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THEM Anime Q&A

November 23, 2009

Last month, we asked you, our readers, to provide us with questions about whatever. Well, here are the replies to your questions. the questions themselves are in bold font, with the sender's name (all of them from the site's forum) to the right. The answers, meanwhile, are in normal font. Note that not every staff member answered every question. The following abbreviations are used for the THEM Anime Staff:

TJ - Tim Jones
BM - Bradley Meek
SH - Stig Høgset

[adult swim] in a box. For those that don't know, it is a single box you can buy for $50 that contains one full season to 6 different shows and some other content.

If you could buy a box like that full of anime, 6 full 13 episode seasons of 6 different anime for $50, would you do it? Even if there was only 2 shows that that you would watch, 2 that you wouldn't watch unless you had a gun to your head, and 2 "mystery" grab bag style shows that could be anything? - long time lurker

SH: I could, given that I tend to stash away the covers of some DVDs and just keep the disc in a CD/DVD suitcase container. It sounds like a decent deal, even when the two "mystery grabbag" shows aren't all that good. I mean... what do 13 episode single season go for these days? Around 20-30 dollars? Maybe more?

What's the one show you would recommend to someone who thinks "all anime is kids/girls/stupid stuff"? You know, if you could convince them to sit down and watch it in the first place. - Sweetpea

TJ: Grave of the Fireflies, easily. I couldn't think of a more prominent example of an anti-thesis of anime being stupid/geeky/girly/creepy than that.

SH: Gankutsuou, for being a mature show centered around a lot of mature issues. It's also based on a classic tale.

BM: While I can think of plenty more, here are three anime that I think
fit what your looking for:

Cowboy Bebop. Thanks to indefinite reruns on Cartoon Network's adult swim, it became the gateway anime for hundreds of current fans, including a few of my friends. And it's easily accessible, since it draws a lot of inspiration from Western media and has a top tier dub. It was one of the first anime I watched, and it's still one of the best I've ever seen.

Akira. Which not only blew the collective minds of every geek in the late eighties, but was also a revelation for fans and creators in Japan. It fully realized Osuma Tezuka's dream of a bold, mature animated movie shortly before the Father of Anime's death. Its ambition and scope far outweigh its flaws, and is an excellent choice to show your friend just what anime is capable of.

Detroit Metal City. It may not have the widely accepted status as a classic that Cowboy Bebop and Akira enjoy, but Studio 4C's adaptation of Kiminora Wakasagi's excellent farce manga still has terrific potential to convert new fans. It's a fearlessly filthy and loving satire of metal music and its culture, populated with lovable characters and memorable gags. It has two strikes against it, though: it's still not available in the United States legally, and it's steeped further in Japanese culture than my other two picks. But if you think your friend can appreciate a good rape joke, it might be your best option.

That said, I would also tell them they are almost right- most anime is nothing like Cowboy Bebop. What isn't made for kids is lowbrow, disposable entertainment that panders to an eternally adolescent fandom- and that's just the good ones. There are exceptions, though, and if you're an open minded individual, there are enough of them from the last forty years of anime that it should continue to be an entertaining hobby for a long time.

What (are) the most satisfactory reviews you've done? - venusrozen

TJ: Shugo Chara!. It took me over two months on and off until I was satisfied, but I think I explained everything I wanted to in my review.

BM: I'm not easily satisfied with my reviews. Even after publication, I'll usually feel like I didn't describe something just right, or that an observation I made might be shallow or a bit off. But my review of Lucky Star said everything I wanted to say exactly how I wanted to say it, grammatical and spelling errors notwithstanding.

SH: None that I can think of offhand, but I generally like my later reviews better than my first ones. The fact that I've rewritten a lot of them should be a good indication of that.

Will Tim stop sitting in front of bad anime and sit in front of anime he actually likes? - venusrozen

TJ: Yes.

SH: Yes. :P

How much fanservice is too much? - fanservicefan

TJ: Depends on how it's used. Generally I'm more okay with fan service when provided by a single character more so than a group of people, and the less frequent the better. In some anime I've noticed, especially when it comes to female characters showing skin, less IS more.

SH: When it basically replaces everything else in the show. I've enjoyed a lot of shows thick with fanservice, like Ikkitousen or Najica Blitz Tactics, but there just comes a point where you realize that the fanservice is there, and as insistent as it is, to cover up for the complete lack of anything else. That's when you get claptrap like Ninomiya-kun, for instance.

Being anime reviewers yourselves, do you frequently look at anime reviews on other websites (like ANN or Anime on DVD/Mania) or do you generally avoid them? - CoccoRo

TJ: I do look at other websites, yes. I visited Anime Jump frequently until they stopped reviewing, and even now I look at their earlier reviews. (It's actually from my reading the reviews of Chad, aka Winter on the forum, that I've made my reviews longer and more detailed.) I also visit ANN and The Anime Review.

BM: Good writers read other writers not only because they enjoy it, but also because it improves their craft. The same holds true for reviews, so I spend a few hours every weekend reading reviews and blog posts, not only about anime but also about movies, music and video games. And I'd be doing that even if I wasn't writing about anime, but I get more out if it since reviews are my hobby. I also read other reviews and articles when drafting my opinion on an anime, looking for information and insight.

Other writers have misgivings about doing this, saying that if they read other people's opinions it will color their own, somehow making it "less pure." But that's a silly idea, because opinions are not innate- one way or another, they are informed by something. They formed in your film as literature classes, by your religion or lack thereof, by how little or how much you know about Japanese culture, by your life experiences, by your personality, by lazy thinking, by what you know about film, and by countless other, little things. Reading other people's opinions, especially those that you don't initially understand, broadens your horizons, making you a better thinker and a better writer. And doing that is a skill that goes beyond just writing about cartoons- it will make you a better person.

SH: Yep. Like Brad said, reading reviews is a good way to learn how to write anime reviews yourself. It's not a matter of copying writing styles and such, but if you read a wide range of reviews, you'll notice what might be good to incorporate in a review and what isn't.

Of course, I also just like to read what people write. I mean, I read reviews long before I became a review writer myself, and some review writers, like Jason Huff or the guys at Anime Jump, write reviews that are just fun to read. (I could also namedrop some of my colleagues here on THEM, both past and present, but I don't want to sound too promotional or anything.)

Are there any particular reviews you've found exceedingly difficult to write? And are there any that you guys have taken a lot of heat for? - CoccoRo

TJ: Yes and yes.

CANAANwas really hard for me to write. There wasn't much I could talk about without revealing too much about the show. I was also not used to reviewing those kinds of shows for the site, but I liked the show enough to warrant watching it all the way through, so I did.

BM: My review of Flag. I haven't gotten the kind of backlash Stig and others have over series that are beloved by fans, but it has created some froth. And most of the e-mails and comments I've gotten were good feedback from people who sounded more puzzled than offended. Maybe it's because its subject matter doesn't lend itself to a rabid fandom. And to be honest, it's not a good review, and it's a series I intend to revisit in the near future.

SH: Occasionally, but I have no idea why. There's no real pattern to it that I have noticed. In general, I have more of a problem finding a good start or a good way to round off a review. Once I get started, however, the process of writing generally goes smoothly.

As for taking flak for reviews, there's a few titles that have earned me one or two mails angrily written in all-caps and expletives, doing their best to let me know just how worthless I am as a reviewer. The most hilariously illiterate and rambling ones came in the name of DearS and Girls Bravo, while I've gotten a few from people who at least manage not to sound like complete idiots for the shows My-Otome, Love Love?, and Shuffle!. And occasionally -- slightly off-topic, but I just wanted to mention this all the same -- I get mails where people have actually made attempts to see my side of shows. A few years ago, I got a fairly politely (almost apologetic, in fact) mail from someone who thought I was being a bit harsh on He Is My Master. We exchanged a few more words on the subject of various anime, and parted on generally good terms. The same happened a little later, again about My-Otome.

If not anime, what medium would you be interested in reviewing? - CoccoRo

TJ: A few years back I did attempt with a few other reviewers on THEM Anime to review American/European cartoons. I had a few reviews done myself, but never published them for the public eye to see.

I've also thrown around the idea to Stig concerning reviewing manga, as we both have quite a few series we'd like to review and recommend to people to check out. Unfortunately, this would require a re-hauling of the site to bring this up as a feature, and neither of us are good enough at web design to do it.

BM: Music. I've spent a good part of the last four years exploring music, listening to everything from jazz to space age to progressive rock to classical music, and the deeper I go, the more I love it. I've already tried my hand at writing music reviews though, and had a hard time doing it, since music is a much more abstract art form.

SH: I could review for just about anything I'm interested in; like movies, music, video games, tabletop games and such. I'm not entirely sure I'd make a good art critic, though. Or a literary critic, for that matter.

"Synchro-ing" is a THEM staple. Have you ever come across a show you have synchro'ed that completely defied your expectations? For better or worse? - CoccoRo

TJ: Yes - Nyan Koi!. What started off as a simple, fun series about a guy and his doing good deeds for cats turned into a sexist, inane pile of crap barely halfway though. It was the first anime since the establishment of the "Review Updates" section on the forum that I swapped with something else because I didn't want to review it.

Stig and I, however, were surprised by how well Princess Lover! came out. Not a grand series by any means, but I would at least rate it 3 stars, which is far above average for the typical synchro show.

SH: AIR was the first show we ever synchroed that actually exceeded our expectations with a wide margin. It did manage to shoot itself in the foot somewhat with its ending, but for as much fun as we had poking fun at some of the idiosyncrasies in it, Enoch and I really enjoyed the show itself.

Some later shows that exceeded our own expectations were: Strawberry Marshmallow, Petopeto-san, Utawarerumono, Kashimashi, Sola, Princess Lover (as Tim mentioned), ToraDora! and, to some extent, Rosario + Vampire.

Then again, there has been quite a few shows that we expected to be plain, dumb fun, but ended up just being unbearable. Most of these are recent shows which I've synchroed in the company of Tim Jones, like Kämpfer, Nyan Koi!, K-On!, Asu no Yoichi!, and Shin Koihime Musou. (The original Koihime Musou was at least fun to some extent.) A few of the rest are made up of middling old J-pop vanity project OAV's, like ICE and T-Oy, but I'm not sure they count since we pretty much knew they were going to be disasters from the start.

There are a lot of comedies in the anime market (both in the past and in the present). Which one do you consider to be specially funny or memorable and why? - venusrozen

TJ: Urusei Yatsura. Despite being made in 1981, I find myself laughing more in one episode of that series than four or five in most comedy anime. Its characters are loose cannons with little to no humility, but it works because everyone balances so well with everyone else. And Ataru is still one of the funniest leads in shonen anime history.

I also like Sayaonara Zetsubou Sensei. Its humor is dark, surreal, and even thought-provoking at times, which you don't often asociate with comedies.

SH: Excel Saga, simply because it was one of the first outright insane comedies I've seen. The show was so unrepentantly crazy that I'm not liable to forget it for quite some time, if at all.

What is your idea of your "ideal" anime? By "ideal", I mean an anime that has everything you would like to see in one and in the right quantities. Basically, an anime that looks like it was made specially for you. If an anime like that exists already, which is it? - venusrozen

TJ: A romantic comedy that actually transitions well to anime. Those are as rare as diamonds the size of your head.

One, it would have to have cute girls.

Second, it would have good music that doesn't use a single synthesizer unless it's to be funny.

Third, none of the girls would be man-hating feminists.

Fourth,and finally, no underage girls. All the main girls would be 18 or over, and there won't be a single little girl to be seen unless she's a rarely seen side character of one of the main characters.

It would also be well-animated with not a single bit of CG in sight, and the OP/ED would be in the style of 80's rock/adult alternative instead of the usual J-POP.

It would be about 13 episodes long so as to not overstay its welcome. There would be no beach episode, no misinterpretations, no childhood memories, no slapping of the main guy for some petty reason, and the girls would genuinely like the main guy for reasons other than an occasional gift/protection from a bully.

And the girls themselves would have lives. They would have normal, steady jobs, hobbies, ideals, etc. The main lead, too, would be working, getting okay grades and working to get by.

SH: I'd very much like to see something that is a good mix of mythology, drama and slice-of-life rolled into one nice historical package. I don't really think anything like that will ever be created, though, since the whole mythological/historical aspects in anime tends to serve as window dressing at best.

The closest I've watched myself are Haibane Renmei, which applies a very made-up historical viewpoint and... well, religious aspect to it, and Aria, which is more of a "present as history" anime.

I notice that more and more anime are being adapted from light novels. What do you all think of this? - fanservicefan

TJ: I don't mind. They often tend to adapt themselves better to anime than manga. From what I've seen filler isn't nearly as rampant in novel adaptions, and neither is the addition of more characters not in the original story.

If you're talking about visual novels, though, then I don't care much for them. I like Kanon and Clannad, but I could leave the grand majority of them without a care.

SH: The problem with giving an answer to this is that both Spice and Wolf AND Goshushou-sama Ninomiya-kun are based on light novels. So what am I going to think about that? It does save the scriptwriters from a lot of work, though, so I guess that's something.

I don't necessarily buy the idea that just because something is based of books automatically makes it a better movie or series, even if said books are brilliant. What it ultimately boils down to is -- if the source material is good -- it still takes a good writer and director to convey all this into a good movie or series.

As for why this seems to be the case; I'm guessing it's a mix of other studios wanting to do this after the rousing success of the infamous Haruhi novel series and wanting to base an anime around an already established series of written works. I don't really know a whole lot about the popularity of such works in Japan, though, so I can't really say a whole lot more about it.

Even if anime is more of an alternative subculture, do you think that the medium should have its own Roger Ebert? - Makaio

TJ: I think it could, but I don't know who will be able to do that. Those are pretty darn big shoes to fill. The closet person I could think of is Jason Huff from The Anime Review.

BM: There are several ways to interpret this question, and I'll look at them one by one. Roger Ebert made his name as one half of the dynamic duo who hosted the popular movie review television series At the Movies. Since film is a visual medium, I've always thought it was more appropriate to review movies this way. Despite the cheap cost of recording and publishing videos on the Web, the anime fandom still doesn't have an equivalent to At the Movies, though there are a couple of vidcasts on YouTube worth watching. I suspect it's only a matter of time before we get one, though, since websites like AnimeVice have been jostling to fill that void.

Roger Ebert is also an eloquent writer, and maintains an excellent blog at The Chicago Tribune's website. And while he has a reputation for writing especially vicious negative reviews, what impresses me the most about his body of work is his passion for movies. And in that sense, we all aspire to be like Ebert.

For all these reasons, Ebert is probably the only rock star movie critic. Does the fandom need someone with his kind of name recognition in our little clique? Ebert's kind of fame is the result of talent, luck, trailblazing and happy accidents. And really, the only good side to it is that it creates more interests in reviews and film criticism. Anime fandom is small enough that we may not need that kind of promotion. While I think we should all aspire to be more like Ebert, we will probably never see any kind of equivalent, and we don't really need one.

SH: I think there are quite a few Eberts already in the anime reviewing world, in a sense. The thing about Ebert (as Brad noted) is that he's been a well known brand name (as it were) for movie reviewing for quite some time, and unlike the numerous anime reviewers out there. But, you never know... in another twenty or thirty years, maybe someone will have kept on going for as long as he has, with the same wealth of knowledge about anime as he's got for movies.

Is there a book you wish to see adapted in the anime format? - venusrozen

SH: I'm actually morbidly curious about an anime version of the Bible. I mean, I've already seen two Dreamworks movies made from it, so...

Other than that, nothing really comes to mind. I could always namedrop stuff like Lord of the Rings or Silence of the Lambs or whatever, but I'm not necessarily sure it would work all that well. Then again, Gankutsuou was pretty awesome.

What's your view on the harem genre's history? - venusrozen

SH: I don't think I necessarily want to answer that.

It seems that most anime fans like to use irony and sarcasm, yet these two are prone to misuse. Where do you think such displays cross the line?

TJ: As a practitioner of this myself, I try my hardest to not go too far, but some people do this much better than others. I think one example of going too far is starting a review off with sarcasm. It kind of leaves a bad aftertaste, only without the "after" part. If you want to watch a review of a series consisting of nothing but sarcastic comments, there are already quite a few funny sites that do that.

BM: I personally think irony, sarcasm, and self-appreciative humor is overused, and is part of the reason too many writers in geeky fandom sound just like one another. But there's a line crossed when writers use sarcasm defensively, to make it look like they are above the unwashed masses, which strikes me as incredibly dishonest. You spend hours writing and dwelling on anime- if anything, you're the most rabid kind of fan! It's also usually used when cutting down other fans, which does nobody any good. When your rant is little more than red meat for the people who already agree with you, what good does that do the fandom?

SH: If it's based on your honest grievances about a title, it's fine. You're less liable to go overboard with sarcasm and ill-suited language, at least if you have some experience with writing reviews under your belt. If you're writing a review just to piss fans off or impress them, then you're stepping over that line. I'm not saying I have the right to get on a high horse about the latter here, but I try to live up to this as best I can.

How do the Japanese feel about those who try to American versions of familiar anime? - some reader

SH: I wouldn't know this for sure, but I'm guessing it all depends on how the transition goes. Like most people, however, I'd guess they hope the creators of the movie or series in America manages to convey the same kind of messages, emotions and stories that you can find in the anime it was based on. It might be no different than with Japanese creators of books or games hoping anime creators do a good job with the anime that's based on the games or novels that make up the original work.

For the majority of fans, sports and anime simply do not mix. But cute girls featured as the main protagonists in sports anime always gets the most attention. This strikes to me as a question of taste. Why is this trend apparent within this particular genre? - Makaio

TJ: The same reason cute girls are used for many other series - to attract a male demographic. Many of these series, such as Battle Athletes, Yawara, and Bamboo Blade, are based on manga or video games aimed for Japanese males, so it makes the most sense to use cute girls as a selling point.

(And yes, I'll admit it was the promotional art of Bamboo Blade that got me into watching the series. It's still a fantastic series, though.)

BM: I'm not sure what you mean by a "question of taste", but I think the answer is very simple. Cute sells.

SH: Because girls are more likely to play the role of the underdog? I wouldn't know for sure -- I'm simply not interested enough in sports anime to be able to give a good answer to this -- but most anime centered around a sport (or other kinds of physical challenging events) tends to be centered around underdog characters and their long and hard path to success. The topics of sexism and gender roles is also a good tool to use for shows like these.

What is your definition of anime? - JulesX

TJ: The french word for "animation". Heh.

BM Animation from Japan. Digital, stop motion, CG, whatever. People sometimes get caught up trying to describe anime by it's tropes or style or whatever, but they forget that anime isn't a genre. It's just animation from Japan.

Since anime is becoming more popular around the world and other countries, produce their own anime-like series or films, what would you consider to be anime? eg. the newer versions of X-Men and Batman that have been done anime style, Sky Blue / Wonderful Days (which is actually Korean produced), or even Afro Samurai or the Animatrix which are an amalgamation of Japanese and American production companies. - JulesX


1.) It's both produced and conceptualized in Japan.
2.) The directing/writing staff are Japanese.

I don't consider stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender anime. It takes more than simply looking like an anime to be one.

Pushing this further, what about the increasing use of CGI in animation? I would never ever call one of these Disney/Pixar CGI animated films anime, yet the new Sky Crawlers (and also GITS redux 2.0 I believe) have used huge amounts of CGI. Ok, characters are still done 2D style, so what about the CGI animated Final Fantasy films or stuff like Vexille? - JulesX

TJ: I still don't think Japan has CGI down. It took America a couple of decades to really get it to work, and although there are a few times I've seen the Japanese use it well, they're mainly regulated to movies and OAVs.

I didn't care for Final Fantasy: The Sprits Within, for example. While the CG itself looked good, I thought everyone looked stiff and lifeless. I never saw Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, but I have seen clips of it. It still looks more like well-animated toy models in a gray, bland world to me more so than an actual, believable environment with people.

As the only country left still consistently producing 2-D animation, 99 times out of 100 I prefer my Japanese animation to be in 2-D as opposed to 3-D.

Thank you for the questions once again, dear readers!

- Tim Jones

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