The Anime News Network front page really caught my attention today. On one hand, the top article is a Gonzo executive claiming that downloading fansubbed anime is just like breaking the window at the Apple Store and stealing unreleased iPhones. After I put my head in my hands and shook it vigorously, I saw Justin Sevakis' essay next to it. It's like he read this story and put his head in his hands, too. He really slams the point home here and I want to slam it further, to the point that it becomes a mega Charles Barkley ultra gattai slam jam.
"THERE HAS TO BE A LEGAL, INEXPENSIVE WAY TO WATCH NEW ANIME IN ENGLISH."
This is the kicker, people. Anime exploded in popularity over the last few years, but only the sales of manga exploded with it. This is because manga is cheap. Kids can afford $10 books and after they buy them, they're going home and watching the animated equivalent on Youtube. The legitimate means have become irrelevant. They're late, the masses don't care about video quality, and you can't beat free. Anime DVDs are expensive for this crowd. They're expensive for everybody, really, but even the good deals on new anime are expensive. $30 is three books. $50 is a videogame. There is no contest. These kids' money is never, ever going to go to DVDs. Hell, even I buy way more manga than I buy DVDs. I'd never even consider buying anime DVDs at retail. I only buy anime DVD that's on clearance. I, too, am bad for the industry.
The other difference between Japan's anime scene and the scene overseas is that this stuff isn't on TV. There's absolutely no hope for popular TV broadcast of 98% of the anime that comes out. Let's put this in perspective: The shows that run on Adult Swim are, by fan standards, the most mainstream anime in the States. Shounen Jump adaptations, Rumiko Takahashi phoning it in, and the classier, big-budget action shows like GitS and Bebop and Blood+. Even so, they run on the late-night arm of a cartoon channel that runs really bizarre comedies. It operates under the assumption that it is so late at night that it doesn't matter what they run. Anime airs next to Tim and Eric-- not that Tim and Eric isn't class. Mainstream anime is niche. Niche anime is even more so. Your favorite show is probably niche. The audience for this stuff is not going to widen dramatically. It's not going to cover the cost of TV broadcast. Most of us are already here.
I've been saying for a while that Japan just needs to suck it up, translate and stream new shows online. This is not an "it would be nice" scenario. The consequences are already upon them, and the current solution is not working . The companies are telling fans to simply be nice to them, avoid the temptation to break the unenforced law, and wait. People don't wait. I dunno if you guys follow this "human nature" thing, but that's not how people are. People will not be nice to you. You have to make it so that there's something in it for them.
People watch fansubs over legit DVDs, in large part, to stay current. The DVD market is a year or so behind, and this makes it even more irrelevant. Get the show to them faster than a fansubber can. Don't listen to ADV, don't worry about the dub. That can come later. You, the studios, can get the scripts into the hands of an English translator long, long before the fansub groups have ever seen them. Remember, fansubbing starts as soon as a show airs on Japanese TV, anywhere. Pay-per-view, satellite, that's not the point. People can get it so they will. If you want your shows to remain in your hands, work has to start before then. Remember that ultimately, all a fansubber can offer is subtitles. You can one-up them. Tie something to membership. Give them Kool-Aid points or something. You need people to stick with you. Desperately. I'll repeat that. Your situation is desperate.
Sell merchandise on this theoretical video-streaming site, you guys. If your audience is going to watch your show for free-- your audience IS going to enjoy your product for free and they cannot be stopped-- then dammit, isn't the best-case scenario that you're bringing it to them? That you can at least shoot your messages at them when they're watching it? I'm not talking about anything as intrusive as in-show ads, I'm talking about relevant on-page advertising. Your audience is watching your show, their eye wanders to the DVDs, the headbands, the stupid novelty energy drink, the bottle openers, I don't know. God knows you guys know how to sell people useless shit--- LIKE THE HIT SINGLE GOD KNOWS. I dunno if you've been to a convention or a comic shop, but it's clear that anime fans have money to spend. They just don't spend it quite the same way as Japanese anime fans do. At Forbidden Planet, the anime figures, the manga, the cosplay outfits and even the toy robots, are all way up in the front. You can buy a Naruto headband at the register. Do you want to know where the anime DVDs are? Way in the back. Out of sight.
You guys aren't going to get out of this by ignoring the new media and stubbornly insisting that the situation change to what you're used to. You have to work the situation to your advantage. This is the only way.
There is one point that I disagree with in Sevakis' essay: I do not think that fansub groups can ever be completely replaced. Replacement assumes that all the animated material that comes out of Japan is going to be streamed and translated on the spot. This cannot and will not be done. The fansubbers cover the vast majority of the anime to come out of Japan every season: the question is rarely if a show will be fansubbed, but when. They still don't get everything. If this plan ever even came to fruition, the media companies embracing it would be in the minority. There would be something-- perhaps not anything big, but something-- floating around in the margins, and people would fansub it. Maybe that's better: maybe it would take fansubbing back to its original intent. But I don't think it can get there. It's too big now. It's too ego-driven.
By the way, my link-buddy Dave Merrill has some smart shit to say about the issue too, so take a look at that.