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 shÃ´jo, 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.