The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 103 | The Weekly Digression

Leaving Proof 103 | The Weekly Digression
Published on Friday, April 13, 2012 by

This week’s non-comics Digression talks about the Samurai Champloo anime series, the implications of Youtube’s FUNimation Channel, and hey, I’ll be going to Fan Expo Vancouver next weekend. And don’t miss out on today’s super-chilled Mixtape!

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I’ve been spending a lot of time the past couple of months watching the FUNimation Channel on Youtube. There’s a lot of good stuff on there, including full seasons of popular and acclaimed anime series like Trigun, Mongolian Chop Squad, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Last Exile, in both English-dubbed and Japanese-voiced/English-subtitled versions.

I recently finished watching the full season of Samurai Champloo, a unique take on the traditional samurai drama that mixes Edo jidai period piece elements, the five-act narrative structure associated with kabuki theatre, contemporary action-comedy, and hip-hop/urban style. I’m not one of those “I only watch the Japanese version” anime snobs—I generally go for English dubs when watching a particular piece of anime for the first time, if only so I can concentrate on the animation on-screen—but in Samurai Champloo‘s case, I switched to the subtitled version of the show about six episodes into the season because of the writing’s emphasis on Japanese-language musical and phonetic elements. Some episodes feature interludes built around jōruri-type songs or Japanese rap, while others get great comedic mileage out of scenes involving Europeans’ and Americans’ accents when speaking Japanese: these vocal elements lose something in the process of translation into English given the show’s subject matter and style.

I don’t really follow anime production news so I don’t know if this has been addressed before, but I do wonder if Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal manga was a major influence on the show’s concept and design. Like Blade of the Immortal, Samurai Champloo updates the traditional samurai drama dialogue by having characters speak in a modern, colloquial manner instead of the usual theatrical and flowery style. There also seems to be some prop design influences from Samura’s work, as many of the more unusual edged weapons in Samurai Champloo look like they were inspired in part by the armory employed by Blade of the Immortal‘s Manji. Also, one episode (I won’t say which, so as to avoid any inadvertent spoilers) reminded me of Blade of the Immortal‘s “Dreamsong” storyline. It could all be coincidental of course, and there could be dozens upon dozens of influences and homages I’m missing, as my knowledge of both anime and manga isn’t at all close to being comprehensive.

The series’ musical score/soundtrack produced by American music producer Fat Jon and the late Japanese DJ Nujabes (a.k.a. Jun Seba) is one of the best I’ve heard in an animated action-adventure TV series this side of Yoko Kanno’s work on Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex or The Track Team’s material for Avatar: The Last Airbender. The various instrumental tracks are jazzy and funky, and the beat-backed pieces are really tight. The show’s musical highlight for me however, is Japanese folk singer Ikue Asazaki’s “Obokuri Eeumi,” a haunting piece of traditional Ryukyu-style music set to a contemporary arrangement that plays in the background during a particularly moving scene in one of the show’s most pivotal episodes.

Anyway, all 26 episodes of the show are available for free viewing on Youtube, and if you want to support FUNimation’s attempts at bringing shows like Samurai Champloo to a wider audience on Youtube, spread the word about their channel and pick up their DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital video store offerings every once in a while.

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I haven’t really read anything in the mainstream Western media about what prompted FUNimation Entertainment’s decision last year to move a lot of their imported shows to a nominally free distribution medium like Youtube but I suspect that concerns over online piracy played a large part in it.

There is a huge and dedicated global community of anime fans who record popular shows, translate the dialogue and create English, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and Russian subtitles; and then share them online via torrents and other methods. FUNimation, in releasing some of their best and most popular licensed properties on Youtube, displayed foresight and acumen that seems all too rare with today’s media publishers. The company knew that it couldn’t take down the illicit online trade of their shows through the prosecution of consumers (as has been noted by keen industry observers, many of the most active illegal file-sharers also spend a large part of their disposable income on legit purchases) or taking down file-sharing communities (take one down, and another, sometimes more sophisticated one just takes its place). By having an official, free channel on Youtube, they aim to beat the pirates at their own game while at the same time raising their properties’ collective profile at comparatively little material expense.

The FUNimation Youtube videos are certainly of a higher resolution and sound quality than the illicit DVD rips circulating on the web, many of which have to be compressed to a ridiculous degree to conserve bandwidth and facilitate online distribution. The cost of having the videos up on Youtube to FUNimation in terms of network infrastructure, maintenance, and security is relatively minimal; it’s largely on Youtube and its staff to ensure that the servers are secure and running trouble-free. And it’s not as if FUNimation is giving these videos away: the company’s status as a member of the Youtube Partner program ensures that their shows’ page views generate some revenue to offset expenditures.

In bypassing the glut of cable television providers in North America and elsewhere and just focusing on getting their IPs out to the widest possible audience, FUNimation is taking a direct hand in developing a relationship with its target market and generating consumer goodwill. The potential social engineering benefits (and commercial spillover) of making their shows freely available on Youtube are immense. If nothing else, the company isn’t allowing its properties to turn into idle assets that run the risk of falling into popular culture irrelevance because the demographics of interest have no convenient and legitimate method to access them.

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I’ll be in Vancouver next weekend to cover Fan Expo Vancouver (21–22 April 2012, Vancouver Convention Center) for the Comixverse. I haven’t made fixed plans yet as to what talks and events to attend as my schedule will be contingent on the approval of a request for an on-site interview with a certain guest, but if any of you Leaving Proof readers—and that includes any of you Fan Expo Vancouver featured or special guests reading this—will be going and want to meet and talk comics, animation, boxing/MMA, video games, or whatever else after the show, let me know in the comments section or via the e-mail link below (don’t forget to put “Fan Expo Vancouver” in your e-mail’s subject line).

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Well, I couldn’t really spend all that time writing about the Samurai Champloo soundtrack without throwing in a few joints from the show in this week’s Mixtape. Below are ten velvety, laid-back tracks that you can just totally bury your head in after a hard night out. The non-Champloo tracks are numbers I discovered on SomaFM‘s Suburbs of Goa, a downtempo channel with a strong South Asian vibe (song titles link to corresponding video/audio, if available):

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6 Responses
    • A few years ago I would have thought offering entire seasons for free on YouTube would be a mistake since it would undercut DVD sales. Now, I’ve spotted Angry Birds merchandise and it has occurred to me that the free game is reaping serious marketing rewards. Perhaps a similar thought is occurring to FUNimation. Free shows = massive merchandise potential?

      • I’m sure merchandising potential played into it as well, but offhand, it seems to me that a lot of the shows on FUNimation’s Youtube channel aren’t particularly strong merchandise “cross-sellers” (exceptions might be Fullmetal Alchemist and Trigun) even during the height of their popularity.

        Most of the shows there are relatively old (by today’s standards at least)… a lot of them are from the mid/late-1990s and the newest ones seem to be from around 2005 or so… in the made-for-television IP lifecycle, they’re probably at the point where they aren’t moving significant units of the DVDs and Blu-Rays anyway and trying to get them into cable TV syndication might no longer be worth the effort and trouble, so it seems to me that having them on Youtube is FUNimation’s way of keeping the IPs in “pop culture circulation” while still getting some additional revenue (via their partnership with Youtube) that isn’t dependent on retail sales or syndication.

        I’d love to see Marvel or DC do something like this. They’re sitting on tons of old, near-forgotten comics that probably wouldn’t sell marginally well even if packaged as budget-priced collections. Why not just release them digitally for free via a low-cost distribution method (on Scribd or Issuu) and get some marketing or ad-based revenue utility out of them instead of letting the IPs sit idle in their archives doing nothing but depreciating in pop culture relevance?

        •  Old anime does not mean that it can’t be advertised. If it can be introduced to a new market it can be merched all over again. In fact, t-shirts, hoodies, and bags for old anime can be cooler at Hot Topic than new anime because it has that throwback quality.

          I agree that Marvel or DC could throw a ton of old product up as a gateway for new readers or new watchers.

          Re-reading Bob Harras’ Nick Fury Agent of Sheild series and I’m ready to buy a Nick Fury t-shirt right now.

          • I think Marvel and DC’s reticence at releasing their old comics as nominally free, ad-supported, digital content is rooted in the fear that it could be seen as them devaluing their IPs: the old thinking of “how much could something be worth if you’re willing to give it away?”

            Of course, the flip side to that is, if nobody sees the IP, then it loses all potential merchandising value, anyway.

            • And for the most part, today’s comics are just there to get the IP out in hopes of making a movie, cartoon, etc..

              So wouldn’t releaseing the older stuff for free help that out?  They’d build more interest in the property which could lead to a new series or movie/books/etc..

            •  It would make an interesting marketing push after the Avengers movie to put out every Nick Fury related comic, tv show, and movie more than 20 years old out for free somewhere to hype the character. Then they could do a Nick Fury movie without D. Hasslehoff. Sam Jackson and the Howling Commandos?

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