Tuesday, September 30, 2008

News - 09/30/08...

Iron Man Flies to DVD

After racking up more than $574 million at the box office worldwide this summer, Marvel Studios’ and Paramount Pictures’ superhero smash hit Iron Man rockets to the home video market Tuesday. The movie debuts as a single DVD and Ultimate Edition two-disc sets on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Based on the long-running Marvel comic book series, Iron Man stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist who endures a near-fatal encounter with terrorists and becomes an iron-clad superhero. Directed by Jon Favreau (Zathura: A Space Adventure, Elf), the film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's personal assistant, Virginia "Pepper" Potts; Terrence Howard as Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes, Stark’s best friend and a decorated military pilot; and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark’s close business associate who has devious plans for Stark Industries. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) served as the principle visual effects house.

The Iron Man Ultimate Edition two-disc sets come loaded with hours of bonus features, including a six-part exploration of the character titled The Invincible Iron Man. There is also be a seven-part behind-the-scenes look at the movie dubbed I Am Iron Man, a revealing documentary on the visual effects, Robert Downey Jr.'s original screen test, deleted and extended scenes, a photo gallery of concept art and behind-the-scenes images and more.

The Blu-ray version also features “Hall of Armor,” which allows fans to enter the Stark database to zoom in on any of the three Iron Man suits and activate the digital 3D schematics to check out every weapon through high-definition renders. Also included is the “Iron Man IQ” web-based activity that lets users create and share new multiple choice quizzes based on clips from the film. Fans can also download other users' challenges via BD-Live.

Marvel, Paramount Ink Distribution Deal

Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures today announced an agreement under which Paramount will distribute Marvel's next five self-produced feature films worldwide. An extension of the original agreement made by Brad Grey when he arrived as CEO and chairman of Viacom-owned Paramount, the deal includes theatrical distribution in foreign territories previously serviced by Marvel through local distribution entities. These include Japan, Germany, France, Spain and Australia/New Zealand. Paramount distributed Iron Man, which has grossed roughly $574 million worldwide since kicking off the summer movie season.

The highly anticipated superhero pics slated for release through Paramount include Iron Man 2 (May 7, 2010), Thor (July 16, 2010), The First Avenger: Captain America (May 6, 2011) and The Avengers (July 15, 2011). The distribution agreement also includes the inevitable Iron Man 3. Jon Favreau will return to the director’s chair for Iron Man 2, and word has it that actor/director Kenneth Branagh (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Henry V) is in talks to helm Thor.

“Coming off of Iron Man's incredible success this summer, we could not be more excited about extending our relationship with Marvel,” saus Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “Marvel's iconic brand, its popular characters and its proven ability to create compelling and visually spellbinding films complement Paramount's great history of filmmaking. We look forward to a long and successful run together.”

“Paramount is an excellent partner and an outstanding global distributor,” adds David Maisel, chairman of Marvel Studios. “Through our experience on Iron Man, Paramount has demonstrated a passion and ability to release Marvel properties theatrically, allowing us to focus on making great movies for the largest audience possible.”

Iron Man will debut on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. Based on the long-running Marvel comic book series, the movie stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist who changes his ways after a near-fatal encounter with terrorists and becomes an iron-clad superhero. Directed by Jon Favreau (Zathura: A Space Adventure, Elf), the film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow,Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) served as the principle visual effects house.

Click & Clack, Alan Moore on Disc

The guys from the popular, long-running NPR radio program Car Talk get animated with Click & Clack: As the Wrench Turns, a toon sitcom revolving around the Tappet Brothers, the alter-egos of real-life siblings Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The PBS series makes its home video debut Tuesday, along with The Mindscape of Alan Moore, a documentary on the celebrated author of such bestselling graphic novels as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Exraordinary Gentlemen.

PBS’ first primetime animated series for a general audience, Click & Clack is based largely in a fictional Cambridge, Massachusetts garage and focuses on the off-air escapades of the Magliozzi brothers (known to their listeners as Click and Clack) as they try to fix cars, fend off disgruntled customers and seek out ways to do less and less work. Tom Sito (Shrek, The Lion King) serves as director of animation for the series, and animation is produced by Karen Johnson, founder and CEO of Aha! Studios. Exec producer of animation is Bill Kroyer, an Academy Award-nominated animation director who helmed the feature film Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and animated the light-cycle sequence in Disney's Tron. Paramount Home Entertainment has packaged entire first season in a two-disc set that lists for $34.99.

Even those outside of the comic-book world are familiar with Moore’s creations through movies based on his books. The latest to make the leap to the big screen is the Hugo Award-winning Watchmen, which Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead) are readying for a March 6, 2009 release. Press materials say The Mindscape of Alan Moore presents a “portrait of the artist as contemporary shaman—someone with the power to transform consciousness by means of manipulating language, symbols and images.” The award-winning documentary from director DeZ Vylenz leads the audience through Moore ’s world with the writer himself as guide. Beginning with his childhood, the narrative follows the evolution of his career and explores his immersion in a magical worldview where science, spirituality and society are part of the same universe.

The two-disc collector’s set features a 20-page book and more than three hours of extras that dig deeper into the mind of Moore. These include interviews with artists Melinda Gebbie (Lost Girls), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), David Lloyd (V for Vendetta), Kevin O’Neill (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Jose Villarubia (Promethia, Mirror of Love). There is a making-of featurette, an introduction to Moore’s work by Paul Gravett, selected scene analysis with director’s commentary, and interviews with the director, composer and special make-up fx artist.

Recipient of the Special Recognition Award for Creative Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking at the San Francisco World Film Festival, The Mindscape of Alan Moore has been featured at film festivals and trade shows around the world. The film is available through The Disinformation Co. ltd. for the suggested retail price of $29.95.

More Mr. Men Show On Order

Fans will be seeing more of Chorion’s The Mr. Men Show, an animated children’s series that debuted earlier this year on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and Five in the U.K. The broadcasters have committed to a second season of the sketch comedy show. Chorion and animation studio Renegade Animation will deliver another 52 11-minute installments for 2009, bringing the total number of available episodes to 104.

Based on the original Mr. Men and Little Miss books created by Roger Hargreaves, The Mr. Men Show offers a blend of fast-paced, physical humor, verbal wit and colorful characters. Directed by Mark Risley, the show is exec produced by Chorion’s Diana Manson and Kurt Mueller, Renegade Animation’s Ashley Postlewaite and Darrell Van Citters, and head writers Kate Boutilier and Eryk Casemiro, the duo behind global hits Rugrats, The Wild Thornberries and Rugrats in Paris. Producers are Adam Idelson, Karen Ialacci and Peggy Regan.

Chorion is also doing well internationally with the first season of the series, securing broadcast deals with YTV in Canada, MEDIACORP in Singapore and KTV in South Africa. The initial slate of episodes has already begun airing on France 5, ABC Australia and HOP! in Israel, and are scheduled to begin airing on Tiji in France before the end of the year. Chorion hopes to land a raft of new broadcast deals at next month’s MIPCOM in Cannes.

The Mr. Men Show’s extensive merchandising program has apparel, toy, publishing and DVD partners in place. Master toy licensee Fisher Price is set to launch toys in the U.K. and Australia this fall. The line includes collectible plush, playsets and feature plush. Global DVD partner Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will begin its international roll-out in the U.K. and France during the fourth quarter of this year. A tie-in publishing program is also in the works with Penguin Group in the U.S. and Egmont in the U.K. Hachette in France will also launch a new series of books in 2009.

Porchlight Nabs Ricky Sprocket for DVD

Porchlight Home Entertainment (PHE) has picked up U.S. DVD rights to Bejuba! Ent.’s animated series Ricky Sprocket – Showbiz Boy. The show airs seven days a week on Nicktoons in the U.S., and is also seen on TELETOON in Canada and various international Nickelodeon channels. The exploits of the child superstar are enjoyed by young viewers in more than 150 countries worldwide.

Created by Academy Award-winners Alison Snowden and David Fine, Ricky Sprocket – Showbiz Boy is a co-production of their Snowden Fine Animation and Vancouver-based Studio B Prods. Inc., in association with Bejuba! Ent. The Flash animation is completed by Studio B, while backgrounds, layouts and in-between animation are done by Top Draw Animation in the Philippines.

The comedy series follows the adventures of child actor Ricky Sprocket as he tries to balance family, friends and school with the pressures of his showbiz life. He may live in a Hollywood mansion and have throngs of adoring fans, but he still has to put up with his sister driving him crazy and doing household chores like taking out the garbage. The first title to be released on DVD, Ricky Sprocket – Showbiz Boy has a pre-order date of Dec. 10 and a street date of Jan. 13, 2009. Suggested retail price is $16.98.

Walt Disney to be subject of Philip Glass opera

The last months of cartoon great Walt Disney will be the theme of an opera by famed American contemporary composer Philip Glass.

Glass has been commissioned to compose the new work for the New York City Opera. The commission is one of the first acts by soon-to-be general manager Gérard Mortier, who's now the director of the Opéra National de Paris.

Based on The Perfect American, a story by writer Peter Stephan Gluck, the Disney work is scheduled to be performed in the 2012-13 season in honor of Glass's 75th birthday.

Jungk is an American novelist who lives in Paris and writes in German.

The Perfect American looks at Disney's final months as seen by a fictional Austrian cartoonist who once worked for Disney in the 1940s and 1950s.

Examining the American dream, the book displays both admiration and resentment for the founder of Disney Studios.

Messy Despereaux Business

I alluded in an earlier Brew story that Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) wasn’t happy with his short-lived directing stint on Universal’s upcoming Tales of Despereaux. He was fired from the project shortly after the film received a production greenlight. An article in this weekend’s NY Times includes a lot of nasty allegations from Chomet, including the assertion by him that the film’s producer Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) wanted to direct the film “but because he can’t draw, he had to use me in order to get the green light.” Chomet also says that after he was fired from the film, “these bodyguards, big nasty-looking guys in suits, showed up; they took everything out of the studio and nailed doors shut so we couldn’t have access to it.” But the article’s most colorful Chomet quote is this one:

“We’re making a film for kids, a film that has a moral, and behind it is such aggressive action about lawyers and legal things — there are no human relationships. I felt like a lemon; they got the juice out of me and threw me away.”

Based on everything I’ve read and heard about Chomet, he doesn’t necessarily sound like the most easy person to work for, but it’s difficult not to admire a director who stands up for what he believes in and demands that films be filtered through his personal point of view. Directors, like Chomet, who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and actually have something to say are a rare breed in animation, and if anything, we need more artists like him.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Academy posts Animation highlights

If you couldn’t make it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills this year for their record number of animation exhibits and programs, the Academy has just posted a review and gallery online, as well as a video podcast with highlights narrated by Academy president Sid Ganis. Academy animation programs this year included Drawing on the Future: Mentorship in Animation with James Baxter, Andreas Deja, Pete Docter and Eric Goldberg; the gallery exhibit Ink & Paint: The Art of Hand-Drawn Animation; The Sound behind the Image II: Now Hear This!; Canadian animation with composer Normand Roger and animator Frédéric Back, as well as the current exhibition Frédéric Back: A Life’s Drawings. The Academy is preparing further video highlights from each of these events.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

'Green Lantern' to fly in spring?

FirstShowing.net spoke with 'Green Lantern' producer Donald De Line, wo said that the movie is "gearing up to start shooting early spring." Greg Berlanti is still on board to direct.

That seems ambitious but De Line said, "it's coming together and I'm excited about it. Hopefully we'll make it to start gate. We're really close - really close."

Video: 'Iron Man' behind the scenes

Paramount has released a number of new behind-the-scenes clips from today's release of 'Iron Man' on DVD.

Check 'em out:

ILM Iron Man Test
ILM Iron Man Test

Visual Effects of Iron Man
Visual Effects of Iron Man

Video: 'Iron Man' deleted scenes

Paramount has released a number of new clips from today's release of 'Iron Man' on DVD.

Check out these fun, extended and deleted scenes:

Iron Man Extended Scene - Fun on the Plane
Iron Man Extended Scene - Fun on the Plane

Iron Man Deleted Scene – Pepper and Tony in Dubai
Iron Man Deleted Scene – Pepper and Tony in Dubai

Iron Man Deleted Scene – Tony Comes Home
Iron Man Deleted Scene – Tony Comes Home

CN's Great Cloney Hope

The big players in TeeVee Toonland have been looking for a hot new series to kick the television cartoon marketplace to a higher level. Fox has its primetime animated lineup. Disney has its live-action franchises. For Cartoon Network, this week George Lucas rockets to the rescue:

Turner Broadcasting’s Cartoon Network, now running third behind Nickelodeon and Disney Channel in the kids market, sees “Clone Wars” as a game-changer, Mr. O’Hara said.

“This is the most significant programming event on Cartoon Network in our history,” he said. “It’s a significant property with significant interest beyond just our core demographic. So that’s a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for our marketing partners.” ...

The animated feature carved from the series has done less than spectacular business, but as a big-screen advertisement for the half-hours that Cartoon Network premieres this week, it probably served its purpose.

"This is the most significant programming event on Cartoon Network in our history,” [John O’Hara, executive VP of ad sales and marketing for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim], said. “It’s a significant property with significant interest beyond just our core demographic. So that’s a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for our marketing partners.”

I'd say. The Time-Warner family appears to be marketing this franchise hard. And why not? Cartoon Network has been lagging in third-place for awhile. It perceives Clone Wars as its best bet for eclipsing Disney and Nick.

Naturally, I hope it gives the network a large boost. More eyeballs mean more money. More money means more series get made, and more artists go to work.

Kind of a recurring theme around here.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Akira Blu-ray to be Released in U.S.

Bandai Entertainment Inc. announced that it will release the Akira Blu-ray under the “Honneamise” label on February 24, 2009 for at the SRP of $49.98.

The AKIRA Blu-ray will feature visuals from a new Hi-Def transfer made from original materials and include English and Japanese audio and with optional English and Japanese subtitles. In an industry first, the disc will also contain a 192 KHz 24 bit audio stream.

Additional specs are as follows (subject to change):

--Blu-ray Disc /Color/124 min. / Japanese & English audio tracks* / Japanese & English subtitles
*Japanese audio for main feature only will be 192 kHz 24bit
--Dolby True HD (5.1ch), Linear PCM (Dolby Surround) / AVC/BD50G / 16:9 <1080p>
--Bonus Material:
Teaser No.1, Teaser No.2, TV Commercial, Trailer No.1, Trailer No.2,
--Bonus Item:
Special 20p Booklet

The Business

Via Anime News Network
Radix mobanimation file a law suit against production company Micott & Basara for unpaid projection costs on Appleseed Genesis. Radix states that Micott & Basara ordered a halt in the production at the beginning of July without explanation or payment.

The overall profits of Japanese satellite channel WOWOW has fallen $39% in the current fiscal versus the previous one, due to weakness of the dollar against the yen.

Overall profits fell 39% to US$19.8 million (2.1 billion yen) in overall profits and a 45% drop in operating profits to US$28.3 million (3 billion yen) .

WOWOW has focused on mature audience anime, including Afro Samurai, Cowboy Bebop and Paranoia Agent.

Via Animation Insider
Toei Animation Co., Ltd. issued a report on that reveled that the production group also earned a substantially less net profit through Fiscal Year 2008, which ended in March 2008, in comparison to it's results for FY2007.

From  Animation Insider’s coverage

The company reportedly recorded revenues of JPY ¥21.148 billion, for FY2008, a gain of +4.9% over the 2007-year. Although sources have cited Toei as having revised their earnings forecast both last fall as well as just this past spring (for the rest of 2008, into FY2009); the anime production company's emphasized interaction with international broadcasters beyond domestic, consolidated efforts may or may not prove helpful in the immediate future. Over the past year and a half, the group has sold millions of shares to corporate partners, some domestic, some of them international, and often in great bulk of several hundred thousands.

Additionally, the cartoon producer's difference between revenue and the costs of operations -- operating profit -- for this past fiscal year, was estimated at JPY ¥2.726 billion; a sizeable decrease of -17.6%, in a fiscal year to fiscal year comparison, according to Dataminor. Toei's "ordinary income" -- the highest amount of taxed profit -- saw a drop of -22.1%, to JPY ¥2.938 billion.

There was however, an even heavier of a difference with Toei Animation Co., Ltd.'s final, net profit, post-deductions -- "net income" -- which was recorded at JPY ¥1.685 billion; a decrease of more than half, of -54.1%, in comparison to the previous year. Total assets were down -03.1% to JPY ¥32.758 billion; while net assets, as shareholders' equity, was down -03.7% to JPY ¥27.231 billion.

Worth Checking Out...

Patrick Macias' Podcast: Hot Tears of Shame - Episode Twenty-Eight

Matt Thorn quantifies Just how much do those Japanese read manga?

Production I.G presents A Golden Light in the Dark: The Making of Reideen CG Animation (2)

Toonami Jetstream features an interview with the creative directors who originated Toonami, Sean Akins and Jason DeMarco. An older interview with DeMarco can be read here

Vertical had interesting things to say at NYAF, making ANN and a geek by any other name's reports worth reading.

The Advocate talks about yaoi and yuri

Viz's Mike Montesa on Black Lagoon manga

Roland Kelts on SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Japan's global power: soft or wilted?

ADV spoke to Publishers Weekly on the impact of Hurricane Ike

The question is being raised again, what's the resolution for NewType USA/PiQ conscribes who had subscriptions when the magazine was shuttered?
Mecha Mecha Media
Comics Worth Reading

DC's Minx label looked like a reaction to the success of shoujo graphic novel collections. Now, it's been cancelled.

Christopher Butcher weighs in

Round-ups of perspectives on
Comics 212


Comics Worth Reading

The Beat

Worries for DC's CMX label

4Kids never managed to do anything with their licensed of Pretty Cure. Ogiue Maniax on what this means.

Anime Alminac compares Yen Plus to the defunct anthology Raijin

741.5 Comics analyses Dororo

IVC2 has posted a four-part interview with Gonzalo Ferreyra, Viz Media Vice President of Sales and Product Marketing here, here, here and here

Episode 76 of Right Stuf's Anime Today podcast features an interview with om Flinn, ICv2.com’s vice president of content.

A long-time industry observer who writes the regular “Anime on American TV” column for the ICv2 Guide to Anime and Manga, Flinn provides a historical perspective on the effect television has had on the North American anime industry. Also, Flinn discusses the impact television trends have had on “Region 1” licensing decisions and the introduction of new fans to anime. And he shares his thoughts about the current state of anime on television, the most recent programming trends, who is driving these trends, and how fans can constructively voice their opinions to decision makers.

Part 4 of Patrick Macias' look at Individual Fashion Expo

Fall '08 anime season preview in haiku

On the non-anime animation front, via Cartoon Brew, Seth McFarlane's work dissected.

Only the moving pieces in McFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon

I’d offer this contrast, when anime was cell animated....

Check out Ralph Niese's awarding winning Vampirella ReVamp

The Street Fighter IV animation is surprisingly lifeless

Kazuo Umezu Orochi shirt here and here

Speaking of the Same hat! side of things, Same Hat! Same Hat! looks at spacecoyote's Death Note/Simpsons parody.

An Urasawa monument of sorts

For those who remember when caring around Megatron could get you shot by a copy

Otaku USA reports from the NinjaTown preview at Double Punch

via Awesome Engine

Gasaraki and Noh

Alt Japan posts terrifying Star Wars karuta

Harlock rumors

The Onion invokes Voltron

Wanna be an Annie Judge?

ASIFA-Hollywood is seeking a few good men and women interested in serving on nomination committees for the 36th Annual Annie Awards. Nomination judging will be taking place on Saturday, November 15, 2008, at Woodbury University, in Burbank, California. Judges may also be required to do some additional judging within the following days, or participate in pre-selection activities, via email, prior to the judging sessions. Applications must be received no later than Friday, October 17, 2008. Individuals who are selected to serve on a nomination committee, shall receive a pair of complementary VIP tickets to the Annie Awards ceremony, on January 30th at UCLA’s Royce Hall. To apply click here.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

No new scenes for Toy Story 3D re-releases

Collider reports that the re-releases of Toy Story films in 3D will not feature any new shots and nothing will be changed in the films when they return to cinemas next year. Jim Morris, producer of WALL-E, adds, “We’re not changing a thing in the movies. We’re doing it that completely preserves the original movie in terms of everything about the story. There’s no new shots. There’s no new nothing. It’s exactly the same movie you saw before.” The article also suggests that Pixar plans to release the first movie on October 2nd, 2009 and the second on February 12, 2010 to get people ready for the third Toy Story film which opens in theaters June 18th, 2010.

Best-reviewed animated films of all time

RottenTomatoes have come up with their list of 50 best-reviewed animated films of all time. Features on the list include Disney classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Studio Ghibli’s anime classic Spirited Away, Aardman’s stop motion smash Chicken Run, acclaimed and surreal foreign entries such as The Triplets of Belleville, and most of the CGI works from Pixar, with Toy Story 2 topping the list.

Supernatural Anime 'Hell Girl' on IFC

IFC Makes Covenant with FUNimation Anime

Life rarely goes the way one plans. In fact, some would say that life never goes the way one plans it. For those living in the world in which the Hell Girl inhabits, this is more than a passing thought; it feels more like a long-summoned inevitability. When life gives you circumstances in which things become unbearable; gossiping neighbors, bullying teachers, a betrayal of personal relations; people whose mind is on the edge sometimes use the ultimate alternative: the Hell Correspondence. If unable to enact their own revenge, troubled individuals now have the option to turn to the Hell Girl, who will bear their tormenters to the depths of Hades... but only for a price of equal value...

Distributed by FUNimation Entertainment and scheduled to start airing on the Independent Film Channel this week, as was announced at the end of the previous year, the anime television series Hell Girl is a horror title that makes sure that its episodic journey into the lives of people with worst of luck is worth remembering. Whenever someone--a schoolgirl, a journalist, a legendary artist--encounters a moment in their life that feels unbearable, they go to the much talked about website for the Hell Correspondence. The website, only on-line and activated at the stroke of Midnight, is a direct line to the Hell Girl, whom with her supernatural denizens of the underworld take the liberty of taking the souls of those deserving hell.

But if you contact the Hell Girl in order to send someone to the depths of hell, there is a price to pay. As the beautiful little girl with the beguiling smile, Hell Girl, meets the grieved, she hands them a doll made of straw with a red string tied around its neck.

Should the knot on this string be undone, then a covenant is made between the aggrieved and Hell Girl: the wrong-doer will be ferried into the depths of hell for all eternity.

However, when the covenant-bearer comes to the end of his life, however many years that may be after the covenant was first sealed, they too will go to hell.

An exquisitely designed and at times, thoroughly dramatic clash between the netherworld and the real world, Hell Girl posits to viewers what they would do if every personal, social and emotional connection they had with the world began to break down all at the same time. The anime is scheduled to premiere on Tuesday, September 30th at 8:00pm (ET).

Evolving into a television animation that tracks even the thinking process of the Hell Girl as she considers the pleas of many a person, pondering the hell-on-earth mentality of some while still hoping to understand the no way out attitude of others. There are some humans who care not for redemption while staring down the gateway to hell, and there are others who are determined to fight the supernatural until the very end; all of them are forced to meet Hell Girl.

on FUNimation Entertainment: FUNimation Entertainment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Navarre Corporation, is a brand management company and one of the nation's leading independent home video entertainment companies. The company has a proven formula for launching and advancing brands, and manages a full spectrum of rights with its brands including broadcasting, licensing, production, internet, and home video sales and distribution.

NYAF2008: "State of the Anime Industry" Panel Report

More from Toon Zone News' coverage of the New York Anime Festival...

The annual "State of the Anime Industry" panel was held on Sunday afternoon at the 2008 New York Anime Festival. In attendance were Ken Iyadomi, President and CEO of Bandai Entertainment; Christopher Macdonald, owner and Editor-in-Chief of Anime News Network; Kevin McKeever, Marketing Coordinator for Harmony Gold; and Adam Sheehan, Senior Events Manager for FUNimation Entertainment. The panel was moderated by Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica, who opened the panel by joking, "What's the difference between the state of the anime industry and the state of the financial industry? $700 billion."

It's no secret that CD and DVD sales in the United States have been dropping of late, and Kelts pointed out that anime has been especially hard-hit by the loss in sales. However, anime's popularity has been rising, with conventions breaking attendance records almost every weekend -- a fact reinforced by Sheehan, who said that 25% of the attendees of the FUNimation panel said it was their first anime convention. Kelts began the panel by asking the participants what they were doing in response to the loss of home video sales. Iyadomi pointed out that anime companies spent years developing a market for selling anime TV series on single-volume DVDs, only to be undermined when American companies started selling entire seasons of TV shows on DVD. This left them caught between a market that was rejecting single-volume discs for season sets and licensors who are still highly resistant to the idea of selling entire seasons of TV at once. Bandai has been trying to balance between price point and content that can still be profitable, like shipping 13-episode products in 2 disc sets.

Macdonald pointed out that the anime industry is a lot more than just DVDs. He thinks that boxed home media will never be as big as it was in the 1990's, and that a shrinking DVD market can also mean a growing market elsewhere, but at the moment, growth outside of the DVD market is not overcoming the shrink in DVD sales. The day before, ANN had announced that they had a project in the works to become an Internet broadcaster in addition to being a news site, with the goal of producing profit for licensors, media companies, and themselves without charging the customers directly for content. He did say that everybody has to try lots of new things, and that companies have to start looking more seriously outside of DVD sales.

Sheehan said that FUNimation has been lucky, since their sales have increased in the past few years despite the downturn in the market. FUNimation is definitely keeping an eye on the non-DVD market, pushing their products in many different markets and formats, including season sets, iTunes/Xbox Live, and Blu-ray. Sheehan said that FUNimation is aware that fans want to try before they buy, and that pushing iTunes and other digital formats was the way FUNimation was trying to do that. He said that One Piece is the most downloaded anime in the world, with FUNimation taking down 10,000 streams a week, and that if only 1% of the viewers of those illegal videos bought DVDs, that would be a major boost to their sales.

The panelists agreed that an entire generation of fans were growing up watching videos on the Internet, to the point where that's the norm regardless of the legalities. Kelts repeated some statements by Russell Solomon, former head of Tower Records, who faulted his own industry for failing to teach a younger generation of the joys of record shopping. Solomon had said that the $2 45 rpm single was the entry point for kids to buy music, which gradually led to buying purchasing LP records and becoming regular music shoppers. With the changeover to CDs, that entry point was largely lost, and was indirectly responsible for the losses in retail music sales. To some extent, Internet distribution mechanisms like iTunes can serve this purpose for anime.

From there, Kelts asked how you can monetize free streaming content. One audience member joked, "Pizza Hut in-show advertising!" but Macdonald actually said that was basically the answer. He pointed out that most of the comparisons between the United States and Japan over DVD prices and sales aren't really valid, with no single comparison really geting it right. North American fans may complain that anime DVDs are too expensive, but the counter that Japanese fans pay 2-3 times as much isn't really valid because the Japanese audience was able to watch the shows on TV originally at a much more affordable rate. The DVD market is thus targeted more at the hardcore collector, while in America, the DVDs can be the only way to watch the anime. "Free" for the consumer almost always means advertising, which is how Anime News Network can give away their content. At the moment, the best way to get content in front of new viewers for free or for very little money is via the Internet, which was a point Iyadomi agreed with. Iyadomi cited another fundamental change in business models, since animation in American was only for kid's TV and licensing in the 1970's, but a decade later, animation for teenagers sold on VHS videotapes became a viable business model. He said that Bandai's goal now is just to at least break even, since many productions lose money because they can't even make back the packaging costs.

Sheehan said that FUNimation is a public company and their shareholders definitely like profits, but that it was understood that giving away a little can lead to a lot. He touched on the demise of the Toonami block on Cartoon Network, but added that he's hoping Cartoon Network continues to want anime on the channel (including One Piece -- yes, they're still working on it), and that there are more outlets seeking out anime now such as SciFi, IFC, and Starz, as well as the many competing alternatives on the Internet. On the last point, McKeever added that the major media companies can't figure out how to make money on the Internet, either, so the anime companies shouldn't be surprised, but he did say that anime companies needed to figure out more and different distribution methods, including limited theatrical releases, film festivals, and other places where people would normally say, "Anime wouldn't go there!"

Riffing off that point, Kelts added that a program called Anime Masterpieces was starting up, screening anime classics like Grave of the Fireflies at museums, festivals, and universities. He also noted that theatrical releases make many anime a fundamentally diferent experience, and that this difference can be the draw for anime fans. Macdonald finished the point by saying that normally, niche markets wait for the mainstream markets to solve problems like monetizing free Internet videos, but in this case, that's not something the anime industry can afford to wait for, even suggesting that the solution for the mainstream entertainment industry may not be workable for anime.

At this point, Kelts opened up the panel for Q&A. The first questioner asked what was being done about the lag time between the Japanese airings and the American ones. Iyadomi stated that there were many discussions at Bandai on how to do this, including an investment in a company that makes subtitling software, but that a lot of things still have to be changed within Japanese TV stations before this can become a reality. Macdonald also pointed out that contracts are a huge hurdle to clear for things like simultaneous international broadcast, and that the consortiums that produce anime in Japan may be composed of up to 15 different companies, and that all of the companies in the consortium need to agree to a simultaneous release, but that this will almost never happen in real-life.

Related to that point, one audience member asked about contextual advertising on Internet video, to which Macdonald replied that "contextual advertising" as it's commonly used is just a quick-fix solution when a provider doesn't want to work with a real advertising and sales team, since the best way to make money advertising is to know your audience well in the first place. On a related point about the niches within the anime niche market, Sheehan described the workings of FUNimation's marketing department, with intensive research on the show and its target audience ultimately leading to a one-sheet that then determines branding, marketing, advertising, and packaging of their releases.

The panel was asked about their feelings about the demise of Geneon as an anime licensor in the United States and of the Toonami block on Cartoon Network. Iyadomi said he felt sad about the loss of Toonami, but that the business model clearly wasn't working for Cartoon Network. Macdonald agreed, pointing out that the block hasn't been an anime block for a long time, and that it was also always a demographic block rather than one focused on Japanese animtion. McKeever provided some perspective by saying that the first time anime was broadcast in this country, it was through daily syndication. That petered out before Toonami replaced it, and there are already other avenues that are replacing Toonami. They were all saddened to see Geneon disappear, with Sheehan saying that markets do better when there is competition, and that he always valued the worthy competition that Geneon gave them. He was happy to complete some partially finished Geneon series, although he said he wanted to avoid looking like vultures on a corpse, especially since getting too many titles at once will make all their properties suffer.

NYAF2008: Digging into Anime's American Success with "Japanamerica"

The "Japanamerica" panel was one of the last of the 2008 New York Anime Festival on Sunday afternoon. The description said that author Roland Kelts would "share the raw experiences that were the basis for his book, Japanamerica," but the end result stretched well beyond that. When time was up, the small but rapt audience had to be all but thrown out of the room by the Javits Center staff. Kelts was joined on stage by two special guests: Anthony Weintraub, screenwriter and producer for Tekkonkinkreet, and Clyde Adams III, head of NYC-Anime.com and prominent figure in New York City-area anime fandom. By the end of the panel, the audience had been treated into a look at anime's past in North America and analyzed some ominous changes in anime's future both in North America and in its native land of Japan.

Kelts began by describing the prominent anti-Japanese sentiment that prevailed in the United States a little more than 20 years ago, when prominent public figures and private citizens would happily smash Japanese cars on the TV news and anxieties ran high over Japan's rapid economic growth. Today, Japanese culture has infiltrated food, fashion, and entertainment, with sushi next to roasted chickens in supermarkets across the country, Hayao Miyazaki movies in prominent places on parents' DVD shelves, and, of course, anime in general exploding in popularity among an entire generation of young people. The goal of Japanamerica was to make sense of such a radical change in attitudes, as well as telling stories about Japanese pop culture -- how is it made, who makes it, and why is it distinctly Japanese (if, in fact, it is -- Kelts relayed that his uncle told him that anime was "not serious Japanese culture").

Kelts began his discussions with the Pokémon phenomenon, when the game and cartoon exploded on the American consciousness in 1996. He also briefly digressed to relay the tale of how 4Kids' Al Kahn managed to get the Japanese owners of Pokémon to sign over subsidiary rights in return for a paltry $10 million, mostly because Pokémon's Japanese owners at Shogakukan had no legal team on staff to process the thick contract and didn't understand what they were signing away. Kelts related that Shogakukan's Masakazu Kubo told him, "That was our fault. If you do business with another country, you have to learn how that other country does business," even though this simple mistake ultimately cost them millions of dollars.

In Kelts' view, Pokémon introduced a American children to a distinct style of animated storytelling that had several easily identifiable characteristics. The first was that illustrations were based on line, rather than shading or depth-perception. Kelts noted that this distinctive sense of space is rooted in old Japanese painting traditions, and that this is not the first time that Japanese art has seized hold of Western imaginations, since "Japonisme" was all the rage in Europe during the 1860's.

Kelts also stated that Pokémon, like many other Japanese cartoons, was fundamentally not rooted in a biological reality. No matter how exaggerated they may be, Bugs Bunny is recognizably a rabbit and Mickey Mouse is recognizably a mouse, but the pocket monsters of Pokémon and other Japanese cartoons are divorced from reality entirely. This, in turn, enabled Pokémon to engage in a serialized/never-ending saga that is also firmly rooted in much older Japanese art forms, such as the episodic Genji Monogatari (a candidate for the world's first novel). Ironically, Kelts also noted that this serial storytelling was also part of the reason why anime in America has so many problems with illegal downloading: fans want to have the next episode right away, and simply don't want to wait for the next DVD.

This first generation of kids raised on Pokémon (and other seminal TV shows such as Dragon Ball Z) got addicted to these things, and this in turn led some to explore Japanese culture in great depth. Kelts pointed out that Japan is unique among modern industrialized nations in that it has retained a striking amount of its traditional culture. To American eyes, the culture can look as unfamiliar as that of Harry Potter's Hogwarts or Tolkien's Middle-Earth, but the difference is that manga and anime fans can legitimately study the language and culture and actually visit Japan to see it.

To this, Adams added a number of points about the history of anime fandom, especially the generations that came before Pokémon and laid the groundwork that enabled shows like Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z to really take root in America. Adams pointed out that anime experienced its first real boom during the late 80's within science fiction fandom, as shows like Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers began airing on television. The foreign interest in anime corresponded wth great changes in the anime industry of Japan. Lupin III debuted in 1971, and Macross and Nausicaa came soon afterwards to theaters; all three were the earliest anime that were primarily aimed at adults. In 1983, Megazone 23 became the first OVA in Japan, and was a hit despite being based on a cancelled TV series. OVAs had a tremendous effect on how much anime could be made and seen, and also happened to presage the DTV movement that seems to be taking root in America now. Members of the Armed Forces stationed in Japan were getting exposed to these works and, increasingly, bringing them back to share with other like-minded fans, leading to anime clubs and conventions. The sharing didn't all go in one direction, of course; in addition to appropriating some elements from American movies, Adams pointed out that many Japanese anime fans claim that they learned how to be otaku through the early Star Trek fandom.

Kelts and Weintraub also briefly touched on the changes in American animation, with adult-oriented comedy cartoons taking root due to the combination of The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead, and South Park. Weintraub described it as saying that the American animation industry still looks down on its audience (which they perceive to be children), while Japanese industry doesn't.

The panelists also discussed some of the challenges facing the Japanese anime industry, which is really rooted in a huge generation gap within the animation industry of Japan. The anime industry is renowned for long, grueling work schedules, and many younger Japanese artists are opting out of the system, since they now have career options like video games, web design, and other new media that simply weren't available to the earlier anime artists. This younger generation has no patience to wait until they are 40 to direct their first animation, especially since other industries give them far more freedom far more quickly. Those in Japan use the word "crisis" quite seriously to describe the situation when nobody in the animation studios seems to be under 40 any more.

The responses to this crisis are varied. Kelts pointed to the increasing outsourcing to South Korea, China, India, and Southeast Asia in the anime industry, which may solve the immediate problem but also leads some in the industry to worry that they are training their own competition. Unfortunately, it seems that few in Japan have any sense of what to really do about this. Kelts also seems to think that some American fans are even more worried about it than Japanese ones, leading Weintraub to mention that nobody in Japan really cared that he and Tekkonkinkreet director Michael Arias weren't Japanese, and that it was only American anime fans that seemed to get upset about it.

That dichotomy between American and Japanese fandom was also explored a bit, with an audience member asking about the flood of shows aimed at specific audiences in Japan to the exclusion of anything else. Weintraub suggested that finding material might require some digging, pointing to the original Tekkonkinkreet manga, which was made by a popular underground manga artist who is almost completely unknown outside of Japan. Kelts also pointed at the growing dichotomy within the Japanese anime industry, such as Studio GONZO's split into one studio geared for the domestic market and the other aimed internationally.

In response to a question about some of the anti-anime backlash among American cartoon fans (and how they can sound disturbingly similar to the anti-Japanese sentiments of the 1980's), Kelts pointed out that much of those attitudes are based on ignorance, and that people with that attitude (or any attitude that dismisses an entire nation's cultural output out of hand) "really aren't worth spending much time on."

The last audience question was about the cancellation of Toonami, which was also pivotal in introducing many current otaku to anime. Weintraub stated that the increasing global exchange means that it's easier to find new material, but much harder to create good material. Kelts and Adams added that the rise of anime in America was a demand-driven event, since the Japanese anime industry was (and, to an extent, still is) apathetic to foreign audiences. Weintraub also linked the rise of Japanese animation in current American pop culture to the earliest generation of anime fans raised on Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets. That generation of children are today's adults, with Hollywood figures such as the Wachowskis, Steven Spielberg, and Leonardo DiCaprio all exploiting their affection for older anime properties in their current projects.

The panel closed with fans coming up to chat informally with the panelists and Kelts signing copies of his book for audience members.

Building the "Iron Man" suit

Superman/Superboy Lawsuit in WB Quarterly Report

If you're looking for the details on the dispute between the Seigels and DC comics over the rights to Superman and Superboy, and how it could effect the Superman movies and 'Smallville', look no further than the company's SEC filings (page 42).

Kirsten Dunst "in" for Spider-Man 4

The recent revelation that Sony Pictures is looking to shoot Spider-Man 4 and Spider-Man 5 at the same time didn't reveal whether Kirsten Dunst would rejoin director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire for the films.

Now, Dunst has told MTV that she'll be back as Mary Jane Watson:

"I'm in," said the actress matter of factly. However, when pressed to make the announcement official, Dunst quickly changed her tone, and rather cryptically added, "I'm not saying anything, I know there's rumors..."

The studio is targeting a May 2011 release for the fourth pic.

Transformers 2 Gets at Least 3 IMAX Scenes

Variety reports that director Michael Bay will film at least three action set pieces using IMAX cameras for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The trade adds that director Jon Favreau has discussed using IMAX cameras in filming Iron Man 2, while director D.J. Caruso has expressed interest in doing so for future projects such as Y: The Last Man.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens June 26, 2009, Iron Man 2 on May 7, 2010 and Y: The Last Man has no release date yet.

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