AnimeUSA 2011: A Small Anime Wonderland (Part 1 of 3)

Report by guest correspondent Sh1zuka. First of three articles.

AnimeUSA 2011, held from November 17 – 20, 2011, is a cozy and moderately small anime convention held at the Hyatt Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. This year’s registration rate was $58 at the door, and cheaper if pre-registered over a month in advance. If you know you will arrive on Friday, you can skip the long pre-registration line by registering at the convention, saving you lots of time.

Even though AnimeUSA is a small convention, it is still a full featured convention, with usual Artist Alley/Art Show, Dealer’s Room, Video Game Room, Video Rooms, Masquerade / Skit Cosplay Contest, Concerts, and Hall Costume Contest. The convention’s small size will have you constantly running into people you just met hours ago, perfect for making new friends!

Unique to AnimeUSA is the Themed Ballroom Dance. This year’s “Military Cosplay Ball” required dancers to follow a dress code of Western formalwear or Military-themed Cosplay in order to get in. AnimeUSA introduced “dance cards” for the ladies at the ball, letting gentlemen leave their names on a lady’s dance card for a guarantee that the two would dance together on the dance floor. I really wanted to go to this dance, but I was stopped at the door: I didn’t meet dress code.

AnimeUSA also has the best convention Maid Cafe and Host Club on the East Coast, and compared to last year, it has gotten much better. Be sure to check out the forthcoming AnimeUSA 2011: Maid Cafe & Host Club post for more details!

Layout

The convention can be best described as vertical, spanning five floors. The bottom two, B2 and B1, are dedicated to Main Events, the Artist Alley/Art Show, Video Rooms, and Dealer’s Room. If you are looking to lighten your wallet, you need only head down the escalator from the lobby and descend into the madness of beautiful fanart, handmade plushies, poseable Vocaloid figurines, and more!

Can you name the Vocaloids?

The lobby, used only by AnimeUSA for registration, is usually filled with cosplayers during the day and offers a convenient shelter from the cold November weather. For attendees of age, the lobby also contains the bar (called the “Lobbibar” by the Hyatt), making it a popular destination at night when not attending raunchy 18+ panels. With a bar on the first floor and lots of 18+ programming, AnimeUSA accommodates older convention attendees rather well.

The Iconic AnimeUSA Torii (鳥居) (red archway). Photo by plumvs.

The floors above the lobby contain the bulk of the fan programming. Three panel tracks, two workshop tracks, and the Video Game Room are on the 3rd floor; an Events track, Manga Library, and the “My Cup of Tea” Maid Cafe are on the 2nd floor, while the “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club, located on the 20th floor, is only accessible via elevator from the 2nd floor.

“I choose YOU!”

All of the floors except for the 3rd floor are connected together via escalators. The 3rd floor is only connected to the 2nd floor via hard-to-access stairs, making getting to the workshops, panels, and the game room difficult.

Nearly-free Medicine

Something AnimeUSA does that’s awesome and unique is nearly giving away medicine to attendees, for a nominal fee of 25 cents per packet. Apparently there’s a law in Virginia that prohibits them from giving away medicine for free, so they charge a quarter.

I can say from personal experience based on the instructions I was given at the con that the entire leadership of the con has one goal. That goal is [to] put on [a] great convention where every attendee goes home saying they had a great time.” –forum post from one of AnimeUSA’s Medical Staff

I’m not aware of any other convention that does something like this, and it’s a great idea to help attendees stay healthy and comfortable during the convention. If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to get sick during a convention, having medicine is essential to being able to enjoy the precious little time you can spend at the convention.

Elevator Hell… No More!

I always made a point of never wanting to stay at the Hyatt for AnimeUSA because in previous years, attendees staying in the hotel rooms above the convention space fought with convention attendees who wanted to use the elevators to get from floor to floor.

This year, AnimeUSA disabled access to the lower floors (Lobby, B1, B2) from the elevators, an excellent decision that made elevators much faster and more efficient by reducing elevator demand. It’s really a blessing in disguise: you might make a few friends on the way up the escalators! The only downside is that getting to panel rooms requires more exercise.

Another welcome improvement is that access to the Host Club is only via one elevator on the 2nd floor, which only goes between the 2nd and 20th floor and is controlled by staff to prevent the host club from being full when you get there.

How many people are in the elevator?

Overall, AnimeUSA 2011 was tons of fun, even though I wasn’t allowed to go to the Military Cosplay Ball. Check out the next post on AnimeUSA’s Maid Cafe and Host Club, the attraction that I consider the best part of AnimeUSA.


Photos by scout, Shizuka, and plumvs.

Bridging The Gap: The Value Of Penguindrum (An Ode To Change)

Well there was no real way this post could be avoided. After finishing this series and realizing that there was little to no way this couldn’t be openly discussed in mere tweets/Facebook discussions, it finally came to pass that an extended post would have to be made regarding Kunihiko Ikuhara’s return to anime television. The very notion that such a long break from the industry that helped bring his name to international prominence in the mid-to latter 1990s by way of Sailor Moon R, and of course, Utena, it would have been safe to assume that any return could only be a disappointment. It seemed an inevitability considering how dramatically different the state of the medium is today. Or so I woefully assumed.

 
 
Taken as an entire piece, Mawaru Penguindrum is an unrepentantly unique, and often visionary series the likes of which may delight older fans, and utterly shut out a good portion of modern anime’s devotees with its treatise on a Japan gone from shattered paradigm to helplessly lost world amidst manufactured dreamscapes. Ikuhara alonsgide Takayo Ikami & Brain’s Base, Penguindrum takes very much the same “process” based cinematic techniques that helped make Utena become one of the most accessible, yet bizarre-on-the-surface titles to have ever made a splash on the international fan scene. The story of sickly Himari, and her two older siblings, Shouma and Kanba remains less about a bizarre quest to save her life from almost certain doom with the help of a penguin-hat sporting princess and a trio of hallucinatory birds, but rather the journey of many through a near concrete thick foundation of denial. It is from this outset, not remotely interested in tropes so much as the subversion of them, all the while spinning a tale of what extremities some feel compelled to go through based on perceived positions. Fate and destiny being something of an established chess board, with all characters merely pieces, often willing to turn to amazingly questionable behavior in the name of altering trajectory, or abiding it.

 

 

 

The biggest difference now is that the ante has been sufficiently upped by no longer setting the central action within and around a mythical school life/incubator space where our main characters could fight their ways through. This new expansion of the discussion pitts the characters within something almost resembling contemporary Tokyo, only with a slightly more advanced technological milieu. In fact, much of what many to consider Cool Japan is hyperbolized within this at times unsettling presentation. Colors are intense with pinks and blues, and structures are often day-glo bright. The interior of one of the most often used settings- the subway, is almost wall-to-wall with moving digital advertisement (often featuring the greek chorus in Double-H, who also serve a core purpose around the story). It is almost as if the entire design aesthetic in itself is a paradoxical reflection of internet pop culture Japan. Thereby universalizing the director’s concerns that haven’t subsided any since his previous masterwork. His concerns are Japan’s concerns. His characters may be living in a world of fairy tales, but they certainly don’t see that. In fact, the two-tone reality shared by the majority of Penguindrum’s characters seems to have cornered them to the point that delusions and/or audacious actions seem reasonable. In anime reality, we are quick to judge, but the show continually calls out the viewer, making the case that even wholly reasonable people are capable of such untoward behavior.

 

 

 
 
Continuing a 17 Year Old Soul Search
As the parentless Takakura children are further tumbling down the story’s rabbit hole, it becomes apparent that not only they are bound by the illogical in order to maintain a rendition of peace, but as are the lives of virtually everyone around them. The three kids, with the youngest mostly in the dark regarding these forces that apparently hold her life in limbo, are eventually surrounded by characters who also seem primed to overstep their moral bounds in order to attain a semblance of happiness. Carrying on the theme that binds all characters in the series, it is a seemingly generational curse that has even left troubling marks on those who came before our central leads. And the more we get to grasp the lives of Tabuki, one of the boys’ most seemingly level-headed schoolteachers, and stage actress celebrity, Yuri, it becomes all the more apparent that the Takakuras lie close the ground zero of a secret that almost brought the contemporary Japanese conscience to its knees. Even as the inexplicable advances of Masako seem ready to systematically “crush” some undisclosed object close-particularly to Kanba (who’s reputation as something of a playboy belies even stranger secrets). Even more troubling still is the role of pretty, yet seemingly ordinary high schooler, Ringo Oginome. A girl who could so easily be an inocuous entity in the story, becomes an unexpected element that may save or destroy all everyone holds dear. Not unlike the American television series, LOST, perceptions are questioned, rugs are constantly pulled, and Mawaru Penguidrum becomes something that series failed to become in six seasons, a tale of a society within stones throw of a heart hampered by a lack of emotional insight. It isn’t that Japan is screwed, but rather that it stopped looking forward when the chips were down. So as the tension ramps up when history seems bent on repeating itself, the world of the show is primed to either play within these assumed constructs, or break free by acting humanly unpredictable.

 
 

 

 

A big stumbling block this show may experience in regards to fandom outside Japan, may very well be the reality that much of what is discussed within the its 24 episodes. The entire narrative decidedly centers within a wholly Japan-centric mindset. As westernized as Japan currently is, much of what affects, and ultimately motivates the show’s characters is something more akin to post-WWII psychology. And while this may seem like something that is easy for many acclimated anime admirers to overcome, there is still quite a bit of context that is left intentionally unexplained in the confidence that those aware of their surroundings might pick up on it. Which makes the series an interesting twist on what some detractors have been declaring a growing “insular” movement in anime. This is perhaps an ultimate rendition of how that very movement can create something of cultural value without resorting heavily upon familiar tropes, lest they be toyed with in some signature manner. As visually specacular as this series can be, it’s often at the service of continuing a poem Anno helped spur to introspective life in 1995.

 

 

 

 

Backtracking a little, it is important to consider that Ikuhara has long been friends with Shin Seiki Evangelion director, Hideaki Anno. An artist who became famous for pulling the veneer away from anime’s “fantasy for its own sake” place of safety with his epoch-making series. A show that was in fact affected by the outside world as terror enveloped the nation as the sarin gas attacks, and subsequent trials pertaining to the cult known as Aum Shinrikyo were taking place on tv screens during that time. A nation half a decade into crippling recession, and such events revealed a growing sense of spiritual panic that came symptomatic of a society long neglectful of its heart as profits went up a decade prior, now broken and brimming with an almost insurmountable amount of confusion ready to burst at any moment. For many, Evangelion provided a much needed pressure valve for these emotions homeside, even as the series became a monstrous media success. But it’s also worth noting that despite many series to retread similar territory (as well as Evangelion’s unfortunate “molding” into safer fabrics over the years), it has often come at the sacrifice of likeable characters, and compelling storytelling. Something with Penguindrum never seems to run short on.

 
 
Humoring The Blackness
For a series tackling such heavy themes, one wouldn’t expect the series to continue Ikuhara’s trademark surreal humor. This is something Ikuhara’s contemporary could never take away from him, and it is here in full flower, personal quirks and all. From the often amusing antics of the Takakura family’ s newly adopted penguins, to the clever use of repetition, music, love of the takarazuka, and various spins on fan expectations, the series never lets us forget that we are in an exaggeration of matters. What makes this work so well for me is that despite all the goofy antics, there is often a very character-centric reason for it. Even when the penguins acts reach absurds highs like fighting off an octopus on a window-sill, there is often a lyrical purpose to it all that remains unspoken. The show’s faith in its audience to put everything together while laughing about what could very easily become a harsh melodrama is very hard to achieve, and more often than not, it works toward better helping us understand character dimensions we didn’t realize were apparent upon initial glances. “Show. Don’t tell” is a valuable tool in film, and Ikuhara remains a master of constantly playing with this.

 
 

 

Industry Of Seduction
Which plays quite nicely against the series’ ultimate vision of collective antagonism, the enigmatic Sanitoshi’s belief that it doesn’t matter if fleeting love is what it is, as long as one feels it if even for a brief moment. More extravanant and over the top than even the character of Yuri, Sanitoshi with his hopelessly fujoshi-bait image and voice embodies a youth unwilling to compromise with their mission to undo all around him, no matter the cost. The most ironic element within his penchant for things “eletrifying”, and in the moment, his seemingly magical presence belies something of an unerring addiction to simplified solutions to complex daily problems. With all of his smiles and assurances, there is little in the way of anything truly transformative within his motivations. In fact, it is every bit as binary as the world he seems hellbent to destroy. And like all classic visions of Mephisto, Methusela, and Coyote, he is a soothing, seductive presence fully in the mold of what some fans long to adore, all the while tending to a world of emptiness. He is the face of an artistic medium gone commercially desperate.

 

 

Mawaru Conundrum

 

Which brings me back to the core of why the series carries with it something that has long eluded anime containing elements of the experimental; a solid sense of purpose. Despite years of post-Evangelion attempts to inject a certain “newness” to certain series, eager to capitalize on a growing mature market, most series have had the unfortunate distinction of either taking themselves far too seriously, or suffering from copycat-ism often symptomatic of shows existing in a newly defined environment. And it isn’t that shows like Bakemonogatari are intrinsically flawed, but rather that they often carry lesser baggage and lack the narrative acumen to reach beyond a specific audience. They ultimately become niches unto themselves, making them not only hard to market, but closer to gallery material better suited to a Murakami exhibit. What Mawaru Penguindrum has that most of these series do not is a truly sneaky package, made all the more potent by being especially meticulous about its messages/questions. There never seems to be a moment wasted, or a shot in it for the mere sake of showing it. Ikuhara has observed anime over the last ten-plus years, and clearly has quite a bit to say about it with imagery that spans the absurdist to the terrifying. Most often asking contradictory questions within the same mise en scene, as if the internet age has accelerated our intake of complexity in how we view the world, and he acknowledges this, even as the drama unfolds. Carefully, and provocatively, it beings back the notion of the auteur to television anime in a way that simply has been missing for quite some time.

 

 
 
Smashing The World’s Blu-ray Case
So when the climax comes, and matters for our heroes have reached their irrevocable conclusion, this is where Ikuhara delivers a passionate plea for not only the medium, but its fans. As our most unlikely characters are forced to rise to a challenge that threatens the future of many, including characters we once thought we knew within how the series initially presented itself, we are visually made aware of a world which Ikuhara seems ready to do away with. One that has essentially caged all of our characters, and led them to this desperate, penultimate moment. We are suddenly shown the destruction of a very vessel that binds many a fan the world over.- A batch of anime dvds/Blu-ray. Which in and of itself could very well have been taken alone as an atypical cinematic means of hammering the point home in a one-sided metaphor. But it is immediately amended when this very vessel becomes the means by which salvation is delivered. Interpretation: Mindless consumption carries none of the value that comes with what is being said within the things we value most. In short; Ikuhara’s distaste for ravenous fan culture & preference for something resembling actual substance is made clear within a mere few seconds of animation.

 
 

The world model within the series is rhetorically based on years of buying into invisible assumptions (Often bolstered by consumer culture sturm & drang-Something which even more harshly binds the Japanese.), and the form of the show (not unlike certain characters) seems bent on shattering these illusory traps. It seeks honest answers as opposed to perpetuating ad-hoc, otaku posturing. The show opines that destiny is what we determine with our ever changing expressions of inner personal desire, and not on what we are sold into accepting. The cycle begun with Shoujo Kakumei Utena closes with Mawaru Penguidrum, making it both one of the more exciting shows to have ever been given the green light in such a volatile media climate, and a challenging riposte to a decade of hiding beneath a shell of societal assumption. It’s wild, weird, beautiful, gaudy, painful, and imperfect look forward and backward, seeking diverse answers from difficult questions. It’s both an introspective masterpiece for modern Japanese media, and a spectacular yet inelegant kick in the teeth to the addicted, and we are all the healthier for it.

 
 

Winter 2012 Roundup, Part 1: The Most Promising Shows

For some reason, probably having to do with prolonged illness and the boredom that goes with it, I’ve watched nearly everything this new season has to offer so far. I’ll start with the shows I regard as the ones with the most potential of actually being good—and there’s a surprising number of them, given that winter is typically an off season.

What's behind that eyepa—OH MY GEASS

Another

To this day, I still think the best horror/suspense anime was Boogiepop Phantom. What Boogiepop did better than anyone else was in evoking a genuinely creepy atmosphere, not only with its shadowy visuals but especially with its sound design: the hums, the ghostly pings, and judicious use of electronica. Not everything was well-explained in the anime, but it was something that really gave off the right feeling, especially when viewed in the dark.

Another is also a triumph of atmosphere. It is, at least so far, dependent on it—the plot has barely gotten started aside from the identity of Misaki (perhaps telegraphed a bit too early). But the shivery sound cues and the pacing in its best scenes rival some of Boogiepop’s better moments. Like another well-written but occasionally histrionic series, Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, it tends toward more traditional anime character design, which can sometimes blunt the suspense to a certain extent; I sometimes have a hard time taking those designs seriously. But unlike Higurashi, it has so far refrained from the use of gore and shock and clearly and deliberately building up to something in a consistent way. Kudos must go, especially, to the final scene in episode 2 in the doll museum. While dolls have been used a lot in anime for creepy affect, and admittedly the show stumbled with the quick cuts to them in earlier moments, the pacing and sound were near-perfect.

The evident skill behind Another makes it worth watching. Now, if only someone could permanently retire Ali Project from ever making OPs and I’ll really be happy…Kajiura-san? Kalafina? You’re needed again for another gothic show!

 

Yes, this is just like EVERY OTHER ANIME scene, but trust me, it's more...

Ano Natsu de Matteru

I have a bias here: I have a real soft spot for the work of screenwriter Yousuke Kuroda and especially Onegai Teacher, which was one of the first animes I ever bought on DVD. (Hint: I got it long before this website ever got started in 2006.) Kuroda has a knack for giving characters emotionally resonant dialogue, and has elevated normally mundane premises like Onegai Teacher by giving characters genuine motivations and feelings. It’s no accident that he worked on Toradora! and Honey and Clover too, two of the most heartfelt slice-of-life/relationship anime of recent years.

So of course I was going to check out Ano Natsu de Matteru. Yes, it’s true: the show almost seems like a deliberate attempt to recreate Onegai Teacher, with character equivalents galore, but with some of the more outlandish plot contrivances of the original toned down. There doesn’t appear to be the “standstills” that make characters look much younger than their purported actual ages, for instance. We don’t have outright marriage right off, either. And I like the central/controlling metaphor of this one better: where they are going to make a 8mm movie. One is almost reminded of the recent JJ Abrams film, Super 8. As well as my own memories of making an 8mm film at the end of middle school…

Kuroda wisely decided to have all the main characters interact as an ensemble right off the bat, and sets up all the important tensions and conflicts between them efficiently. There are clever flourishes, like the transitions between Kai’s fantasies and reality, and the banter between the characters are not only often witty but revealing. (Sure, some of them had to get drunk to be honest, but that’s true in real life too….) This is a nearly perfectly paced show, and it makes some of the more cliche scenes and occasional fan service a lot more palatable. And while I don’t expect it to reach the emotional heights of Ano Hana, its character designer is on board and has done a good job making Ichika in particular reminiscent of, but perhaps a bit less outlandishly proportioned than, the Teacher. Sure, Kai is a bit too much like Jin-tan, but still…

From the I’VE opening to the great pacing and smart dialogue, this is both a nostalgia trip and an anticipation to see if Kuroda can work his magic again.

 

Marika had better trade that maid outfit for a pirate one soon.

Moretsu Space Pirates

To tell you the truth, I’m a little bit more cautious about this show than many others. The strengths of the show are undeniable: the writing is sharp, the pacing is purposeful, the main character Marika is winsome in both her normalcy and her ability to handle challenges. The animation quality is also excellent, though we’ve seen relatively little action so far. Moreover, it’s clear that a good deal of thought was given in building the sci-fi world: the history, the government, the role of pirates/privateers (that is what a “legal pirate” with a Letter of Marque and Reprisal is really called), etc. I also have to appreciate that despite the premise, despite the alternate title of “Mini-skirt Space Pirates,” the show goes out of its way to avoid fanservice. That is not the focus of what is building to be an old-school space adventure show, with a confident schoolgirl in command.

Forgive my impatience, but I just wish they’d get to that point just a little faster. It’s probably a disadvantage of watching this week after week, and with the knowledge that there are two cours. I also fully understand that they are taking the time to deepen the history of Marika and her mother, the Bentenmaru, and the role of Chiaki in particular. It’s working: there are some wonderful individual bonding scenes where Marika interacts with her mother, with Chiaki. I guess I just can’t wait for the action to begin, and it’s making it hard for me to see just where this is going. With the director of the 1990s classic Martian Successor Nadesico in charge, I’m fairly sure he won’t screw up, so my hopes are up—hence its inclusion on this list.

But I want my starships and piracy, dammit. I’m sure that once it does begin it’ll make that launch moment all the sweeter.

 

Truer words were never spoken.

Nisemonogatari

SHAFT and Shinbo strike again! All they had to do was to keep up the banter-dependent, sexy, artsy feel of this sequel to Bakemonogatari and it would be enough. I was latecomer to Bakemonogatari and Senjougahara fandom, but over time I got hooked on its post-modern theater-like atmosphere and its alluring, unconventional approach to the harem genre. For that is what Bake and Nisemonogatari are, at the end of the day, harem shows—but with fascinating dialogue filled with cultural references, screwball comedy exchanges (I loved the “the courage to” challenge), and a nice dollop of real sexual tension that’s captivating.

Nisemonogatari starts off with what are basically set-pieces. There are no problems or curses to solve, unlike the first series. Araragi basically drifts from conversation to conversation with his sisters and other girls; in a way, it’s the slice-of-life genre stripped down to its barest form, as written by Samuel Beckett. That, carried on too long, would be boring though if the characters weren’t so well-differentiated and, in the second episode, so convincingly seductive. I admit that I actually disliked Nadeko in season 1, because I felt the pandering was too thick. Making her bolder and more forward in this season worked, and not just because the fanservice was actually appropriate to the scene—it was directed really well. The subsequent scene with Kanbaru was even more delicious in the dialogue, and ended with a reversal that was both funny and clever.

For once the eroticism of anime seems to actually work. Or maybe I just think the girls are especially hot this season. See Charles’ article for an articulation of why that might be troubling. But the intelligence and artfulness of Bakemonogatari is fully intact.

Next time: why Nichibros, Thermae Romae, and other lauded aniblogosphere titles aren’t on this list!

Bridging The Gap: How Oncoming Trucks In Slo-Mo Went Mainstream

Initially, I had been looking to avoid any posts on this subject after reading endless posts regarding the news in the wake of Bandai’s shuttering of new acquisitions of physical media, and now its backing out of several other regions, including France. But the ensuing talk and blogging that has come since has more or less left me feeling the need to make sure Diet readers gain an important insight regarding where the industry has been over the last several years. Most noise-making by far has been a writeup at Kotaku, where he not only professed his ignorance of the nature of the industry, but echoed sentiments often more recently heard by many within the continuously dwindling US anime infrastructure. While much of what was important about the post dealt with the media reality we all currently share, I also found it to be fraught with questionable statements, and not to mention lacking in any grounded fact. While it may be true that piracy has been a long-standing issue in anime fandom, it has also in fact been one of denying the inevitable.

A large portion of what makes Charlie Maib’s article so misguided, is that like so many contacts, associates, friends, and peers within the LA-based anime world, many seem to only be focusing strictly on ONE major point of concern, the piracy issue. Now while I consider myself to be a firm supporter of artist rights, concepts of ownership, I also find it deeply important to look at changes that affect this. If there’s a piece of media (not just anime) that I truly enjoy, I will shell out the money and pay for it. And one can also see me constantly directing interested parties to ideas and works I like in hopes of helping them survive in such a volatile climate. But the writing has been on the wall regarding even larger problems for such an absurdly long time- That physical media as a means to support an industry was fatally flawed from the start, and was never meant to last.

And this isn’t merely about anime we are dealing with here, we are talking all media, down to movies, television shows, etc. The very foundation of what was once a collector’s only club was likely only meant as such during the early days of home video. Many may not remember a time when a single VHS cassette of a film like Raiders Of The Lost Ark would go for roughly $80.00 . It was a number of years before the dreaded $24.95 price tag was even considered by the major studios. And a major reason for the change of heart was the advent of cable tv, a  growing new market that was sapping away ticket sales for films released in theaters. The world had changed, and the movie industry had to grudgingly adjust to the new reality by taking a large hit. And this is far from the first time this has happened. Since technology has gathered steam, profits for such an industry has had to rush to keep up by retaining losses in often risk-taking new ventures. This has been a constant struggle, and we see it prevalent in so many ways we collect media.

Top this off with the reality that even in the days of magnetic media, people could make copies of their own. Anyone remember your local Sam Goody? A large part of the music chain’s intake came from the sales of blank cassettes, be they audio OR video, and often sold at the counter as if to know full well what customers were doing with them. And this was in the era of stereo consoles, often packaged with dual-cassette decks. In other words, the recording industries were looking for something resembling a happy medium between consumers and the industries they support. To assume the left didn’t know what the right was doing is nothing short of selective blindness.

Which is something of an important affliction to consider, particularly when discussing the anime industry, and how it has essentially cratered due to virtual ignorance of larger changes in the world. Everywhere we turn, closures of physical media outlets have become chiming reminders that a paradigm has reached its final point of shift. And yet only an enterprising few have allowed themselves a means to survive by ways of adjusting to new realities. Even if the profit margins have been at times drastically lowered, there is at least some growth, especially in the realms of streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. With coding becoming more and more sophisticated, alongside great advances in how content is shared online, there has been a great deal of potential found here. But leave it to hindsight as the piracy target sees itself coated with another bright shade of red, when the obvious continues to dog the discussion…

While Maib’s ideas make the point that piracy helped lead toward this violent shift, anime as a sales-centric industry certainly did little to counter it. It wasn’t as if noone saw this coming. In fact, one can also say that once digisubs became a thing, the once laborious daisy-chaining of VHS recorders had been liberated to the high bitrate sphere of the internet, with little means of slowing down once bandwidth rates went up. Even in the days of dial-up, this was happening on a much larger scale than ever could have been dreamt of in the days of analog. Even as the american anime boom was under way, granting any new label the ability to bring out a battery of shows, often offering financial shelter to dozens of people, not to mention english voice acting talent, the simple reality that the entire party was dancing on a limited tap. As evidenced by Carl Macek who once bemoaned the idea of subtitling, let alone bringing every title under the sun to growing legions of fans, there was a glaring warning sign hovering over the proceedings that call into question; just how much of this stuff is actually worth owning?

Television series come and go, that’s the nature of the beast. And not every show is worth keeping, let alone watching more than  once. Thus comes the fatal flaw in the anime as a hard media commodity scheme. The very idea that we are consumers are asked to pony up roughly 4-6 dollars per episode for a show that may not be worth a second viewing comes at odds with the movie collector’s mentality. The people ultimately know what they want, and will pay for it. The problem comes when we are inundated with the latest, and are essentially given no choice in between. When this happens, and our homes are buried with bricks of material that we cannot even give away- it presents a serious problem. So by the time bandwidth went hi-speed cable, the very idea of mindlessly selling was rendered instantly obsolete. Couple this with the Japanese studios ignoring potentially profitable crossover titles, and opting to merely cater to the otaku market, it is not unlike cutting one’s nose off to spite their face. Anime had gone global, and the first reaction was to pretend that outside markets behaved exactly the same as theirs.

Couple this with an increasingly sophisticated new culture of fans, read and willing to watch anime without need for localization. I know twelve-year-olds watching subtitled anime, who have no predilection to having their favorite shows in english. In another of the all-encompassing ways the internet has altered the world culture, the concept of localization was marginalized into something that no longer made any clear-cut sense. Dubs were practically created as a manner of course rather than a means to highlight the very best the medium had to offer. Entitlement had suddenly become something not only beholden to the fans, but to those relying on anime to pay the bills. (gross miscalculation)

And yes, while I agree that to a degree, fansubbing helped create something of a culture of entitlement, one has to remember that with any technological advent, progress is imperative for survival. What someone forgot to do was make this a major point of discussion while the floodgates opened around 2000. Especially when the medium had shifted toward discs containing DIGITAL material. With home systems utilizing the same language, this was the elephant in the room that noone seemed ready to confront. And this was a crucial first mistake. And yet the years after saw entire sets of shows reach prices of nearly 200+ dollars. As long as they sold, supposedly all would be fine. This almost collective state of denial continued as sales began to plummet around 2004-2005, which was around the time that anime productions began to shift more toward strictly otaku-bait material. The warning signs were emerging, and yet again, noone took action on the leak in the hull. As long as the guests topside were distracted by glitter and flash, all was okay. And the longer this took place, another culture was brewing, one with even less willingness to buy anything.

Either one molds the culture, or the culture molds you. By this point, convention numbers had reached impressive levels, but sales continued to decline. The variety of shows suddenly began to wane. Even as more shows seemed to appear, their diversity began to falter as more began to feed off each other in tropes and stories. There was little for this rabid fanbase to go in regards to anything that could possibly sustain itself in a financial sense. So naturally, with hi-speed internet being what it was, and little to no streaming service ready to take on the new era, piracy reached epidemic proportions. And merely telling them to stop was in no way a tennable strategy. Much like opening a shop in a town without the best neighborhood, one cannot do so without a good, manageable storefront and security system. Without it is not unlike an invitation…There. Said it. Piracy may be a terrible thing, but it is also an inevitable thing. This is not cynicism, this is pure unadulterated reality in most senses, and not merely business. And on the flip-side, fansubs have not provided any real value outside of filling the pirate void for over a decade now. If anything, the piracy and fan entitlement issue is merely a byproduct of inaction on the part of higher-ups unwilling to face the issue directly while the technology was evolving. The Ostrich Method has never been and will never be a sound business strategy.

As long as there is a culture of not merely need, but also want, piracy will always be.  And backpedalling such a slow realization is in no way a realistic reaction. Look at how it worked for Woodstock.

So when we look at all that has happened, it becomes more important to question how we got here, and where the real problem has festered, and what it has infected along the way. In a very real sense, it hurt everyone, and everyone is almost equally to blame for believing in the permanence of a medium that was built on an impermanent foundation. When one takes into account the reality that television was not designed specifically for shows, but for selling ads, the fallacy so many had been laboring under comes into view. We were all hit by it. Noone got off clean. The fans, the pirates, AND the industry are now in this difficult spot due to a continued assumption that physical media had a continued place in the sphere. It was a grand scale change that happened over several years, and one particular group of entities continued to pretend that it wasn’t happening. Many even backing out when they could have stayed and weathered the storm. For so many, the panic button seemed far too reasonable an option. All the while others continued to see hope in a place where we could actually meet the companies halfway by sampling the product before making an informed choice. It makes me so sad that many Japanese companies up and ran without taking a bold series of baby steps that could have helped lead the charge for a new, more promising entertainment landscape.

Like the wilderness, the internet is The Great Equalizer..It’s a terrible shame that so many industries seem so unwilling to step up to the challenge.