Tag: Essay

The Problem with Fandom: Cultural Echo Chamber

Culture is a word I haven’t used much when talking about media, which is odd because no better word exists when discussing art and entertainment. We are all consumers of culture. We all give back to culture. Culture is defined by what people choose to consume and what they choose to ignore. It is used to define groups of people who consume a certain type of media that detracts from the mainstream: sub-culture. These are cultures that exist inside the larger cultural body. They are in ways isolated from normal culture but what they consume and create also gives back to the main culture as a whole.

Members of subcultures become blind to the fact that they are part of a subculture. There are a couple of key factors that lead into this kind of thinking. The chief among them is they start spending so much time and energy living in the subculture that they start to believe that everyone else thinks like they do. This happens, especially in the age of the internet, because the deeper they dive into the subculture the more they find and interact with people who think the way they do. This cements them into the subculture, gives them a feeling that they belong, and establishes a world view based around the subculture. Giving people a sense of community is great! But what this breeds is group think; the community becomes an echo chamber because the members of the community are surrounded by the people most likely to agree with them.

Continue reading “The Problem with Fandom: Cultural Echo Chamber”

Anti-Conformity in Kill la Kill

Conformity in anime is a common theme because the nature of the Japanese relationships to family and a structured class system. Even in the most mundane slice of life show having characters refer to elders with a special title creates a ridged class structure that the characters obey. There are some anime that tries to challenge some of the expectations of this class structure. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya challenges many normal anime tropes and structures included that social structure. Haruhi moves in and dominates her shy upperclassmen Mikuru. We rarely see a break in this kind of social structure.

Kill la Kill looks at all forms of conformity common to Japanese animation and gives them a giant middle finger. Our protagonist, Ryuko Matoi, walks into high school on her first day and makes a direct challenge to the social and political structures set in place.

This is first illustrated by her uniform, which she acquires shortly into the first episode and becomes her weapon against the school. The uniforms in Kill la Kill have become a status symbol. Students who are high ranking are giving uniforms that grant them special privileges and powers. Students who have no ranking get a standard bland uniform. Ryuko walking into the school wearing a nonstandard uniform serves as a symbol for her challenge to the authority established at the school. By not wearing a uniform she is rejecting the ranking system the student council has put in place and exists outside the social order. 

This theme matures during the battle between Ryuko and Gamagoori, in which Gamagoori discusses why Ryuko is a threat to the school and it’s current set up. When he becomes fed up with her during the battle he declares that he will, “end her independence and mold her into a model student.” Followed by calling her a slut for the appearance of her uniform during transformation. Gamagoori believes the act of modifying the uniform in any way a threat to the order to the school, a sign of independence and a mark of depravity that shouldn’t be tolerated. If Ryuko shows more skin than the chosen uniform than she is a sexual deviant and must be dealt with.

This also brings sexual standards into the importance of the uniform. A girl cannot be more or less “scandalously” dressed than the rest of her class if everyone is forced to wear the same uniform. Ryuko’s revealing transformation sets her apart sexually from the rest of the school as well. To the end, Ryuko is the only girl that anyone shows any sexual attraction to during the show. By the 9th episode the other female characters in the show are comic relief, Mako, or the fearsome antagonist, Satsuki Kiryuin.

The club system in Kill la Kill also serves to aid in its anti-conformist themes. Again, in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya the titular character is tired with a normal life and wants to live more interesting than the average high school girl but she still works within the rules of her school in order to create a club. She still feels like using the structure of the club system is required before she can successfully start her journey. That is the start of a great many high school anime. The characters want to start a club for whatever reason and they proceed to work within the school-designated rules of picking a topic, getting enough students, finding a teacher sponsor, ect.

Kill la Kill’s club system is an extreme version and the very core of the shows criticism towards conformity. The club structure is really how students become ranked in the school. Students gain rank if they are members of clubs, presidents of clubs, and if their club successfully brings glory to the school. By working within this system, students not only gain rank in the school but those benefits leak out into their personal lives. Students in high-ranking clubs get elevated into a higher class and their families are allowed to move out of the slums into a more gentrified area of the city.

In episode 7 Mako, Ryuko’s only friend in this world and whose family has allowed her to live with them, becomes the president of the “fight club”, a club the two made up to take advantage of the system. Because Ryuko kept winning battles the club’s purpose was extremely successful and Mako’s family moved up from the slums into the richest part of the city. At the end, Mako is forced to fight Ryuko to keep her status and Mako’s once loving family cheers for Ryuko’s head.

Living within the social structure has had nothing but benefit for Mako and once her position is secured, she must destroy the threat to her comfortable life. Anything that threatens the social order must be destroyed.

The metaphor presented is so universal that Ryuko’s challenge to the student council can be swapped in with nearly any like conflict. The anime, I believe, is specifically tackling the monoculture of corporate business. But the student council’s reaction to Ryuko’s challenge reminds me of media companies’ rejection of digital technology and online distribution in the early 2000s. The status quo becomes the source of success and comfort, and any challenge to it must be squashed.

There is a fear that runs through the antagonists of Kill la Kill. They don’t want things to change; they don’t want their absolute rule to be overturned. They have developed a society in which one person controls the wellbeing of everyone under her. The scariest thing they can imagine is a person working against the system they put into place. Then Ryuko Matoi arrives and everything they built starts to crumble around them. In the battle of individuality versus monoculture, the individual almost always stands victorious.

R.I.P. BangZoom



Yesterday the president of BangZoom entertainment posted a blog post on the future of the Anime Licensors in the United States. I encourage you to read it before being tainted with my commentary.

I’m going to break down the post but I need to say that in no way am I supporting Piracy in my attack on this document. Piracy is wrong and it does harm a lot of the people who have created the work that as Anime fans we enjoy. However, I don’t believe piracy is the cause of the death of the American Licensors or BangZoom.

The timing of this piece is completely wrong. Starting from that fact this is not a last effort by a dead company but an effort to try and prop the company up from what could be a death spiral. This is obviously influenced by the Shonen Jump letter which bluntly asked fans to stop scanning the magazine saying that it is “Hurting the Manga Culture.” 

The other factor that probably prompted Eric Sherman is the introduction of Aniplex into the American marketplace. As I discussed on Episode 11 of the podcast Aniplex is not going to be dubbing the Gurren Lagann movies. NIS America, who is entering the US Market with Toradora! in a few months, will also not be dubbing their licenses. Where does that leave BangZoom?

Onto the article

You must have noticed by now that many of the publishers that brought anime to the West have been shut down or substantially down-sized. There are only a few places left still able to bring titles to our shores.

Yes, I have noticed that these licensors have been disappearing because this is, apparently, the year 2007.

This is a critical year for anime. There’s no other way to say it. And I realized this morning that it was time for me to sound an urgent alarm.

This morning he saw that two of the biggest releases of the summer, Gurren Lagann, will not be receiving dubs.

If people don’t resist the urge to get their fix illegally, the entire industry is about to fizzle out. It won’t be a big dramatic change at this point.

So the alarm is about Piracy. He thinks that he is the first person to notice that people pirate content? He felt like he needed, personally, to raise the alarm? Come now. The first paragraph was an attempt to put himself in the righteous position before moving on with the fear that BangZoom is about to go under. Again, what is he telling us that we don’t already know?

Last year we saw Bandai fire 90% of their staff on one Monday in January, and two years ago we saw Geneon (neé Pioneer) shut their doors and auction off their wares to the highest bidder. CPM died a slow, painful death. And ADV fell hard and fast, the way mighty giants will.

Again, nothing we don’t already know and have been terrified over for years. My focus in this part is how he describes ADV. They “fell hard and fast, the way mighty giants will.” That statement is full of defeatism. It also is full of truth. Once ADVs funding was cut they couldn’t sustain their business model and simply fell apart. It’s odd that Sherman would use such elaborate language to describe the process. Perhaps he sees a bit of ADVs fate in his own future. 

But from here on, it won’t be so exciting. Japan is already suffering and struggling to bring out quality titles. They can’t rely on everything being picked up by US distributors anymore. And little by little, it just won’t be here anymore.

This is the first instance where I have to call bullshit. This statement makes it seem like Japan relies on the American market to release quality shows.  Scott VonSchilling, from Anime Almanac, was a hardcore fan of the idea and attempted to prove it  in his piece titled, “Are we Just Gravy? The Importance of the American Market to the Japanese.” Scott enters the argument with a bias, “…my answer was going to be that we weren’t just gravy to the Japanese. I believed that America anime market was actually a critical part of their business over there.” But in the end is forced to admit that that idea is simply not true, “So like I said, these answers weren’t exactly those I were looking for, but I do believe that I had found a very interesting insight into the importance of America in the global anime scene. Are we just gravy to the Japanese? Yes. Yes we are.” Nice try Mr. Sherman but that theory is long since dead.

You can’t find much anime at Best Buy now. In fact, where can you find it for sale? Think about that.  There are fewer new titles coming out, and less and less stuff will be in English, because it’s just not worth the cost of dubbing it. It’s true that entertainment distribution models are going to be changing dramatically. DVD may be on the way out forever, and online TV is becoming a reality very quickly. But so far, there are no successful ways to monetize online entertainment. Not so that creators can afford to produce and distribute quality content.

Again, all he is stating are facts. Titles are disappearing because the market that demands anime is much smaller now than it was five years ago. DVD is on a slope downward as a platform and online media distribution is the future. Why is he complaining about these things? Why not come up with an idea to fix it. Make the business models work online instead of just panicking. What he is saying is. “DVD is dying and that is our business model! We’re doomed!” Change should become your new business model.

Anime is going to die.

Unless YOU change. Right now. Stop stealing. If you have committed theft, robbery, shop-lifting, or just “downloading some stuff through torrent reactor,”  then just stop doing it — now. You probably wouldn’t go into a supermarket and put a package of swiss cheese under your shirt and walk out without paying. Nor would you walk into Best Buy and try to walk out with Guitar Hero, bypassing the cash register. Why? Is it because you might get caught? Or are there other issues, such as standards of morality, that dictate how you live your life.

Oh, I’m sorry. The reason why your business is failing is because of me? That is the same cry the music industry made when they were all but dead. Then they reformed their business model and currently enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Also, Anime is not going to die. Anime is going to change in an attempt to reach a larger market. The anime licensing business in this country is no where near dead. Funimation is licensing news titles almost every month plus Aniplex and NIS America are just coming into the market. How are these signs of a dying business?

Furthermore, I take offence at the term theft because legally that isn’t what pirates are doing. The OED defines theft very clearly, “the felonious taking away of the personal goods of another,” the definition involves property being taken away. The crime pirates are violating is called “Copyright Infringement.” Copyright is, of course, “The exclusive right given by law for a certain term of years to an author, composer, designer, etc, to print, publish, and sell copies of his original work,” and infringement “breaking or breach (of a law, obligation, right, etc.)” so in essence copyright infringement is when someone violates the exclusive right of a publisher to print their own content. It is incorrect to calls pirates “thieves.” Nor is it correct to compare it to the act of physically taking something from a store. I’m not justifying anything. Copyright Infringement is illegal. However, it is no where near as illegal as theft.

The net, for all it’s charms, is also a dark and dangerous place. When you’re navigating it, you need to ask yourself this question:  Is this right, just because it is so easy

The Internet is indeed a scary place. Maybe everyone should just stay away from it because it doesn’t fit the business model of the failed Anime licensors.

You need to understand that quality entertainment costs a lot to create. And if there is no one paying for this content, it just won’t be made anymore. If no one bought tickets to a Lady Ga Ga show, she would not do the tour. That’s just how it works. For some reason, people don’t mind stealing their anime. I’m here to tell you flat out: This is wrong. You are doing something bad. And you need to stop it.

I understand. This statement is, in fact, true. If US anime fans don’t want dubs then BangZoom doesn’t have a product to sell. I’m sorry if the market has gone this way but it isn’t just the fault of the pirates. Most anime piracy is fansubs, shows that are (mostly) not licensed in the United States or dubbed. I’m sure there is piracy of dubs floating around the web but nowhere near the number of subbed releases. As a consumer while I still buy Anime DVDs most of them are from older shows when the dubs were of high quality. The one of the newer shows I have on disc, D. Gray Man, has an awful dub. I’m not going to watch it so why did I pay for it? The quality of the product is no longer there and because of that the demand for the product has gone down. If shows were getting good dubs, Toradora!! for example, I’d buy it and listen to it but that just isn’t going to happen now that NIS has the rights and if no dub brings the price of the disc down to a more tempting point that alone might curb the need for casual piracy.

I’m sure that some of you reading this will laugh, close this window, and go download some more torrents. Why not? Who’s going to know? Who’s going to catch you?

No, I’m not laughing. I’m terrified that the licensors in the states can’t come up with a business model that will give me more high quality Blu-ray releases. I’m terrified that the fandom I love is in danger of becoming more niche than it currently is. Fix it!

I think this bears repetition, so I’ll say it again:

Maybe you should have said it three years ago.

Not getting caught does not make what you are doing right. And I am pretty sure it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.  What you are doing is not only illegal, it is actually hurting many people. From the artists and creators, to the voice actors in the studios — all working to put food on their tables for their families. You can’t see them, and you can’t see the immediate results of your actions. But believe me, you are hurting people.

I agree. I really do agree with this statement. I want to support the people who make the content I enjoy. I also want ease of access, high quality download to own episodes, good Blu-Ray releases. Most of all I’m willing, and I know many fans who are very willing, to pay for all of those things. But you cry that the death of DVD means the death of Anime? No, it doesn’t. Give us the product that we want and fans will pay for it. Do something! Don’t just put up a blog post condescending your fans while attempting to guilt them into buying more discs. That isn’t a business model.

If what I’m saying resonates with you, then consider this a wake up call. A call to immediate and profound action. It’s very easy to do.  You should support anime if you love it, by paying for it. Do the right thing. Plain and simple. Because if you don’t, I can guarantee you that this time next year, Bang Zoom won’t be bringing you anymore English language versions of it.

If the market is not there how do you plan to create it? There are so many variables that Eric Sherman is ignoring that it renders his entire argument nonsensical. He doesn’t factor in the shrinking market and just assumes that everyone who is not buying DVDs now just has switched to piracy. Sure, probably a decent number of them did. But more have simply aren’t fans of the medium anymore. He also doesn’t bring up the fact that Anime is no longer on television, a huge source of not only revenue but of building an audience that will go out and buy more Anime. In the early 2000s when Trigun, Tenchi, Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, and Cowboy Bebop dominated Toonami on Cartoon Network it was a breeding ground for anime fans. Once they finished with the Toonami line up they were compelled to find more content like those shows. An outlet like that doesn’t exist anymore.

While I’m sorry that a house like BangZoom is dying a moralistic approach to reviving the industry isn’t going to work. The Shonen Jump attempt was far more effective because it was backed with legal threats and the desire to see the content creators get paid. The American licensing companies are, at best, romanticized importers. . Eric Sherman isn’t going to garner sympathy by moralizing especially in a market where he is quickly becoming obsolete.