likely.  There are countless examples of older anime from between this gap of time which show this distinction.  I’ll just add an example below using Lupin III’s pilot from 1969.  The best looks is probably around 6:44 or 6:45.

Of course, this again doesn’t prove absorption of animation style.  I would suggest, however, that this is a fairly strong case and would warrant further consideration as a vector of communication between anime and English associated animated films.

Conversely, one strongly proven aspect of influence is in outsourced or co-produced works.  This connection would seem obvious at first blush but it is worth mentioning since there are a large number of works which reflect this; there are some examples of animated films released in North America hiring Japanese animation studies for their work.  No where is this more apparent in my mind than the animated rendition of The Hobbit.  I’ve attached a short clip below.  Though the title goes without saying (and seriously, did you NOT expect this to happen?), there are minor spoilers.

Smaug is probably the most anime styled dragon I’ve seen in a while.

Now, what makes this truly interesting and a strong link to me is the studio which worked on this film.  Much of the animation team later worked together in Studio Ghibli later.  There was a strong working relationship between these animators and Rankin/Bass Productions.  The animation of The Last Unicorn was done by the same group.

Another great example of this is the Transformers franchise, which had its iconic first season animated by Toei.  Actually, a lot of Toei’s work can be place here period…most are television shows and would be subject to another post.

Of course, the influences aren’t purely limited to the visual.  It’s important to recognize that, much like the film side, tropes are often carried over for historical reasons.  I won’t rehash that discussion, and as such this post will feel short…but I don’t think it’s worth repeating (that and I’m dead tired right now).

Yeah…this post is short.  I know that.  I think a major aspect which limits the connection between the film side with anime is the focus of most anime on the episodic form.  There are some influences on the movie industry but they are somewhat limited because the singular focus is on Miyazaki’s preferences…him being the singular popular figurehead of anime film.

The next topic, and probably the longest, will focus on how anime has influenced other animated television.

Anime and the World, Part 1: Live-Action Hollywood

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real long series.  These are always fun and interesting things for me to write about.

Anime is a genre which exists on a global stage.  I sometimes call it niche but it ultimately plays with connections to the world.  It influences the world and the world influences it.  But how is it these groups interact?  What does anime send out to the world?  What does it influence?  And how is it influenced by the world?  My focus in this series is looking at these questions for connections between the “world at large” and anime.

First up is Hollywood.  Well, the live-action side of it.  The fabled story of anime’s interaction with animated Hollywood is much longer than I care to type up in a single post like this.  It’s one of the largest groups in terms of economic size.  I mean, it influences most movies you can find in theatres (this goes double in North America).  The concept of anime influencing Hollywood is an amazing thought as it’s almost a self-desired validation for fans: I am a fan of something touching a big place like Hollywood.  Of course, the reaction is much more hostile.  You can find page after page after page of sites claiming that Hollywood is taking pages out of anime’s books.  Now, and this is a story for another future post, I won’t claim that this is my stance; I believe that as we edge towards the future the concept of original works is going to diminish and creating truly original art without copying something else is going to become more and more impossible.

What I will say is that the two are not entirely separated.

The first connection is the very obvious Hollywood anime movie.  I’ll groan with you.  Ugh.

This, as shallow as it is, is one of the most well-known connections between anime and Hollywood.  The premise itself is simple in that it’s live adaptation of the anime.  It’s a simple extension of options for making money.  The premise is tried and true: the anime is popular.  Of course!  Well, as you probably know as well as I do, these movies are pretty much universally terrible.  Hollywood does not do an effective job of translation.  The best example I can give you is the abortion of a movie, Dragonball Evolution.

I’ll give you 5 bucks to bury this movie and all its copies in a fiery lake.

It’s based on the fabled Dragonball franchise, as the name suggests.  This is a lot of source material to work with.  I mean, Dragonball Z is a gateway anime.  A very popular gateway anime for of us who grew up in the mid-90’s at that.  It’s hard to imagine that such a movie would be a disaster, right?  Well, as I’ve hinted to above, it really did end up poorly.  I won’t bore you with the details.  Just let CinemaSins sum it up for you.

So, yeah.  And it’s not like Hollywood’s repertoire past that is much better.  See: Speed Racer, which at best is mediocre.  Or Crying Freeman.  Or Guyver.  Or even movie-based-on-cult-classic-Korean-film-based-on-manga Oldboys.  This is pretty much up there with video game movies right now.

Why is this though?  I personally suspect the problem is two-fold.  First is the issue of budgeting.  Most of these movies don’t have huge budgets.  The biggest of the above worked off of was Speed Racer (120 million), which had a larger budget than all the other movies I mentioned (approximated as about 70 million).  Low budgets likely come from lack of confidence.  I think there’s the same problem here as with most (not all) video game franchise movies: the translation isn’t a sure thing.  The anime may have a huge following, sure, but there’s no proven model for making anime movies a huge success.  We should remember that the funding teams likely know nothing about what they’re funding other than its previous success rate in the field.  And this doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon given the anime live-adaptations out there.  Though, fingers crossed.

Thankfully, anime interacts with Hollywood in other ways.

The second, and much larger field, is influencing directing style.  This field is also much softer and probably more fuzzy in my definition.  Let’s start with an easy one to make this make sense: Pacific Rim.

Every time I look up an image from this movie, all I hear is the theme.

Pacific Rim is probably the best example to look at because its director, Guillermo del Toro, openly admits his influences and points it out as a love letter to the anime he watched as a kid.  From art design to back story to plot, everything done in Pacific Rim has the anime mentality going for it.  Let’s start with art since I love talking about giant robots.  The protagonists use a mecha named Gipsy Danger.  Its weapons are a walking super robot reference facility.  On its chest is a turbine which happens to shoot out massive blasts of energy.  Also, it has rocket powered fists.  It pretty much is a remade Mazinger Z in this weapon layout.  Other mechs contain designs obviously influenced (and then del Toro admitted) by mobile suits, including the Guncannon (Coyote Tango) and Zaku (Cherno Alpha.  Though this one I wasn’t aware of until del Toro came clean).  Heck, this spills into the posters which look just like the anime mecha model kits you buy.

Let’s not forget the narrative either.  The story very much follows the post-apocalyptic narrative that populated anime frequently in the ’80s and ’90s.  To further this thinking, you have a hot-blooded hero who is thrown into the ring with a rookie who does well in practice but is never given a shot.  Both are fairly stock anime characters.  The former embodies almost every stock super robot protagonists while the latter also happens to show many links to the common anime archetype of the Yamato Nadeshiko.

It is so bad that there are anime fans out there claiming that it’s an Evangelion rip off.  That, of course, ignoring the fact that del Toro never heard of Evangelion until he wrapped up Pacific Rim.

But this isn’t even the biggest influence.  No…the biggest is in the invoked tropes.  Every aspect of Pacific Rim is written so it is predictable.  Every little “twist”, from who pilots Gipsy Danger to the durability of the final enemy to the character development in the film are all expected events.  Many run down films for this very point but between marketing and footage it’s clear that this movie’s narrative isn’t serious.  The phrase “you know [x] is going to happen” occurs multiple times in regards to the narrative and that is appears perfectly intentional as the tropes it runs are very close to the ones found in mecha anime, both real and super.  I certainly won’t bore you with the details here as I’m tired and this post is getting much longer than I really can describe for this limited connection, but you can certainly see a description in this article by the Artiface.  And in Pacific Rim, this is entirely intentional.  It’s easy to run down as simple and extremely cliche driven if you’re an anime fan but I feel this is what del Toro intended.  Every cliche is so drawn out that there is no element of surprise.  The movie, as much as it may seem silly to compare, is very comparable to the Transformers franchise as they heavily rely on fans knowing what will happen so that they can purely enjoy the concept of giant fighting robots.  Simple as that.

Pacific Rim is such an easy example to work with because of its obviousness.  Many films draw from the genre but do it in much subtler manners.  TRON: Legacy is a subtler example and focuses on anime character types.  Quorra, for example, is a bookish girl who happens to be absolutely comfortable kicking people around and taking numbers.  I honestly can’t tell you how many times that shows up in anime but let’s just leave it as “lots”.  The graphics are commonly compared to that of Speed Racer.  Take of that what you will but the sequences certainly have a bit of that feel.

So with that example, I’d suggest that the influence of anime on Hollywood greatly comes from this pattern of homages and tributes.  Movies will sometimes copy great scenes from anime and will reflect a great love.  Rarely does this come as heavy and frequent as Pacific Rim but they certainly exist.  I digress though and major issues in terms of transferring stylistic choice from an animated medium to a live one is very difficult.  That’s about as much as I can link the two.  These two fields are fairly difficult to connect since you’re crossing an animation barrier and certain tricks work in each field that flop in the other.  Most live-action adaptations fail fairly hard.  Homages exist and this is probably the biggest influence you’ll see in movies in regard to anime.

So, what next?  That next topic is the neighbour of the live-action Hollywood film…the animated film.

Postulation – Endless Eight

So, yeah.  I was scanning YouTube and one of my frequent stops is GRArkada.  If you don’t subscribe to him, do so.  He’s a pretty cool guy (and a fellow Canuck).

Anyways, he was reviewing the Haruhi franchise, done by Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), and decided to dedicate an entire video on the infamous Endless Eight episodes.  A link to his video is provided below, but for reference, the Endless Eight series is the use of 8 of 13 episodes in the second season around a very minor aspect of the light novels.  In fact, if memory serves, the short story only shows the last move through the loop.  Anyways, the summer is coming to an end and the characters find themselves in a time loop that repeats.  Thousands of times.  Each episode is fairly similar, highlighting the same events (typically) and only being visually different much of the time.  The video also contains GRArkada’s opinion on the matter and it’s worth a good listen to.

Now, this episode sequence is one of the most hotly debated series I can remember.  It not only divided fans in half, but staff.  The video above notes that some of the decision makers hated it.  One point that wasn’t mentioned, and really should be, is that the Voice Actress for main character Haruhi Suzumiya, Aya Hirano, also hated the sequence.  Turns out, the VAs had to redo the lines eight times over as well.  Okay, now tell me YOUR job is menial.

But the question still remains: what exactly is the reason for it?  Laziness?  Insanity?  Obsessive love of the number eight?  An elaborate prank?  I’ll try to address some points that I’ve used to look at this and narrow down what really is meant by this.

1) Each episode was lovingly animated and redone

Anybody who viewed the video above knew this already, but each episode is actually unique.  Every piece of the episode was redone from scratch.  In fact, extra steps were taken to ensure they were different.  That’s a great deal of dedication and expense.  Repeats, such as flashbacks or off model work, are cost saving measures.  This was the effect of a cost saving measure, but without the cost savings.  If it helps, think of the Community flashback episode: the show pretended to have flashbacks to events that happened, but actually had to build the sets for each of the flashbacks as they were never filmed before.  Both cases use money on an event that’s traditionally meant to smooth over a Neon Genesis Evangelion styled budget.  Add in the previously mentioned fact that the VAs had to redo their lines for each episode and we can rule the concept that they were looking to save time or money.

2) KyoAni is very meticulous with their work. 

From my copy of the Haruhi Season 1 DVDs, I’ve taken 3 screenshots and highlighted a few points you might want to see.  Why I’ll explain after you get a chance to view them:

No, not the eyes.

No, not the eyes.

Did I ever mention how much I love drawing in paint?

Have I mentioned my love of the first season’s animation yet? I should.

So, what’s the point of all this?  These are all screenshots from season 1, but reference stories and events that never aired in that season.  They actually do appear later in the series, but in the second season, something that wasn’t a guarantee at the time.  In fact, if you look at the chronological order, the items only appear after their correct chronological appearance time.   In other words, the staff actively took great deals of pride ensuring these little details in the continuity appeared, despite no guarantee it would actually pay off or mean anything.  This is something I don’t see in anime to THIS degree and I think stands to reason that KyoAni planned out the Endless Eight arc with forethought and intent, if the above wasn’t a hint.

3) The Fans Were Expected to Have the Disappearance Arc of the Haruhi Franchise Appear

For many of us older fans, this should be obvious.  However, I’m not sure everyone who has seen the show recently knows this: it seems extremely likely that adding in story from The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, a now highly acclaimed movie which follows up on the story of Endless Eight, was planned for a while.  If you check out Wikipedia’s page on the movie, a major Easter egg on the Haruhi.tv website was planted on a key date in the narrative: December 18, 2007.  This was not too long after the first season wrapped up (Ending July 2006) and not shortly after the second season was announced (July 2007).  Later on, large art releases for the season season of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise were made which focused purely and emphasized the story of the Disappearance Arc.  In other words, I think fans were expecting what eventually became a movie to appear eventually in the second season of Haruhi.

4) The Episodes Aren’t Purely Wasted

I don’t unfortunately have the Season 2 DVDs and am fairly staunchly against pirating non-abandonware, so I can’t show this to you, but the series of episodes seems to highlight something about a key character in the movie, Yuki Nagato.  She’s effectively the most stoic character you’ll ever see in…well, any show.  I mean, here’s probably the most emotive moment you’ll see from the first season:

Okay, I don’t know what you want, but take all of my money. All of it.

Now, Yuki is also a special character: she actually remembers every single repetition of the Endless Eight arc.  And it’s a two week sequence repeated on end.  Now, I’m not sure who else has read Stephen King’s The Jaunt, but typically spending lots of time being unable to really interact with your environment makes you kind of, well, crazy.  This is something that really does come up later on.  But finding a way to express it on a character such as Yuki is really, really hard.  I mean, she does very little and says very little.  The Endless Eight episodes seem to act as a bit of a measure saying “well, you only watched the abridged version.  Eight times.  Try many more”.

5) KyoAni Seems to Have No Interest in a Season 3

Now, it’s only been a few years, but I would hazard that the show is dead in the water at this point.  I’d love to be wrong, as it’s happened to me a few to many times in games and shows dying unnecessarily (most spectacularly: Damn you Slayers!), but KyoAni doesn’t like doing long franchises (most wrap up within 3 years) and there’s a lack of fresh source material.  I would have no trouble imagining that the crew knew they were going out in 2009 for this franchise: in that long span, the author’s schedule started backing up…eventually creating a 4 year gap between books.

However, we do have to consider that there is a great deal the anime seasons and movie didn’t cover.  If KyoAni wanted, they could have made this thing an even bigger cash cow.   One could argue though that the material left out is also too complex for TV.  Though, I think with the recent trend of love in odd scientific thoughts (ex – Virtue’s Last Reward using simplified Schodinger’s Cat), that would not be a problem.

So, where does this leave where I stand?  Well, I think two different problems exist: there’s an argument for both it being an artistic merit sequence and another for making it a bit of a sledgehammer for making the movie a more cathartic experience.

Artistic Merit

One major aspect of this is that KyoAni had money to burn.  By the time they even got to writing the second season of Haruhi, they had money from Full Metal Panic‘s second season, Kanon, and likely have some idea of how popular Lucky*Star was going to be.  It’s not like they couldn’t afford to be a bit eccentric.  Under this hypothesis, we would believe that they felt this show could stand a bit of an oddity and mindscrew.  Unfortunately, the reason why is pretty circular; we have to assume that KyoAni wanted to make the show artistic for the pure reasoning of making the show artistic.  Therefore, they made the show artistic.

Cathartic Experience

This, I think, is much stronger given the above arguments and points.  Here, we assume we have to built pity on Yuki and get a better understanding of her viewpoint.  In other words, the episodes were intentionally planned to fatigue viewers and make them think “oh god, when will it end?”.  This seems almost self inflicted in pain as that means reviews, and therefore sales of product, drops.  Yet, we have to remember that the fans KNEW there had to be the Disappearance Arc somewhere.  And as soon as the last episode in the re-airing ended, a teaser appeared for the movie.  So it seems likely to me that the movie was always meant as part of the package of the second season.

It also seems to me that it was intended to be the grand finale for KyoAni’s work on the Haruhi franchise.  Again, KyoAni rarely seems to like picking up the pen years later.  They completely ignore some arcs in the story which I feel would actually make suitable TV now.  And, heck, I know they know they likely couldn’t top that.

Anyways, thoughts on this are greatly appreciated.  This is one of the most unusual and unprecedented moved in anime, so whatever thoughts you may have, fire away.  It’s an interesting subject to say the least.

Where is the Sports Anime East of the Pacific?

Exams are over and I’m officially a graduate.  It’s time for me to put more work into this website.

So, I’ve always been wondering about this.  Captain Tsubasa, probably the single most iconic sports anime I can name, has been the inspiration of many football players, such as Lionel Messi and Alessandro Del Piero.  There are a large number of quality sports anime, such as Slam Dunk have been some pretty big followings.  Add in the growth of anime in North America to the mix and you’d think some of these shows would really take off.  Heck, Eyeshield 21 is a sports anime about gridiron football.  The show was fairly popular, getting 145 episodes and manga generating 20 million in sales.  Yet despite the United States of America being the only country on earth which has its most popular sport being gridiron football, it never took off.  All it got was an interrupted release via streaming and quietly released DVDs.  And I know hindsight is 20/20, but I must disagree with AnimeNation’s old news blog post that sports anime are simply not aware of the genre.  10 years and still extremely limited penetration into the market means something is up.

What gives?

Guest writer for another blog (Robert’s Anime Corner), Jerry Campbell, highlights a few aspects.  I’m not sure I agree with them, but I’ve summarized them below:

  • Emphasis on the individual in North America.  He points to American emphasis on quarterbacks and star players getting attention whereas the Japanese culture tends to direct towards emphasis on team effort.
  • The characters reflect self-repression as oppose to celebration of self ability and persistence.  The do not sell well in North America.
  • The anime are fairly cookie cutter.  There is little deviance in a formula that doesn’t sell in North America.

I think some good points are mentioned here.  Sports anime are fairly similar.  Stock characters are quite often used.  That being said, I would imagine it’s not impossible for unique characters to intersect with sports.  But I certainly agree that they are standard use due to limited audiences for the most famous examples.  And my beliefs on Japanese culture are pretty similar in terms of difference to North American culture.

The biggest disagreement I probably have is with the statement that stories about suppression of self for the good of the team do not sell effectively.  One of the most famous books about gridiron football (and often the first one listed if you talk about the sport in narrative) is Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream.  It has received many accolades and was written in as #4 on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 sports books list.  This story is anything but about the stars and is entirely of suppression.  Of self for a fleeting glory.  Do yourself a favour and read the book if you’re interested.  It really seems the movie doesn’t really recapture this in its entirety.

What is the main in my mind then?

Association of Anime and Mange with “Nerdom” in North America

I find this is a pretty big one.  For those in North America, give me some characteristics of your run-of-the-mill anime or manga fan.  Go ahead.  I’m betting the vast majority picked either children, non-social individuals, or general nerds.  I admit, I’m in the last one myself.  I enjoy sports (ice and field hockey…despite them being different things entirely), but also play card games, know how to play a few tabletop RPGs, and know way more than I ever should on quite a few video games.

This isn’t really true in Japan.  There were a few Prime Ministers which have had professed love of anime and manga.  Taro Aso, PM from 2008 to 2009, was the most famous.  I’ll let you search the results up yourself.  At any rate, I think the connotations between manga and anime in Japan and North America, as the two most prominent examples, are different.  While there is a growing “shut in” culture being tied to deeper Japanese anime fans, it’s perfectly acceptable and seemingly fine to be a fan, even if you’re in a high role such as a leading politician.  Kind of similar to how few Americans aren’t really concerned with their president Barrack Obama being comfortable quoting Star Trek and Superman.

This would be no different for sports anime.  And the major problem, under this theory, is that this culture contrasts with the typical “sports culture”.  The typical stereotypes of a sports fan (“jock”) and those of the above activities (“nerd”) are wholly different.  There’s a great reason why TVtropes can get away with using “Game of Nerds” as its trope to describe Hollywood’s portrayal of nerds and sports.  Because these two contrast so greatly, it’s rare that sports anime succeed in the current North American anime market because they just don’t appeal to what the average fan thinks about.

But of course, the demographic of anime fans are changing.  Much like older video game fans, I think there are starting to become waves of older anime fans who will have a more varied set of interests.  And if that happens, there may be enough to encourage the sports anime to come over.

Or maybe I’ll be like the AnimeNation blog and will be disproved a few years down the road.

Cultural Influences on Anime Preferences

Okay, so I’m really lazy when it gets to posting.

I think this topic is pretty self-evident, but let’s start with a basic rundown:  Let’s say you’re in North America, watching your favourite show.  Suddenly you get the great idea to start discussion the show with the faceless mass of the internet.  You post your thoughts and think [x] is “oh so cool”.  You got to bed, smiling and thinking that your opinion will be a lovefest for the character.  But, oh my.  The next morning you see, as is common on the internet, that a flame war has broken out.  A contingent of Japanese fans are scratching their heads, wondering how the hell you can like [x].  Then a legion of other viewers come to your defence and call them idiots.

This conflict between two different cultural areas are not uncommon.  Debates like this occur in video games, movies, film, literature…virtually everything.  And this seems perfectly natural: we’re all people.  Liking characters is something that is tied to our personality…so of course there’s someone out there who doesn’t think the exact same thing as me.

But I think there’s a bit more to it than that.  I think the culture of our upbringing will influence what character or actions we agree with.  I’m a mecha fan, so I’ll generally go to the mecha anime first.  And here I’ll select one of the most divisive mecha characters I know: Kira Yamato of Gundam SEED.

I predict this will go well...

Why bring him up specifically?  Well, Kira I find is one of the strongest examples of this cultural division.  In Japan, he’s extremely well thought of.  Many years after Gundam SEED Destiny, the sequel to his first appearance, a popularity poll was conducted.  And Kira was extremely high up.  Actually he ended up #3 for male leads.  And the #1 and #2 spots are iconic characters of the franchise.  By comparison, Kira is pretty heavily reviled.  Destiny is considered and extremely base breaking anime on either side, but it had the (in)famous reputation of being the “worst Gundam ever” for a while on North America dominated sections of the internet and Kira’s ability to absorb the entire show and make it about himself too front and centre.  It’s not hard to find articles which rag on him.  Actually, it’s much easier to remember him by his nickname of “Jesus Yamato” by English-speaking fans.  Seriously, look that up on Google.  You can find old forum wounds about this character.  Actually, it’s more of a hateful conversation, since it does seem to be mostly by cultural lines.  This sort of division isn’t uncommon either.  Emil Castagnier (of the video game Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World) gets very similar treatment.

So I’ve mentioned before that I think this is due to culture.  The trend seems to be along these lines:

  • Male characters which show more feminine aspects (common are: crying or having a more feminine shape) are generally seen in a poorer light in the North American audiences (I will keep using the term North American as I’m not sure of the European trends as much) compared to Japanese audiences.
  • Conversely, North American audiences greatly support characters which show the exact opposite.  In this effect, a male character who shows hypermasculity, or whatever you want to call it as that term tends to come with negative connotations, get the a-ok.
  • Similar trends occur with female characters.  Tsundere archetype characters and other characters which fall more on the “assertive, spirited” side of things are more popular with North American audiences while the more demure characters which fall in line with the yamato nadeshiko archetype gets more support in Japan.  It’s almost the exact opposite; the more assertive female characters seem to be popular in North America.

These trends can be seen fairly easily through popular anime.  Kira is a solid example of the male trends.  A commonly stated case for the female characters is Asuka Langley Soryu (Neon Genesis Evangelion).  In Japan, the popularity of Rei is often akin to that of anime’s leading sex symbol.  At least, at the time.  She easily swept the most popular characters slot and held at top spot for quite a while.  It took nobody else but the iconic Lina Inverse to unseat her (amusingly, another character voiced by Megumi Hayashibara.  Though I guess that really shouldn’t be unexpected given her massive portfolio).  On the other hand, and I can’t prove this with any links like the above…I did a search of 5 polls with 100+ rankings and with voter base of primarily USA citizens, I found Asuka dominated the polls for North Americans, being the most popular (often by a 25% popularity to the next most popular being at 15%.

Where exactly does this come from?  That’s a good question.  I did a little research on more general cultural differences and some are more useful than others, but they are all interesting insights and provide an excellent basis for understanding this popularity divide.

One of the biggest differences has always been in the way romance is handled between the Japanese culture and much of the North American culture.  How this is dealt with directly feeds into how characters are build and how the romance between different characters is initiated, engaged to viewers, and ultimately resolved.  It’s why, commonly, the female character’s actions tend to confuse the North American audiences more than they do the Japanese.  Probably one of my favourite reads for this is a blog post about romance from a North American in Japan.  It’s worth a full read.  I’ll wait.

Quite the cultural divide, isn’t it?  The lack of emphasis on initiative and instead focusing on being able to predict what the other person is thinking is very astounding.  It easily explains a lot of why character [x] and character [y] can go 40-odd episodes without ever taking a step.  It may seem odder to the North American audiences as the romance in North American culture is much more direct, but it’s simply the basis by which are more intuitive to Japanese audiences.  Passivity and emotional control is a huge takeaway as well.  The one line that got me was “Seiji told me much later that dating me made him feel like he was gay, because I was active in bed, and he couldn’t connect that with anything except masculinity”.  Strict gender roles have been well documented within the realm of romance in Japan and the interaction of romance between characters which are sometimes grating to North American audiences can be explained a bit by this difference in action/initiative.  I mean, how many times can you think of the “twice shy” scenario of characters [x] and [y] liking each other but not do anything about it?  While some may find it annoying, it follows that concept of needing to predict the other person’s opinion.

So I think this leads us to reasoning out why female characters with a more demure presence are more popular in Japan: it’s because, simply put, they conform to the Japanese norms more.

But this doesn’t explain everything.  The ideal male norm in Japan is also one of control.  But this conflicts with the culturally favoured characters.  I think we need to take a more general step backwards and consider the culture in terms of acceptable behaviour.  The Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences released a paper in 2009 expressing the differences between Canada, USA, and Japan, in terms of what the subjects considered appropriate emotional reaction.  I’ve copied the important results for this discussion below:

The results indicate that Japanese display rules permit the expression of powerful (anger, contempt, and disgust) significantly less than those of the two North American samples. Japanese also think that they should express positive emotions (happiness, surprise) significantly less than the Canadian sample.

This really goes to the heart of why popular male Japanese characters act so differently in my opinion; the cultural definition of a character comfortable with himself I find is one willing to act against cultural norms.  I mean, the most popular character is rarely the rule abiding person who doesn’t stand out from a crowd, right?  James Dean portrayed that perfectly in Rebel Without a Cause.  At least most of the time this seems to hold true.  However, in Japan, the cultural breaking, so to speak, would be to express more emotionally.

The oddity here is that I’m applying different rules to different reasons.  It almost seems like a “well, it fits” type of approach.  I think one of the big differences here is that one directly works with the area of romance and ideal femininity more and the other is how the character interacts with society.  I think a bit of the old standby of the areas of anime I focused on primarily here: I spoke mostly about shows which are meant to appeal to the male audience.  I do suspect that if we talk about shows which appeal to female audiences, the roles would reverse.  In other words, in a show designed for female audiences, the female character who breaks the rules more will be considered ideal and the male character who follows them more are more ideal.  For example, in video games the most popular female characters for female players in North America include the more stoic Samus Aran and Commander Sheppard.

My predictions, of course, comes down to desired partners.  The old concept of escapism stands out for me; people like to explore characters and escape what they see day-to-day.  By having a bit of a rule breaker, you get to see things that stand out from what you know.

So, what does that mean?  I think I can summarize my opinions as such:
The target audience will want to be someone who breaks the cultural standards and will enjoy characters of the opposite sex which are in line with the standards.  In Japan, the standard is to have more controlled emotions and in North America,

Of course, this is all being written at 1 AM…so I’m sure I’ve missed stuff.