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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Theory Musing: Is Advertising Anime as "So Bad It's Good" Actually a Good Idea?

The concept of "So Bad It's Good", for those somehow unfamiliar with it, is that someone can enjoy something terrible because of how terrible it is. This has been applied to all sorts of mediums, whether it's movies, books, video games, TV series, comic books &, yes, anime & manga. The thing about "SBIG" (for lack of a better contraction), though, is that it's just like any other type of judgment by being completely subjective. Just like how one person can like something that another just can't enjoy, one person can love something because of how bad he/she feels it is, while another will feel that it's just outright terrible & not "ironically enjoyable"; some others may legitimately enjoy it & don't think of it as bad in the first place, even. Therefore, when FUNimation revealed the cover art for its upcoming, December 6 to be exact, DVD/BD combo set for Ninja Slayer from Animation, it received a mixed reaction due to FUNi trying to purposefully sell it as "SBIG".

Instead of using traditional quotes for promotion from sites like ANN or The Fandom Post, Ninja Slayer's packaging features quotes from seemingly random forum (or even YouTube) comments. Whether it's, "LOL NO." or, "This is easily one of the worst shows FUNimation ever licensed, maybe even THE worst.", it's easy to see that FUNi is advertising this anime as being enjoyable because of how bad it is. Even the trailer the company produced & put online recently, though giving off the feel of a badly worn & used VHS tape from the 80s (which is perfectly fitting), pushes the message that Ninja Slayer is really bad with the quote, "Hot garbage."; oddly enough, there's also a, "Pretty good." quote, which I guess is supposed to even things out? Now, yes, Ninja Slayer has been & will always be a very divisive anime, with the biggest point of contention being the wildly varying quality of animation each episode has. That's mainly because the anime was directed by Trigger's Akira Amemiya, the man behind the similarly minimalist & absurd Inferno Cop, who has admitted to deciding the frame rate for each episode by rolling a 24-sided die (one for each frame that's generally shown for each second of film), as if he was playing Dungeons & Dragons. For some fans of both of Amemiya's shows, they found FUNi's tongue-in-cheek promotion to be amusing & fitting for Ninja Slayer.

Personally, though, while I understand where FUNimation is coming from in this regard (while I haven't seen this show, I did see & highly enjoy Inferno Cop), I don't think trying to push the whole "SBIG" concept is going to be a smart idea in the end... At least, not in the way the company is executing it.

A big part of me feeling this way is simply because there hasn't been much of a precedent of releasing an anime (or manga, but I'll be focusing on anime for this piece) because it's so bad. When it comes to live-action, one can easily argue that there is a market out there for "SBIG" movies, with tons of distributors existing with the sole purpose of putting out various products that many may see as "SBIG", whether it's cult, cheesy, or exploitation movies, among other genres & formats. There is also a strong overall cult fandom of various movies deemed "SBIG", like The Room or Samurai Cop, to the point where they have been given HD remasters, put out on Blu-Ray, or even receive new productions, whether it's a movie based on the creation of said movie (2017's The Disaster Artist) or even a full-blown sequel (Samurai Cop 2). Hell, even Manos: The Hands of Fate, often cited as one of the worst movies of all time, had enough of a following that a Kickstarter to restore the film to its best possible video quality wound up receiving $48,000 (five times the needed goal), & eventually received a BD release last year by Synapse Films; in fact, even Manos is getting an honest-to-god sequel! Therefore, shouldn't it be feasible that the anime industry can have a market for "SBIG" as well?

Unfortunately, that's where it gets dicey. In the days of the early 90s, when companies started bringing over anime as anime (U.S. Renditions, the early days of AnimEigo, Right Stuf's original Tezuka releases, etc.), the focus was generally on bringing over titles that were considered solid works, had some sort of existing fanbase, or had some sort of link to another product (hence why video game-based anime was often licensed). Sure, as time went on, the Japanese licensors would start throwing in other titles that would likely never be picked up in the first place as package deals & the American companies would start picking up as many titles as they could because of a notable spike in the growth of anime fandom in North America, a bubble which would eventually pop in the mid-00s, and this resulted in various pablum & the dredges of the medium being brought over; stuff like Garzey's Wing, the Panzer Dragoon OVA, Roots Search, etc. These kinds of titles were obviously licensed for the hell of it, because the companies could & hoped to make some money off of them, but none of them were seemingly licensed because they were terrible. In fact, Ninja Slayer from Animation is exactly this kind of example, as it was licensed by FUNimation because it needed content for simulcasting & to include in its broadcast dub initiative.

Honestly, I think the only company that has purposefully licensed something in a "SBIG" way has been Discotek Media. In the Summer of 2012, the company announced that it will be giving Mad Bull 34 its first ever North American dual-audio DVD release, because it was, "Quite possibly the best bad anime ever made."; the DVD came out February 2013. Discotek followed that up by announcing a dual-audio DVD release for the entire Violence Jack OVA series in the Summer of 2014; the DVD came out February 2015. Both of these anime are often considered "SBIG", and were given license rescues precisely for this reason. Most recently, at last month's Otakon, Discotek announced that it will be releasing Knack's 1974 TV series Chargeman Ken in 2017. Unlike the previous two titles, this anime has never seen a North American release before, and only a handful of episodes have ever been fansubbbed, yet it's infamous for being another case of "SBIG", which resulted in its license. This is a bit of a risk, at least more so than MB34 or VJ, simply because this isn't a known property here in North American already. I also wonder how exactly Discotek will be advertising Chargeman Ken when it becomes available on stores like Amazon or Right Stuf, because there is something that must be stated when it comes to how the company promoted its prior "SBIG" releases.

[4/2018 UPDATE: So how did Discotek Media advertise Chargman Ken on its DVD packaging? They were simply straight up about how bizarre & poorly made it was, and how that in & of itself was part of the appeal. I have no problems with that method, honestly.

You see, unlike what FUNimation is doing with Ninja Slayer, Discotek advertised Mad Bull 34 & Violence Jack without hyping up their general "SBIG" status. Granted, said "advertising" was simply what one could find on the back cover of their DVD releases, which were then used over at Amazon & Right Stuf in their descriptions, but if you read how those two OVA series were written up on those back covers, you'd find no word about how bad they both are generally deemed. They still give indications of the kind of content they both feature (i.e. absurd hyper-violence), but neither of them promote themselves as being "SBIG". There's a fair chance that Discotek will do the same for Chargeman Ken, too, which makes FUNi's way of promoting Ninja Slayer all the more curious. In fact, even most "SBIG" live-action movies released by various non-anime companies refrain from really promoting that status, instead preferring to call them "cult classics/favorites/etc.". Really, the biggest hurdle FUNi's method of advertising has is the fact that the concept of "SBIG" is, by its very nature, sarcastic to an extent, and one thing that doesn't translate well at all between the spoken word & the written word is sarcasm.

You can find it constantly on the internet, especially in forums & comment sections. Someone tries to say something or illustrate a point in a sarcastic manner, only for some people to not get the joke & then others have to explain that the first person was being sarcastic. When spoken, sarcasm can be illustrated in things like tone & inflection, usually making it easier to identify, though even then some won't get it. When written, sarcasm loses the advantage of inflection, and tone has fewer variants to rely on; all lower case for quiet, all upper case for yelling, etc. This goes double for advertising, which, even in the face of the absolute worst, has to actually promote the product, the "pro" prefix indicating positivity; negative advertising is technically demotion. Now, one can advertise something as being "SBIG", but do so in a positive light, with Manos: The Hands of Fate being a perfect example. The two best releases you can get, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 2-DVD set & Synapse Films' remastered BD, both hype up the movie's status as "one of the worst films of all time", but both still talk it up as a sign of pride. MST's DVD brings up how it resulted in one of the show's most iconic & memorable episodes, which it is, while Synapse calls the film an "accidental masterpiece".

In comparison, FUNimation is trying to go with a wink & nudge when it comes to promoting Ninja Slayer, and while those who are already fans of the anime will "get it", those who never heard of the show before will likely just wind up being confused due to how the "promotion" is almost anything but. Meanwhile, those who were on the fence with the show due to its mixed reception while simulcasted (Mike Toole, who gave each episode intensely detailed & loving reviews over at ANN, had to stop doing them half-way through because they didn't get any real readers) could very well see the negative quotes on the cover & just write the show off as being as bad as they heard it maybe being. In fact, I'd argue that most anime fans, & even most anime critics, aren't really big on "SBIG", instead wanting to know which anime are legitimately great, & promoting those to others instead; really, how would one really rate something that's "SBIG"? Yes, Ninja Slayer from Animation, like the novels it's based on or the manga adaptations that Kodansha USA & Vertical Comics are releasing in North America, is a purposefully over-the-top & absurd pastiche of how ninja are generally portrayed in fiction outside of Japan, and Akira Amemiya's wild visual style, combined with his literally random frame rate choices, make it a very niche product in general, so it's not like FUNimation is planning on this being their next big hit. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see this hit stores like Best Buy, though, and that's where the issue lies. Personally, I haven't seen the anime, though I highly enjoy both manga adaptations & I plan on buying FUNimation's dual-audio release (I'll probably even go with the dub just for added effect), but I'm just not sold on the way the company is planning on advertising & promoting the anime.

In the end, is Ninja Slayer truly "So Bad It's Good"? I can't speak on behalf of the anime, though both manga are legit great reads, but if it truly is that then, if you really want to highlight that fact, wouldn't you at least try to make that sound like a good thing?

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