The End of Saturday Morning

“Certain non-Japanese producers, post-Pokémon, were indeed actively reverse-engineering its success, asking what it was that made anime special and attempting to implement that – I know this because I was paid a lot of money to tell them… [O’Melia] focusses on some interesting areas within reception studies, particularly regarding the hybridity of global broadcasting. She notes that, like British television in days past, Japanese television has exerted a recognisable impact on American broadcasting, contrary to many scare-mongering claims that American media are being hurled at the world on one-way tickets.”

Over at All the Anime, I review Gina O’Melia’s account of the time that American children’s television began turning Japanese.

Shunted to Saturday

As noted by the Asahi Shinbun, anime passed a grim milestone in September when its last two representative serials faded from primetime. Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, once heavy-hitters of the early evening schedule, are now pulling audience shares that struggle to hit 7%, which has caused them to be shunted aside this October. They will now air on Saturdays, leaving the primetime weekday slot for, I don’t know, inane panel shows and something about a cat that drives trains.

The news sits at the nexus of a whole bunch of metadata and statistics, tied up in part with technological shifts and the changing demographics of Japan. Time was, when the average Japanese nuclear family had two school-age kids who needed to be distracted on the single television in the lounge. Now, they are more likely to have just one child, halving the number of hours a TV is liable to be turned to children’s entertainment. And that notional Japanese child, certainly by his or her teenage years, is liable to have a TV and/or a computer screen, and a video-compatible phone.

And while this is probably a tad academic and nerdy, even for NEO, I feel obliged to point out that primetime is still keeping animation companies busy – there are logos and idents, eye-catches and adverts, a vast number of which not only require animation, but pay substantially better second-per-second than a 22-minute cartoon. We should also remember that the anime that you enjoy – your Death Note and your Ghost in the Shell and the like, have never been part of primetime. Most of the shows that score high with a foreign audience tend to air in Japan late at night, in the graveyard slot, when nobody is watching. The otaku audience has not been served by primetime since the last century.

So don’t cry for the “loss” of anime from primetime. This is an accountant’s decision, to do with who is liable to be watching at those hours, and what advertising space is most lucratively sold for them. I was sitting in the departure lounge at Narita airport last month, and the primetime adverts that assailed me were for writing a will, retirement homes, and a commercial for Tokyo Gas. Then again, the latter featured pop star Kyoko Fukada, dressed as devil-girl Lum and singing a pastiche of the Urusei Yatsura theme song. Anime isn’t gone just yet.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #194, 2019.

Turning Japanese?

“… it’s all totally worth it as long as the end result is Kirsten Dunst, dressed as a schoolgirl witch, singing ‘Turning Japanese’ (a song about wanking), while dancing down a Tokyo street. ‘No sex,’ as she points out, ‘no drugs, no wine, no women, no fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it’s dark.'”

Over at All the Anime, I review the new book by Patrick W. Galbraith.

100% Perfect Sunshine Girl

Up on the All the Anime blog, my take on Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You.

“Shinkai was plainly unequipped for the fame that Your Name brought to him. He has spoken in interviews of being recognised in the street by enthusiastic fans, but also of overhearing people bad-mouthing his film in public. The reaction of some celebrity critics was particularly tough. Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of the Oscar-winning Shoplifters, diplomatically commented that the film was packed with elements of a hit, ‘…perhaps too packed.’ Yoshiyuki Tomino, the notoriously prickly creator of Gundam, declared that he doubted anyone would be watching Your Name in five years’ time.”

“I asked myself,” a wounded Shinkai told Matt Schley of the Japan Times, “should I make a film my critics will like, or should I make one they’ll hate even more?”

Archiving Anime

Over at All the Anime, I review Niigata University’s free publication on archiving Japanese animation materials, with special reference to their test case, The Wings of Honneamise.

“Other elements of the book include Dario Lolli on history and technology in Honneamise, Jaqueline Berndt on the history of overseas anime/manga exhibitions (written before the British Museum’s recent triumph), a revealing interview with Hiroyuki Yamaga about the financial underpinnings of Gainax and his own struggles with creating the characters, and Kim Joon Yang asking what archived materials can tell us about anime. He delves deep into some of the directions on storyboards, noting that, say, a Star Wars inspiration is far more arguable in an analysis if we have the director’s own scrawl in the margins, reading ‘Make this like that scene in Star Wars!'”

In Other Words

Fandom is up in arms about the recent Netflix broadcast of Evangelion, because the all-new dub is missing several vital cues from the soundtrack. Some of them, such as background noise under an answerphone message, are liable to pass a lot of viewers buy, but the most noticeable omission is the ending theme – Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon”.

Ten months ago (NEO #181), this column reported on the slow creep of Netflix’s influence on anime theme songs. Now fandom has had its first full-on taste of what that might mean. Evangelion, the Japanese original and the original overseas release on VHS, was made in the 1990s before the advent of true binge-watching, and indeed before the days when distributors were likely to require global licences. One can imagine a bean-counter at Netflix flinching at the idea of paying the original composer and lyricist, plus multiple singers and arrangers, repeatedly, for single-use performances of a song that most Netflix viewers are liable to skip through anyway.

If you add together all the different iterations of Evangelion, the differing lengths of episodes in different formats, and the new versions dropped in for the DVD renewal, there are in fact 31 different versions of “Fly Me to the Moon” appearing in the Evangelion series, so there is no way that Netflix could have used all of them in just 26 episodes. They have, however, chosen to use exactly none of them – although the show still goes out in Japan (where rights were presumably cleared 24 years ago) with the 1954 ballad over the ending credits, Netflix in most other territories drops in a piece of orchestral music, “Hostility Restrained”, for which rights were presumably easier to clear.

I’ve been a little surprised at the intensity of the fan response to this alteration. Theme songs get switched around all the time, often without anyone noticing or caring (A “Chariots of Fire” pastiche, missing from a Gunbuster re-release was a rare exception reported in NEO #32), but this one seems to have struck a nerve, not the least with old-time fans with fond memories of the song’s gentle reverie, usually as they came down off whatever intense and visceral misery they had just seen in the episode proper. It serves as a reminder to us all that the media are never entirely fixed, and that the experience of one fan can be distanced from that of another by time, context, and even content.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 191, 2019.

Love Means Love

I would like to be reporting on a whole generation of new fans suddenly created – an upwelling of anime love generated by the Netflix release of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Instead, for the second month in a row, fandom is enmired in complaints and arguments about the English-language version. This time it’s over the appearance of Kaworu, the “Fifth Children”, who famously tells the beleaguered hero Shinji that he loves him.

Or rather, he did, in the old ADV Films DVDs. In Dan Kanemitsu’s new translation, he says he likes him, which Kanemitsu has defended as a deliberate word-choice for ambiguity’s sake.

It turns out that there is a faction within fandom who demands that this not be ambiguous at all. Many have fond memories of Kaworu’s declaration as a moment of LGBT clarity, a “we’re here, we’re queer” invasion of mainstream anime to be celebrated, and now being suppressed. Others are armchair translators who remember the former version and don’t like the change.

Kanemitsu is working with a bunch of factors behind the scenes, starting with his own undeniable talent (he didn’t win this gig in a lottery) and unknown stipulations by Studio Khara, whose own staff are keener on the “like” side. Add to that the delicious tangle that he cannot even lean on precedent, because Evangelion’s creator Hideaki Anno limited himself to the equally ambiguous comment that Kaworu “could” be a potential same-sex partner. Meanwhile, ADV’s own original translation of Evangelion had “like” in its 1990s VHS subtitles, and switched it to “love” when the DVD came out.

The fact is that suki can mean like or love depending on context. There are hundreds of ways to say “I love you” in Japanese, but the Japanese hardly ever employ any of them, regarding a direct declaration as rather gauche, blunt or well, foreign. Kaworu’s line is already a step away from the norm, a nudge beyond flirtation – a comment sure to unsettle and discombobulate.

So I’m with many others in the translation field when I say that I, personally, would have gone with “love” for this line, not only for its possibly disquieting force, but because Judaeo-Christian tradition, on which Evangelion leans so conspicuously, has multiple interpretations of the term – including philia (brotherly love), agape (charity) and eros (erotic love). Just because you unpack the term into a single English word, doesn’t mean that the arguments over interpretation are over.

But I would have done so in search of the same ambiguity as Kanemitsu. I find it in scripture and the assumption of an audience with a Christian cultural background, which is frankly, a presumption on my part not necessarily shared by the audience Kanemitsu is playing to. “Context” is not merely the dramatic situation of the line, but the abilities and expectations of one’s presumed audience. So both lines are right, depending on who is reading them.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 192, 2019.