Otaku Links: In case you’re not sick of talking about piracy

18 April 2014 | 3 comments

sakuramiku

Photo by Hina Ichigo.

My ridiculously simple anime piracy theory

16 April 2014 | 16 comments

captain-harlock-pirate

We spend a lot of time talking about piracy in the aniblogging world—why it’s bad, why it’s justified, why people do it in the first place. But if you ask me, it’s really not that complicated.

My theory has two prongs:

1) Fans generally want to support creators,

2) But we don’t want to work too hard to do it.

So: the first part. Anime fans seem to care a lot about supporting creators. Fan-run anime conventions go to great lengths to welcome Japanese anime voice actors, directors, and producers to America. And every time I’ve been to an autograph signing event, an opening or closing ceremony, these creators seemed overwhelmed by western fans’ love.

I didn’t realize that this was a western thing until Tony from Manga Therapy and I started going back and forth in an email about eastern vs. western anime fandom.

“What’s interesting is that Japanese directors/producers don’t even get hyped in Japan as they do in America,” Tony told me. “My Japanese friend told an otaku in Japan about this and her friend went, ‘America is weird.’ Isn’t it amazing how we tend to worship the makers/behind-the-scenes folks more?”

Because the creators are important to us, fans like to feel that they are participating legitimately. Sites like Crunchyroll and Nico Nico have become increasingly popular, because part of their selling point is that they publish anime with creators’ permission (and in the case of Crunchyroll, compensate creators proportionally to what you watch the most).

I think there’s a second reason Crunchy and Nico are doing well. They’re free.

I think pirating happens when piracy is the path of least resistance by a significant margin. Supporting creators is a hefty incentive, but not if a ton of time and energy needs to go into the process.

My whole life as a fan, I’ve gone for the path of least resistance. At first, that was piracy over Kazaa. Yes, watching a loading bar for two weeks was the easier way back then, when English subbed copies of Gravitation didn’t exist yet. (I am happy to say I have since bought this series legitimately.)

Today the easiest way to get anime is legally, through simulcasts and DVDs. But not manga, which is still operating on a delay. The fact that we need fan scanlations at all is an indication of a broken system that doesn’t meet readers’ demands.

Manga translations are slow, if they come at all, and when they do it’s costly. Meanwhile, fans have become accustomed to anime simulcasts, where we get to watch shows at the same time that Japanese fans are watching them. We’ve become entitled. “If we can watch anime as soon as it comes out, why can’t we do the same with manga?”

And honestly? There isn’t a reason we shouldn’t except that the business side is not in place. If anyone is going to figure it out though, it’s going to be Crunchyroll. They have their own translators—all they need is the source material. Right now they have Kodansha’s source materials, but maybe later they’ll go after other manga publishers’, too.

Some of you saw my Twitter tirade about wanting to buy a song from Gundam, but not being able to do so without an iTunes Japan gift card or Japanese physical address.

Why won’t iTunes just let me give them money and buy this Japanese song? I hate this arbitrary wall. https://t.co/04ElTCjYH1

— Lauren Orsini (@laureninspace) April 2, 2014

The song was only $1.29; it would have been easy to support the industry. But do you think I ended up doing that? Nope. Whenever I want to listen to it, I just go to YouTube. I’m a fan, and I want to be supportive. But it feels downright restrictive to jump through hoops like this one.

I obviously can’t justify illegally downloading anime, reading scanlations, or watching YouTube videos whose creators don’t own the rights to the song. But I do believe the people who do these things are otherwise supportive fans who have just gotten fed up with the system.

Previous thoughts on piracy: Anime piracy and how the anime industry is like the journalism industry

Screenshot via Captain Harlock

It’s ‘The Onion’ for anime! An interview with the editor of Anime Maru

14 April 2014 | 1 comment

Durarara

At first glance, it looks like any other anime news blog. Standard WordPress layout, a subtle logo, and a lineup of anime industry news articles. But look a little closer at the headlines, and your eyes goggle: “Anime Reviewer Actually Likes New Show, Summarily Beaten to Death by Coworkers,” “Syrian Jihadists Continue Feud Over Question Of Subs vs. Dubs.”

I started reading Anime Maru after I saw a PSA not to believe a word of it—just like parody blog Literally Unbelievable has shown with The Onion, it’s important to make sure it’s not a fake newspaper article before you rage about it.

Probably the reason people are getting confused is that it’s so new—Anime Maru only launched this spring. I spoke with Editor in Chief Kevo about this new project in otaku fakery:

Otaku Journalist: How and when did Anime Maru get started?

Kevo: The site officially launched on March 1, 2014, but I have been developing and researching the concept since last year. I began recruiting writers in late January and I bought the domain in February. As a team, we’re pretty happy with our performance in our first month, but I still believe we have just gotten started and we still have a lot to do and a long way to go as a website.

What inspired you to fill in the fake anime news gap? Why make a site like this?

I used to run a more traditional anime blog called Desu ex Machina (kevo.dasaku.net) and I tried a few posts in “fake news” format. They were incredibly fun to write and were really popular with my readers. Towards the end of last year, I began to lose interest in blogging. My site grew pretty substantial over the last few years, but I wanted to try something different and stand out from the crowd. I remembered how much fun I had writing those satire news posts and I realized that this niche was completely unclaimed. The military, sports, entertainment, and even E-sports have satire news sites, but anime doesn’t. Our hobby can be incredibly goofy and strange by nature, so I knew there would be plenty of things to satire. So one thing led to another and here we are.

The military, sports, entertainment, and even E-sports have satire news sites, but anime doesn't.

Where do you look for inspiration for your articles on Anime Maru?

Everywhere. I notice that I have been actively reading the news more often. CNN and Al Jazeera are my favorite sources of current events. Of course, I keep an eye on Twitter and Reddit to keep tabs on what’s trending and popular as well. Anime News Network and Crunchyroll News are also good sources of ideas, as well as Japanese sites like Yaron blog. More often than not, ideas come out of the blue and I race to the nearest piece of paper to jot it down. If I am on a deadline and try to force a parody concept out, it is usually pretty lame. The best ideas come naturally, but it definitely helps to seed my brain with a bunch of ideas beforehand.

Your articles mimic real reporting to an extent that people sometimes mistake them for actual news stories. Do you have a background in journalism?

I do not. One of members of my staff, Shinmaru, works for a newspaper.  Besides him, we’re just a bunch of regular dudes fooling around. I’ve been reading newspapers since I was 10 years old, so I have a decent feel for the dry, often deadpan tone journalists use. Oftentimes, when I am parodying a specific concept of news, I will look up a real article to use as a guide and mimic its tendencies and buzzwords. It’s pretty important to us that we imitate “real journalism” as closely as possible; it’s part of the joke after all.

On the same note can you tell me about some interesting responses from readers who mistook your articles for the real thing?

This is easily the most entertaining part of Anime Maru so far. We think we make the articles outlandish enough that no one would believe it, but it turns out there are some pretty gullible people on the world wide web. It’s big enough of an issue that a mod on the r/anime subreddit helpfully put up a PSA explaining that we are a parody news site. I still find forums where someone posted a link to one of our articles claiming that they “have no idea if this article should be taken seriously or not.” …Really? You have no idea?

Specifically, Neontaster wrote up an article about the Japanese Navy renaming ships to avoid confusion with the Kancolle girls a few weeks ago, and it got shared on some Indonesian Facebook group and we got like 20,000 hits overnight and legitimate debates started springing up. Even better are the completely serious comments and others claiming the story is a hoax with the same feeling of epiphany had they just disproved the existence of bigfoot. I don’t know if it’s a language barrier thing or they just don’t have news parody in Indonesia.

Thanks for the interview. Before I end I should acknowledge my staff, without whom Anime Maru could not possibly have come off the drawing board. These guys are the first four people I called and all four eagerly signed on. Neontaster is known for starting the “famous politicians holding up Madoka pictures” meme on Twitter a few months ago, and he shares the Photoshopping duties with me. Shinmaru is a blogger at The Cart Driver and editor of The Nihon Review. Emperor J is also a blogger at Lower Mid-Table. Usny was on my team back at Desu ex Machina. It’s like the anime blogger equivalent of the Avengers, except with fewer skintight costumes. I am ever grateful of the work that these guys put in; their writing experience and hilarious ideas make Anime Maru what it is.

(Photoshop via “Durarara!! Season 2 Announcement Deepens Tension Between West and Russia“)

Otaku Links: Spring (anime) is here!

11 April 2014 | No comments yet

cherryblossoms

  • This is how I usually find out which shows I want to watch each season: watch one episode of each. But for the spring 2014 season, I’m delegating the process. Here are some of the places I’m checking for anime first impressions, other than the anime blogs I usually read already:
  • This 2012 blog post is the earliest I’ve seen to observe the phenomenon of fandom convergence—that is, the unification of all kinds of nerdy fandoms in one place—at what were once purely anime conventions. What do you think about fandom convergence? Is it a good or bad thing for anime cons?
  • Also old, but not quite as old, is Tony’s article about Yowamushi Pedal as a harem anime in disguise, and I totally see it. I was not originally watching this show through a fujoshi lens, but after this article you know I am.
  • Related, and also written by Tony: Yowamushi Pedal and challenging yourself. I’ve already been on a kick about this topic, but I’m definitely planning to keep writing about how anime makes us better.
  • I impulse-bought an Arduino last night and while googling the geekiest possible things to make with it, I got acquainted with Arduino-tan. Also, apparently you can use it to create responsive nekomimi, just like those super expensive ones at cons!

Photo of the Tidal Basin in full bloom by me.

How fanfiction is making me a better writer

9 April 2014 | 3 comments

fanfiction

Now here’s a scary confession for a professional writer to make: I’m not all that confident in my creative writing skills.

Journalistic writing is fine. I just do the research, find the facts, and feed them into an article with the goal of making the topic as interesting and comprehensible as possible. Not so with creative writing, where I run into tricky world building, dialogue, and the not-so-surprising Achilles heel of this journalist—making stuff up.

It wasn’t always like this. I paid for my junior year of college with a creative writing scholarship. I had been writing short stories since I was a kid. I still keep a list of short story ideas. But when I even think of putting one of my ideas into writing, I run into a mental block.

While I was training myself to become a reporter, I learned how to write quickly, use small, clear words, and eliminate writer’s block from my vocabulary—I literally can’t afford to suffer from it. But in flexing my journalistic writing muscles, my creative writing ones have atrophied.

I’ve found an unorthodox solution, though. I’m easing back into creative writing with fanfiction.

Fanfiction is forcing me to making things up and write dialogue between characters. But it comes with a safety net in the form of the original work: whenever I get stuck, I can always revert back to journalistic writing. I can study the creator’s world, research the characters, start from their actual canon lines of dialogue and invent from there.

In the end, I came up with a strategy that’s surprisingly similar to how I write most of the time:

Journalism writing

  • Gather research and interviews
  • Outline in bullet points and fragments
  • Flesh out draft into an article

Fanfiction writing

  • Invent a fake scenario and “facts” for consistency
  • Outline in bullet points and fragments
  • Flesh out draft into a story

Well, it wasn’t that easy. My wonderful friends Kailer and Aja had to practically sit me in front of a shared Google Drive screen and watch my typing to get me to begin. But what really helped me break through was remembering that fanfiction’s stakes are low. Even though it’s now possible to sell fanfiction, most writers see it as a jumping off point. These are just stories I’m making up for fun and releasing on the Internet under a fake name.

In the time I’ve honed my writing skills as a means of communication, I’ve forgotten about its merits as a form of artistic self expression. That’s still a pretty lofty way to describe a form of writing I’m too embarrassed to share with my readers. Even after all this time, fanfiction still has a stigma. It’s childish, unseemly, and generally considered awful.

I think that’s why it’s not intimidating to write. Nobody is expecting anything good in the first place. Knowing the bar is low is what is helping me experiment with writing and get the closest I’ve gotten to writing creative fiction in a long time.

Do you write fanfiction? Do you admit to it? (Remember: you can fool the WordPress comment system and comment anonymously by using a fake email like fake@email.com.)

P.S. Here’s another way anime is making me a better person this month: my sports anime journey to fitness.

Photo via Vickinator. Buy the pin on Etsy

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