Stephanie Sheh on the anime industry

Stephanie Sheh is a voice actress whose works include the English versions of Lucky Star, Gundam Unicorn, Naruto, Bleach, Gurren Lagann, and Eureka Seven. She describes herself as an “actress, director, photographer, shortie.”

Following a dispute Sheh had with fansubber deviryuu over the motives, means, and impact of fansubbing, I contacted her to discuss the state of the American animation industry. The conversation was eye-opening, both in terms of what industry insiders think and in terms of the sociological factors that predispose them to think in certain ways.

For example, a commonly-touted argument now is that the industry depends on purchases, so by purchasing, a consumer is contributing to future anime, and by not purchasing, a consumer makes it less likely that anime will be produced in years to come. Implicit in that argument is the idea that a downloader cares about anime production in the future. While the idea that one cares enough to spend money holds true for serious anime fans, it is an assumption that probably should not be made when it comes to the broader audience of downloaders. It is, in short, the sort of argument an emotionally invested fan would think up, and Sheh’s assertion that American industry insiders were fans first serves to drive that home. (Being emotionally invested in what you produce is good – but inability to see past that one perspective when formulating policy could be disastrous.)

Reaction on Twitter was immediate, with some fans supporting Sheh’s take on things and others criticizing its relatively unsophisticated approach.

bikasuishin S. Sheh on anime piracy: “I’m not tryn 2 guilt peeps, just educ8” Oh wow. I’ll suggest that line to friends who teach violent suburban kids

winterkaijyu It takes diverse levels of fandom to act. She’s merely looking at one. Naturally, the source is the main target.

Is the solution to piracy really as simple as making people aware of the cost of their actions? Or will we discover that more fundamental, economic motives dictate peoples’ behavior? Read and decide for yourself. (Note: comments on Twitter appear in reverse order.)



Author: moritheil

One might be forgiven for thinking that Moritheil is a postmodern literary critic who started reviewing video games in 2001, and spent the early 2000s learning at the right hand of con staff and fansubbers. However, those rumors are spurious: Moritheil is actually a distant relative of Genghis Khan who stands poised to conquer the world via the Internet. Follow along at

5 thoughts on “Stephanie Sheh on the anime industry

  1. It’s important to keep in mind that the way to reform is a multi-angled process. As much as I would like to continue my screed about squelching the problem at the source, local actions are equally as important. And her ideas are among the more positive ones we’ve been pulling for over the last few years, with some added ones for the very young streaming model. As someone who has worked there, and sees just how tight matters are, I’m fully aware of just how much merchandise does not move, and the need for ideas to flow between the local companies and the fans. The dialogue itself is a major part of finding these new avenues as the transition continues. In a way, this is what we have been hoping to see more of. And while it may not be aimed at the bigger fish, it is certainly functioning in a positive direction. Applying it to a radically changing business model is another matter that will definitely work itself out in time. But as we hope for a more democratized means toward how we acquire our media, it is vital to think within our current means.

    Her ideas are sound, and offer dialogue to those who have yet been unable to see where they can help. Perhaps from here, some help can come to those who carry the torch of localized pop culture. And perhaps will send a message toward an import industry desperately in need of new blood.

  2. To your quiery, the solution is both. An culture has been born, and nurtured over the last decade, and should have a voice. To merely place it in the hands of passionless bean-counters can only help so much. This also gives the US industry a face. And while it may seem like preaching to the converted, it also helps local fans to better express their views to other circuits. Fringe fans are vital yes, but to see it from both sides, all the more personal. Much like in Japan, it is an industry built on the cheap, and requires some clarity with fans who still aren’t familiar with the process.

  3. I think business circle is not catching up with technological advance?

    I think Niconico is pretty good, they put ads of anime DVD and sell. And they put ads of video games too. I think that’s one of the solutions.

    But I thought media’s most revenue was based on ads, so their main revenue was not from DVD. Doesn’t anime’s profit come from CMs? It’s true that IT revolution has made us less spend on DVDs.

    Same with music. Artists have to do a lot of live shows, they can’t earn money by solely being a recording artist. I haven’t bought a CD for a couple of years. For anime, animators are paid really cheap, because Dr. Tezuka made that way, bringing in Micky Mouse system to Japan. It was all his fault.

    I find tweeter language hard to read because of a lot spelling mistakes. As a foreigner and immigrant, this makes me feel better 🙂

  4. Sites like Nico Nico Douga do utilize the same ad-based streaming model, but like here, it doesn’t make nearly the money necessary to sustain anyone. The best advantage thus far with it is that the reduction of cost is pretty big since there’s less need for money to create DVDs, rent storage,etc. That said, there is still a demand for physical media to be sold. The online streaming business model is still very young, but is being forced into early adolescence because the losses are huge, and across the board for both Japan and the US. So action on both sides is important. This is something even Hollywood is working night and day to repair. All that is being suggested are some basics to kickstart some revenue so that development of future strategies can continue without losing any more employees, services, or personalities..

    A lot of this may be a case of too little too late, however.

    That said, as long as older fans remain aware of their options, and the Japanese find new ways of gaining new fans, and think openly…Anime may have a future beyond the mere niche it has engendered. (it’s important to remember to keep the audience in perspective; remember the numbers, even when anime dvd was booming) Otherwise, it will continue to resemble a no-winners game of chicken. So until this happens, ideas are the best, most constructive means of sustenance. First things first. And many fans are still in the dark as to the business reality, and how to remain an active part of it.

    1. So what can be the sustained revenue for anime? Character goods? DVDs? I’m a visual learner so a pie chart would help. People are so pessimistic about the future of anime…as if anime is doomed to perish from earth. I think the biggest money source is still from CM, corporate sponsors. If economy starts going back to normal, I guess there will be more sponsors willing to invest in anime.

      That’s true about losing services and personalities. SAG was having a long strike because TV is now becoming internet-based, so actors will be paid less. So I guess actors need to be multi-talented. Most seiyuus today are also professional singers. And good-looking.

      The online streaming is still nascent but it can be a great potential though. But even lack of money, we can see a masterpiece like Thunderbirds.

      Or the Japanese gov can pass a stimulus for anime studios. But since Japan has huge debts, politicians are trying to cut spending and raise taxes. So, anime can’t rely on government. I don’t know about fans too, since they are also having hard time, maybe hardest hit by this global recession. Even if they want to support, it’s really tough right now.

      Japan had the long lost decades, so they (especially youth) learned not to spend money. They rather take it easy, and probably looking for more therapeutic stuff. I think Healing will be the key. So, instead of New Deal, New Heal may be the driving force to restart economy. If anime can somehow fit in to that, maybe it has a chance. I think Niconico thing will also be potential once economy starts picking up, especially once they put youth back to work that pays decent.

      So I guess our hope is economic recovery for now, particularly, America’s economy since the world depends on American market.

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