​Why America Will Never Truly Be Able To Make Its Own Anime

Hello, folks. I'm sorry for the absence of last week's mail column; suffice it to say there was some… difficulty in escaping the intelligent apes, and I couldn't do it without endangering myself. In related news, if you ever go to Ape City, they will no longer be fooled by ape costumes. Just FYI. Now, on with the mail!

Flash in Japan


Hello Rob, how are you? I recently read your article "What killed the American anime industry?" I'd love to ask you a few questions about the industry, particularly about anime series that either partially cover its manga counterpart or veers from it completely at some point. Two of my favorite mangas - Rosario+Vampire and History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi - ended this year, while the anime versions only covered part (HSDK) or veered off the track (R+V). I know there's always the possibility that the anime can be picked back up or rebooted (R+V needs it), but what I wonder about are series whose genres may be more popular here in the U.S. vs Japan.

Here's my (convoluted) initial question: Is it completely impossible to bypass the current model (manga turns anime, booms in Japan, then sell broadcast rights to U.S./Western countries) if an American company (or person) negotiates animation rights directly from the manga publisher (or even the mangaka him/herself?) build a marketing campaign aimed primarily for North America, then find a production company that can create an animated series that will stay true to the artwork and manga storyline?


It's not completely impossible but it's super, super unlikely. Almost no manga is entirely creator owned — certainly nothing that's printed in a normal manga anthology like Shonen Jump. Jump is owned by the crazy-big publishing company Shueisha, who basically owns every series in it. The original authors have a stake in their own work, of course, but their control over it is negligible… at least until their series gets so popular that they can basically threaten to quit making it, in order to get their way.

So for instance, One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda can accept or veto pretty much any One Piece movie or merchandise, and probably even has some input in the TV series (if he wants it, I imagine he usually doesn't care). Because if Oda gets pissed off, he can quit drawing One Piece, and then Shueisha is out literally millions and millions of dollars. The less popular a series is, the less control the manga-ka has — so Bleach's Tite Kubo has less authority over ancillary Bleach products, while a new manga creator just starting out pretty much has to do anything Shueisha tells him/her to do. I say all this because this means essentially no American company can deal directly with a manga creator to animate their series; they have to deal with their publishers as well.

Now 99% of anime is produced by a partnership between the original manga publisher and the anime studio making it. An American company could easily jump in there and join the partnership instead of just licensing the anime after the fact, but all this really means is that the U.S. company would pony up some cash early to make the anime before it airs. It's not going to entitle them to much of a say in the making of the series, thanks to the… let's say staid nature of the Japanese anime business. It makes just as much sense for U.S. companies to license the anime after it's made.

As for making an anime specifically for American audiences… it's not impossible, but it's rarely worth it. Afro Samurai comes immediately to mind in that it was positioned for a much broader audience than just U.S. anime fans, and it still didn't do well. So Funimation, the American company that co-produced it, paid a lot of money for it, got a series specifically tailored to the U.S. market, and it still fizzled. A more traditional anime series wouldn't come close to making enough money here to justify a specific release — something like one of the Evangelion movies, maybe — but those are inevitably so popular in Japan that the publisher/anime studio production partnership don't even talk to American licensors until the Japanese release is figured out.



A League of Their Own

George T.:

Looking for some apocalyptic info on Geoff Johns and race relations.

What explains the rise of Cyborg in the DCU over the past few years? My theory is that it's just our buddy Geoff's love of Hal Jordan.

In 2011-ish, DC clearly knew that a Justice League movie was inevitable. Every other DCAU movie was Justice League themed, there were a bunch of Justice League action figures in stores promoting nothing, and the New 52 league launched.

... all with Cyborg, who had never ever been a traditional member of the league.

The most obvious way to have diversity on the League is just to use John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan, but we all know about Mr. Johns' eternal hard-on for the lamest super hero character of all time.

My theory is that Geoff and DC knew the movie was coming, knew it would need diversity, and started heavily raising Cyborg's prominence so he could be the eventual token black guy and keep their precious Jordan in place. It explains the action figures, Cyborg's inexplicable role as the third lead in Flashpoint, and his replacement of Martian Manhunter in the New 52 league.

So my question is: do you agree with this theory? And do you think fans will buy it if Justice League: Dawn of the Planet of the Heroes includes a super prominent Cyborg?


Well, I think you're overthinking it just a bit. I don't think Johns and DC were as worried about the racial diversity of the inevitable Justice League movie as much as they were about the racial diversity of the Justice League, period. I mean, you don't need to have a movie in mind to notice to the League looks like a Southern country club.

You are, however, correct in deducing it was Johns' love of Hal Jordan that kept the New 52 comics from using the animated universe's league, and using John Stewart as Green Lantern. Once you've made that decision, finding a major DC character who isn't white isn't impossible, but there aren't many options. Cyborg's advantage over, say, Steel, Mr. Terrific and Black Lightning is that being all tech-y and computer-y and cyborg-y, he brings something to the League that the other characters don't. It's a nice balance in that regard, at least.


I don't think audiences will have a problem with Cyborg being in the Justice League movie. But I don't think people have a problem with him being in the Justice League comics, either.



Darren H.:

Do people in the future still think Avengers Quicksilver has a cooler costume than Xmen Quicksilvers? They both look shatty.


As a man who lives in the future, I can tell you that much like Quicksilver looked like crap in the X-Men: Days of Future Past promos but looked good on-screen, the Avengers movie's Quicksilver — who also looks like crap in early set photos — will also look good on-screen.

However, when Quicksilver returns in X-Men: Apocalypse, his outfit will have improved greatly and be pretty awesome, while in Avengers 3, Quicksilver's outfit will be more of a lateral movie — basically different from Age of Ultron, but not any better.


If any of this turns out not to be true it's because time travelers have been fucking with the timeline. (And Comics Alliance gets all credit for that amazing picture, by the way.)


Expand Your Mind

Alex R.:

Dear io9,

I am a huge fan of Star Wars and other franchises with vast universes that we can explore in the form of books, comics, etc. It was upsetting when Disney went the way of how Trek handles their outside material and said it didn't count, so all that great stuff that expanded upon the movies is lost forever. My question to you is do you think that it may start to become a general rule for franchises to disregard outside material (books, comics, games, etc.) just so the writers have less crap to worry about (retcons, inconsistencies, blahblahblah) and allow for more creative freedom?


It's always been the rule. As always, movies and (to a lesser extent) TV shows make a shit-ton of money, while ancillary products like books, comics and the like sometimes are nice additional sources of revenue, but hardly the real draws. No one is going to let some tie-in stuff — whether or not it expands the franchise for fans, whether or not it's any good — dictate to them what they do. Any time a major franchise pays attention to this other material, it should basically be considered a pleasant surprise for fans, because usually the people who run the main franchise product never bother to give a shit.

It's not the worst problem in the world. Usually the people who make the main franchise are much better at it than the people hired to make the ancillary products; for instance, you wouldn't want Gene Roddenberry to not use a good idea just because someone wrote a mediocre Star Trek novel that contradicted it. You generally want the people responsible for the franchise popular in the first place to have the creative freedom to do what they want, so the franchise continues being popular.


There are occasionally exceptions.


Tick Tock

Lane W.:

What do you think the chances of the main cast of the live-action Tick show coming back for the new series are?


Hmm. Nestor Carbonell, who played the amazing Bat-Manuel on the show, has already tweeted that he wouldn't rule it out. But he didn't necessarily seem super-excited, either. He's been doing a mix of TV series and guest spots for years now, but he's in demand enough that I'm guessing he'll have been hired for something else by the time The Tick gets around to hiring cast members. I say 40%.

David Burke played Arthur, and he's only be doing pretty small guest spots since The Tick, and not that many of them. I'm sure he'd be available, but I wonder if Amazon wouldn't want another actor in the role — someone a little bigger, or more experienced. I don't think they're necessarily looking to bring back the show exactly, and if Patrick Warburton is right, and the show will be edgier, I'm guessing they'll need a new Arthur to help pull that off. 15%.


As for Liz Vassey's Captain Liberty… same deal as David Burke, plus, she's currently starring on a UPN show. I'll give her 12%.


Interest Hate

Tim B.:

In the last column, you very subtly hinted that you wanted someone to ask "why WB/DC completely ignores its heroes' most quintessential elements like origins, relationships and villains, as well as its best-loved stories, in order to do weird shit like making Batman older than Superman and Lex Luthor younger." I want to take it a level further, though, since you and I share a controversial hatred for the DC movies' current direction. Why does it seem like the people who are steering the ship of the current DC movie megafranchise actively hate the source material and/or are ashamed of it?

It seems like you loathed Man of Steel for the same reason I did, that so much of it completely missed the point of who Superman is and what he symbolizes (despite the trailer relentlessly pandering to those exact elements that the movie itself completely failed to capture). Then you have things like Zack Snyder saying Superman never had a reason/explanation for his no-kill policy (why would a moral person ever need some grand justification not to kill?), and David Goyer openly mocking anyone who's even heard of the Martian Manhunter as sexless mega-nerds. Zack Snyder seems quite passionate about Watchmen and Frank Miller, but there's no indication that he appreciates anything else about the wider comic world, and yet he's in charge of the whole DC megafranchise. I think that's really at the root of the question you wanted us to ask; why did the DC/Warner executives put people in charge of the comic-movie universe who don't even seem to like their comics? In your opinion, are the people at DC embarrassed by the material and characters they're adapting?


I don't think they're embarrassed by the comics, I think they believe they're superior to them, and I bet it has to do with the nature of the company. See, DC was bought by a company called Kinney National Publications in 1967, which also bought Warner Bros. But rather than the two companies both being considered equal subdivisions, Kinney renamed itself Warner Communications and the WB division effectively became the head of the entire company.

DC Comics was much lower on the Warner corporate totem pole, and the fact that it didn't make much money compared to Warner's movie, TV and music division likely engrained the sense of hierarchy, and I think it's this that keeps Warner Bros. from giving a shit about DC or its works.


Which is to say I don't think Warner Bros. hates its DC characters and comics as much as it doesn't acknowledge them at all. DC Comics barely make any money, and these executives directly equate that with talent. The movies make tons of money, so these executives assume that they know how to make movies of these characters infinitely more than the comics people do, and as a consequence pointedly ignore almost everything the comics company does. It never occurs to them to work together, or, if they fuck up something like a Green Lantern movie on a massive scale, that perhaps the comics guys might have a good idea. Which is why, when it came time to reboot the Superman movie franchise, WB looked to their own Superman movies instead of any of the last 75 years or Superman comics.

Marvel Studios has the advantage here, as it grew directly from the comics company, and recently enough that there's little to no entrenched separation between the two. The Marvel Studios guys know that the comics have some great stories, and if they worked for comics readers they can probably be adapted to work for mass audiences as well. So while Marvel can look back at 75 years of Captain America comics and see that the Winter Soldier saga is one of the series' best storylines, and decide to make a movie out of that, the WB execs ignore the comic entirely and do what they think best for mass audiences — because they don't trust the comics themselves, nor do they trust the comics fans.


They're not always wrong, mind you. I don't think Chris Nolan's Batman movies were necessarily a perfect representation of Batman — he did quit his entire life fighting crime in order to have brunch in Paris, after all — but the movies were both good and popular. Man of Steel made plenty of money. But while Marvel is using its 40 years of experience and works to make good movies, Warner Bros. execs are basically just guessing. Sometimes they guess right, sometimes they don't.

I have a hard time imagining Batman V. Superman is one of the right guessing. I think Superman and Batman have to be on equal footing in order to work properly together, and making Batman markedly older and wiser than Superman changes that relationship pretty fundamentally. I have an even harder time imagining how BVS will make 30-something Superman fighting 20-something Lex Luthor work onscreen; given that Superman is ridiculously powerful and Lex Luthor is just a human, it's difficult enough figuring out ways to make their conflict believable in terms of Superman actually being in jeopardy. I think making Luthor significantly younger than Supes will only highlight that disparity, and negatively effect the movie. Imagine the final scene of Superman Returns with Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor instead of Kevin Spacey. See?


It's certainly not impossible for Snyder and WB to pull off Eisenberg's Luthor as a credible, terrifying foe. But I think it's harder, and I think it was a problem they could have easily avoided — or, more importantly, that Marvel definitely would have avoided.

Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!


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