Crawling up off the floor and nursing hangovers, the staff of Colony Drop gathered in the staff room this New Year’s to discuss a proposed year-end wrap up article: “The Best Japanese Cartoons of 2008!” It’s been a bad year for fans of mildly intelligent cartoons for people who lack a taste for little girls, it’s true, but surely, we thought, we can find four or five good titles to write a countdown about!
That didn’t work out. In fact, we’ve decided that 1988 was a far better year for Japanese animation. I mean, Patlabor: The Mobile Police, Dominion: Tank Police, My Neighbor Totoro, Char’s Counterattack, Sakigake! Otokojuku, Akira… We could go on all day. And we will.
So maybe this year was a bust for genuinely interesting Japanese cartoons. On the upside, the Japanese cartoon industry has been far more interesting. Japanese studios have begun providing same-day subtitled episodes of their TV cartoons for digital purchase or streaming, a group of unrepentant bootleggers are on their way to become the premier online distributors, Funimation has continued their maniacal plans to dominate the entire North American japtoons DVD market, and Vertical Inc. failed to go bankrupt. So, while we can’t in good conscience recommend many particular cartoons from this year, we sure can reminisce about some of the media highlights. Here are our Favorite Japtoon Moments of 2008:
You’d think that for all the bitching the US anime industry does about fansubs, not to mention the fact that most companies over there are on the verge of bankruptcy, maybe they should have gone after the bootlegging pirates otherwise known as Crunchyroll. But instead of taking those bastards to court for making a profit off unlicensed fansubs and illegal downloads of commercially available releases, they hop into bed with them and ask their vice president to give the keynote address at Anime Expo 2008.
Crunchyroll, for those of you not aware, provides (until January 8th) both fansubs and legit US releases for web streaming to their membership of internet freeloaders. Access to unpaid members is limited, but paying gets you better service and thusly they made money (and paid staff) by selling access to programs they had absolutely no rights to. Anime News Network briefly redeemed itself after years of mediocrity by conducting an almost-scathing interview with one of the co-founders of Crunchyroll, worth reading for the fact that it does a great job showing you that Crunchyroll is run by a bunch of unethical slimeballs who refuse to answer any serious questions about their hilariously unethical business model.
If there was a single event that showed the complete ineptitude of the US anime industry and drove home the fact that they maybe deserve this terrible industry collapse they’ve found themselves in the middle of, then climbing into bed with these criminals is probably it. In a world where the RIAA sues 70-year old women for downloading music you’d think that the jerks behind Crunchyroll would end up in jail or at least forced to pay out the nose, but instead they’ve been rewarded by the industry with legitimate contracts and heralded as a new leader in the future of anime distribution.
The continued existence of Vertical Inc.
So it’s not quite a definitive “event” per se, a small discrepancy since nearly every release by this small alternative publisher should be considered an event.
Vertical Inc. specializes in the localization and publishing of Japanese titles, of which manga is only one section. Vertical’s manga releases are not prolific, but in a rock-paper-scissors match it’s fair to say impeccable taste beats out logistical supremacy (that was a direct subliminal directed towards Tokyopop).
At first glance their manga selection looks like a vanity press for Osamu Tezuka. Well, so what? Dororo might be shaky, prototypical and unfinished, but Ode to Kirihito, Black Jack and Buddha are intelligent, massively polished comics and Apollo’s Song is, uh, something. Keiko Takemiya and Ryu Mitsuse’s Andromeda Stories is mindboggling and neigh-incomprehensible, but always in that best of Fifth Element ways; the story has its own life and direction and the reader is just along from the ride. I don’t think I’ve ever used the adjective “mindboggling” to describe anything published by Tokyopop or CMX, except perhaps in the adverbial derivative “mind-bogglingly terrible/disappointing/offensive.”
Recently faint murmurs arose about a possible demise of Vertical’s manga division or the company altogether. A Vertical representative’s New York Anime Fest comments, said in reaction to poor sales figures for their manga selection, that manga readers would be better off looking for scanlations rather than waiting for Vertical releases, seemed as good as circumstantial evidence can get.
But the Black Jack volumes continue to trickle out. Let’s hope it continues to be so.
Fat nerds break escalator at toy event
Wonderfest is one of the more amusing Japanese cartoon fan events, where minor model-and-toy manufacturers (and occasionally hobbyists) design limited run unofficial slutty figurines and models (sometimes called “garage kits”) and sell them. Like with Comic Market, the big names often advertise their planned merchandise far in advance, and there’s frequently far more demand than supply. This creates an incredibly predictable phenomenon, much like American Consumerism’s Black Friday, where the popular tables are rushed and limited edition merchandise is sold out within minutes as waves of smelly, sweaty man-children stream through the building. Now, guess what happens when you get dozens of fat nerds crowding an escalator, lusting after their moé figurines of scantily-clad little girls (and the occasional robot)? Why, you get the up escalator at the event center failing under their weight, slowly sinking back downward and injuring about a dozen dumb nerds in the process! Apparently fearing that it could happen again, the Winter 2009 Wonderfest was cancelled while they figure out why the escalator failed.
There you have it – Japtoon fandom, 2008.
Adult Swim Destroys Japan
Anime fandom and Cartoon Network have had a long, rocky history, from that kid you knew ten years ago who wouldn’t shut up about Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing on Toonami to that kid you know now who won’t shut up about Inuyasha on Adult Swim, even though they cancelled it. In these days a lot of the fun was simple fan outrage: seeing what terrible violence these barbarian, Western invaders had inflicted on our sweet, innocent, and glorious Nipponese drawing-motion-features.
Anime fans have a history of dealing with their shows getting chopped up, and they’re so used to it that one guy even took it upon himself to catalog every single edit made to a Japanese cartoon aired on US TV. Often series really were worked over past recognition– remember Escaflowne’s hilarious, gutted run on Fox Kids?– but they were usually just defanged to the level of a domestic kids’ cartoon. Child-psychologist-friendly edits like “destroy” instead of “kill” in the dialogue, MSPainted bikinis over naked girls, and laser guns instead of the kind we use in the real world were the orders of the day.
Edits like these were particularly insulting to the older fans, who, as ever, forgot they were watching something targeted to ten-year-old American children and their oversensitive parents. From here, the common fan belief that Western licensors– first TV broadcasters, but eventually widening to DVD distributors as entitled kids started to come in the fandom from digital fansubs– were out to destroy anime. The insidious plan was to undermine, via editing, the mature, adult storytelling of Sailor Moon and DBZ, thus fooling the lay citizenry into thinking that anime was not directly from Japan, rather predictable, and most certainly kids’ stuff. This would make them, in turn, stinking rich. (Japanese animation, on the other hand, was not made to make money, but only to generate love from people on internet message boards.)
Enter Adult Swim. When the people at Williams Street met their shrill, terrible fanbase, they knew just what to do. Defying all business logic, Adult Swim has been pranking, belittling, and generally fucking around with anime fans since they started running the stuff. Who could forget Swimcon, or the April Fool’s gags? But what started with light ribbing eventually turned bitter, as AS made a habit of openly whining about their ratings– specifically for under-performing anime– during commercial breaks and slowly began to move anime out of the schedule in favor of in-house projects to which they actually owned the merchandising rights.
This came to a head when, without warning, Adult Swim moved the well-performing Code Geass and Moribito, which was already dead to the AS fan crowd, to graveyard shift night slots. Reruns of popular shows (anime included) were getting run twice, every night, and the two new anime, one of which was actually quite successful, were put out to die for no apparent reason. Or were they– killed?
It all comes together now. The conspiracy theories were true all along. Adult Swim didn’t just kill anime on September 11th, 2008, it took an American-made rocket launcher to Japan’s honorable samurai katana duel and it destroyed Japan. Baka! Baaaaka! How could we not have seen this coming?
(A postscript: Geass was moved back to the still-pretty-terrible 2AM slot back in November. The nation of Japan was presumably beamed back into existence.)