Anime in the UK

Tim Lunn of Anime in the UK wants to ask me about Saiko Exciting (2002) in the comments section, but I am replying here because my comments section inexplicably won’t include paragraphs any more. And he asked me two weeks ago, and so I apologise for only just seeing his questions now.

TL: I know you did co-host back in the day I’m writing to ask how this show came to be and what it was like working on it?

Tim, in case you haven’t already, I do recommend typing “Saiko Exciting” into this blog’s Search box, just to hoover up every mention I have made of it, including Hissy Diva Fit, my account of the day of the photoshoot, and Economies of Knowledge, in which I do indeed tell the true story of the expert consultant who got paid a huge amount of money to tell us all that the thing that was wrong with the anime programme was all the anime in it.

My own involvement with Saiko Exciting started when I presented a history of anime sci-fi at the ICA in London as part of, I think, the first Sci-Fi London film festival. There were a bunch of people from what was then called the Sci-Fi channel there, sitting in the audience, and I think someone thought I would be a useful house weeb to have when they did their Japan-themed show.

TL: Sadly, only later shows from the run exist on YouTube. I would like to know what the show was like when it was following its original vision.

I was actually only on the show proper as a presenter for the first eight episodes, I think. After that, I was moved to introduce the Thursday late-night anime slots solo. I would come in every Monday and shoot them with a revolving merry-go-round of directors. I think the director of my last intro had been the tea boy at the first. When I showed up, Debbie the assistant producer would give me fifteen minutes to translate a song into Chinese, sometimes a song I had literally never heard before that morning. It was a silly little slot that filled up a minute on the show proper for the rest of the episodes, but I rarely had anything to do with the people making it, as I was off doing my intros.

So in terms of the “original vision”, I think that the main thing jettisoned from the first couple of months was, er… me. I have vague memories of having a couple of Statto the Statman type banter sequences with Emily and Seera in the early episodes, but by episode nine, I was doing that solo on Thursday nights, introducing the various anime, reading out hate mail, and giving a run-down of the anime news. Looking back at my emails, I see that the later episodes of Saiko Exciting had a new, bittier format that broke up the anime a bit so left no time at all for anyone to get bored with any one thing. That, at least, was the idea. I can’t say for sure because I don’t know if I ever watched it myself!

I really loved working for the Sci Fi channel, and it was my first real taste of the media whirl that my life still occasionally is. But it didn’t last very long.

I came in to the offices on the day after the last episode went out, and I found everybody standing around one of the computers staring in bafflement at the screen. Our ratings showed an absolutely huge spike on the last episode.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means,” someone said, “that only an idiot would cancel us.”

While the show was cancelled, I think, after episode 20, my late-night intros made it to the end of 2002, so there were four more, and the scripts for my weekly news round-up went up to #64, and continued to appear on the website, along with my Far West column, until December 2003. Most of the people I knew at Sci Fi had gone by September… I remember there was some sort of shake-up and the turnover of the staff was so huge that it was basically a different company and nobody knew me.

We’ve all gone on to bigger things. Seera hobnobs with media royalty and has her own production company under her real name. Emily Newton-Dunn is some sort of corporate ninja at Electronic Arts. And I became “Dr Jonathan Clements”, and a few years later, the fact that I had any television experience at all, however mad, helped me clinch my job on Route Awakening.

A few years later, Saturday Night Live did a terrifying skit about a TV show for weebs, and I thought… “Oh my God… that’s us!”

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