Anime: Not A Collector

I feel like I occupy a weird niche in anime fandom. I like to own copies shows I like, rather than being limited to digital streaming or downloads. I also like to have as high a quality copy as possible, As my various posts on Blu-Ray will attest.

I’m not a “Collector” though.

At least, not one of those who likes Limited/Collectors Editions. In fact, I actively dislike those kinds of release more often than not.

So many of the more hardcore collectors seem to have a major nerd-boner for nice, rigid boxed to house their media cases. Whether card-based or plastic Amaray-style, they all seem to go nuts for a box that boxes go in. Whereas I find them a complete pain. Why would I want to open a box to open a box? And why would I want to pay extra for that pain?

Artbooks also seem to be a usual favourite. I don’t have anything in principle against these but I also know I will rarely, if ever, look at them. The same goes for things like postcards. Pretty but, ultimately, an extra cost for something I will ignore.

Soundtracks can be nice. If they are just an extra disc in a standard case I can easily be tempted. They are rarely going to tip me towards the full Collector Edition, though.

What frustrates me most about them, though, is when they aren’t optional. When a release strategy or (more likely) a licensing restriction from Japan means that any Standard Edition on Blu-Ray will come a significant amount of time after the Collector Edition. Or, in some cases, there is no regular edition.

Maybe if I liked Artbooks or fancy boxes it would be a different matter. Unfortunately, seeing as I actually don’t like them, the end result is asking me to pay a premium for my non-preferred option.

Problems Facing Simulcasts (and other legal anime streams)

Legal options for streaming recent anime shows have made major inroads in recent years. Yet people still embrace fansubs. Whether from downloads or via unofficial streaming services, these options still gain a lot of views for various reasons.

The problem is that there are several reasons that people have for using fansubs and you can’t easily eliminate them all. However, there are several things that could be tackled. Also, because many people are swayed by a combination of reasons, the more that can be tackled, the less common it will be.

Cheap

OK. Let’s get this out of the way first. People can be cheap. Being able to get hold of multiple shows, ad-free and in a high-definition format is a big temptation.

For some, it is the only reason. For others, it is the tipping point when added to the reasons below.

Knowledge

Not everybody knows what legal platforms are out there. As a general rule, if you’re a part of a community that keeps a list of legal options then you already know they exist. Some people genuinely don’t know.

On a related note, not everybody knows of every service. Here in the UK, there is a big feeling that Crunchyroll is the only service that people have really heard of. In the past couple of years, when shows haven’t been on Crunchyroll over here, but were on other services, people genuinely thought there was no legal UK option at all.

Similarly, not a lot of generic video-on-demand platforms make a huge deal of their anime catalogues. So people with access to Netflix might not even realise that they have a fairly sizeable anime back-catalogue on there.

Fragmentation

Not every platform has every show. So even if Crunchyroll, for example, is seen as “The Anime Streaming Service”, they don’t have the licenses for every show. This ties into knowledge, above, in that titles are wrongly assumed to be unavailable because people haven’t heard of the service that gets the local rights.

It’s one thing over in America, where a fair few of the licensing companies have their own outlets and there are more generic streaming options (like Hulu) for them to partner with. Also, over there, titles showing up on multiple services is relatively common.
Here in the UK, a lot of licenses still get picked up by companies without their own platform. Worse, sometimes it is the English-language rights they have overall, which just happen to include the UK rights. And as Crunchyroll is a competitor over in America, them sub-licensing to Crunchyroll for the UK streams is rare. Not unheard of, but rare all the same.

Unequal Services

The different streaming platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some go wider than anime. Some have larger catalogues. Some have apps on multiple platforms. Some have paid subscriptions to go ad-free No one service ticks all of the boxes.

This, when combined with multiple services and potentially multiple subscription fees, can be quite frustrating. Especially when shows exist on a service you use but a region you don’t live in.

Missing Shows

Some shows simply don’t get official releases in English, or any given non-Japanese language. For these shows, it does become a choice between “pirate” and “do without”. And not everyone wants to miss a show, especially if it is the main one they wanted to watch in any given season. However, this does keep fansubs as an active option in people’s minds. After all, once you’re used to using them for one thing, it’s hard not to see them as an option for others.

Platform exclusivity, regional lockouts and delays that cause the official version to go up hours (or even days) after a translated fansub hit the internet don’t help much, either.

Translation Choices

Here is where it starts to get tricky. We go from already shaky moral ground to something even more so, based purely on personal aesthetic preference. However, fans have their own preferences on how they like their translations. With fansubs, you can drop and pick up distributors depending on your preference. Even with much more legal products such as The Bible or classic French literature, you can “shop” for the translation which is more accurate or more to your personal preferences.
With contemporary foreign language products (such as anime), however, there is only One True Translation. If it isn’t your preference, tough. If it is jarring and distracting to you, tough. If you know what they really said, or can tell (from other audio-visual cues) that something really doesn’t match up, tough! You’re stuck with them.

I have more to say on this subject, but it’s potentially a blog post of its own.

This can all lead to getting a fansub of a show or episode. Maybe instead of the official release, maybe in addition to it. (Some things make more sense after having looked at more than one translation option)
Either way, though, it provides more excuses for people to rely on fansubs. Especially as, in this case, a translation that works better for someone is going to be a “superior” product for that person.

In Conclusion

These aren’t the only reasons but they are some of the ones used. None of them are easy matters to address, as they are mostly tied into how current licensing rules work. Even knowledge of services is hampered by business reasons because, as a general rule, one service isn’t going to recommend a rival owing to shortcomings in functions or content.

Ideally, the industry has to band together as “The Industry” to combat this. Less exclusivity, more sharing. Competing on service level, not exclusive shows. Cross promotion, because surely someone using a rival is better for business as a whole than using an unofficial download.

One other thing that the various companies need to do is to try to be a wide-reaching as possible. Licensing companies need to get things on multiple services and regions. Services need to work across multiple platforms. Expecting people to settle for a limited offering just isn’t going to work when there are free alternatives out there, legal or not.

Lastly, accepting that there is no single customer type, but that catering to multiple tastes (including translation tastes) is going to keep more people “legal”, as it takes away the reason people have of going elsewhere.

BBC, Top Gear and the No-Win Situation

So, the BBC has sacked Jeremy Clarkson. Or, to be more accurate, they are not renewing his contract when it expires soon. In a way, though, there is no real difference. He crossed a line, it cost him his job.

Cue a lot of outrage by fans of Top Gear.
Cue a lot of confused outrage by people who can’t understand why a petition to keep him on reaches nearly a million signatures whilst “more deserving causes” struggle to get any support at all.

The problem, though, is that although the situation itself (person hits and  verbally abuses another person) is fairly straightforward, the links between Jeremy, Top Gear and the (license-fee paying) audience is bloody complicated.

I don’t think the BBC had any way of winning this situation. There was no good choice available. I do, however, think they made the “right bad choice”. Whatever they did, people would be outraged one way or another. But better to be criticised for doing the right thing than letting the wrong thing slide by.

As business decisions go, though, the BBC dropped a ball. A ball they had no possible way of carrying, to be sure. But they dropped it nonetheless.
Yes, they have to show that no one person is bigger than their show. Or bigger than the corporation. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson, though, he sort of is the show. Him and James may and Richard Hammond, to be sure, but the major draw of the show is watching all three of them dick around. Lose one, you change the dynamic and the show won’t be the same one that many people tune in for.

On top of that, Top Gear itself is big business. For some people, it is basically the BBC show they watch. It’s what they pay the license fee for. And when the only show you think is worth paying over £100 per year for the license fee risks being changed beyond recognition, people are understandably getting angry at the corporation they are funding for making a decision they don’t want.

And that’s just the UK.

Over in the USA, there are people vocally stating that Top Gear (UK) is pretty much the only reason they are paying for a BBC America subscription. And, unlike the UK license fee, this is purely being paid by choice. If an American decides that Top Gear is the only show worth paying the BBC for, they can stop paying and drop their subscription.

The BBC really had no way of coming out of this in a good light. For what it’s worth, I think they made the only decision they could. Attacking anyone, especially a colleague, just isn’t right. Some sort of reprimand had to be issued and, with contract renewal coming up, it is the logical step. Clarkson had to go.

It’s just unfortunate that, with a show as popular Top Gear’s current (previous?) incarnation, the BBC are going to have to pay the heavy price for making the right decision.
“No good deed goes unpunished” and this deed, however good, is going to cause the BBC some real headaches at least in the immediate short term.

Evangelion 3.33 -The Plot Thickens

All hell broke loose this afternoon when customers with open pre-orders through Amazon UK for the long-delayed and previously blogged about release of Evangelion 3.33 got cancellation notices claiming that “Manga UK were no longer releasing it”.

“Is it coming out at all?” ask some.

“Have Manga lost the license?” ask others.

“Do people even bother paying attention any more?” asked… well, me.
(I’m not exactly known for my sweet, tolerant and patient nature)

What we’ve actually heard, so far, from Manga’s social media feeds is that it is still coming out and that further details are coming. It also seems to be tied into the ongoing delay.

What people seem to forget that, especially with anime releases, cancelled-but-not-cancelled isn’t unheard of. It has happened before, especially with regards to Amazon.

The exact situation is still unknown and whether the news is good or bad is yet to be clarified. There are a few things that can be said for certain, though:

  • Amazon currently list Anime Limited’s upcoming DVD release of Durarara as being cancelled. This has been confirmed by Anime Limited as not being true.
  • Both properties have been suffering ongoing delays. My own personal speculation is that both titles have been communicated to Amazon as having their releases pushed back with no clear date in mind.
  • Last year’s Manga UK release of Psycho Pass, when changed from two parts to one part, was “cancelled” when the release pattern changed.
    They couldn’t just change “Part One” into “Complete Collection” because the price would go up and Amazon would be forced to apply their pre-order “lowest price” guarantee to a different product that actually cost more. That and it was likely a different SKU.

Eva’s mid-February release date was all-but-confirmed as being impossible at this point. Funimation still haven’t given concrete details of the American release. And I am pretty sure that theirs would have to have been out by now for Manga to be able to release in February.

I suspect that the apparent “cancellation” is down to one of two things:

  • Amazon put their foot down after yet another pushback without being given a confirmed release date. Taking pre-orders for a product is difficult if you don’t know when, or even if, it is even coming out.
  • That particular SKU has been cancelled or drastically changed. Maybe to have a dual-format pack. Maybe to offer something else. If a specific release has been removed, though, with an upcoming-but-not-submitted SKU due to replace it, it is still “cancelled” from the point of view of that particular item.

Hopefully, time will tell regarding what’s actually going on. Hopefully, though, the movie is still coming out over here and the Blu-ray version (something Manga seems to be going through a phase of skipping) is still on the cards.

Personally, I just want the damn thing to come out already. I have no interest in buying it but I just want it off my damned blog stats. 😉
And between the first post about it being popular and events like today’s warranting followup posts, it continues to dominate why people visit here.

Depression’s Teeth: Inertia Revisited

It begins when I wake up. The lack of desire to move or react. Even if I intend to silence the first alarm of the morning, I will likely let it go for a few minutes as anything else would require moving.
Chances are, I will get up to silence it when I get up to go to the loo. Otherwise, if there is only my alarm or my bladder annoying me, I will wait until it gets much more annoying.

At the moment, I am likely to roll over until my backup alarm goes off. The inertia is still there, though. Moving requires effort I just do not have. I may well reach over and grab my iPhone or iPad to catch up on overnight happenings on Twitter. I might even sit up and put the TV on for half an hour. However, I may also just lie there unmoving and unacting. Either way, though, I don’t really move. I can’t really move.

Half-seven rolls around, the ideal time for me to get up and take a shower. After all, I need to leave the flat between 8am and 8.20 to have a good change of avoiding any potential traffic problems.
By 7.45 I might, possibly, have roused myself out of bed. Even this isn’t guaranteed, though. I know it is something I am supposed to do but it requires moving, rendering it all but impossible.

On a good morning, I will finally rouse between 7.45 and 8am. On a worse morning, I will probably get out closer for quarter-past. On a really bad morning, I’m having to force myself out of bed at half-eight. It isn’t easy, though, and it is often taking every once of effort I have. I am also questioning my own sanity at that point. Getting up, especially with the aim to go outside just feels wrong.

So, at any time between 8.15 and 8.45 I am behind the wheel, driving into work. I still don’t understand why, though. It is so, so hard. And it requires leaving my home for the greater part of the day. During winter, in fact, it requires being out during the entirety of daylight hours.

I then get to work. Somehow, and I have no idea how, I approximate some semblance of energy and motivation during working hours. Not full capacity, of course, but being capable of anything other than sitting in my bed or armchair all day is seems like a major achievement.

Then, at the end of the working day, I go home. I sit down and… that’s about it. With effort, I’ll do somethg for an evening meal. Anything else depends on how I feel. Some days I can easily relax and have fun for the evening. More likely, though, just choosing a video to watch requires more focus than I have. I might get around to choosing a video game to play, often managing less than half of an hour of the hour or more I originally planned for.

Then I go to bed. At least, I switch off the TV equipment and stay unmoving in the armchair for another ten minutes or so.
I will be annoyed at myself for not getting anything done in the evening that I have planned to do. Then I go to bed.

The next morning, it starts over again. Angry at my wasted evening, I am ready to go home before I even get up for work. But, ultimately, once I get home I will still be too tired to do anything.

Depression sucks, quite literally. It sucks every last bit of energy out of me. I can sort of cope on the weekends, taking things at my own pace, but there is still more resting and less doing than I intend.

This is me.

Evangelion Delay: Revisited

The Evangelion meta-saga goes ever onwards. Not being personally interested in the film series, it feels a bit strange wanted to write a followup to my first blog post about the holdups. However, over the intervening months, my web stats suggest that it is the most popular post on my blog. In addition to this, the most popular search terms leading to the blog are mostly people looking for information on when the damn film comes out, and the odd one or two people looking to download a torrent. People are desperate for information about it.
It also seems that, at the moment, a Google search for Evangelion 3.33 Australia will have my post at the top result. I even rank one place higher than Madman’s own post regarding this.

Not exactly what I wrote it for, as many other posts just don’t seem to garner that much interest. But it makes it as good a reason as any to touch on the subject again given some recent happenings.

Firstly, the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Australia had its Adelaide/Brisbane tour. I am pretty sur that a lo of people were hoping for, and searching the web for, information regarding the Australian release as that is about the time my search results spiked.

Currently there still isn’t any concrete information out there, despite it being near-constantly asked of Funimation, Madman and Manga. From what I can gather (and interpret in my own somewhat blunt view of the world), it seems that the director is being a wee bit precious about how the English-language release is handled – apparently having both the dub and subtitles being revisited. The fans, though, don’t really care as much and just want to watch/buy the damn movie.

The other thing is that there’s a bit of a sad aspect from the UK side of things. This Autumn, the three public “faces” of Manga UK have left the company for pastures new. The three guys who were sat on the MCM Panel a year ago, who announced the titlle, who saw the great excitement (and watch the screen showing the trailer go tits-up) won’t see the release complete except as outside observers. It will be down to other people to finally schedule and announce the eventual release.

Ar NoSurge: Epilogue to a Fixed Flaw

In followup to my post on November 16th, the localisation patch for Ar Nosurge finally hit the European PSN regions on Tuesday November 25th. Nearly two weeks “late”, thanks to SCEE’s usual overly-lengthy approval processes.

More importantly, it is two weekends after the American (read: original) release date for the patch. It also arrived here midweek and overnight. So just in time to go to work/school and be distracted all day waiting to go home and play.

To be fair to Koei Tecmo Europe, Sony Computer Entertainment (Europe) are rather notorious for messing around European gamers with shoddy timing. Where SCEA updates and DLC will come out almost immediately, the SCEE updates have a habit of coming late. Worse, the publishers don’t always know exactly when something will get released. I’ve even heard (unconfirmed) that this extends to digital-only releases of games.

It certainly does look as if games publishers (including but not limited to Koei Tecmo) don’t know until the last minute when things are going to get digitally released.

Unfortunately, even though this final hurdle is probably Sony’s, it ultimately still reflects badly on Koei Tecmo overall. The initial situation really was of their own doing. It is great that they and Gust made good and issued a patch to address the localisation but, here in Europe at least, the handling of the PR side really could have been better and the delayed update in our region just puts the icing on that particular cake.

Positive Result

If you like Japanese RPGs and haven’t got around to Ar Nosurge yet, though, now is the perfect time to jump on board. It is a good game and the patch genuinely addresses the main issues that were letting it down.

Of Depression and Inertia

Depression is one of those things that sounds like it should be easy to describe. Everybody knows what it’s like to have a low mood. The problem is that it runs a lot deeper than that.

The low moods themselves are the easiest part to explain, the fact that they can stick around for a long time or that they don’t always have a good reason to show up in the first place gets harder. A mood that may or may not have a trigger (and may or may not clear up once a trigger is removed) is harder to explain. Then there are other, odder, aspects like sometimes having a low-level persistent feeling of sadness that is there even when the rest of you is happy about something.
For me, the worst thing is the feeling of inertia. It’s not even necessarily tiredness, or a lack of energy. It’s just no desire or ability to move, or to do anything, or even really to be anything. At its mildest, I find it manifests as a desire to stay where I am and settle in there without having to engage any further with the world. At its worst, I can be lying in bed, or sat in a chair, unable to really move from where I am or even do that much from that position. I’ll get up to go to the bathroom, maybe get up to grab a drink or a snack, but not much else really.
Unlike last time, where the lowest parts of my depression were during long periods of unemployment, this time around I am currently holding down a full-time job. Depression and inertia really don’t play very well with a job, let me tell you.
If you’ve spent any time around people with mental health issues, you may well have come across people semi-humourously referring to them being totally proud of getting out of bed. Or venturing out of the house. Or any one of many other day-to-day activities that most people take for granted.
It’s serious, though. For some of us, on some days, it really takes a great deal of effort to just get up, out and about. Getting places earlier or faster may be nice but getting places at all is almost miraculous some days. There are definitely days where I genuinely have no idea how I managed to overcome it to get out of the house.
To sum it all up, though, depression is hard. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to live with.
The worst part, though, is that it is hard to understand. Many people I talk to just don’t get it. The only way to really understand it, though, is to live through it. And that is a higher cost of understanding than I would wish on anyone.
And this, basically, is why I am open about my mental health issues and believe in reducing the stigma. People may not always understand it but I do think that being able to be more open about it is good for everyone in the long run.

Mental Health: An Overview

On the week commencing Monday November 24th, the university I work for has an internal Mental Health Awareness Week for staff and students. Basically to challenge the stigma surrounding the topic. As someone who deals with mental health issues myself, I figured it was as good a reason as any to put up a few posts about my own experiences with depression, anxiety and the like.

Since 1999 I have been dealing with depression on and off. It may go back further than that, and probably does, but that was the year I first started to properly deal with it on the back of graduating university. I was on various antidepressant medications for about five years. I also took various therapy options, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and classes for confidence building, before I reached a point where I could effectively deal with day-to-day life without medication.

I never was quite the same after that. My ability to cope wasn’t quite as strong as it had been previously and it left me prone to anxiety (especially social anxiety, being that I’ve always been a natural introvert) and an unpredictable ability to either cope better than most in the case of adversity or crumble entirely.

Recent events, however, have taken their toll on my mental state. About three years ago, my mother suffered a bad stroke just as my parents were preparing to move house early the next year. I was driving between Woking/Guildford and Southampton at least once a week until late December, when she was discharged from hospital. I then visited them pretty much weekly between January and April, helping them plan the move.
By the end of 2012, having pretty much been on the go non-stop for a year, I started to burn out. Hard. In early 2013 it was clear that something wasn’t right and I was eventually persuaded to see the doctor about it again. Since then, I’ve been back on antidepressants for about 18 months. I’ve taken counselling through my work, seen occupational health twice, and am currently looking into other therapy options.

Through everything, though, I decided a long time ago to be open about my struggles. It might be on a small scale, discussing it at work or putting out the occasional podcast or blog post, but it is important to me that anyone can feel open about discussing mental health issues.
It should not be a taboo subject with stigma surrounding it that nobody is willing to talk about. It should not be hidden away so that, so a new sufferer, everyone around them seem to be completely fine – when in fact they could be willing to discuss issues and provide mutual support. And nobody should be made to feel bad, wrong or somehow “less” simply because of what is beyond their control.

Over the next few days, I am going to touch on what some aspects of mental health and mental illness mean to me.

Ar NoSurge: When small problems stack up

Recently I have been playing a Playstation3 game called Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star. It was made by Japanese games company Gust as a distant prequel to its Ar Tonelico series. I am closing in on the end of the game, now, but it is starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

There is no single, large fault with the game. There have been, however, a lot of small issues which, overall, begin to stack up against it.

I also need to note that, unlike previous Gust games, newer releases like this one are localised and brought to the West by Koei Tecmo (as their Japanese arm now owns Gust), instead of Nisa.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or the cause of the problems. It does mean, though, that current and future Gust games are being brought t the West by a company that doesn’t yet have a long history with the ongoing franchises.

Surge Concerto

In Japan, this game is the second in the Surge Concerto series. The first game, Ciel Nosurge, was a Playstation Vita game with online connectivity where you get to know the character Ion and a long and involved history of the setting and characters of this series. This online data, then, could be imported into Ar Nosurge and somewhat affect how Ion’s story unfolds in the second game.

It was decided, for whatever reason, not to bring this outside of Japan. Perhaps they out that the “Life Simulation” concept wouldn’t work well for a Western audience. The problem, though, is that we are left with the second part of a story which is intricately built up and prepared in the part we don’t get over here.

You need to find a story guide to get a good feel of what is going. and which people knew who. I, for one, was very confused initially when Ion knew characters from the other playable group of characters because I didn’t yet know that they had all grown up together.

Aside from the pure story side of things, the online component of Ar Nosurge was taken out, as it had no counterpart data to play with, removing an optional boss and removing the ability to unlock a costume change function. Minor but annoying.

No explanation, as far as I can tell, was made regarding why this choice was made. If there was one, it is hard to track down.

Localization and Communication

The English language localization was problematic. Names and terms were translated inconsistently, as if only half of the people rewriting the text were given the final canon spellings and terms. NPC dialogue was also hopelessly mangled. Sentences were spoken out of order and possibly by the wrong people. It also, apparently, didn’t get much of a testing phase before the non-Japanese release, so none of these issues were picked up.

This is where it started to all fall apart.

Players all began to bring this to the attention to the American and European arms of Koei Tecmo. There was not a huge amount of communication coming back, though. The American arm, without mentioning specific flaws, put out a feedback questionnaire. The European arm would respon directly to people but did not put out a public notice addressing these issues.

Then both arms went very silent. Not even a single word to say whether a fix was even being worked on,

This week, on Wednesday November 12th, the silence was broken. Koei Tecmo Europe announced that a patch was “scheduled”. This was vague, as it didn’t state whether it meant work was just starting on it or if it was nearing completion.

Koei Tecmo America then announced that the patch was out in the American regions.

It wasn’t until Friday, after a bit of hassling towards them, that Koei Tecmo Europe finally mentioned something at really needed to be said in the first place. The patch has been submitted to Sony Europe and is currently awaiting approval and release. A lot of tempers could have been kept is this had only been said from the outset.

Overall

The real problem I have with this whole release is that there have been several minor issues, all of which could have been contained by much better communication.

By ignoring requests for clarification and giving late information and pleas for “patience and understanding” long after people were annoyed, they themselves helped the situation escalate from something minor into something more.

All that it really needed was the following being stated promptly and publicly:

  • We hear the feedback and are passing it along to the developers.
  • The text issues in the game are being addressed. We will let you know when a fix is close to release.
  • The patch has now been completed and submitted for approval. The release will likely be staggered by regional approval processes but work is complete and the fixes should be live to everyone before too long.

Just a little bit more openness, at all stages of the situation, would have saved a lot of hassle. Instead, I am finding my enjoyment of a good game somewhat marred by treatment of its international release.

Shouting into the Digital Wastelands

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