Enter Animefan

A couple of days ago I made a post discussing the way in which the purchase of anime-related goods often transcends the purchase of anime itself. I didn’t concentrate much on the act of buying anime, and was planning a follow-up post, but Omo over at Omonomono beat me to the punch. He brings up some good points that I want to touch upon while also elaborating on this whole idea of what it means to “buy anime.”

First, a story.

I once told someone that I pretty much only buy DVDs of things with which I’m already familiar, to which he simply responded, “Why would you buy something you’ve already seen?”

Whereas I saw my ownership of DVDs as a testament of sorts to the shows I felt were good and enjoyable enough for me to have them in my collection, the other person saw DVDs simply as a way to try new things out. In the end, we agreed to disagree.

While this person was not what you’d call a hardcore fan of any kind of media, I think his philosophy applies to a lot of how anime fandom sees anime: Why spend money to see something that isn’t new to you?

Omo hit upon a simple, yet profound idea: the act of purchasing DVDs is “meta.” Anime fans generally love anime because it presents a world to them with a story and characters to whom they can relate or from which they can derive some kind of enjoyment or escapism. They become fans of the anime, but not necessarily fans of the anime as a creative work. If most anime fans find some way of watching their favorite anime for free, and they subscribe to the idea of not paying for shows already viewed, then it is difficult to see why they would purchase a DVD of it, as that would require them seeing their favorite show not necessarily as a window into another world, but as an endeavor born out of the thoughts and efforts of its creators. In other words, on some level, they would have to appreciate their favorite anime as a work of art, which I have to ask, how often does that happen with entertainment in general, let alone anime?

Are anime fans actually less likely to appreciate their favorite shows as works of art? I believe so, and I use anime conventions as an example. When it comes to anime convention guests, the people who get by far the biggest crowds are the voice actors. On the one hand this tells us that a lot of fans can at least see past the character the actor portrays to the individual performer, but on the other hand the voice of a character is directly a part of the show itself. The influence a producer or a director or even a writer has upon a work is less readily noticeable by someone viewing a show, and as such these guests tend to get fewer sheer numbers. Is this any more or less than the audiences who see actors over directors for live-action movies? I don’t think so, but I wanted to show that as far as anime is concerned, this is the kind of thing that happens.

My words bring up another potential conflict: is there something bad about being one of those fans who sees anime purely as a window into another world? My answer is that I do not find anything necessarily wrong with not engaging one’s favorite shows on that “meta” level. Nor is seeing the strings necessarily a good thing; it’s pretty much all subjective in the end. Actually, if you want to see a good example of a fandom which balances the meta with the immersive, then look no further than professional wrestling.

In pro wrestling, there traditionally have been two terms used to describe people who enjoy it: marks and smarts. Marks are people who believe wrestling is 100% real, that the Hulk Hogan in the ring is actually who he’s supposed to be. They see pro wrestling as a venue for good to defeat evil, or at least for bad-good to defeat namby-pamby-evil. Smarts on the other hand are fans who know that wrestling is all staged. They know that there are writers and scripts and politics behind the facade of Nothern Light Suplexes and Shining Wizards, and having a keen understanding of the backstage actions is where they derive their enjoyment.

But those are the two extremes, and in this age where the cat is completely out of the bag about wrestling being “sports entertainment,” there arises a new category of fan: the “smart mark,” otherwise known as the “smark.” Like smarts, they seek the truth of what goes on with the wrestlers as actors, but are also eager to suspend their disbelief just long enough for them to cheer for the good guys and boo the bad guys.

So who is the “better” fan? Is it the mark for his genuine immersion, or is it the smart who appreciates the performance?  Or is it the smark who tries to combine both worlds, arguably at the expense of either side?

And how do you get all of them to buy your stuff to keep you afloat?

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16 thoughts on “Enter Animefan

  1. You and Omo bring up some pretty good points, and I’ll share some of my thoughts on the situation.

    I think that the general fandom today has become out of touch with what makes anime, and animation in general, anime. And that is the actual animation itself, or in other words, movement. In the late-night TV anime world of ever decreasing budgets, outsourcing, and time constraints, actual animation has taken a backseat in it’s own medium. This is why things like seiyuu performances have taken on so much importance in anime. They help to distract the viewer from the cheap tricks of limited animation and the fact that there’s almost no movement or realistic character acting in your average TV anime these days.

    A good recent example would be episode 167 of Naruto Shippuuden. That episode marked the return of famed storyboarder/key animator Atsushi Wakabayashi, known for his incredibly fluid animation and wild style of movement, to Naruto. Predictably, the episode was panned for it’s ‘QUALITY’, by the uninformed masses. It seems like much of the fandom prefers well-drawn stills to actual movement, which degrades anime into little more than moving manga.

    Now how does this attitude affect the act of buying DVD’s? Well, if we assume that buying anime DVD’s is a meta function that requires you to view the anime as art, then I believe that there are several prerequisites to deciding to buy a series. In order to see the amount of work put into a series, you must view it multiple times. After seeing the level of work, it is the appreciation of this work that compels you to buy a series. If your average anime fan has no desire to rewatch the show, or cares little for the human element (animators, directors, story boarders) behind the show, then I think that there is little incentive for him to buy it. For these types of people, I think anime companies can only hope that their level of immersion in the show is so great that they will buy the DVD’s as part of their collection of merchandise, even if they never intend to watch it again.

    As for me personally, there are two things I look for when deciding to buy a series. One, I must be completely and irrationally immersed in the show, a very ‘mark’ attitude as you put it. However, I only collect R2 releases of shows (which are prohibitively expensive) which means that I must temper that enthusiasm with an understanding of whether the show is actually good or not. By good I don’t mean matters of taste which are subjective, but whether or not the show has high production values. Great directing, precise story boarding, creative screenplay, and high levels of sakuga (key frame) animation are things that can’t be argued much. A show either has them or doesn’t. Unfortunately, not many shows can meet the standards of the second condition, which contributes to the relatively small size of my anime collection. In fact, the only anime studio I can think of that consistently puts our TV anime with amazingly high production values is kyoani, but that’s a matter for another topic.

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  2. This might be a bit of a stretch, but this is similar to the whole “I only like 2D women” phenomenon that’s going on. You have these obsessed idealists who only like 2D girls; you have extreme realists that don’t see the (sexual) appeal of 2D characters; and then you have people in between who enjoy the best of both worlds.

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  3. “Why spend money to see something that isn’t new to you?”

    Consider this: today is a Tuesday, the day when retail stores typically start selling whatever new DVDs and Blu-Rays are released for a given week. The typical discounted B&M price for a Hollywood movie on the day of release tends to be approximately $20 for a DVD and $25 for a Blu-Ray; roughly two to three times the average cost of purchasing a standard movie ticket. TV shows in general cost even more at release. Which movies and TV shows do you suppose sell the best during their first weeks of release on home video?

    It’s the ones that people have ALREADY seen in the theaters or on TV for less than or no money! Who is buying these things? Due to the higher price one must pay, the logical conclusion is that the people purchasing these things on immediate release are people that already saw and liked the title in question because the people who “want to see something that isn’t new to them” instead opt to wait until the titles are available for rent.

    When it comes to home media purchases, the question I think the average non-anime consumer actually asks is “why spend money to see something that IS new to you?” The viewpoint that “DVDs are a way to try new things out” can only be true if they are typically cheaper than other options. In this era of Netflix and streaming video the amount of people buying physical media is on the decline partly due to the fact that DVDs are NO LONGER cheaper than other options. I don’t disagree with your assessment of why most anime fans don’t buy DVDs. But it seems to run contrary to the mentality of other consumers.

    The first reaction from my friends as we left the theater upon seeing Predators (and nearly every movie I saw this year in the theater) was “I’m DEFINITELY buying that when it comes out.” I never really hear that level of resolve in anime, perhaps because the channels we employ to see it means that we already have them on some incarnation of “home video” as it stands.

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    • I think you hit the nail on the head. The means by which we view anime in the first place is many times already in our hands (on our computers) so by extension it seems like we already own it. Combining this with the fact that anime fans are on average more tech savvy than other consumers makes it a fairly unique problem.

      -Narutaki

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    • I think that’s just cultural programming. There are plenty of people who reacted the same way about a good anime show that they like after seeing it for free, etc. If you don’t see this, to me that is more a testament that anime consumed by the average person you know, on the whole, is not very good. Or they just don’t like the stuff.

      Again, I think there is no rational reason behind this, besides that some people choose to rewatch stuff, to re-experience what made them want to buy the DVD in the first place. One could very well not buy the DVD and go home and draw some doujinshi or something. It’s just sort of countercultural.

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    • Of course, I mistyped. The average person per my argument asks is actually “why spend money to see something that is NOT new to you?” since they’re buying things they’re already familiar with.

      “There are plenty of people who reacted the same way about a good anime show that they like after seeing it for free, etc…If you don’t see this…”

      Oh, for crying out freaking loud. OF COURSE THERE ARE “PLENTY OF PEOPLE.” I never said they didn’t exist! What I’m saying is that they’re not the majority in anime fandom the way they seem to be for other fandom pursuits, and the highly-publicized decline of anime DVD sales at a rate that seemingly exceeds even the current decline of non-anime DVDs is testament to this.

      This is the constant thorn in my side when it comes to my posting anything about anything these last few years. I say “the average so-and-so…” and inevitably the response I get “not everybody is so-and-so!” If I say “narrative element X is being overused” the response I get is “narrative element X has ALWAYS been there!” It’s as if the binary nature of computing has somehow expanded out and resulted in binary thought patterns.

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      • I think you bring up some really good points, Daryl, including the fact that many moviegoers will see the movie but then turn around and buy the DVD version when it comes out. That brings to mind to ideas swirling about in my head.

        First, if anime fans did not have alternate merchandise to purchase (including fanart at conventions, etc), would they be more willing to buy the shows? I feel like how well a series merchandises is a big thing to consider. Take the example of the first Chronicles of Narnia film, which reportedly boosted the sales of Turkish Delights a significant margin.

        Second, if we are to assume that the average moviegoer will buy primarily copies of shows they have already seen, then I have to ask, is the average moviegoer the average person? That is to say, what percentage of people actually regularly see movies in theaters these days? If I recall, over the past few years theaters in general have been struggling to get more people in their seats, and have been taking great steps to lure people in (and also to get them to buy from their concession stands).

        For a good portion of my life, I experienced movies entirely through TV, watching whatever aired on weeknights or weekend afternoons on regular, non-cable television. With the internet, this may be getting more and more common.

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      • The reason why anime fans don’t buy anime is because they are either a) kids with no income, or b) 4channers who pride themselves on piracy.

        Also some people probably don’t know you can actually buy the stuff. Or some people just think US DVD are primarily shit, like I do.

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      • It’s like a business school thing.

        Someone selling DVDs can be doing it for the purpose of selling access. For the most part this was the case of the US anime industry. In my rant I didn’t really want to focus on them, because honestly they’re just a small part of a much grander scheme.

        The other thing a publisher can do is to sell content. This is why large commercial enterprises that is Hollywood and the like care about financing structure and quality output. Of course everyone likes to watch a good movie, but it’s a very different story to fund and produce a good movie.

        The former business model is now in the crapper thanks to the internet. The latter business model is nigh eternal. Of course, it’s cheaper to do the former than the latter. How much is the Aozora Kiseki guy asking for?

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  4. bloo: I think that’s a very personal view. For one I think sakuga otaku types were never a numerous group. They tend to be older with more cross-media experience. In other words, there are a number of well-animated works that sold poorly.

    Anime (as opposed to non-Japanese animation) is specifically tuned the way you see it is now, with its generally low-budget style, because of a lot of different reasons. But it is definitely certain that majority of people who consume anime and those who buy anime don’t really see it as an art form focused on “animation.” It is about the aesthetics of the content, the characterization or the story that matters more.

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  5. I buy DVDs of anime I like mostly because I just want to watch the show again whenever I want (the official way and not having to depend on the Internet). The “meta” thing has something to do with it too. But I wouldn’t spend money on something I’m not sure I would like (if I was a millionaire, maybe I would be more willing to buy anime I had never seen before, but not until then =P)

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  6. Pingback: Lamenting, lauding, and otherwise considering the loss of One Manga « Pontifus

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  8. ‘is there something bad about being one of those fans who sees anime purely as a window into another world?’

    Well, I’d say no, and that it just depends on the ‘filter’ with which you see the world. Of course, it’s innevitable that some people are more critical when watching a show than others are, and even some who are aware of wider styles and meanings/ messages and either choose to appreciate them or not.

    ‘So who is the “better” fan? Is it the mark for his genuine immersion, or is it the smart who appreciates the performance? Or is it the smark who tries to combine both worlds, arguably at the expense of either side?
    And how do you get all of them to buy your stuff to keep you afloat?’

    Again, I’ll sit on the fence and say neither. That is, it’s not about being a better fan. You can be a more passionate (as opposed to ‘genuine’, I’d say, as that implies anyoneone who’s otherwise is somehow ‘fake’ to me) fan, or a more informed fan, or more critical fan, or even a combination of more than one. Though, I admit that doesn’t answer your question(s). I guess, if I HAD to make a choice, then the fan who both enjoys/ is emmersed in AND tries to view anime with an open and at least somewhat critical mind is certainly a more interesting subject, with the added implication that his/ her opinion is worth listening to.

    As to your final question in particular, in short, ‘with great difficulty’. I’m of the controversial opinion that if I can watch/ DL it for free and don’t plan to watch it again, then why fork out the little money that I have to spend on such stuff on such overpriced, and often inferior quality products (e.g. as is the case with a lot of licenced Vs fansubs/scans). However, if I would want to see my (favourite) shows/ films again then I would probably buy it in order to do so with more ease.

    Finally, I’ll end this over-long post with a belated ‘Hello!’ from a former lurker and (now) more recent commentator, and ‘Thanks!’ for the interesting editorial.

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