Tag Archives: Anime On VHS

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.

Analog Diaries IV: The Hell Of Number 18

Admit It. I am.

Let me first preface this embarrassing little episode from my younger days by saying that behavior such as this should not be imitated, condoned, supported, in fact, it probably shouldn’t even be posted about. So why share it with Anime Diet readers the world over? Simply to illustrate not only the kind of silly kid I once was, but to perhaps help some better understand where we were. and where we are now. Always remember that like tobacco & oil in early America, Hentai became a financial pillar of US based anime distribution in those larval days. Certain titles even outsold some of the prime names of their time. There would have been no ADV without it. In fact, this story is possibly even more universal that I imagine it is.(IE-doubtful.) So to those precocious souls, this one’s for you.

Hentai.

Or rather, Hentai on VHS.

Now that more than half the room has cleared, and the rest of us can essentially share in this mini tale of woe that has surely happened in homes across the land in the hopes that more will come out, and cleanse themselves of this particular stigma. The late 80s, through early 90s was a strange time for anime since certain business decisions led to the medium eventually having certain labels emblazoned across it. Especially when one grew up where I did.

A largely conservative haven for retirees with little concern for the fringe, the California desert was never known for embracing the progressive edges of popular culture. Which is to say that even as alternative rock was gaining traction thoughout a good portion of the metropolized world, the desert was more a place where these ideas were quickly examined, only to be dismissed within the same breath. And anime, while gaining only a small following in local video shacks, had the magic word, “PORN” burned onto it as if it were some prized steer. In my area, it may as well have been a pink triangle. After print media had a field year with explaining Japan’s proclivity towards “pornographic cartoons” with the limited theatrical release of the compiled version of Urotsukidoji: Legend Of The Overfiend, it was easy to be deemed “a person of suspect” even if all you had was AKIRA at home.

So yes, it was an awkward time to be an anime enthusiast. Especially when you were 17 years old, and had a 13 year old brother with a newly found curiosity for the stuff, and an insatiable appetite when it came to his interests.

As previously mentioned in these confessionals, my brother and I had begun to check out anime from an independently run video store in town, where we first learned a love of GAINAX, reveled in the further adventures of the guys responsible for Macross, and even caught some animated Japanese Lit! It was a wholly new kind of library, but while my sibling was in candyland, enjoying his newfound hobby, I was cautiously checking tape covers for objectionable content like a dutiful big brother in hopes of keeping things sane. (and me out of hot water with the parental units) Because you see, I had been aware of this H thing for a short while, and was doing all I can to avoid spoiling this infectious new high. There were only so many titles out on the video market, and we were quickly running out of new shows.

The weekend ritual of checking out rented anime & horror films went unabated, until afterschool activities began to take hold. Being in Theater, it became harder and harder for me to be able to keep track of matters at home. And I guess, it didn’t seem to matter too terribly much since it had felt as if we had seen most-to-all of the anime available at the store we frequented. And none of it contained anything aside too terribly racy outside of Ani & Unipuma, so I felt a sense of security.

In the coming months, however, I began hearing stories that a certain “Japanimation Porno” had been making the rounds in town. And when one title makes the kind of noise this one did at my school, chances are it was within the vicinity of danger since…the video store in question was just a short walk away from campus! A part of me just shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps this was some other big brother’s mail order purchase. Their irresponsibility that landed this troublesome show in the hands of the “wrong kids”. Nothing to get too worked up about.

Now it needs to be said here that I was raised a diligent boy of Catholic faith, and had an ingrained radar for things that could get me into trouble. Anything from classmates smoking on the outskirts of school grounds, or other forms of mischief, I tended to avoid with regular frequency. After all, this was about being a model older brother, and I couldn’t be bothered with the ways kids in America expressed themselves without guidance. Seemed an easy enough life decision. At 17, I thought I had the world figured out. That was until the Friday I had no rehearsal, and my brother stormed in gleefully holding his backpack to his chest. Out of breath, he looked at me, and said “You won’t believe what I got today.” A part of me figured it was yet another low-budget horror-fest, possibly featuring Bruce Campbell, or Clint Howard again, but little did I know that it was closer to that of a little black box carrying within it 45 kilotons of nuclear fire.

Thankfully, having a hyperactive little sibling means that there are times when sitting down and watching TV wasn’t going to suffice, leading him to often drop his bag, and run out of the house afterschool to play with the neighborhood kids. Something that definitely happened that day, leaving me at home, alone.

With adults away for a few more hours, and the kind of curiosity often cursing the average kid, I scrambled for the backpack to see what all the grinning was about. Careless little brother, don’t you realize this was bound to happen? The first warning was the Anime 18 label stamped across the face of the tape, with a name I had a tough little time trying to pronounce. And realizing that this was INDEED the video mentioned all those times in the school halls as being totally insane, I just had to run it to the VCR to see what all the talk was about.

Now I may have not lived through the times of McCarthy, and in fear of being blacklisted as an undesirable. In fact, the feeling that swallowed me whole that afternoon was closer in tone to what George Orwell was feeling in Havana. The fear was so real, so palpable, that it led me to mental images of not only helicopter lights blaring though those living room windows, but of an angry deity, committed to having my soul for breakfast. It was as if I had stared straight into the forbidden, only to have it winking back with promises of forbidden pleasures, fast cars, firetrucks & kazoos, but there was also a deep feeling of this threat of eternal torment from then on and thereafter. In the near two-hour onslaught of debauchery, post-human musings, and wholesale splatter, it was clear to me that:

a) Japanese artists are much more screwed up than I had once imagined.

b) Misunderstandings were bound to ensue from this being in the country.

c) That my ubringing was far from the only valid one.

d) This thing is going to make a crapload of money.

No matter the quality of this particular work, it made a deep impression. It is something like catching your first 18 and over show, with the most decadent, wild, drug-addled rock act imaginable, and having the lead singer puke on you offstage. It is that kind of awesome, and nightmare inducing. There simply was no context for it yet, and as such, it haunted me for years.

As for what happened after this ordeal, I made it my way to get the incriminating evidence back to the store with the initial drive to find out who in their right mind would lend this out to a kid. Not unlike selling cigarettes to a minor, this was indeed a problem. (until the reality set in that this was the only store within reasonable distance that carried this stuff) Turns out it was borrowed from an older “friend”, who also had an account at the same store. The threads of fate determined this for whatever reason, and even though I had saved my sibling from what I found to be a fate worse than death, I know he eventually saw it for himself. Now if I could only see what went thorough his mind that first time.

Analog Diaries III: The Path To Legend

The life of a responsible older brother of a hyperactive eleven year-old was practically a full time job by the time the VHS maelstrom was upon us. And growing up in a community, mostly divided between wealthy retirees & small-town denizens, there was little place for those with tastes outside the typical. And as there were many a time when our video rental binges would become not unlike a romanticized trip to a junkyard. ( filled to the seams with crap, yet host to a bevvy of hidden treasures) For every Suspiria, we’d find four or five Witchcraft‘s. And even at this point, I wasn’t one-hundred percent about this anime thing.

It didn’t help when looking for titles that were dubbed for western audiences, the dearth of these led to some pretty interesting discoveries.
Most notable in this sweepstakes run were the ones we found, carrying the logos of Celebrity Home Video’s Just For KIDS emblazoned on them. And these little hauls of fun came bearing images & characters that were familiar, but upon viewing them, they sure weren’t the icons I remembered them being.

The first in this series of releases that had us doubling over was their version of the Captain Harlock origin feature, Arcadia Of My Youth(1982). Recut and dubbed, the film was repackaged as Vengeance Of The Space Pirate. Now as I had been accustomed to the tales of Harlock via friends & tapes of the tv show long ago, it was pretty clear kids were getting a huge dose of false advertising.(Not to mentin the kind of violence on the cover that would never fly in this day and age. Han Solo this! ) Missing roughly forty minutes of its epic running time, the film whisks by at a Cliff’s Notes clip, and features some oddball, yet competent (for its time) dubbing. If one can survive the stilted dialogue delivery, they may not be able to contain themselves as the newly liberated space cruiser Arcadia leaves a locked down Earth to a song only the worst Barry Manilow-lover would go nuts for. We’re on the verge of a crucial, emotionally fulfilling sequence, and all we get is theme music best fitting of a 2:30 in the morning Vegas show after a sixteen hour sucker’s streak at the tables. (If I could share this monstrosity with you via a video –Someone get on this. This pain must be shared!) Even as the cut is somewhat tolerable(albeit a little too literal at points), the film is missing so much of what makes ‘s film such a vital piece of Leiji Matsumoto history.

All that was left post this initial viewing, was me in disbelief, and a very out of sorts little brother.

Could’ve been worse…It could’ve been THIS.

Which leads us to a tape I ran into at one of the local Blockbusters that grabbed my eyes with a mad fury unrivaled.

Clash Of The---whaaa?
Clash Of The---Wut?

That’s right. Celebrity also had the home video rights to the legendary Macross 1984: Ai Oboete Iimasuka? (Do You Remember Love?), and really gave it the business. A chop-shop treatment at best, this not-Macross Macross is the anime equivalent to a victim of Dr. Herbert West; Mangled , bizarre, and ultimately only good at haunting the living. Not only is the film missing some crucial moments (including one very significant death scene – seriously, if you’re going to sell this to kids, it might be best to know what you’re selling.), but it also features dubbing that is the very definition of….Awkward.

Sound familiar?(I vaguely remember the same studio and actors being used in the dub for HK favorites such as the original Police Story. ) In short, it was nice to have a home version of the Macross feature, but to settle for such a painfully wasted opportunity. It’s something that still stings to this day. If only they had taken care of this situation long ago. C’est La vie.

As a good guardian for those weekends while the mother unit was busy keeping us well fed and raised, we had our fair share of experiences such as these that kind of gave us a gauge from which to measure how video companies were treating something so regionally based. And even as the claws of anime love had yet to dig irrevocably into my being, there was a growing curiosity within me to continue to look into what was so attractive about it. And how was I to know that everything was soon to take on shapes never before witnessed when a little movie came over, and began playing in major metropolitan areas throughout the country.

Being a kid in Theater, and up for the chance to check out something outside the ordinary, I was invited by classmates to catch this film in a new theater in Palm Springs that also served as the region’s art house location. Even as there had been some talk about the film’s impact that had steadily growing over the west, nothing could prepare me for the sheer visceral impact of Katsuhiro Otomo’s little movie , AKIRA.

A film that truly requires no intro of any kind, this one viewing evoked feelings for the medium that had yet been experienced. And that is very much in the manner as films such as AKIRA must be digested as, an experience. Not being familiar with the incredible source material, it was something akin to allowing ones’ self to be absorbed into the chaotic world of these characters, and to drink in the dystopic fury of what must have been brewing deeply within many folks in Japan at the time. The film felt like a much needed purging of emotions in a rapturous package that helped illuminate my mind to the possibilities of manga art, and its animated extensions. Coming out of that theater, dizzy, and drunk with love for the film, it became something akin to what was referred by Professor Brian O’Blivion in Videodrome as “a new part of the brain”.

And it is also possible that in those pre Subs Only Watching/Japanese studying days, that it was the sensational dub licensed by Streamline Pictures from Kodansha  that helped seal the deal. Utilizing only a handful of familiar-sounding actors (These guys, anyone?) to play what is essentially an epic-sized cast was no mean feat. And even as a great deal of it is played for camp value, it at least was translated & performed well enough for many to accept it, and embrace the achievement that Otomo and company had brought to the world stage.

Aside from being such a landmark piece of work, it became something of a prophecy for the relationship between us siblings. While both of us being well-versed in film as kids, few films would ever have the same kind of jarring effect that this one had, especially once Orion & Streamline brought the film to American VHS not too much later. And once this film came into our possession, it felt as if little was to remain the same for the both of us.

Analog Diaries Part 2: Thinking Of The Children

A product ripped from the blogs of recent days, The Analog Diaries is a series of recollections of a time before digital distribution. In the days when passion was gargantuan, and access was low. Created in memory of the days when all fans had on their sleeves were their desires amidst a media climate rivaling the Southern California Desert. It was a time of heroes, villains, fools & miles of tape. Welcome to the land of uncool.

How else could it have played out? A young life, within limited means.

There were only two real roads into the anime medium during those days. It was either what was provided for us on the tube, or at stores/swap meets where we could find an assortment of both authentic toy replicas as well as knockoffs emblazoned, “Made In Macau”. It was perhaps this one array of simple elements that led me down this strange road. And on that road contained a dozen or do bizarre detours, and speedbumps that only a few of us noticed. When you’re a kid, if it was cool to you, that’s all that mattered. And cable showings of edited & dubbed versions of Unico, or The Legend Of Sirius were rare. But when they came on, it was not unlike treasure landing at my feet. There was little keeping me from the tube when works like this were on. I even vividly remember catching the original Uchu Senkan Yamato feature on KTLA Channel five on a dreary Sunday morning at Grandma’s. Or how about the time’s I caught Gatchaman on mexican TV with much of the violence well intact? Better yet when Nausicaa came to cable in the form of Warriors Of The Wind? There was a quality to all of it that left me not merely surprised & inspired, but racked with longing for more.

Access…the ultimate dilemma.

And yet this very lack of access possibly even contributed to my later denial of admiration, and even disdain for it in just a few brief years later. Made all the more dramatic when my younger brother started on his weekly trips to the local video huts.

Continue reading Analog Diaries Part 2: Thinking Of The Children

The Analog Diaries Part 1: The Land Of Uncool

A product ripped from the blogs of recent days, The Analog Diaries is a series of recollections of a time before digital distribution. In the days when passion was gargantuan, and access was low. Created in memory of the days when all fans had on their sleeves were their desires amidst a media climate rivaling the Southern California Desert. It was a time of heroes, villains, fools & miles of tape. Welcome to the land of uncool.

Perhaps this post was inevitable. There seems to have been an array of toweringly large picket signs adorned with lights in place saying that I needed to share a little about the early days of one of my most cherished hobbies. So when this weekend finally came to pass, and I shared some of my concerns and hopes for the japanese animation industry, it only felt natural to share some memories of my own regarding the early days of the medium within the US. And very much like a brave few fans, my memories are borne out of what was available on television at the time. From catching the bug at a very early age with Star Blazers (Uchu Senkan Yamato) & Battle Of The Planets (Gatchaman), to of course the big guns of Robotech(Superdimension Fortress Macross, Superdimension Cavalry Southern Cross, Genesis Climber Mospeada), these along with a number of live-action tokutatsu shows aired on local affiliates helped solidify massive parts of my childhood. Even as the american mainstream embraced mere crumbs of these new & engrossing worlds, I was ready for an entire course by age 5!

Continue reading The Analog Diaries Part 1: The Land Of Uncool