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Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 2: The Miku War)

In the end, we got the the Miku videos up. You can see them here. But the road there was long and circuitous.

II: The Miku War

She told us, the nice girl at the press booth, that we needed to a sign a form to film the Hatsune Miku concert. It was a three page list of rules with a consent form at the end, which needed to be signed to get both photo and video shooting rights. Each press outlet only got two main event tickets for the whole con, and since I wanted to go to Kalafina, that meant only one person would get to cover Miku.

A three page list of rules sounds restrictive and intimidating, but as we read them we were astonished by their generosity. We were allowed to shoot six songs, seven if the intro montage was included. We were allowed photography rights anytime. These are some of the loosest rules I’ve ever seen in my time as press at anime conventions, in which the norm has usually been 3 songs maximum, if any at all. (The no-footage-whatsoever rule for Miyuki Sawashiro was more extreme than most, but the norm is closer to that end than to its opposite.) Moreover, no restrictions were described in public dissemination for the footage and photography—no prior approval or limit written in the rules.

We were, in other words, free as can be. And I knew we had to get that footage out ASAP.

These people were in line for the Miku concert. A local news crew apparently interviewed some of them for the evening broadcast.

I remember sitting outside the Nokia Theater the night of the concert, writing my Kalafina reflection article. It was a warm evening, t-shirt and shorts temperature, and I was in as relaxed a mood as I possibly could be in the middle of a hectic convention. When the Anime Diet staff who attended came out of the show—Rome, Dan, and Mike—they were excited, albeit tired. I looked at the footage Dan shot—despite his initial misgivings, it was more than usable. It had gotten the essence of what the concert was like; the music was crystal clear and the smoothness and dynamism of the animated idol was plain. In short, I knew we had a winner.

We celebrated at the ESPN Sports Zone. It was also Dan’s birthday, and we had a toast. Then we all drove home.

I spent some time in the press lounge over the next couple of days, splitting the footage into songs, adding a few titles. I doubled checked the rules to make sure we weren’t restricted on it. We weren’t; the only thing even close was a set of contact info if we wanted access to the official photos and videos that would be made available to the press.

So we uploaded them—where else?—on Youtube, the first ones going up on the last day of the convention. They were an immediate hit, with thousands of views. I noted specifically that we had permission, and that an official DVD/Blu-Ray was forthcoming (its release is now imminent as of this writing). The videos, while clear, were no substitute for whatever official footage would come along: the angle wasn’t ideal, for one. It was a nice preview at best.

This is just one strike of two.

The takedown notices came within almost exactly 24 hours, one right after another. They came from a party I didn’t know was involved with Miku, Sega Japan. (They are the ones who actually animated Miku’s motions.) While it ruined my dinner and made my blood pressure rise—not since we were kicked out of Google Adsense for “adult content” have I been so irritated and angry on behalf of the staff—I also was somewhat prepared for it. Posting concerts, though we’ve done it before without issue when it was part of our press privileges, can be risky. But the document, I assumed, had us covered. I immediately called Dan and asked for a scan of the rule sheet, knowing that there was no provision on there for video releases on the Internet. It’d be a matter, I was sure, of contacting the right people listed on the sheet and explaining the situation, pointing out that our contract didn’t specify anything of the sort, and that we should get at least our Youtube demerits removed.

So I wrote emails to both reps that were listed in the contract—one from ASCII Media Works (sponsor of many of your favorite current anime) and one from Crypton Future Media, the creators of the Hatsune Miku character and voice. I wrote a long, detailed and documented email, complete with annotated scans of the rules. We were in the right, I felt, and we could prove it. This was a misunderstanding that could be cleared up if I just simply explained it in justifiable detail.

That, in retrospect, may have been the wrong approach. Neither representative was a native English speaker, and the wall of English text may have been intimidating. They may not have had the authority or even the knowledge to correct an issue with Sega and Youtube. I only received a brief reply from the ASCII representative, which indicated (as far as I could determine) that Sega was busy removing videos from Youtube and that this was their initiative to prevent piracy. In short, my question wasn’t answered, and I replied back that the issue was that we thought we did have permission. You can see the rules we got for yourself below, with the relevant section circled.

  

We’ve never received any further replies from any party. Not ASCII, Crypton, or—once I discovered how to contact them on Youtube—Sega. I sought help from a friend who speaks fluent Japanese and has worked with industry figures before to draft a much shorter, to-the-point letter. It got no response either. She explained that Miku’s rights are knotty and complex, with many stakeholders on the production committee; it was very possible that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing, and that just because Crypton and ASCII permitted something does not mean that Sega or anyone else would. And a glance at Youtube revealed that Sega had been pretty ruthless indeed; no video with any clear close-ups of Miku or other Vocaloids remained from that concert, by anyone. They were consistent, at least.

So we had no videos, two strikes on our Youtube account, and no recourse. Youtube’s counterclaim procedure—in which you say that you indeed own all the rights to the creation—had the scary warning that it could lead directly to a lawsuit. In fact, a lawsuit was required if the content owner disputed your counterclaim. I hesitated greatly at this prospect. I began to despair that we’d ever get the strikes removed, which by now was the main goal—having strikes forbids us from posting videos longer than 15 minutes and any additional strike for any reason will get all our videos removed.

Two months later, by chance, I read a tweet from our own Wintermuted about the upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release of the Mikunopolis concert. The link went to the concert’s official website, which, inexplicably, I had never explored. This may rank as one of my larger oversights, because when I went to the “Press” section, I discovered the passage I had been looking for all along (see the red boxed area):

So that was it. Sega didn’t want any Miku vids on video sharing sites, but they had no problem with self-hosted videos. Why they didn’t tell all of us as press this earlier, I have no idea. They could have told us this when I made my email inquiries too. Thing is, we at Anime Diet have no desire to go against the wishes of the rights holders. We just needed to know the rules up-front. Those two sentences would have avoided all of this trouble had they been in the rules from the beginning.

But I was happy to discover this. It led me to repost the videos on our own servers the very next day.

The black marks on our Youtube account still remain, however. I’m still considering what to do with that. So the story is, in a way, not quite over. But the important battle—the videos themselves—is concluded, in a kind of victory.


Conclusion

I tell this story not for pity’s sake, or to showcase our spoiled nature, or even to disparage Sega or other rights holders. I certainly could have googled for the official site much earlier, so it is a story of my own neglect as much as anything else.

What we have here, though, is a great example of both the liminal nature of being fan press I talked about earlier, as well as the importance of communication.

This was a problem with two dimensions. One is that Sega’s discomfort with press footage loose on Youtube and other video sites is an example of how much further “new media” has to go in terms of respectability, especially when they are still not far removed from their fan roots. A CBS, NHK, or CNN would probably have no problems posting similar footage, and the ASCII rep’s cloudy reply mentioned something about how Sega wanted to prevent “audience footage” or something like that from getting out. Clearly, Sega had the mindset that whatever was shot by parties other than themselves was amateurish and unworthy of release. While I understand that mentality to some extent—it’s the same mentality that prevents many guests of honor from being filmed or photographed in general by their management—it needs to be clear what is and isn’t allowed from the get go, so that the outlets who follow the rules to the letter don’t get penalized.

That’s the second aspect, and the more important one. What burned about the experience was how after-the-fact it was: how we found out two months afterwards that the problem wasn’t having videos, the problem was putting it on Youtube. This is not clear from simple takedown notices that offered no precise explanation for their removal. I realize here, too, that language and culture barriers may have played a role. Yet the rule sheet, and the explanation on the website discovered later on, were clear enough. Had those two sentences been in the rule sheet, we’d not be in this mess. The videos would have been posted not long after the concert and all parties would be happy.

It was not a loss. I learned a lesson about communication and about the need, as a reporting outlet, to ask the right questions beforehand; and that in our mission to bring you the best and most complete coverage there are always going to be lumps along the way. They’re worth taking, though. Despite my frustration—on behalf of Dan, who shot the videos, and for my staff and for our viewers—I think we did right, and we always want to do right by both you, our audience, and to rights holders. We may be scrappy and “new” as media, but we’re also growing. Let us know, that’s all we ask. Chances are, we probably want to do the same thing.

Whew. Glad that’s off my chest now. :) The next part will be the final part in the Conventional Wisdom series, and it’ll be a lot more positive.

Next time: hobnobbing with CEOs and bloggers.

Hatsune Miku: Mikunopolis 2011 Concert Videos

Well, everyone, the wait is over! We discovered that we indeed have permission to post our concert footage online, so long as we host it ourselves. And that’s what we’re doing here: posting all 6 concert videos which were taken down by Sega on Youtube, hosted on our own servers. They’re streaming, they’re instant, and they’re awesome. (And, unfortunately, they are Flash so iPhone/iPad users, no dice for now…looking into a solution for that. As an Apple user it pains me to say that, but this is a better, more universal solution than Quicktime for now.)

Anyway, enough yapping. Here’s the videos!

Clover Club

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Electric Angel

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Koi Suru VOC@LOID

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Poppippo

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Romeo and Cinderella

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World is Mine

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Toshiyuki Morikawa Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

Anime Diet’s exclusive interview with Toshiyuki Morikawa, best known as the voice of Griffith in “Berserk” and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children! He also has been the Japanese dub voice for many famous actors like Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Ewan McGregor, and others. We ask him about what it’s like to act for anime/games vs live action dubbing, which roles he likes best, and whether he’s ever wanted to cosplay as Sephiroth before.

Transcript follows after the break.


Q: How did you get started in voice acting?

In Japan, there are schools that train voice actors: I entered one of these, called Katsuya Voice Acting Academy.

Q: I know you went to school with Kotono Mitsuishi and others. Do you still get along with her and other classmates?

A long time ago, Kotone and I were in the same production company, Arts Vision. Now she’s a freelancer. Similarly, I started a company called AXLONE this April, and have been working independently. We’ve met sometimes in the studio and talked. Also, our ages are close so we get along really well.

Q: You’ve also dubbed a lot of Hollywood actors’ voices. Which voices did you enjoy most?

All of them have been fun. Nowadays, when it comes to dubbing…  Well, it used to take a while before a Hollywood movie would be released in Japan. Now movies tend to have world-wide premieres, so I’ve been able to enjoy dubbing the newest movies immediately after release. It’s refereshing. In terms of which one I liked best, I’ve done Tom Cruise for a long time. For example, Knight and Day, which was released last year, and the Mission: Impossible series. Also, I liked doing Ewan McGregor’s voices in Star Wars. I think… I would say I feel close to the stars whose roles I’ve dubbed the longest.

The one I’ve worked with the longest — I don’t know if you know, so this may be surprising — is Adam Sandler. (Rome: Personally?) No, I mean in terms of dubbing. (Rome: Oh, I see!)

Just recently, I worked on the Clone Wars animation.

Q: Have you met any of the actors you dubbed over? What do they think of your work?

I haven’t met them. Actually with Tom Cruise…. I haven’t met him personally, but Tom actually watched the voice over I did for him in Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, which in turn led to him having me do his roles in Japan. Because of that, I told him I would love to receive him in Japan when he comes, but he’s never in Japan for an entire day since he has to fly out in his jet immediately so we haven’t had the chance to meet.

Hey, you’re in Los Angeles now. Maybe you’ll see him?

Maybe he’s around!

Q: What’s the difference in acting for anime/games as opposed to live action movies?

Animation is, well, 2D. Live actions are 3D, meaning it has depth. Due to this, anime is done a bit over the top. On the other hand, in movies the actors have such rich facial expressions, so the acting doesn’t rely on voice alone. That means I don’t have to exaggerate my acting.

Q: What draws you to acting deep-voiced characters? Did you ever scare your classmates with your deep voice?

No, that’s never happened. You see, my voice actually isn’t that low. I have both a high and low range. But in order to become the some of the characters I’ve been asked to play, I needed to sound deeper. After all, sometimes you want to sound scary or murderous just using your voice, so it’s just this image. If you actually measured my voice, you would notice it’s not that low. People have this image of me. For example, they might think I have a dark personality.

Q: Last questions—have you or have you ever been tempted to cosplay as Sephiroth? And what would you do with all the fangirls who’d come chasing after you?

Well, if I can move swiftly, I would.

(Rome: Ah! And if you were assaulted by fan girls?)

I would run away.

Maon Kurosaki Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

At long last, the first of our numerous junket interviews with Japanese Guests of Honor! Up first is Maon Kurosaki, the Akiba idol and singer of the ending themes for High School of the Dead.

Continue reading Maon Kurosaki Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

Fred Gallagher (Megatokyo) Interview – AX 2011 Junket

Here’s our first junket interview to be released—our talk with Fred Gallagher, the artist behind the Megatokyo comic! Megatokyo was, as readers might know, a formative influence in my early fandom years at the turn of the last decade. I was able to talk to Fred about his influences from the visual novel/dating sim scene, his thoughts about current anime, his artistic habits, and even something about Ping vs Hatsune Miku. Check it out!