Category Archives: Rant

Anime and Blu-ray in the UK (part 1)

blu-ray-logo-2I’m a strong believer in recent Anime shows and movies being released on Blu-ray. Hell, I’m actually a believer in any recent material created in HD to get a decent Blu-ray release. I suspect that the PR people in the UK Anime distribution companies probably see my avatar in a thread and go, “Oh Gods, another one of those!” Those of us who are really interested in more UK Blu-ray releases can be a little bit… persistent about the matter.

Especially in my case as, after a period of not watching a great deal of Anime, it wasn’t the DVD backlog on my shelves that brought me back into the fandom. It was renting some shows on Blu-ray, and seeing the extra quality, that truly hooked me back in.

 
Niche^3
The problem regarding Blu-rays for Anime in the UK is the customer base being a niche within a niche within a niche. Or, more accurately, a niche (Blu-ray owners) within a niche (Anime fandom) within a relatively tiny market.

Compared to the US or even Australia, we are a much smaller customer base simply down to being a much smaller population. So when you then factor in Anime fandom and Blu-ray preference, it is a ridiculously tiny share. The problem, however, comes in when you realise that we probably make up about the same proportion of home entertainment customers. So, understandably, we get annoyed when we see how we are treated in comparison to the overseas customers. The problem, though, is business realities.

Costs
There are still the Blu-ray licensing fees, the authoring fees, the initial production run, the packaging costs, any required marketing, etc. These minimum costs exist regardless of location. Added to this, in the UK we have our own particular burden to bear. It is illegal to sell home video material that has not been passed by the BBFC. They charge per-minute to check the video content and the rating label has to not only be present in the packaging but on the disc itself. (No buying pre-pressed discs from Australia, America or even Japan, then.)

For a large population like America or (to a lesser extent) Australia, this isn’t too much of an issue. Population size means that the niche audience is still large enough to take the risk, as they can recoup the costs. Here, not so much. Apparently they need to sell at least 1000 copies on Blu-ray to make it worthwhile. It used to be closer to 3000.

In a recent podcast, Manga Entertainment stated that production costs are falling and it can be cheaper to produce the BDs than the DVDs. This requires an overseas partner to share in the production, though. Which requires an overseas partner to be willing to work around any potential delays and even changes that the BBFC rating process imposes. And, as noted above, they can’t necessarily share in the actual production run unless the BBFC rating process is complete. So the best they can do is to share in creation of the master and then do their own run.

Current State of Play
As things stand, even when an English-language Blu-ray exists (even a Region B one, courtesy of Australia), a Blu-ray release is far from certain. Mainly down to the reasons stated above.  Add to this the fact that even of the people who aren’t opposed to Blu-ray, many are still fine with picking up a DVD if that’s the only option. Or, in some cases, will pick the DVD as it saves a few quid over the Blu-ray. The drawback to this is that it means that some BD-capable customers are helping the DVD format flourish to the detriment of the Blu-ray sales figures. There are other reasons, too, that are a lot harder to argue against. Like people with only one Blu-ray player. Or people whose friends or family only have DVD players. Meaning that if they need a copy that can “play anywhere”, they are limited to the DVD release – unless there’s a double-play release.
One of the problems with this, though, is that the segment of the audience that prefers Blu-rays can be… quite vocal. And I can only see it getting more so, even if it doesn’t grow in size that fast.

Simply put, I can’t see a huge uptake in Blu-ray owners in the near future. There will be slow uptake as people replace older gear or buy the latest games consoles, but it’s not going to be a sudden explosion by any means. Also, as noted above, some people will still buy DVDs for various reasons. Again, these reasons will slowly shift, but it is not going to be an overnight process.
People will have multiple players. Their friends/family will have BD players. They’ll get more to the HD quality and more and more find themselves preferring that over DVD quality.

There are two different tipping-points, though. The first is the sheer number of people buying Blu-rays. The second is the section of the UK Anime Fandom who go exclusively Blu-ray only. And this is where things potentially get… interesting. As there’s no guarantee that the first one will happen before the second.

In future posts, I hope to comment a bit on what the current UK distributors are doing and also to speculate on how some some of crowd funding ideas may or may not help in regards to Blu-ray releases.

Doctor Who and the Single Part Stories

I have a big problem with Doctor Who at the moment, one I have gone on record about in my Twitter feed and on my Podcast. I am getting increasingly sick of the constant barrage of single episode stories. For years I have disliked TV shows going in that direction, it is just that I have been able to give Doctor Who a lot more leeway than I would any other show. But this is starting to run out.

I understand the theory behind having weekly shows that you don’t make you feel punished for jumping in partway through. The problem, though, is that this also means yo don’t get rewarded for sticking weekly with a show. Too much TV these days feels like it does not have a real ongoing presence. Doctor Who is really getting to feel like this, now.

I have seen it in other shows where they have an ongoing plot but one of the seasons gets orders to have more standalone content and less “mythology arc”. These often, to me, end up being the weaker seasons.
I know that some people dislike shows where most of the content is ongoing plot but I love it.

I like TV shows where as well as being an ongoing scenario about a setting or characters, the actual plots are divided into arcs. Maybe between three and five episodes in length. Where each story is given room to breathe and grow over multiple weeks. They don’t even need to have major “event” cliffhangers, just a run of a few episodes that are clearly an ongoing narrative,
It doesn’t even need to have really long episodes. Drop down from the 45 minute template to the half-hour show and it can work just as well.

And before people think I am just being nostalgic for “Classic Who”, it really isn’t that at all. I have recently been watching an Anime show called Kokoro Connect. Seventeen half-hour (OK, 25 minute) episodes covering four plot arcs. Two five-partners, a three-parter and a four-parter. Each arc its own plot, yet still part of an ongoing world and characters. Each arc really affecting how the characters interact with each other.

I have got more enjoyment out of that show than I have from nearly anything else I have watched in recent years. The structure of several short multi-part stories appeals perfectly to my narrative preferences.

I guess it just makes it that much more annoying for Doctor Who seeing that the stories used to be structured that way. I have missed it somewhat since DW returned in 2005. Up until now, though, it hasn’t really been a dealbreaker. But after Series Six’s heavily River-focused plot, to drop back to seemingly overly isolated episodes whilst other shows are doing the multi-partners so effectively? I just want a return to that type of storytelling.

Why I watch what I watch

I know my personality influences what stories I like, as well as what aspects of the stories I like. At first I thought that this was just to do with personal preference. Liking aspects that people don’t just because I have a different angle when enjoying stories. Then there were things to do with my job and the like. Empathizing more with the techie-types than the end-user types. If one side gives a rational reason for something and the rest keep waiting for “their answer” then I side with the former, even if they’re heading in the asshole direction.

More and more, though, I am realising that the nature of my personality and my history with depression and mental illness, as well as some of the circumstances leading up to them, really colour what I like about stories.

I never got the “Luke Hate” in Star Wars. Partially, I guess, because I was late to the party. I didn’t see the trilogy until my university days. Shortly after university, I felt very trapped by circumstance. No job, living with parents, growing depression. These were all things that beginning to resonate with me around the same age I finally saw Star Wars.
Feeling trapped and having people who mean well trying to tell you what to do? I’ll side with the whiney brat any day. I’ve been there. Moving past it (I hope, somewhat) now, but it’s still something I empathize with.

I love the stories where people go against authority. Most of the recent shows, especially Anime, that I have been watching centre around groups of socially-inept people banding together.

I’ve recently watched (twice) a show called Kokoro Connect, which has a group of five outsiders who formed a school club together because there wasn’t anything out there that suited them. They then get various phenomena forced upon them by a mysterious entity who is seeking to be entertained. And you see them all struggle with things like body-swapping, acting on impulse, regressing (physically) to childhood and having their thoughts shared with the group.

I loved watching the struggles of Inaba and Iori. Not because I like watching people suffer but because I can feel their pain at times. Whilst Inaba struggles with not being a natural people person, and has to learn to deal with her true emotions, Iori struggles to learn who she really is beneath all the masks she wears over her personality.
These are things I have struggled with, and continue to do so. The strain of “putting on a personality” to deal with people, even friends and family, is a very real one. I don’t struggle with it as much as Iori does, not anymore anyhow, but I know what it can be like.

Still, I find myself quite interested when I look at what I watch and read and who I empathize with. As a general rule, these are the “take crap from noone” or the “fundamentally broken” characters. These are my heroes because they are exactly how they appear or, if not, you get to see the effort and strain involved in being “somebody else”.

HMV, Piracy, Radio and Other Related Factors

So HMV went into administration last weekend. The press is full of stories explaining why this might be and, as expected, piracy is one of the stated factors. Now I’m not denying that unofficially acquired free music will put a dent into retail sales, but it is far from the whole story and I know that I, at least, went slightly in the other direction.

Back in the early 2000s, 2001-2005 to be precise, I experienced new music via three main paths.

  1. Radio (usually BBC Radio 1)
  2. TV (music channels on Cable)
  3. P2P music sharing systems (looking for new stuff)

All three of these got me interested in tracks and bands that I had not heard of otherwise, and in all three cases I would tend to go out and buy something if I listened to it a lot.

In 2005 I moved away from my parents, where I had a little office room of my own (too small for anything my parents wanted it for, so I got a study), and I ended up renting a small studio flat for about 18 months. This ate into my overnight downloading as the computer now was very definitely switched off when I wanted to get to sleep. That and I had an ISP with a download cap.
I also didn’t bother with subscription TV channels, as I was now paying rent and bills and was out of the house longer during the working day.
I also pretty much lost radio access as the train ride to work had very little in the way of decent signal. I got into listening to podcasts in a big way, and therefore didn’t even really listen to the radio outside of the work commute either.

So my three main avenues of experiencing new music all vanished in one fell swoop. To be fair, it was the compound loss of all three that stopped me going out and buying music. I only went online to download stuff if I’d already heard a track and wanted to hear more. At which point, I’d often go “Well, I have the album I want to buy a CD copy”.

It was then several years before services like Spotify, where you could legally listen to music on-demand, case around. And I am finding myself slowly drawn back to my old patterns.
A couple of albums I was always listening to via Spotify, I just bought from iTunes.

iTunes, yes. As to take it back to HMV, I looked for Hybrid’s “Morning Sci Fi” and “I Choose Noise” albums at HMV. I really did. For one thing, their music is so rich I prefer to have a CD-quality copy for home and only use the compressed version when out in the world. But they were only stocking a small selection. And even now, much of the music I want to buy, you just can’t get easily in shops.

Especially when it’s going through a band’s back catalogue of 5-10 year old music.
Oddly, chances are if I was still downloading back in 2004 (or if Spotify existed back then) I’d have bought these albums years ago. On a physical CD. From a physical store. After all, that’s why I bought “Wide Angle”.

Maybe I am a fringe case but, on the whole, I prefer to buy things I already know a bit about. CDs from bands I already like. Shows I have already seen, or are based on a concept I already like. Books from authors whose writing style I already know I enjoy. I ignore the hype and marketing.
I am open to new experiences, I just need to preview them first. Preferably legally now that the options exist.

I guess what it boils down to is that piracy is only one single aspect of why high street entertainment store are struggling. It probably does have an effect. Single-mindedly stamping it out without tackling other causes of retail sales slumps, however, won’t help. Have things in stock. Be able to get stock in quickly. And remember, you are tackling battle on three fronts. Online retail, digital retail, illegal downloads. There are three methods that are currently more convenient than physical stores and only one of the three is illegal.

On and don’t forget, they aren’t just a music store. They do video too. And as someone with slightly non-mainstream interests, I could often get the TV shows I wanted on Amazon about twice as often as I could at HMV or Virgin/Zavvi.

Designed by Committee, Dictated from Above

Sometimes, at work, I sit through a project planning meeting or hear about one from a colleague and get the impression that project planning groups are a pointless exercise purely designed to tick specific criteria decided from On High and to then convince everyone else that this is the One True Way.

I could put this aside as my naturally cynical nature were it not for the entertainment industry doing its level best to prove me right. In fact, it is my hobbies and not my job that truly set my opinions.

So i go home at the end of a day. I finally get to do what I’ve been waiting to do all day, stick the TV on and wish for a world where dumbass decisions weren’t made…

Only I can’t. The very escapism i yearn is ruined by that very thing I’m attempting to escape. In games, in films, in TV shows. You see it in abandoned plotlines and odd character choices. In odd plot twists, or a contant adherence to the Status Quo without any thought of plot or character progression. Or in websites and services that ignore features that the user base actually wants, instead focussing on stupid social-interaction features that their current users don’t actually need.

It is Executive Meddling at its very best. An absolute conviction by Upper Management that they know exactly what is needed. That they know better than their fanbase or user base. “Thou Shalt Meet These Criteria”, even if the people actually using or watching their product want things to go in the complete opposite direction.

It’s the same sort of thinking that get series discontinued, or entertainment properties not brought over from one country to another. Some Suit thinking they know best.

I guess I was set in my thinking before I ever saw wat went on in planning meetings. Sadly, the reality of sitting through them coupled with games/films/TV still being screwed up form On High make it unlikely my opinions will cange any time soon.

I have nothing against changing my opinions on things for the better. It kind of helps, though, if I get to experience things that prove me wrong.
Not happening so far.

eBooks and “Agency Pricing”

I own a Kindle. It’s probably the greatest thing that happened to my reading habit, specifically in that it restarted it.

Don’t get me wrong, physical books are great. For long-term ownership, for lending to friends, for quickly flipping through to double-check something. For all these things they are great. But for general reading, I find an e-ink reader just far superior.
They’re portable. You can bring a collection with you easier than a single book. you can lay it down ona  table and not have it lose your place, great for reading during mealtime. Just place it on the table, read it there, only touching it to hit the page-advance key.

Pricing-wise for the books themselves, they sort suck at times.

For one thing, I dislike paying full price for a digital copy of something, especially when it carries DRM restrictions. To me, that is a rental not a purchase. So I favour cheaper eBooks. I don’t see them as a long-term investment (that’s what I buy dead-tree versions for), I see them as a long-term loan.

This is not the only reason, though. I always favoured paperbacks over hardbacks. They’re more convenient to carry around and less bulky to read. So yeah, the same reason I favour my Kindle over a physical book. I like to read, I don’t like the hassle of a bulky form factor.
It has always bugged me having to wait the extra six months or more to get something in my preferred size-class. It’s not just the price of paperbacks I favour(ed), it’s the actual medium.

Enter the eReader and the problem just escalates, especially given Agency Pricing. This is what stops the various online stores (namely Amazon) from heavily discounting popular eBooks toa  point where other stores can’t compete and that people won’t buy the paper copies.

News Flash: Some of us have Kindles specifically to avoid paper copies.

Now, there are fair reasons behind this, but it then has the slight disadvantage that is especially noticeable in long-running series.
The latest hardback-only book will have an eBook price of £7 or more. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe it is, but the rest of the series is available for under £5, which can make it hard to justify the price. Especially if you already own the book. Why pay almost twice the price of what it’ll be later this year when you already own it in one format?

Did that make no sense? I guess it wouldn’t to most people. And that’s the problem. Nobody really envisioned a case where you might want to get a cheap digital copy of a book you already own shortly after getting it.

Like maybe wanting to re-buy a convenient form-factor of something you were given as a gift?

I mean, hardback books are great to own. Hardback booked are a wonderful gift to receive. hardback book are also a bugger to read, and the opposite of portable. The idea situation is to have both. One to keep (if you like the book) one to read.
But not at these prices.

“The Publisher has set the price for this book”.
I guess the publisher wants me to read stories published by their competitors, then. Because for a DRM-encumbered platform-locked copy of a book, price is a deciding factor. It can make the difference between “impulse buy”, “maybe alter” and “not happening”.

Ar Tonelico Qoga: How to find Harvestasha DLC in the UK

One of the (free) pieces of DLC available for the PS3 game Ar tonelico Qoga is the Harvestasha personality patch set. Each of these is free and, allegedly, available in the UK – and the rest of the EU PS3 region as far as I am aware.

It never showed up in the store, though. Or so people thought.

NISA (publishers) and the PSN blog page both claim it was out about a year ago. Web searches mostly said it was missing. It isn’t…

…it’s just very badly filed.

It will not show up if you browse for DLC. The only things in the section for this game are the Binary Field adventures. But if you search for it, it will show up.
I used “Qoga” as a search term. I expect “Harvestasha” would work, too.

iPad Podcast Playlists

If, like me, you use playlists to keep on top of your podcasts you might experience a problem if you have moved to iOS5. I started to use playlists a few years back, as I can connect my iPod to my car radio but its menu doesn’t include podcasts. It does, however, include playlists. So I would queue them up in order and play them that way. It worked so well for me, I stuck with it for general use. So I just fire up the playlists whether in iTunes or on my iPod. Or my new iPad… until changing to iOS5.

iOS5, on the iPad anyway, has a shine new “Music” app that sorts and displays things totally differently.
It will put the contents of podcast playlists into the podcasts section (sorter by show, not in your order), but it won’t show the actual playlist anywhere. I found a workaround that works for me, though.

  1. Add a music track to the end of your podcast playlist
  2. Put the playlist into a folder
  3. Ensure the playlist is selected for syncing both under Music and Podcasts
  4. Re-sync your device (this might require turning it on and off first, it might not)

You will now find the playlist on the main page (i.e. under Music), under it’s folder. Order or tracks is preserved.

Star Wars – The Fandom Strikes Back

So the Blu-Ray releases of Star Wars are having further edits done to them. And the fan outrage is… spectacular… -ly amusing.
For one, I don’t see why people are shocked. Disappointed, yes. But shocked?

Now, I don’t have the same attachment to the originals that many fans have. I’m in my thirties and didn’t see the complete trilogy until I was about 18. Also, I only saw the whole thing once, maybe twice, before the cinematic rereleases which had the first round of edits. I didn’t mind the changes because the original scenes weren’t lodged in my brain the same way.

Although it wound me up that by the DVD versions they had inserted scenes but couldn’t redo the lightsaber effects to be 100% consistent across all six movies – new and old.

But the bulk of the changes… whether I agree with them or not,  I personally don’t have a problem with them.

Even before I saw any of the Star Wars films, I was an avid reader of books. I was used to the concept of the revised edition. I was used to the minor edits, the changes for consistency and simply a few changes to reflect where the story had got to and where the author was planning to take it next.

I’d also seen first books in the series where they hadn’t been revised. Going back to book one can be really jarring.

There have also been a lot of Director’s Cuts these days. In most cases, they’re seen as a definitive edition of a film. Whether it’s for the DVD, or something revisited years or decades after the fact. They add bits missed out. They change concepts a little. It can feel like a different film. And so often it is taken as how the film should be.

As soon as the director is George Lucas, though, and the films are Star Wars, people don’t want anything except the version they saw first. At all.
And I’ve heard people who had trumpted other Director’s Cuts as being the best (admittedly fixed) versions of films, but who will then slate any changes to the Star Wars films.

I guess the thing that winds me up a bit is that it becomes a double-standard. If you create a movie, you can go back and fix it up except if it becomes a dearly-beloved fan favourite. At which point you back off, as original is the One True Version.

And I think it all comes down to people latching hard onto certain aspects of a story. It’s what winds me up about other topics, too. The story becomes those aspects and any change (even those that serve a story) is… challenged.

Isn’t that right, Ianto?

Time to Fix – Choosing Sides

So, what is it? Do things take time, as I keep stating, or do they get sorted straightaway? Both sides are mutually exclusive and it’s really reached a point where I have to fall hard on one side or the other.

Basically, Work and Personal lives are clashing over the whole concept of time-to-fix.

In the case of my home tech, when things don’t work it’s a case of “sit back and be patient”. Nothing can be done to speed things along. Whether it’s getting a phoneline installed or having said phoneline checked on behalf of my ISP owing to broadband failure. Right down to things waaaay outside my control like the PSN Store being down.
I don’t like it when things don’t work and I have to wait, but as I’m a techie by trade I accept that this is how things are. after all, haven’t I blogged to that effect a good few times here?

Problem is, I’m a techie by trade. End-users don’t like the idea of waiting. If it’s broken, it has to be fixed. Right now. Being without working tech is simply not an option. No way. no how.

Now on a personal level, I get where they’re coming from. It pisses me off to no end, as I mentioned above, when my stuff takes “too long” to get fixed. But that doens’t make it any quicker to fix. Or change my basic overview.

So basically, I have to choose one outlook and stick to it. As I can’t be one way at work and another way at home. It’s one of the other. Only, which do I chose?

Do I become an Unholy Terror towards any support-lines I have to contact? Taking noting short of “it’s done” as an answer? Refusing to accept the fact that things might involve an inconvenient level of downtime?
Or do I become totally unswayable at work? Reposing to every “urgent” query with “things take time to sort out” – and potentially getitng a bad reputation of being unhelpful.

I can’t be neither, though. That’s for certain. The idea of not only switching sides on a world-view but always taking the side that is going to cause more hassle for me is really not an option. As it’s doing my head in.