Fractale Geometries

In January, unnamed members of a production committee demanded that the US distributor Funimation postpone further simulcasts of the Fractale anime until such time as the show was not being pirated on the internet. In other words, as a special reward for paying all that money for the rights to Fractale, Funimation was now lumbered with an open-endedly Sisyphean task akin to ending all crime and bringing peace to the Middle East.

A production committee is a multi-headed hydra of differing interests in a media title, often including a manga author, a comics publisher, the bloke whose factory makes the plushies, someone who supplies the music, and so on. On a good day, a production committee means that everyone spreads the risk and the profits of a film or TV show. On a bad day, it can mean a vast army of cooks fussing over the broth with contradictory directives; witness, for example the forty-six (count ’em!) different names on the production committee for K20: Legend of the Mask. You know how difficult it is to get three friends to agree on where to eat? Now imagine that you have to get consensus from a crowd of several dozen, including eight vegetarians, five people who hate curry, three devout Muslims, Aunt Mabel (who “won’t eat foreign food”) and a Shetland pony called Colin.

Production committees can also mean a number of hangers-on, relatives, spouses, and clueless lawyers representing estates or preoccupied members. I can only assume that the Fractale request came from similar interests – possibly the kind of person who doesn’t know what the internet actually is, and who assumed that all “piracy” could be stopped by sending a SWAT team around to arrest a lone man with an eye-patch who cackles over a computer somewhere in Arizona. We can, at least, thank our lucky stars that someone explained to the offending committee members that simulcasts actually slap piracy down, and in the case of Fractale, gave an illegal version a window for success of less than sixty minutes, before good hearted fans could watch the real thing, legally, for themselves.

Meanwhile, Japanese academic Tatsuo Tanaka has recently published a discussion paper that the Fractale committee would do well to read. In it, he argues the common-sense case that fans benefit from a preview medium, and that it is folly to expect someone to pay £30 to buy a show they have never seen, merely because it has a girl in a miniskirt on the cover with big eyes and spiky hair. Access to legal streaming, clips and trailers helps customers make an informed choice about how to spend their money. They are more likely to spend their money on something they like, and hence come back to buy more if it.

Crucially, however, Tanaka is talking about legal streaming. Companies and creators have the moral right to decide how and when to give away free samples. That decision does not rest with pirates and thieves, no matter what self-righteous defences they might spout. Hence, sadly, the Fractale committee had the moral right to be as counter-productively idiotic with their franchise as they wanted, but thankfully someone talked them round before they could do untold damage to their own show.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #83, 2011.

Pet Hates — Anime Style

A couple of years ago, the British magazine 3D World asked me to list my pet hates in Japanese computer animation. This is what I sent them:

1. Over-long beauty passes. “We’ve rendered that spaceship, let’s watch it trundle past for just a few more seconds…and a few more.” The modern equivalent of the agonisingly long freeze frame.

2. Faceless robot minions. “Design one, design them all.” A common temptation in all cartoons ever since Disney perfected “Xerox animation” for 101 Dalmations. But it just makes everything feel like a video game.

3, Any excuse for hovering off the ground. “That way, we don’t have to touch it.” Many Japanese cartoons make a virtue out of floaty contact, plumping for hovercars, weightlessness and psychic powers to keep from worrying about how feet interact with surfaces, and hands with objects.

4. Flat lifeless humans amid vibrant, dynamic machines. Humans are the tough part, so why not ignore them? It doesn’t help that the Uncanny Valley encourages modern animators to make their human characters less realistic, choosing instead to use “Toon-Shading” styling to make them look like big-eyed, spikey-haired manga moppets.

5. A cavalier disregard for physics. “We’ve got planes that fly backwards!” After all that effort in modelling reality, some bright spark just ignores it anyway for impossible leaps, and incredible feats of strength. As in overblown live action SFX, it just reminds the viewer that none of this is really happening.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade.

Osamu Dezaki 1943-2011

I’ve written an obituary of Osamu Dezaki, director of Golgo 13, Aim for the Ace and Black Jack, among many others. It’s up online at the Manga UK blog. Not something I was expecting to have to write this morning, but when is it ever?

Dezaki was one of the few animators working in the Japanese business who had a readily identifiable style. You could always tell you were watching a Dezaki anime, regardless of the subject, thanks to his “Postcard Memory” cutaways.

I always enjoyed his insistence on taking things seriously — even comedy. This attitude even cost him work, such as the time he refused to direct a school drama about boys falling in love with other boys, because the gayness wasn’t real enough, and the realness wasn’t gay enough.

Ad Men

Over on the Manga UK blog today, I’ve written an article about the most widely seen anime of 1958. If you thought it was Legend of the White Snake, then you’re in for a surprise. It’s actually one of the many anime adverts, often overlooked by the anime studies community.

Although nowhere near as outright creepy as this one:

Salon Futura #8

The latest issue of Salon Futura is online today, and includes my article on Yukinobu Hoshino, the manga artist behind 2001 Nights, the Professor Munakata series, and, much, much more. I’ve just written the entry on Hoshino for the forthcoming third edition of the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, which now includes full bibliographies for Japanese subjects, so the article is the result of several days of cataloguing and poking around Hoshino’s publication record. My ongoing work on the encyclopaedia, however, amounts to an entire book-within-a-book about Japanese SF authors and winners of the Sei’un Awards, so you’ll see more in a similar vein someday soon. As for 2001 Nights, UK residents can catch it at the Sci Fi London all-nighter on 30th April.

Meanwhile, last week I dropped in on a London studio in order to see how things were going on the English audio recording of Musashi: Dream of the Last Samurai, which will be out from Manga Entertainment in July. I turned up for an afternoon session to discover that the studio’s previous occupant had left his trousers behind on the sofa. One wonders what kind of impression that must have made in Soho, if he was wandering around attired only from the waist up, like some celebrity version of Donald Duck. Luckily, of course, it was Soho, so I imagine nobody noticed.