2018/09/10

Perpetual Episode One Syndrome

Escaflowne

Back in high school and college when I was first getting into the anime scene, I came to notice a recurring and highly vexing phenomenon. Bootleg VHS tapes were still the main source of new stuff from Japan back then. Getting our fix legit meant sending away via a mail order catalog and waiting weeks for delivery or dropping a small fortune at a music and movie joint in the mall. I mean "new" in the relative sense. The official releases on US store shelves were three years old on average, and even with bootleg fansubs, you were lucky to get last season's episodes. You can probably deduce my rough age based on those data points.

That wasn't the annoying part. Nobody had a hard drive with every Rumiko Takahashi series in HD. Your hardcore otaku buddy who went to Tokyo every summer courtesy of his local corporate big shot dad might have a complete set of Fushigi Yuugi. Beyond that, you were issued your 11th generation copy of Vampire Hunder D, and from there you had to leech off a series of friends, each of whom had portions of various shows. For efficiency's sake, anime viewing became a group activity, with everybody contributing his sketchy library to the stone soup. This haphazard approach led to what I dubbed Perpetual Episode One Syndrome.

Here's what would happen: You'd get together with a buddy on a weekend afternoon to play some Soulcalibur. After a couple hours, a mutual friend would show up. The situation would snowball from there until, by dinnertime, a sizable impromptu gathering would have formed. It would turn out that two or three guys would have boots of a new-to-you series out in the car, and upon pooling their resources, you'd end up with enough consecutive episodes for what we now call binge-watching.

Having cobbled together sufficient sequential tapes of good-enough-for-government-work quality, the group would hunker down in front of the tube for an evening of grainy entertainment. But somehow, events would conspire so that you'd only get through episode one before the wheels fell off. Bob's girlfriend would call, needing a ride home from work. Kevin would notice the time and suddenly remember he hadn't started a paper that was due on Monday. The host's drunken roommate would stumble in with a loud skank on his arm and kill the mood. We've all been there.

Even that kind of video blueballing, irritating as it may be, wasn't the worst part. Within two weeks to a month--it was never the next weekend--a similar viewing party would spontaneously break out at somebody else's place. By the luck of the draw, the same guys who collectively owned the same series from last time would again be present with their ill-gotten wares. You'd park yourself in front of the TV, eager to finally see episode two, when it would be pointed out that someone in the group had been absent last time. It would be decided to restart the series from episode one. And like clockwork, some fresh shenanigans would interrupt the proceedings as soon as the first episode's credits rolled. Again. This process would repeat two or three more times until the next series dropped.

In my case, The Vision of Escaflowne was a constant occasion of Perpetual Episode One Syndrome. I can't count how many times I watched the first poorly subbed, jumpy episode of that series. It would only be years later, when I finally obtained a complete set of Hecto subs, that I finally got to see the whole thing.

Perhaps the repeated frustrations I endured in my formative years instilled an obsessive need to write fully realized anime-influenced stories with timely and satisfying conclusions. Whatever the cause of my obsession, you, the reader, win! Back the red hot Indiegogo campaign for Combat Frame XSeed now!

Combat Frame XSeed

35 comments:

  1. I’d rather suffer through that than willingly give my money to the likes of crunchyroll. God bless gogoanime

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  2. #TheSufferingWasReal

    #KidsWontUnderstand

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  3. Replies
    1. Somehow it really was better. As the tech advanced, the VHS bootleg days gave way to binders full of burned DVDs. When distribution went fully digital, what had been a vaguely conspiratorial group activity degenerated into solitary consumption. The treasure hunt in search of mildly forbidden fruit was part of the fun. Now everybody has a terabyte of anime, and the friend-of-a-friend who "had a guy" in Japan has faded into history.

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    2. I wish I had know about fansubs back then. I discovered them right around 2000, the tail end of the VHS sub era. Fast forward a couple years and everything had moved to torrents...which my connection at the time wasn't fast enough for.

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    3. Same deal here on the torrent end. I had to sponge off friends.

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    4. I still randomly find discs in storage with things like the first three episodes of Samurai Champloo on them.

      Funny how the worldwide popularity dip of anime corresponds to the industry focusing on moe and the rise of torrents. It's as if no one wanted to pirate them even back in the day.

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    5. Ah yes, the Adult Swim days. Did Inuyasha ever end/ I lost track.

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    6. It did. They put out a special season called The Final Act which wrapped everything up.

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  4. The creator of Berserk could stand to learn something from you. At this point, I've completely forgotten much of the details of what has happened in the manga.

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    1. That ripped open an old wound! Berserk was among the few series that didn't invoke the PEOS curse. A buddy of mine who had a Japanese girlfriend managed to get a complete set. Let me tell you, we burned through that sucker only to find...

      Well, you know.

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  5. Nah. Trigun was the end of the Golden sage, probably. But there was RahXephon, Gurren Lagan, FMA:Brotherhood, Macross Frontier. A handful of gems here and there.

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    1. Not many people know this, but all of the paint used in anime productions from the 70s, 80s,and 90s was supplied by one man. Mixing animation paints was his life's work, and he was the undisputed master.

      He suffered a massive heart attack and retired in 1998. That, and not cost motives, is why Japanese studios universally switched from cel to digital animation.

      Call me an elitist, but I can't stand the look of digitally drawn anime. It looks way too flat, pastel, and sterile. This point intersects with my "1997 as cultural ground zero" theory. To me, anime died in 98.

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    2. Of course there's a a lot of great material like Gungrave and Big O, but by the end of the 90s Japan started making some dumb moves.

      For one, their early jump to digital animation is abysmal looking. Cells held on for a while, but most early 00s anime is rough to look at to the point even a remaster won't do it justice. By the time they got a hold on it, they began catering to otaku instead of normal watchers which was much too late for the worldwide audience.

      More studios should take a look at what Megalobox did with its art style or how Ushio & Tora deliberately goes back to a 90s style. They gave back a lot of the look most anime since has been missing.

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    3. FMA Brotherhood is easily my favorite anime, even now.

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    4. FMAB is my second favorite, just a hair under Re:Creators for me

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    5. "Death of the Undying" is one of my favorite episodes of television ever.

      "Looks like I got you on your knees after all!"

      "You said I couldn't kill you...but I'd like to try to prove you wrong!"

      Brilliant.

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  6. "#TrigunWasTheLastGoodAnime"

    There is something inherently special about that era of anime that will never quite be reached again. Something was lost after that era. I'm never quite sure what exactly it isis but you can tell even if it is from the same studio and creators that something was lost.

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    1. Check out Blood Blockade Battlefront if you haven't yet.

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    2. The one dude who mixed all the paint used in Japanese cel animation retired. See above.

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    3. Tidbit: Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star, the three series that made anime big worldwide, all bombed in Japan. Despite several smart creators wanting to capitalize on their new market, most studios instead doubled down and began to focus on the infection that was moe.

      The reason you only see maybe one or two series a year that hit the mark, like My Hero Academia or Golden Kamuy this year, is basically because the industry would rather burn captial on a shrinking audience than continue doing what they were already doing for decades and actually make money on it.

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    4. Let's be clear about the infection vector. It wasn't just moe, it was eroge visual novel adaptations. Kanon, Air, Shuffle, etc.

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    5. The VN stuff slid in at that exact moment the industry shifted. It was completely unnatural if one looks over anime produced during the time period. It wasn't long before they transferred over to sub-par Azumanga Daioh clones.

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    6. In their natural state, Japanese executives tend to be risk-averse to a fault. They're also insular to the point of resenting any venture that overperforms overseas. Look at Sega of Japan vs. SOA in the 90s for an infamous example.

      The 80s bubble economy paved the way for the anime style that took the world by storm. The glut of investors created conditions where anyone could get a movie made. Something similar happened in the 70s when the mob got into the New York film scene. But the bubble burst, and the studio heads went back to playing it safe when the easy money dried up.

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    7. Brian,

      Very true. Here's a tidbit that confirms your insight. Many years ago, Generacio digital- the radio program that specialized in 'digital culture' went to the Tokyo game show. The correspondents were blown away at the high quality of the games and the original stories.
      The correspondents remarked on the following
      1) None of the Japanese developers or reps spoke English or showed any remote interest
      2) The same for the brochures
      3) The excuse was that the world would be uninterested but in reality the companies had zero interest
      4) The foreign aka the American and European game journsalists were practically telling the developers that the games would be popular. It seemed that the Japanese are sitting on a trillion dollars worth of intellectual property but are so reticient to translate that it's practically locked away useless.

      xavier

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    8. I was quite disappointed in Blood Blockade Battlefront.

      It made no sense. Not in a cool way either. I mean literally random things were happening for reasons it was almost impossible to understand. I truly don't know how people follow it.

      I got through season 1 and part of season 2 and then gave up. As a follow up to Trigun it just doesn't hold a candle.

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  7. Btw if you haven’t watched Re:Creators yet you have to. Absolutely incredible reconstruction of so many genres (especially mecha)

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