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THEM Anime Q&A round 2 part 2

September 26, 2011

THEM Anime Q&A round 2 part 2

What attracted you to anime in the first place? - Zergplex

CR: Ever notice how you watch a Western cartoon, even a really good one like PHINEAS AND FERB, and the backgrounds always look "cartoony"? Even poorly animated anime have super detailed backgrounds that look like they actually *belong* somewhere. SAILOR MOON looked like it could actually be set somewhere in the real world. And that was different to me.

SH: Magazine ads. It shames me to admit, but that's actually what happened.

TJ: The colors, the wide variety of genres, the completely unique looking appeal of something from another country, and the visual eye-candy. (Studio Ghibli's art and backgrounds especially got me into the hobby.)


RN: It was just that my friends were watching it at the time. It was a good way to socially bond with them. Eventually, I started dabbling into various anime shows on my own and got into a groove of my own.

AF: Watching late night animé features during the nineties on the Sci-Fi Channel was where I first caught a glimpse of animé and where it placed itself on my radar for life. When I became a teenager and my xenophilic tendencies grew along with my disposable income, animé was the natural place to start looking for entertainment.

What has kept you watching anime for so many years? - Zergplex

CR: There's a couple of shows every year that I find interesting, even with the preponderance of moe-tsundere crap that I have to ignore (see #8!). It's the hope of watching something cool and fun that keeps me going.

SH: Great shows, synchro sessions for the bad ones and... this site.

TJ: The excitement of finding an excellent new series amongst the dozens of new titles coming out every year. It's a lot easier to sit down and watch anime on crunchyroll any time I desire than to wait for shows on actual television networks to broadcast.


RN: Well, I've been pretty inconsistent with watching it as of late. But what kept me watching for 7 years was again, friends. Once they faded off of the media, I found watching it by myself to be rather depressing. So, I mostly stopped.

AF: Avoiding poor shows for the most part and watching the good shows for the most part. Avoiding the temptation to watch too much of it is also important since cliché burnout can wear down even the most determined and seasoned viewer - when you lose faith in animé then it's all over.

How did you learn about/get involved with THEM anime? - Zergplex

CR: It's in the bio, but essentially, short form - I was reading the THEM anime review of DAGGER OF KAMUI and just happened to run into the author of that review in the computer lab. Yeah, I know, what are the odds?

SH: I stumbled upon it once a long time ago. That was the time when the site logo was a guy in a bathtub, and I'm not even sure it had a forum yet. I sent Carlos a mail regarding the family name of the Kusakabe household (From My Neighbor Totoro), and I guess the site just stuck with me.

When I eventually moved into the apartment I now live in and got myself a permanent internet connection, I returned, signed up for a forum account, and the rest is pretty much history.

TJ: I've been checking out the site since 2001, but didn't register until the second forum opened in December 2002. I registered about three months after that because at the time I was still on my beginner anime fan kick, and wanted to express/check out other people's opinions on anime.


RN: I learned about it by looking for review sites and stumbling across THEM. I joined the forum at its inception (when it was on EZBoard, God that seems like forever) and have been a member and infrequent contributor since then.

AF: It was a rather natural process really. When I get into to things I don't believe in half measures so when I got into animé I trawled the depths of the internet to look for recommendations for where I should start and attack the mountain of animé before me. It just so happened that there was one website that spoke to me in a way that the others didn't - filled with insightful and often funny reviews that entertained me as much as many of the actual shows would in time. I then joined the forum after a while to see what kind of community had produced such charming reviews and they couldn't get rid of me after that.

What made you decide to become an anime reviewer? - Zergplex

CR: So once I started hanging out with Raph and the gang, anime reviews were sort of the next logical step. My first one was MD GEIST, which was and still is an awful, awful show, but a lot of fun to put down on paper (in many, many ways). And then the reviews kept coming, until finally, I had to focus on college and get that done. By then, of course, Raph had long since moved on, and I was by then far from a one-man show!

SH: I got a message from Carlos saying that I was accepted, and... I just went with it. Honestly, at the time, I didn't really expect to be accepted, and the idea of taking in outside help for reviewing was only mentioned briefly in the forum. At the time, I had written a few reader reviews -- the first one, I think, for the infamous Violence Jack -- but the idea hadn't really hit me yet, even if I had shown a small interest in contributing. So when I got the position confirmation (and once the stunned look had left my face), I thought "Well... why not?"

And here I am, seven, if not eight, years later. Who knew?

TJ: Well, the original reason was to give Wedding Peach a brutal beatdown in how bad it was, but that changed as I watched more of it. (It's now at a low three stars, by the way.) I then continued to submit reviews because I wanted to help make an already large review database of anime only bigger. And here I am eight years later.


RN: It looked like an interesting time investment. I also used it for a senior project in high school. Got an A+ on it.

AF: I like writing. I like animé. The synthesis didn't need forcing.

Do you favor any specific genre? What attracts you to that genre? - Zergplex

CR: I love fantasy. I was a huge D&D and Final Fantasy nerd long before I'd heard the term "anime", so stuff like RECORD OF LODOSS WAR was a gimme for me. Space operas like LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES and CREST/BANNER/ETC OF THE STARS up there too.

But really, it's when I discovered MARMALADE BOY and HANA YORI DANGO that I found that one genre that ropes me in every single time. That sort of stuff didn't exist for me when I was a teenager, but a majority of my friends back then were girls, so I felt more at home with shoujo soap operas than shounen adventures when I finally discovered anime.

I must've been supremely confident in my masculinity, even back then.

SH: I favor lighthearted slice-of-life, mostly for the warm fuzzies. But seriously, said genre has produced a lot of shows that has proven that you do not need antagonists or resort to outright nihilism to make an interesting show. Sometimes, it's the quiet laughs or the uplifting experiences that can make instead of break a show.

TJ: Slice-of-life anime. Mainly because they avoid most of my big anime pet peeves in other genres (long speeches during fights, mecha fights where half the time they're talking about numbers or readings, dramatizing the simplest things, and convoluted romances).


RN: Not particularly. There may be some genres I lean towards slightly than others, but few that I truly hate (though I don't really understand the whole moe thing).

AF: Anyone who has paid close attention to my incessant blatherings will know that Horror is my favourite genre of all. Maybe it is because I always have a soft spot for the underdog but I see so much potential in this often abused genre that I would love to see realised more often - its potential for character exploration and introspection that is so often ignored in favour for blood, sex and gore. My Junji Itou Manga have pride of place in my home right next to my DVD collection of Haibane Renmei and I just wish that half the genre was as chilling and mind-bending as his work.

What is your favorite or most memorable scene from an anime? - Zergplex

CR: Favorite: (MARMALADE BOY) So it's Christmas, and Miwa Satoshi shows up at the house of the girl he's in love with (Meiko), in order to cheer her up. He's dressed up as Santa Claus, and he looks absolutely ridiculous, and Meiko starts laughing. This is about the time she realizes he's come in through the window. Which is on the third floor. And there's a grappling hook on the balcony. And she's *completely okay with this*.

Who needs crack when you have anime?

Memorable: (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES) "Why do fireflies die so soon?" That scene plays out as a metaphor for the lives of the two children in the movie. Utterly devastating, and absolutely beautiful.

SH: The first scene that got me all choked up was the whole bell nut-giving scene from Haibane Renmei. Not to spoil the show... much, but the way that scene muted all ambient noise for a short while, instead resorting to the score to carry the aural weight of the situation -- a tranquil moment of community among the cast before one of them had to undertake a rather... herculean task. Haibane Renmei had won me over long before that, but this scene in particular was hard to watch with my composure intact.

TJ: The first time I watched Princess Mononoke pretty much. I was a teenager at the time, and up until then the only anime I saw on T.V. were kiddy shows. So when I went to the movies back in 1999 and saw that film in theaters, I was floored by how big and beautiful it was compared to the low-budget anime I was used to seeing on T.V. I have yet to feel anything even vaguely close to this feeling in any anime I've seen since.


RN: Even after nearly 10 years, I'd say the final scene of Cowboy Bebop sticks in my mind.

AF: Many. The last minute of Monster, Sayaka on the train in Madoka or that particular heart-wrenching point in RahXephon (I won't say any more for the sake of spoilers) but getting me to pick one moment is tough. To pick a recent one, the scene in Steins;Gate where Okabe confronts Moeka in her apartment is a piece of brilliance, not because of what is necessarily contained within the scene but how the scene pertains to the rest of the series and in particular the character of Okabe himself - it is the essence of showing, not telling.

How do you feel about extremely popular shows? Does the popularity turn you off to the show, does it create higher expectations, or do you tend to ignore the hype? - Zergplex

CR: Oh wow, you just opened a biiiiiig can of worms.

It really, really depends on the show.

Going back to DRAGON BALL Z (which I got flamed for at least once a week back in the day), it's popular, the art style is catchy, and the characters are fun, but the plot was super repetitive and the animation (especially by today's standards) is awful. But oh god, the pacing. My wife tends to describe it as follows:

"Next time on DRAGON BALL Z: Kaaaa-meeeeee"
"Next time on DRAGON BALL Z: haaaa-meeeeee"
"Next time on DRAGON BALL Z: Will Goku be able to finish his atta-"
"Next time on DRAGON BALL Z..."
(repeat for a gazillion episodes)

And you laugh, because it's true! Even if you loved the show (and I'm cool with that), there were serious pacing and storyline problems, partly *because* it had gotten so popular that people wanted more DRAGON BALL than the original could offer. There was more demand than actual material - and that's why you get filler episodes and side story arcs and all the things that end up getting people jaded. And then DRAGON BALL GT came along and even the die-hards pretty much realized that franchise had jumped the shark - Toriyama had long since emotionally and creatively bailed out and I really don't blame him.

It all goes to show that, sometimes, a million screaming fanboys *can* be wrong.

Another creator who respect and love dearly but has been constantly guilty of letting popularity compromise creative ability is Takahashi Rumiko. Arguably the ONLY big market serial of hers that got a proper ending was MAISON IKKOKU. Apart from that, there's lots of her material that is rehashed or drawn out or just plain filler - a lot of folks feel her best work by far wasn't the "popular" stuff, but her side projects like MERMAID SAGA. I agree. Even then, there's a lot of gems within her main body of work - there's parts of URUSEI YATSURA, RANMA 1/2, and INU YASHA that in turn have shown us *why* she's an award-winning mangaka.

That being said, I've tried not to let a show's popularity color my perceptions of a show prior to watching it, as that's patently unfair to the show. For example, I loved the first season of HARUHI. The same is true for *obscure* shows - there's a lot of shows out there that are obscure because they flat out suck! Though I'm sure the 3 remaining die-hard fans of THE EYES OF MARS still running around out there will heartily disagree with that statement.

It all comes down to remembering that reviews are a product of a work of art and our personal reactions to it. No two people are the same ... but a group of like-minded people eventually form some sort of rough consensus, and that's why people still come and read our reviews after fifteen years.

SH: This all depends on the reasons given for its popularity, and how they resonnate with my own preferences and interests. I take all hype with a pinch of salt, but the general rule of thumb regarding extremely popular shows is that I will always think they are at least entertaining and/or well made.

TJ: I tend to ignore watching/reviewing popular shows until they're either over, or the hype has died down. I've made the occasional exception (the first season of Haruhi, and the early episode of Karin), but otherwise I've been sticking to this routine for the past decade with little changes. The only exceptions have really been with the synchros Stig and I do, and even then some of those titles were out from a month or two to years by the time we watch them.


RN: The hype doesn't affect me much. It's just that many times, the popular shows are not ones that I am necessarily interested in.

AF: I'll admit that it bothers me to see certain shows get undeserved and unreserved plaudits *cough*Madoka*cough*. I don't hate the shows though and have quite enjoyed shows that have been hyped up higher than heaven but I definitely wish that people would keep their feet on the ground more. There are plenty of great shows out there so let's keep things in perspective.

Talking about expectations, they are a funny thing. High expectations can harm a show (I went into Madoka and Noir with high hopes and can't help but feel disappointed by them even though they are still excellent shows) but other shows I've approached with the same expectation and had my hopes surpassed and more. I don't think high expectations are a bad thing, I think it is unrealistic expectations that harm viewing. For example, if my only expectation for Madoka had been that it was going to be a mind-blowing visual treat and nothing more then I would have had my expectations met without reservation but going in with the hope of meaningful characters and a thoughtfully considered plot I was sorely disappointed.

How do you feel about the current trends towards moe and tsundere shows? - Zergplex

CR: Ah, yes, the traditional fictional obsession with classifying characters into archetypes. You all do realize that Lum from URUSEI YATSURA is the original tsundere, right? And KIMAGURE ORANGE ROAD has moe (Hikaru) and tsundere (Madoka) as the lead females in the love triangle. These are tropes as old as fiction, only with fancy-schmantsy new art and terminology to go with the storytelling. But all of those characters weren't *defined* by those tropes as they exhibited, because there was often much more to the characters than that.

As it stands now the presentation is really starting to get repetitive and simplistic for me to enjoy. The surge in the popularity of "moe" is a large part of why I started to draw down on reviewing even before I officially "retired": when a large enough number of fans are more interested in "how moe" a show is rather than how good it tells a story, and vote with their money, then it really has an impact on what kind of material gets disseminated and what projects get greenlit by the studios.

When all the animators are working on stuff like this, then who's going to step up and fill the void left behind by a creator like, say, Kon Satoshi?

Reality is more complicated than moe-tsundere archetypes, and I'd really like to see at least more works that actually have characters based on interesting personalities, rather than these infantile caricature fantasy girls that fawn over guys who don't do anything to deserve it. I mean, really, you might as well be watching porn - someone Rule 34ed those characters a long time ago.

Honestly, I feel that reducing the majority of female characters to moe-tsundere tropes like a lot of shows do now sets up the least socially able among us for failure due to unrealistic expectations of how a girl is going to behave in any society. It's the otaku equivalent of THE JERSEY SHORE - yeah, there's Guidos and Guidettes out there too, but the world is a bigger, brighter, richer place than that.

Wow, thesis.

Every so often, I ignore all of that and latch onto one of those shows anyway, like TORADORA! (But then, I have a soft spot for the super-short girl / tall guy dynamic, because my wife and I are totally like that.)

SH: They make for fun synchro sessions sometimes, don't they? As a rule of thumb; I'm generally fine with tsundere characters as long as they're not violent or abusive. As for MOE... as long as they don't go completely overboard with it.

Almost everything is fine in moderation, isn't it?

TJ: Moe has actually been around a lot longer than people think, but I'll admit I am getting more than bit tired with the skew on the fascination of moe. It's less so the cutesy character designs than the actual personalities of these moe blobs, whose main characteristcs range from being a childish ditz who acts little like her age (Yui Hirasawa), to being super shy and squeaky (Sumomo Akihime), to just being a little kid archetype for the sake of cuteness (Kyon's sister).

I've always hated the tsundere trope since I first read Love Hina and saw the "heroine" Naru Narusegawa spend over half of the 14 volume run of the series calling the male lead Keitaro useless, perverted, idiotic, and no good. Sorry, but I don't find male abuse funny even when played for laughs, even in animation for the most part. (Having a tsundere in the cast also unfortunately means you have a male lead with no balls as well, another trope I am sick of.) It doesn't help when you have characters like these as your "heroines" in their respective series. To quote a German proverb: "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"


RN: Can we go back to harems and big breasts please?!

AF: A heavy bias towards shallow writing and cliché is nothing new in any realm of entertainment. In the end there will be a certain volume of pointless trash and whether that is moé or otherwise, it is little concern to me - I don't need to watch it. Heck, moé doesn't even need to be bad. Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko is about as moé as you can get but still remains an incredibly intelligent, heart-warming, beautifully written, character-driven comedy-drama. If the moé gets that show a second season then there will be no complaints from me.

How do you personally feel about digital sourcebing? - Zergplex

CR: digital sourcebing should cease the moment a show is licensed in the local jurisdiction, period, end of story. That being said, it's a large reason of why THEM has been able to operate for so long - as a website that's older than a lot of the companies currently distributing anime outside Japan, we really haven't had much choice but to employ the use of digital sources until such time as a show has been licensed.

A lot of shows never do get licensed in the western world and probably never will due to financial constraint, like the epic OAV series LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES - the sheer amount of capital needed for a series of that size to be licensed overseas, much less translated, subtitled, and distributed and is absolutely astounding, and there is very little indication that such an investment would break even, even if the show is absolutely 100% awesome. Not to mention that different jurisdictions require different laws, languages, you name it, there's a snag to overcome. digital sourcebing takes all of that out of the equation - if someone's interested to buy the merchandise off a Japan-only show after watching the digital sources, then you've still made money off that guy, without having to spend a dime in advertising, distribution, licensing, et cetera. And that is a win-win for niche or older shows that are unlikely to receive widespread release.

However, using digital sources to replace licensing altogether in the case of popular or potentially popular shows is really, really hurting the industry. Remember that anime, first and foremost, is *corporately funded*, and therefore if those production committees don't see any return on their investment, then that anime is going to be replaced with something else that makes money. Which is probably gonna be moe-tsundere bull-pucky, because otaku are willing to pay any amount of money to buy that stuff. So it's important for us fans to support the kind of series we enjoy, not just by putting in a good word or cosplaying at the next con, but actually contributing something to the global industry. Your dollar is your vote, and every penny counts.

No, really. It DOES.

digital sourcebing, like it or not, is part of the worldwide anime community, and will continue to be so as long as there is anime. As long as it can be seen as free advance promotion for upcoming new shows, or shows that are unlikely to see the light of day in the west, then that's well and fine. But it shouldn't be abused. Refusing to pay for anime altogether is selfish and detrimental to the medium as a whole.

SH: That's a can of worms I'd rather not reopen. Let's just say that at present, I rarely ever resort to it. But if there is a show I really want to watch, and the only way for me to get it in a language I understand is digital sources... it's fine.

TJ: It's a blessing and a curse. The former in that it allows shows that had a snowball's chance in Hell of getting licensed in North America a chance to shine, and the latter that it has also unfortunately resulted in backlashes towards the U.S. industry. I can't help but wonder if declining sales due to digital sourcebing are a reason why a lot of anime released on R1 DVD today aren't dubbed. Only recently have more dubs been popping up on R1 DVDs, but it's pretty obvious that the damage has been done and will continue to hurt the industry for years to come.


RN: In the past, digital sourcebing was often the only way to see an anime. At the time, it served a great purpose of exposing unlicensed anime to a wider audience and likely contributed to its popularity overseas in its early stages. But with anime being so widespread in the western world nowadays, there's little need for it. It exists for cheapskates who download to avoid paying for the official release and impatient people who want to be the first of their friend to see the next greatest series fresh out of Japan.

AF: digital sourcebing has its place. I have a certain fondness for a try-before-you-buy philosophy that I get from TV where I can find out whether I like a series before I put my hand in my pocket - my collection would have less excellent shows for sure without them and probably less shows overall. I'm fine with any unlicensed show being rescued from obscurity by digital sourcebers and many great shows would have been lost without them (Moryou no Hako, Kaiba, Kemonozume may not get licensed no matter how much I wish it) but digital sourcebers doing work on Bleach or Naruto, etc is a plain cheek and pointless.

Do you have any pets? - Zergplex

CR: Yes - a cat named Kaji. (And yes, that one, from EVANGELION.)

SH: The kind of pets I want aren't allowed where I live, so not currently, no. We used to have pets in the family back when I lived with them, though, and I miss them all dearly.

TJ: I do; one cat and one dog. Their names are Pi and Bay, respectively.


RN: Yes.

AF: No I don't.

Bonus material; some extra questions for the Emeritus:

You ran THEM anime for 8 years (from 2000 till 2008 according to your bio). How have things changed since you arrived up until now both with THEM Anime and with anime in general? - Zergplex

CR: Oh. Emm. Gee. I had no idea we'd be around this long. The changes: there's a lot of new faces out here, and fresh ideas, and really awesome people I'd like to get to know. A few of the old guard have moved on with their lives, though I still hear from them on occasion. But the best thing about this site has NEVER changed: that we are a friendly community willing to take in and help out fellow fans, and in more than just recommending what anime to watch. I always envisioned this site as an extension of THEM itself - a social organization for fans to feel safe and have fun and meet other like-minded people. That we've been successful at this for fifteen years is testament to the readers of this site: this is all you guys.

How did it feel to be an iconic part of the early internet anime community? (at least where I live THEM anime, was very well known back in the day) - Zergplex

CR: I have to admit that I have mostly great feelings about that. In the end, I ended up not going into the anime industry itself like I originally planned - I got my Japanese degree in December of '08, which we all know is about the time the economy and the US anime distribution network just about imploded. I miss being a "face of anime" sometimes, but right now I've got other things on my plate, and a family to plan for. But I'll always be around to advise and be a friendly face - I highly enjoy introducing people to each other and watching the connections form (and not just friendly ones - I'm kind of a matchmaker IRL).

How did it feel to be on TV? - Zergplex

CR: Re: AotS - Supremely comfortable, actually, because that wasn't my first time on TV, though the tentacle jokes got old fast. (I'm pretty sure I saw Adam Sessler in the lobby - I should've fist-bumped him or something, 'cause I was really into X-Play at the time.)

I was actually the runner-up in the 1991 National Geography Bee, so I was on Good Morning America the day afterward. My Kevin Bacon number for television is just 2 - competed in 1991 National Geography Bee finals moderated by Alex Trebek; Alex Trebek hosted an episode of Celebrity Jeopardy (real, not SNL) in which Kevin Bacon was a competitor. I made it onto TV about three or four times after that, not to mention that I was tenor section leader in my (national champion!) high school honor choir and sang the national anthem at my senior year high school homecoming football game. (Imagine a weird cross between Artie and Mike Chang from GLEE, but with Kurt's range. Yes, I watch GLEE. No, my wife is not a beard, but I don't blame you for that thought crossing your mind.)

Clearly I'm an extreme extrovert, so by definition, I don't come from a "traditional" geek background at all, but I've had to work hard to make my life as enjoyable as it has been, and that means taking every opportunity I can, whether it be the AotS appearance, or my current role at Disney, where you are quite literally constantly "on stage". You've gotta go big or go home, so they say.

Thanks you for all your questions! See you next time we do this again.

- THEM Anime Staff

- Stig Høgset

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