The Anime Industry and How Colony Drop Saved It

Just as Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 took over the reins of a battered, factionalized and disorganized French Revolution to imbue it with a sense of purpose, direction and indomitable spirit with himself as the avatar of said virtues, Colony Drop seized destiny by its jutting, CLAMP-designed lapels in 2008 and saved anime blogging.

Fear not, the bullet that will kill Colony Drop is not yet cast — Steve continues to make the payments on the precious domain and black president has not yet declared martial law. Compound that with the fact that in the past fall and upcoming winter season, despite moans, Colony Drop’s tireless staff writers have consistently managed to find anime series that sparkle like finely wrought amber-brown glass in a cooler inundated with gaudy Heineken green. But let the anime industry know now: you can do better and Colony Drop knows how.

It is with a true savior’s altruism then that Colony Drop contributors present their modest proposals to those beleaguered studios that create the animated works so beloved by so many, for 2009 is a new leaf and anime is in need of a creative stimulus package.

Finish Giant Robo

The key issue facing the Japanese animation industry has been apparent since the conclusion of Yasuhiro Imagawa’s masterpiece OVA, Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Stillthey need to finish Giant Robo. A tribute to the late Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Giant Robo mashed up his characters– including the titular robot, who older readers might remember as Johnny Sokko’s– into an action-adventure of ridiculous scale.

Giant Robo isn’t a robot anime: it’s much bigger than that. It’s about guys who can light cigars with their mind, slice people in half with a snap of the fingers, and yes, it’s a coming-of-age tale about a boy and a robot that can cry. Tragically, impossibly unpopular in both the West and the East (but in the East even more so), Giant Robo defines over-the-top entertainment and delivers in ways few have since.

But after six years in production, Giant Robo ended on a cliffhanger. The true villain only appears in the final minutes: this was all just the first part of a yet more awesome battle. Imagawa really did have such a continuation planned, but Giant Robo took twice as long as it was supposed to take, and wasn’t terribly popular to boot. Nobody must have wanted to fund him.

Since then, Imagawa’s never worked on any project of similar scale, but is set to direct the new Z Mazinger anime, which you ought to watch if you want to save anime. Meanwhile, the year of Giant Robo‘s conclusion? 1998. There’s a whole bunch of people who believe that anime was all downhill from 1998, so my hypothesis must be correct. Anime studios: don’t worry about saving yourselves with digital distribution on shady websites, or Region 1 DVDs priced like Region 2s. Just get Imagawa, give him a lot of what little money you have left, and get Giant Robo part 2 made.

(Also, sell yaoi paddles at conventions. I hear people make a lot of money off those.)

-Dave

Don’t Forget Seinen Manga

Dear Industry, gekiga may have come and gone, but you must not neglect the dramatic pictures’ logical successor: the reams and reams of seinen manga begging for adaptation into anime.

(I feel like Adlai Stevenson, in the face of an inevitable crushing defeat, offering Dwight Eisenhower some “choice advice” on how to run the United States. How many good resolutions for overworked, sleeping bag-swaddled cartoonsmiths could there be that don’t translate down into “don’t listen to market forces?”)

2008, like most years, was a mixed bag for anime. But the year also featured some truly outstanding ongoing manga titles in the broad seinen category. Anime producers could up their batting averages by taking more chances with the more transgressive, more grown-up themes and stories that grace the flimsy newsprint pages of many seinen magazaines.

Madhouse already made the investment this year with their adaptations of Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s nail-biting manga Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji and the similar sports-gambling-thriller One Outs by Shinobu Kaitani. Both adaptations are stellar and transcend the number-crunching, power-level-goes-up plot dynamic that dominates modern shonen.

Historie and Vinland Saga by Parasyte’s Hitoshi Iwaaki and Planetes author Makoto Yukimura are incredibly strong ongoing examples of the neglected (in Western markets at least) genre of historical manga. Iwaaki and Yukimura exemplify what historical manga does best: sweeping vistas, grown-up narrative voice and gory, grimy, but beautiful fights and violence. Both stories deserve animated renderings, preferably in film or OAV format—something with money and technology behind it. Historie’s Macedonian phalanxes must lumber forth in lockstep and the prospect of seeing some of the melees in Yukimura’s manga animated by, say, Production IG, is an appetizing prospect for anyone who cut their teeth on the ultraviolence of a phalanx of 1980s OAVs.

Speaking of ultraviolence, Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro, my bid for 2008’s best ongoing seinen manga, delivers in spades. Hayashida, former aide to BLAME creator Tsutomu Nihei, does not put a new spin on shonen fighting manga so much as completely and utterly deconstruct the genre. Not an entirely revolutionary concept, but revolutionary is the fact that Hayashida has done so and retained the elements that people liked about shonen fighting and maintained such a charming cast of characters, making the manga succeed where BLAME and Gantz fail. Of all the manga I read in 2008, Dorohedoro is the one best-suited for a leap onto small screens. Q Hayashida is best female manga author working outside of the

Start Throwing Money at Creators

I don’t have any misconceptions about the fact that the anime industry is driven by business and that businesses need to make money, but the last few years of anime have proven that by and large the industry is more devoted to playing it safe and appealing to specific demographics rather than trying to foster any sort of creativity or originality.

Most titles for this upcoming season look identical and it’s to the point where I feel like my non-anime watching friends who used to give me shit about how every anime design looks identical, because I really can’t tell the difference between the fourteen different high school aged casts of the fourteen new moé series that are coming out this winter season. There was a time when terrible companies used to use the variety of Japanimation as a selling point, and even while they were ignoring huge segments of the industry while focusing on the violence-obsessed crap that formed the basis of the direct-to-video fan market in the US. The difference now is that the domestic anime industry itself has given up on any sort of variety and instead chosen to focus almost exclusively on cartoons for aspiring pedophiles and other creepy niches. It’s time the industry stopped throwing money at the moé fans and yaoi fans and whatever other losers actually watch new anime and enjoy it, and started throwing money at creators instead of forcing them work within these terrible genre limits of shameful pandering.

Take a look back at the late 80’s OVA boom that while admittedly produced a lot of crap, also produced a lot of incredible stuff that was free of the requirements of appealing to specific tastes or abiding by the requirements of television production. I’m not saying that we need more OVAs or that we need more M.D. Geist, but with digital distribution and cable channels and all sorts of new venues for distribution it’s a great time to go back and focus on originality and doing something unique.

Not every series needs to use the same terrible CG color pallet, not every series needs to have a moé character, not all female character designs need to be suitable for whoring out as 1/6th scale figures. I’m not even saying you need to make this shit good, just make it different.

-Sean

Dear GONZO

GONZO, you guys are totally fucked. You’ve been in dire financial straits for some time — millions of dollars in losses, halving the number of productions next year, etc. The only thing that seems to be holding you guys up are producing Afro Samurai for us foreign devils and Strike Witches, the most flagrant pedophile-pandering (don’t click that) television program ever made, and also the first GONZO TV series to break 10,000 DVDs sold in Japan since 2000’s Vandread. Oh, but for the days when pandering to fans of Japanese cartoons meant lots of chicks with huge knockers throwing themselves at a milquetoast teenage boy and having them all drive giant robots!

Now I know you guys have never been particularly good at writing, directing, or even animating anything. Even when you get a strong start with an entertainingly bizarre concept like Speed Grapher, where dudes get superpowers based on their sexual fetishes, you manage to ruin it by spending $5 to animate the series, or the ending requires reading the booklet included with the last volume to figure out what just happened (Last Exile). On the rare occasion you guys let someone with some talent take a whack at making something, like Mahiro Maeda’s Gankutusou (aka The Count of Monte Cristo IN SPACE), with a bizarre art style and minimal involvement of giant robots and tits of any size, everyone ignores it, even though it’s wonderful. And let’s not even start on your adaptation work.

Deep down, it’s got to hurt to be known as the guys who pump out sludge like Trinity Blood, Rosario + Vampire and Strike Witches. Is that how you want to go out? No, I have a better idea. You guys are totally fucked anyway, so give Mahiro Maeda a lot more money and have him do something crazy again. Hell, get the Speed Grapher guys involved — at least they’re trying to mix it up a little. Put some effort and money into it; don’t let it end up like most of your TV productions, where by the midpoint it’s easier to count the shots that are fluid and on-model than the ones that aren’t. You guys are absolutely capable of making good-looking, batshit-crazy productions, and that’s a far better note to go out on than the inevitable Strike Witches 2.

Jeff

4 Comments

  1. Digital distribution does seem like a bright shining hope for a more equal playing field on which creators can play. I’m not sure how universal DD services are in Japan compared to the States, but between services like PSN, Xbox Live, iTunes Store (which, if memory serves correctly, is already selling anime) and Steam, I think there’s already a lot of market penetration into the niche distributors will want to penetrate (slovenly 20-something males with the disposable income to use services like Steam or Xbox Live/us).

    Of course, PSN has Xam’d, but what happened? DD should be a platform for smaller, shorter projects that can lavish money on new creators and boss animation, but Xam’d is a standard-length, standard-quality TV anime, except on PSN instead of NHK or Fuji. Do they really need to create 20+ pay-to-play episodes in order to get a good Return on Investment?

  2. Also re: Giant Robo, from wikipedia

    “Imagawa intended “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to be part of a greater story, the penultimate chapter in a saga starring the Experts of Justice and Big Fire.[12] The OVA would be preceded by “The Birth of Zangetsu the Midday,”[13] “The Plan to Assassinate Daisaku – the Canary Penitentiary,” “The Boy of Three Days,” “The Greatest Battle in History – Kanshin vs. Koumei,” and “The Boy Detective, Kindaichi Shōtarō, Appears!”[14] The final chapter is to be titled “The Siege of Babel”. No further stories have been animated.[7]”

    Now I’ll never get to see the Greatest Battle In History!

  3. It’s all been downhill since the end of GIANT ROBO. I just KNEW they’d leave me hanging with an echoing “HOLY SHIT, THAT’S BABEL II!!!” tailing off into darkness. Bastards

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