When Piracy Becomes Promotion Revisted…

Last fall, Reason magazine reprinted the “When Piracy Becomes Promotion” section from Convergence Culture, foregrounding the ways that the arguably illegal practices of fan subbing have helped to build the American market for anime.

More recently, I received a tip from reader David Mankins about the ways that the commercial marketing for the anime series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, sought to explicitly tap into the fansubbing circuit. Haruhi had been a huge success in Japan and had generated growing interest in the American Otaku community through its circulation in fansubbed versions. Wikipedia offers this history of the international reception of the series:

DVD sales in Japan have been strong with 70,000 and 90,000 units sold of the first two DVDs respectively as of August 2006. A 2006 online poll of Japan’s top 100 favourite animated television series of all time, conducted by TV Asahi, placed the series in fourth place. The series has also become somewhat of an internet phenomenon in both Japan and English-speaking countries thanks to the distribution of English language fansubs, and over 2000 clips of the series and user-created parodies and homages were posted to video sharing websites such as YouTube. The popularity of these clips (and those of other popular Japanese series) lead the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) to request that YouTube remove clips protected under copyright.

Rather than ignore this history, the company releasing the anime series officially in the United States openly courted anime fans, urging those who have loved the fan sub version to support the commercial releases.

Here’s an account of the campaign published last December on The Anime Almanac:

Buzz was generating through out all off last week as a mysterious website popped onto the internets with promises of the popular anime series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, being licensed in the US. The website only claimed that “The World as we know it will end” that Friday. But for those looking around, one could find hidden messages to decrypt written in the website’s source code. The popular website AnimeOnDVD.com also played along with the highlight of the letters SOS written on their news posts. The hype was big, and many started to speculate who was behind the mystery….

Bandai’s idea behind the ASOS Brigade is to reach out to everyone who has already become fans of the series through watching the fansubs. They have created their own amateur-style home movies and are posting them on the internet. They have also created a Myspace page and encourage fans.

The movie is done “for fans by fans” style, and they really know their target audience. The movie interlaces Japanese and English dialog with a Korean-Americain, former Pink Ranger Patricia Ja Lee, playing the lead role, and two Japanese actresses playing her sidekicks. Lee even admits in the film that the Japanese actresses are only meant to appeal to the otaku fanboys. This is a very suitable attitude for the character she portrays, and is even more entertaining when we, the otaku-fanboy audience, realize how true it is.

But the video also dives into other aspects of the online anime community that we weren’t expecting from a company like Bandai. Internet catch-phrases like “O Rly?” and “No Wai!” are used through out the video, which are only used by visitors of such otaku-influenced websites like 4chan.org and ytmnd.com. Also, after fans complained over Lee’s choice to translate a word to “psychic” over the word “esper”, a new subtitled version of the video included the fan-prefered word written under the original recording…

Many people feel that Haruhi will never sell well in the US because most of the fans have already seen the show through illegal methods. This campaign is an attempt to target the fansub community into actually supporting the series financially when the opportunity is available to them. The movie ends with special thanks to “All fansubs lovers who buy the official DVDs and who help support more creative works,” and specifically gives no thanks to “downloaders/bootlegers who never buy the official DVDs.” This is a very bold statement, but I completely understand where they are coming from.


This case suggest just how central the fan network is to the release strategies of anime publishers. Rather than trying to shut down the fans, the company is recognizing the ways that fans have appreciated the value of the series, helping to familiarize at least American otaku to the content, and encouraging them to put their money behind a cultural product that they have already enjoyed in an underground form. I will be curious to see how this turns out and would welcome any insights from readers of this blog who are more involved in anime than I am.

For anime and manga fans in the Boston area, I wanted to share details of the forthcoming Cool Japan conference being hosted by Ian Condry, a faculty member in the Foreign Languages and Literature section at MIT and an active contributor to the Comparative Media Studies Program. Here are some of the highlights of the event (taken from the press release). Events will be split between MIT and Harvard, reflecting the joint affiliation of the “Cool Japan” Project:

Wednesday, February 28

Anime Screening & Director’s Talk: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

7pm, MIT Room 32-123 (enter at 32 Vassar St.)

Anime director Mamoru Hosoda will screen and discuss his feature film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki o kakeru shôjo, 2006, Kadokawa/ Madhouse), which was awarded Best Animation by the Media Arts Festival 2007.

Thursday, March 1

Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization Book Launch and Dialogue with Author Ian Condry. 4-5:30pm, MIT Room 4-237 (enter at 77 Massachusetts Ave.)

MIT Associate Professor Ian Condry will discuss his recently published book with comments from local hip-hop scholars Thomas DeFrantz (MIT Associate Professor) and Murray Forman (Northeastern) and dialogue with audience.

Miss Monday in Concert. Tokyo hip-hop artist and local hip-hop sensations Akrobatik and Danielle Scott. Tickets: $8 Adv./$10 Door (18+). 9pm (doors open at 8:30pm), The Middle East, Upstairs (472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge).

Friday, March 2

Scholars Panel Discussions. “Love and War in Japanese Pop Culture.” Harvard CGIS (South, Room 020 Case Study Room, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge).

“Visual” with Susan Napier (Tufts/ U Texas), author of Anime: From Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle; Roland Kelts (U Tokyo), author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Invaded the US; and Adam Kern (Harvard), author of Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and Kibyoshi in Edo Japan. 1pm.

“Design” with Marcos Novac (University of California, Santa Barbara), artist, transarchitect, and designer; Kostas Terzidis (Harvard), author of Algorhithmic Architecture; and Larry Kubota (GLOCOM), filmmaker, Black Current Productions. 3pm.

Afro Samurai Screening and Discussion with Manga Artist Takashi Okazaki. Screening of one 25-minute episode from the new five-part animated series produced in Japan and starring Samuel L. Jackson. Discussion follows with Afro Samurai manga artist Takashi Okazaki, who drew the original cult comic that launched the project. 7pm, Gund

Hall Piper Auditorium (Harvard, 48 Quincy St., Cambridge). WARNING:

Mature content, not suitable for children.

Saturday, March 3

Scholars Panel Discussions. “Love and War in Japanese Pop Culture.” MIT Stata Center Room 32-124 (32 Vassar St.).

“Culture” with Laura Miller (Loyola), author of Beauty Up: Exploring Japanese Beauty Aesthetics; Christine Yano (U Hawaii), author of Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and Nation in Japanese Popular Song; Ian Condry (MIT/Harvard), author of Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and Paths of Cultural Globalization. 1pm.

“Politics” with David Leheny (U Wisconsin), author of Think Global Fear Local: Sex, Violence, Anxiety in Contemporary Japan; Theodore J. Gilman (Harvard), author of No Miracles Here: Fighting Urban Decline in Japan and US; and Ueno Toshiya (Wako U), author of Urban Tribal Studies: A Sociology of Club and Party Cultures. 3pm.

For those of you who are not in the neighborhood, you may have to make due with Anime Pulse‘s extensive coverage of the previous Cool Japan conference. Here’s hoping they provide a similar record of this event.

Comments

  1. Oh, I hoped that you would post about this! I covered the event closer to the ASOS Brigade web launch (http://fandrogyny.blogspot.com/2006/12/haruhi-by-fans-for-fans-best-viral.html) and I’m really happy to see someone of your calibre tackle it. Also, I sincerely wish I could attend Cool Japan…every single panel looks just great.

  2. Laurie Cubbison says:

    Like Madeline, I’m delighted that you’re posting about this. I would argue that anime distributors are unique among media corporations precisely because they recognize the economic power of the fan community. Bandai’s site not only included the “amateur” video but also allowed visitors to indicate preferences on the English voice actors, involving fans in a process that is often the most troublesome for the licensee, the reaction of fansub viewers to the English-speaking voices. One question that does remain for Haruhi fans, at least one that I haven’t seen answered yet, is in what order the episodes will appear on the DVDs. The series was broadcast in Japan out of chronological order (with the two leads arguing in the previews over which episode would be next), but I understand that the Japanese DVDs used the chronological order.

  3. Hi Mr Jenkins!

    I’m a university student, currently doing a research assignment about the growth in anime through fansubbing… I’ve just borrowed your book as well. Well, I need to go to the library and pick it up, but it’s there waiting for me! Anyway, I was doing some surfing to find more articles, and I came across your website. I didn’t realise you actually had a blog, and I just wanted to say hello! It’s strange to think that the people we study in Uni are real people with real blogs! haha.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed reading your work thus far!

    Thanks,

    Pip :)

  4. Certainly enjoyed reading this entry (as well as the previous one on this topic). As an anime fan for almost two decades, I clearly agree with what you wrote, and to a certain extent are quite envious of how anime distributors in the US are more receptive to the anime community there.

    I’m from Singapore, and as you might have already noticed, the local distributor, ODEX, is threatening fans who downloaded fansubs with legal action, unless they pay a settlement of SGD$3000 – $5000 (around US$2000 – $3300). A number of fans across the local anime community have already received their letters a week ago; the company has said more will come.

    - No warning letters were sent. For most, this is a “first-time” offence. Even if the offender agrees to stop, he still has to pay for any previous downloads – regardless of how many there were – that may have occured in the last two years.

    - The company claims the fansubbed material were licensed to them, but the list of licensed titles weren’t updated on their official website, nor on AVPAS’ – the supposed industry watchdog, which only registered it’s website in April 2007. They even claimed they were given the authority by the Japanese to clamp down on non-licensed titles as well.

    - The company has gone public blaming fansubs for their poor sales. But fans have repeatedly complained of poor quality in the company’s products– poor translations, image quality, and packaging. Many titles were also sold in VCD format; while new titles were released at snail-pace. Odex dismissed all these complaints as mere “perception problem”.

    - Fans who received their letters include students (one as young as 9, as reported in the local papers).

    A running joke among some fans here is that with an unending list of offenders to fall back on, the company is probably making more money going after the anime community than selling their product. But in truth, it’s hard to see the funnier side of this.

    Again, very insightful article, and just posting this comment to note that it isn’t so rosy for anime fans in some parts of the world. :)