Not Buying Stuff: My 6 Month Plan

For the past few years, I’ve bought things faster than I can enjoy them. Now I’m in the thick of the looming backlog all anime fans experience at some time. BDs sit in the shrink wrap, books pile up, and games stay uninstalled. The deluge of currently airing shows doesn’t help. Consuming entertainment can even feel like a chore. I’ve actually seen people talk seriously about “anime time management,” as if it were some second job.

So I’m trying a little experiment: For the next 6 months, I won’t buy any new entertainment. This includes all books, manga, BD, DVD, music, games, figures, dakimakura, etc. Of course, I don’t watch fansubs either; I’m not just forgoing the legal option to pirate everything. I do have some existing preorders, which is kind of cheating, but it doesn’t add up to much.

What will I do for the next six months instead? Well, plenty! I’ll have all the more time to:

1. Catch up on my backlog. That’s hours and hours right there. I’ve been anticipating the original Higurashi sound novels forever, but could never find the time to actually play them. Heck, I haven’t even played Katawa Shoujo yet.
2. Rewatch old favorites. When you focus on quality over novelty, less can actually be more. I’d probably get more enjoyment out of rewatching Diebuster than any other new (likely quite forgettable) anime.
3. Enjoy free entertainment. God bless you, internet, for unleashing your endless parade of free culture. I’ve got Pixiv to browse, webcomics to read, indie music to hear…well, it just goes on and on. I can’t forget the good old local library, too.
4. Do things that are actually productive. Bonus points if its something that’s pleasurable at the same time. Drawing with a tablet, for example, can feel incredibly relaxing.
5. Research how to invest all the money I’m saving. I’ve always used the “patronage of the arts!” argument to justify my otaku-ish expenditures, but my investment portfolio will appreciate the cash just as much. And since I’m still young, this is the best time to ramp up savings for maximum compound interest. I just hope I haven’t missed the party on REITs…

It might sound like a self-denial, but I’m actually looking forward to it. The scariest possibility is that, after 6 months, I won’t feel like I’m missing anything…and be ready to go for 12.

My Little Pony, Touhou, and a Corporate Doujin Culture

My god…A My Little Pony version of the 1st Cardcaptor Sakura OP. And it’s done perfectly.

What I truly love about MLP:FiM is the extent of the fanworks. I’ve seen some people say, “I watched a few episodes, but couldn’t get into it.” If they only watch the actual show, though, they’re missing out. Take this video, for example: all the characters in it are background ponies, who appeared in as little as 15 seconds of the TV show. Despite that, fanon has given them personalities, involved backstories, and miles of fanart. It’s like Koakuma, but on overdrive. MLP might even become the American equivalent of Touhou Project, if more doujinshi is churned out. Already, though, this simple children’s cartoon has been reinterpreted so many ways. It’s:

– A symbol of resistance against traditional gender roles.
– An endless source of memetic humor.
– A yuri ship-fest for socially maladjusted males to deal with their sexual issues in a cute, non-threatening way.
– A world of high fantasy, with epic roleplaying campaigns and historical chronicles
– A new call for optimism, sincerity, and interpersonal relationships in a consumption-driven world lacking all those things

There’s one difference I worry about, though. Doujin works like Touhou Project and Ryukishi07’s “When They Cry Games” are made by individual autuers. But My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the intellectual property of a large corporation. They’ve been surprisingly lenient in allowing fanworks. They haven’t moved a finger against entire sites purely dedicated to My Little Pony fanporn, or a project for a My Little Pony dating sim. With ZUN cracking down on White Canvas for selling Touhou goods recently, Hasbro might be even more lenient than some Japanese doujin authors. And Hasbro might exert less influence on fan interpretations. With an autuer, fans are likely to accept new fanon-destroying canon without resistance. But with Hasbro, fans are less likely to accept a corporation’s canon as authoritative, as witnessed with the Lyra/Heartstrings controversy. But how long can this corporate lenience last? There’s a balance between the consumers they’d alienate by going all Cease & Desist, and the perceived brand damage from being associated with “creepy weirdos.” They might want to please the fanbase and keep the social media hype going, but the brony demographic is still a relatively small part of their profits. There are no hard numbers, but I couldn’t see it being much higher than 15 or 25% of MLP merchandise sales. For now at least, Hasbro continues to embrace the brony fandom. And hopefully they will long enough for us to see more awesome fan animations.

Internet Censorship, Hachette, and Yen Press

Are you a US citizen? Have you taken the time to contact your congressional representative, and urge them not to vote for a destructive internet censorship bill that emulates China? If you haven’t, please do so before reading the rest of this post.

Back? Ok, good. There’s a list of the companies behind the lobbyists for SOPA going around: http://philbowyer.com/proud-sponsors-of-internet-censorship-sopa. This might be the best guide out there for where not to spend your entertainment dollars. These are companies willing to sacrifice our online freedom and culture for the sake of squeezing profits. But the list has one name very troubling to me: Hachette Book Group. Manga readers might know them best through their graphic novel division, Yen Press. Which is, to be honest, my favorite US manga publisher (although Seven Seas is getting up there). This sort of dirty lobbying strongly discourages me from buying their books, and I’ve written a letter to Hachette explaining just that. They might ignore a single letter, but not as easily as hundreds…or thousands of lost sales.

Hachette’s Contact Form

(Yen Press isn’t the only manga publisher on the list: Del Rey (a branch of Random House) is too. Although, they don’t print much manga these days.)

The Bittersweetness of Digital Manga

A lot of Japanese companies are putting their manga online for an English-speaking audience. This is a wonderful trend, but it’s bittersweet for me. On one hand, online distro is great for manga too niche or risque for US print publishers. But on the other hand, I just can’t accept the “streaming only”, “no-ownership” way most companies are doing their digital manga.

Let’s take a look at J-Manga, one of the biggest disappointments. In their system, you pay cash to buy “points.” With these points, you can pay to put chapters or volumes on your “shelf,” and read them online. “Streaming manga” might sound weird, but it’s basically the same thing as streaming video sites. You can only read the manga you’ve payed for through your web browser, and maybe some mobile apps in the future. There are no downloads, and no true ownership. You only pay for access rights, which can be revoked at any time for all sorts of reasons (their TOS reserves the right to ban users for a number of arbitrary reasons, from “causing embarrassment” to the company). If any of JManga’s JP publisher partners change their minds and take down titles, you will lose permanently lose stuff you’ve payed for. This will happen; there are already plenty of Crunchyroll shows that’ve been taken down as the licensors go elsewhere. Not even just because shows are licensed for R1; JP publishers seem to remove things on random whims (No idea what happened to Book of Bantorra, not like I care much). The publisher consortium providing JManga’s content have shown an especially large amount of disunity and grumbling.

I love the idea of digital content distributed via the internet. And I’m quite glad to pay for it; it’s not just a matter of wanting everything free. My folder of “digital files I’ve payed to download” is 21.9 GB. But the trend toward access rights, instead of ownership, is disturbing. I don’t want to be at the mercy of some corporate gatekeeper. Progress should mean consumers gaining rights, not signing them away. Even beyond principle, a DRMed market is still a huge headache that customers shouldn’t have to put up with. So when I buy manga online, I only buy it as DRM-free downloads. It’s not like that’s a totally unrealistic, utopian dream…GEN Manga sells their issues as a DRM-free PDF, while both BOST TV and Crunchyroll used to sell DRM-free anime. Every single file in that 21 GB folder is DRM-free. And until the digital manga market evolves into an acceptable form, I’ll be waiting for it. In the mean time, I have tons of manga on paper to catch up on.

Covers of GEN Manga volumes 4, 5, and 6

GEN Manga, doing it right.

The Top Shelf

I think it’s really useful to consider, if you had to throw out nearly everything, what you’d keep. Only through hard choices can you truly know what’s important to you.

In the future, I plan to live in a tiny house. When I first heard of the small house movement, it made so much sense to me. This short PBS video tells the story well:

 

Houses should be designed to serve people’s real needs, not to serve as temples of over-consumption. Since 1950, the median size of houses in America has doubled, even while the average number of people per household has decreased 25%. The average American house emits more carbon dioxide than a car1. Not only are oversized homes a waste of resources, they’re too expensive for average people to afford without going into debt. All I want, when I finally settle down, is a nice, efficient, and cozy tiny house. No mortgage, no huge heating bill, no massive waste of resources.

But wait, what about all my shelves of anime, manga, and doujinshi? I’m the sort of person who loves collecting, and I’ve built up heaps of cherished stuff over the years. Sure, for a lot of things, I can just rip or scan them. Digital storage on a hard drive is ridiculously more efficient than physical storage on a shelf. BD encryption has been cracked forever, and it’s not too hard to make a DIY book scanner. There’s even a whole community dedicated to them: www.diybookscanner.org. But I’ll still have that longing for the physical copies, the fancy LE packaging, and the tactile nostalgia of books…especially for my favorite series.

So I’ve had to think about what I’ll keep. With my BDs, I figure I’ll have space for at least one shelf (I don’t even want to think about the manga yet…). So while I organize my discs alphabetically, there’s one top shelf set aside: the things I’d keep if I had to get rid of everything else. Only through hard choices can you discover what you truly love. I think about buying things differently, too. With every item, I think, “Will I just be getting rid of this in a few years?” It might seem that would discourage otaku-ish consumption. But it actually encourages me to buy premium items, with a high cost-to-volume ratio, of my absolute favorite franchises. Like, one imported JP BD (with English subtitles), instead of a bunch of R1 DVD sets that could be bought with the same amount. Quality over quantity.

At first the storage issues troubled me. Now, though, I’m actually glad for the chance to focus on what’s truly important to me. Even for people who’re set with traditional housing, I think it’s an interesting mental exercise. Life is full of clutter, and I don’t just mean the physical kind. Reorganizing my mental shelf will be my first step past it.

(Still though, it’s gonna be soooo sweet to have an HD widescreen and surround sound up in that tiny house.)

 

1 p. 26. Shafer, Jay. The Small House Book. Sebastopol, CA: Tumbleweed Tiny House, 2009. Print.

Growth of Anime Simulcasting (Now With Charts!)

I’ve been following the growth of simulcasting for a long time. I’m certainly invested in it, since I only watch anime legally (no fansubs…but that’s a post of its own). The first series I watched this way was Strike Witches back in 2008, through BOST TV. BOST partnered with a financially desperate GONZO to offer DRM-free legal downloads of anime, available for purchase just as the show aired in Japan. What sort of utopian distribution scheme is that? They eventually went out of business, though, due to piracy and low visibility, compared to Crunchyroll. R.I.P…. But since then, simulcasting has grown dramatically. Check out these charts, from 2009 to this current season in 2011:

In under two years, the % of new TV anime with a simulcast has grown from 16% to 72%, nearly 3/4ths of all new anime. And the growth isn’t just in quantity; quality has shot up too. There are streams of this season’s most 2ch-popular titles like Haganai, Working!!, and others. Plus huge diversity, from josei card-gaming to real steampunk.

On the % of simulcasted series graph, there are noticeable spikes in the Summer and Winter seasons. This is because in Japan, Spring and Fall are much bigger months for new TV anime, with many more premiers. However, the US/International licensing companies don’t have the same seasonal ebb and flow. They just plug on at a roughly constant rate, as can be seen in the raw # of simulcasts graph.

There’s one economic condition that was felt on both sides, though. The economic crisis of 2008 definitely had at least some part in simulcasting’s growth, even if a small part. When things get tight, companies need to squeeze out every last bit of money they can. The international market was the perfect place to start squeezing. GONZO reacted the same way to its economic troubles, licensing its properties like mad to Funimation (I wonder if Strike Witches would ever get licensed otherwise…well, it did end up doing surprisingly well in US sales).

But when it comes to meeting consumer interests, a little desperation can be a good thing. We have so many more opportunities to watch anime legally now. A few years ago, the idea that all anime would be simulcast seemed impossible. Heck, even the idea that 72% of anime would be simulcast seemed impossible. But after all, the future is where the impossible goes to die.

(If one is curious, here’s the roughly formatted list of simulcasts I’m basing these charts off of http://pastebin.com/raw.php?i=07zQm9qP. Defining what “new TV anime” is can be vague, but for the purposes of this data, it’s including all children’s shows but excluding TV-aired specials with 2 or less episodes, or anything that’s purely CGI, puppet, or clay animation.)

Perspective

Link 1 , Link 2