Discussing Hulu’s Anime Eradication on the Speakeasy Podcast

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Hulu is removing hundreds of anime from its catalogue on June 1st, and I hopped onto the Speakeasy Podcast with Alain to talk about it and to speculate about what it might mean for anime streaming in the future.

If your favorite show is on Hulu, there’s a good chance it’s also on other legitimate streaming services, but it’s still notable because of how big Hulu is.

Sadly, this means Hulu viewers might no longer be able to experience the excellent Show by Rock!!

 

 

 

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Show By Rock!!: C’mon, Rock and Roll

showbyrock-plasmagica  What happens when Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, creates a franchise aimed at men? The result is Show By Rock!!, an anime that’s an eclectic mix of seemingly contradictory visual aesthetics that somehow manages to bring it all together through clever humor, a heartfelt story of music and friendship, and a surprising amount of story.

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Hijirikawa Cyan is a high school girl too shy to join her school’s music club. While lamenting her lack of courage and playing on her cell phone (Show By Rock!! was originally a mobile game), she gets transported to the world of Myumons, half-animal people who share a love of music. She meets a talking guitar named Strawberry Heart, has to fight a giant hideous monster attacking a concert, and ends up staying on the other side and joining a small band called Plasmagica. Along with their ambitious leader and lead guitarist/vocalist Chuchu, tsundere bassist Retoree, and enigmatically cheerful drummer Moa, Cyan learns to gain confidence in herself and her love of music and saves Midi City in the process.

Though I might be biased as I am probably in that target audience of guys who like cute things, what I think draws me to this show is just how well it executes that cuteness in various capacities. I think often when it comes to how cuteness is utilized in anime, especially when trying to aim it at adult male fans, it can come across as a little too willing to revel in adorableness for its own sake, or to attach it heavily to tragedy. With Show By Rock!!, I actually hesitate to call a show like it “moe,” because there’s a different quality at work, a combination of silliness and seriousness that makes the anime feel closer to the morning cartoons that air alongside something like Precure than they would Hidamari Sketch, despite Show By Rock!! itself being a late-night anime.

I think I get this sense most from the show’s opening, “Seishun wa Non-Stop,” which is fun and addictive and the kind of introduction that I actually chose not to skip every episode. That, and seeing the glasses magically dissipate from Cyan’s head at the beginning of the opening is somehow hypnotic.

The moment that sealed the deal for me in terms of liking Show By Rock!! comes quite early on, in episode 2. During a scene when all of the girls of Plasmagica are discussing their reasons for joining the band, the camera closes in on each of their faces to reveal their actual reasons and not the innocent ones they’ve given on the surface. I don’t want to spoil the moment, but Moa’s reveal is so out of left field and hilarious that, even though I put the show on hold for months before finishing it, her inner thoughts stuck with me throughout my break from Show By Rock!!  What’s even better is that it pays off in a later episode.

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That moment is one of many indicators that Show By Rock!! is actually quite well-paced, with early hints at characters’ histories being built upon, a good sense of weight and understanding when it comes to the challenges each of the characters have to go through, and an extremely solid cast of supporting characters. While I can’t help but be fond of Tsurezurenaru Ayatsuri Mugenan, an Enka-themed band led by a woman in a giant cat daruma, the real stand-out side characters have to be SHINGANCRIMSONZ, a visual kei band with the most humorously overwrought members possible, chuunibyou types taken to the next level (plus one realist who nevertheless believes strongly in the power of music). If anything, even if you’re not a fan of hyper cute designs, you might just stay around for the SHINGANCRIMSONZ antics.

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Going back to the idea of Show By Rock!! being a strange mix of various visual styles, this can be seen in the fact that the members of SHINGANCRIMSONZ are drawn closer to the bishounen archetype than an attempt to reconcile their designs with the cutesy look of the Plasmagica girls. However, it works because they’re in many ways just as adorable and fun to watch as Cyan and the rest. Another facet of this blending of styles is the use of 3DCG and transformation into Sanrio-esque mascot characters during performances. It can be jarring, especially when watching this series for the first time, though it’s not extremely different from the heavy use of CG dances in girls’ shows such as Pretty Rhythm. In fact, while it isn’t quite up to the level of 2D animation employed by Studio Bones, the 3D animation in Show By Rock!! is actually quite solid.

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At only 12 episodes, Show By Rock!! is a quick and easy watch. I don’t think it’ll rock anyone’s foundations, but the characters are charismatic, the overall narrative leads up well, and the music is catchy. If there’s a way to describe it based on other music anime, I’d say it’s like 50% Sound!! Euphonium, 50% Macross 7. Don’t believe me? I guess you’ll have to check it out.

How Important is Consistency of Character Design Across Genders?

In a 2013 podcast interview, Paul Dini, creator of the DC Animated Universe, described how a stubborn refusal to move away from traditional marketing tactics spelled the end for the popular and beloved Justice League cartoon. Esssentially, because Dini had given the female characters of Justice League equal prominence and strong character development, the higher-ups who had planned their marketing around appealing to boys told the staff to cut it out. Girls should be on the sidelines, and never as good as the boys, because boys were supposed to buy the toys and merchandise, dagnabit. It’s a sad fact that proper marketing, trying to find the demographic that’ll give you the most bang for your buck, can often lead to things like happening, especially when so much money has been invested into a project and having things go not according to plan is seen as a nightmare scenario. Gendered marketing has been around for centuries, and it likely isn’t going anywhere soon.

I began thinking about this idea relative to anime, if only because anime and manga are known for gendered marketing. While anime does on a number of occasions portray strong female characters such as in the Precure franchsie, the primary audience is indeed young girls, even if a sizable male audience is willing to shell out some big bucks to get some DVDs and nice figures. However, there’s another side of anime marketing I’ve seen, one that seemingly both defies and reinforces gendered marketing, by placing idealized male characters for women and idealized female characters for men in the same space.

One such title I reviewed for an Anime Secret Santa a couple of years back: Acchi Kocchi: Place to Place. In it, I described the main couple as consisting of the small, moe girl and the tall, quiet bishounen, resulting in a combination of two popular yet often disparate archetypes in one relationship. Series such as Aquarion EVOL and Tytania have different artists on duty to design the male and female characters separately for maximum appeal/pandering. Perhaps nowhere is this more extreme than in the currently-airing Show By Rock, which takes the cute girl/handsome guy incongruity of Acchi Kocchi to a whole other level:

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(This isn’t even taking into account the fact that Show By Rock is already a rather eclectic mishmash of styles that also includes CG cute animal anthropomorphs playing in rock concerts.)

So you have these series with various creative forces involved—Okada Mari (Lupin III: The Women Called Mine Fujiko) wrote Aquarion Evol, while Tanaka Yoshiki (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) is the original author of Tytania, for example—which means that different philosophies and beliefs are involved on various levels of production. Marketing is still at work, the creators are overall looking for you to buy their anime, and if not that, then to buy their products. Focused marketing, gendered marketing is still happening. And yet, why are these anime willing to try and bridge the gap so at least within a single work there are elements that actively appeal to men and women, boys and girls, even if it’s for the sake of hitting some basic desire buttons on the audience? And if the argument is that the merchandise is designed to reflect those gender differences as well, then why were the people responsible able to produce goods in such a way that the executives behind Justice League could not?

Of course, one recent example of a franchise that has tried to appeal to both men and women within the same films has been the Marvel cinematic universe. Thor and Captain America both have looks and personalities that garner admiration from men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, and marketing has capitalized on that. At the same time, there’s also been a bit of an uproar over the fact that what should have been a Black Widow toy became instead a Captain America one. If this were Japan, there would certainly be some figures of Black Widow, but there’s also a fair chance that those examples wouldn’t be targeting girls.

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