The Difficulties of Being Right About Anime

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On March 23rd, 2017, I released a podcast on this channel called An In-Depth Discussion of How We Talk About Anime Studios, during which The Canipa Effect and I discussed a lot of the misconceptions surrounding the ways that anime studios are perceived, and the difficulties involved in trying to discuss anything about anime production with confidence.

At one point in our discussion of how the budgeting of anime is broadly misunderstood, I posited a hypothetical scenario in which an anime’s producers are forced to cut funding towards their animation department due to the cost of hiring a large number of high-profile voice actors onto a project. Canipa found this scenario to be unlikely, citing a lack of any evidence of such considerations coming to light in his experience of reading about anime productions. Personally, I found the scenario to be at least plausible, considering that it’s pretty common in the film industry for considerations such as this to be made–but ultimately neither of us could provide any evidence to support our positions, and my hypothetical remained exactly that.

About a day later, I came across a comment on that podcast by one Ben Wittenberg, claiming that something akin to the scenario which I’d described–trading animation quality for high level voice actors–had indeed transpired once before in the production of the 1987 OVA Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy; and it’s at this point that I embarked on an exploration into exactly the kinds of problems which tend to arise when it comes to sharing information about anime production.

For most people, their involvement in this narrative would begin and end with that comment. I, having read it and trusted in this very specific-sounding knowledge, would have taken it as fact without question, and gone on for the rest of time telling everyone that yes, indeed, I was totally right in that internet argument that one time because a commenter that I know nothing about shared an unsourced anecdote about a thirty-year-old anime having done that thing I said. After all, I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to be right about something. However, given that this comment was on a podcast wherein much of the discussion had surrounded the problems with unsourced and outright made-up claims which have run rampant through anime discourse and sidetracked it massively for the past four decades–see Canipa’s great video on fake anime news for more info about that–I thought that maybe it’d be a good idea to ask for a source.

Ben pointed me in the direction of an OtakuUSA article titled, “So, Which Lupin The Third Anime Should You Watch Next?,” written by Daryl Surat in 2012, which is mostly dedicated to recommending a handful of the best entry points into the Lupin III franchise to new viewers who may have taken an interest in it after the recent airing of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. The article states that, “Infamously, in a cost-saving measure the Japanese voice cast for this differs from that of the cast used for every other Lupin anime” –and that’s all that it has to say on the matter; no source, no further information. So, I decided to look into where this claim comes from.

Searching for info about the film online, I quickly came upon its wikipedia article, which expands on the story considerably. According to this article, because the money had been focused on the film’s highly impressive animation, the studio had concerns over being able to afford the regular series voice cast–so they hired a cheaper, but still well-known cast instead–and even did the same with the series composer. It goes on to describe how Lupin’s voice actor, Yasuo Yamada, had not been informed of why he wasn’t brought onto the project, and thought that it had been at the request of the original manga author, Monkey Punch. This hadn’t been the case, and Yamada would come back to the series afterwards, but it would leave a strain on the relationship between the two of them anyways.

This is certainly an interesting and exciting story, and it makes enough logical sense in context. Here we’ve got one of the best-looking entries into the Lupin franchise, which mysteriously is missing its classic cast and music; all of whom would come back soon afterward, but without the future Lupin specials and films ever reaching the same level of visual quality. The specificity of the details about how Yamada and Monkey Punch’s relationships was affected by this certainly makes it feel all the more real. But where does this info come from?

The opening sentence of the production section, which claims specifically that TMS, the animation studio which produced the OVA, decided not to hire the original voice cast for budgetary reasons, cites the very same Otaku USA article which I’d been sent to in the first place. Aside from this article being an indirect source, it doesn’t even actually claim that TMS was specifically responsible for this decision.

The rest of this section is all cited to Reed Nelson on the Discotek media release of the OVA on DVD. I wasn’t sure what this meant at first, but helpfully there’s a link to Discotek’s release right here on the page. Turns out, Reed Nelson is the webmaster of a Lupin III fansite called LUPINTHETHIRD.NET–and he actually provided full commentaries for a handful of Discotek’s Lupin III film releases. So to clarify, all of this information on this section of this wikipedia page originates from a DVD commentary track not from anyone involved in the film’s production, but from the writer of a prolific Lupin III fan page.

So of course, not being able to find any other sources for this information online, I decided to seek out that DVD commentary–but quickly found myself running up against a pretty steep paywall. Discotek’s release is long out of print, and the few copies of it still circulating online are selling for ridiculous prices in the seventy to one hundred and twenty dollar range. Now, I enjoy Lupin almost as much as I enjoy finding evidence that I was right about something, but this was a bit more than I was willing to fork up for a commentary that might not even cite a source in the first place. So, like a true longtime anime fan on the internet, I went in search of torrents–but sadly, I couldn’t find any which included the commentary track.

Failing that, I went back to check out LUPINTHETHIRD.NET, which was linked to both on the wikipedia page and the Discotek page–but of course, that website doesn’t actually exist anymore. So instead, I decided to try and track down Reed Nelson himself.

Thankfully, this wasn’t as difficult as I was afraid it would be. LUPINTHETHIRD.NET is called Lupinthethird.com now and is still fairly active, and even comes with an accompanying twitter page. Not having found any information on the website itself, I shot a message to the twitter, and thankfully got a quick response. As it turns out, Nelson’s commentary itself had been based on hearsay in the first place, from a source whom he’d trusted and went with–but thankfully, after checking with his own source, he was able to confirm that the original story had come from an interview with Monkey Punch that appears in a Fujiko Mine fanbook from 1994. And to be clear, when I say “fanbook,” I mean an actual fan’s book about how great Fujiko is, consisting of a bunch of analysis of Fujiko herself, followed by a long interview with Monkey Punch.

For me, this is about as far as my investigation goes. I can’t read Japanese, so I wouldn’t be able to confirm the information in this book without hiring a translator to tackle this interview, or begging Josh from Wave Motion Cannon to do so for me, but I’m willing to trust the people who’ve read this book enough to take their word for it.

Because after all, even if the information on this Wikipedia page is entirely accurate to Monkey Punch’s interview, it’s difficult to say whether Monkey Punch’s interpretation of the situation was necessarily entirely accurate in the first place. It certainly explains why so much of the story was focused on the effect that this decision had on his relationship with the voice actor, knowing that the story was entirely from his perspective; but it’s hard to know how involved he actually was in the production of this film–and how much the situation could have been more nuanced than his understanding of it. After all, according to that Wikipedia article, he’d allowed the decision in the first place because he felt it wasn’t his business to tell the production company what to do–suggesting a pretty standoffish position towards the production as a whole.

It’s likely that what Monkey Punch says in this interview–which, I remind you, was seven years after the OVA in question was released–contains at least a part of the truth of the matter; but it’s also likely that there’s more to it than the studio just simply having made this decision so that they could put money into the animation. After all, going by all the other hearsay, it doesn’t seem to have paid off, since Japanese fans were apparently not happy about it. If I had to imagine what really went on there, I would’ve guessed that the studio had already spent so much on the animation before they got to the voice recording sessions, that they just simply couldn’t afford the previous actors, rather than outright having decided not to use them–but then, what do I know?

At the end of the day, the reason that any of this is interesting is in that it tells us a story–one which supplements the main story which we already care about to begin with. My lust for truth in this case is based fundamentally on a desire to keep the story straight–to reconcile all of the different things that I know about the anime industry against one another into something coherent, so that I can continue to cultivate my worldview on the subject of the industry as a whole. But when it comes to actually knowing exactly what happened, I’ve got to cut my losses somewhere and accept the sort of ephemeral pseudo-reality of memories as presented by whomever is as close to the scene as I can get. For now, it’s interesting to think that maybe my hypothetical situation did kind of happen once, and I’d love it if I found another, more concrete story of the same nature having happened elsewhere.

If you want to help to give me the ability to randomly spend half a day researching into The Fuma Conspiracy, then consider supporting me on patreon so that I can keep making more videos like this. Check out my other channels for more frequent uploads and, as always, thanks again for watching, I’ll see you in the next one.

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