Today we examine how anime has injected itself into the veins of popular culture with this week's special guest, Manga.com digital programming manager Steve Sargent. Check out the interview below...
Steve Sargent: The core of what I do is content programming. Basically, pulling clips from our titles, collecting them into the themed channels we have on Manga.com (e.g., Babes, Killshots, etc) as well as on our channels on YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites. Also, I program the Ani-Monday block on Sci-Fi. I see myself as being a curator of anime. Beyond that, I do all of the editorial: news items, newsletters, promo copy for new titles. I frakkin' love my job.
Percy Carey: Rumor has it that you are the foremost aficionado on all things anime and manga in North America. Is that true?
Steve Sargent: Ha! Not to date myself, but I grew up on Gatchaman and Astro Boy. I'm definitely a fan, but there are probably a 1,000 otakus (a.k.a. anime fans) who could contend for being the foremost. Otakus are the best source of finding out every little tidbit and trivia of anime. I'm constantly learning stuff I never knew from them.
Percy Carey: When I was growing up in the late '80s, mainstream anime was just beginning to make a surge into the American consciousness. Now, twenty years later, it influences everything from movies to games to fashion. To what do you accredit the globalization of the medium?
Steve Sargent: Cartoons have always been big here. However, anime brings with it a whole other philosophical level. Most anime deals with ideas that American animation is only recently beginning to tackle: Meaning of existence, life, death. It has an intellectual aspect that has raised the bar for all animators. Very much like what Alan Moore's Watchmen did for graphic novels. Given the heavily-stylized action you find in anime, I think designers (game and fashion alike) look to it as a window to the future.
Percy Carey: Ani-Mondays, the anime programming block, over at the Sci-Fi Channel brought both classic and new titles to American audiences for the first time on basic cable. How did that deal come together?
Steve Sargent: Our content has a natural appeal to their audience. Sci-Fi was looking to tap our experience in this space. We're pretty much a one-stop shop for them, since we can handle the licensing and programming for them. We're able to put it together in a way that directly speaks to otaku aspect of their demographic.
Percy Carey: Anime, like comics, has often been misconstrued as a genre when in reality it is just another storytelling medium. In Japan, the titles are diverse, consisting of everything from mushy teen soaps to full on adult erotica. But here in the US, only the hyperkinetic shoot 'em ups and ninja battle royales seem to catch on with fans. Why do you think that is?
Steve Sargent: Isn't that always the way? It seems like it's the action pieces that are the ones that get noticed. I suppose you can thank the Wachowskis for that. The Matrix has a great combination of action and existential ideals.
Percy Carey: What do you think the next big thing in anime will be?
Steve Sargent: Who really knows? That's what makes it exciting. I have noticed a few cool recent trends. One being Motion Comics, essentially manga panels with select elements animated. A good example of this is the series that was produced in anticipation of Will Smith's I Am Legend. Used as trailers, they took the comics that were produced as pre-quels, added voice-over and did simple animations with the panels. I'm seeing more and more of these all the time. TokyoPop has a whole series of them (check out www.manga.com/channels/tokyopop).
Percy Carey: Five years ago, we saw the first wave of superhero comics adapted into summer blockbusters. Then there was a run on big screen remakes of '80s TV shows. Now with Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li hitting theaters and Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Ninja Scroll in the pipeline, it looks like studios are now fishing in the anime stream for their next hit. Why do you think it's taken anime to so long to get real interest in Hollywood?
Steve Sargent: The kids that grew up on stuff like Transformers and of the like in the late '80s and early '90s are now heading things up as the Hollywood decision-makers. I really think it's just the old guard handing the reigns over to a new generation. Now that comic/manga-based films have been proven to rake in mad money at the box-office, all the studios are looking to jump on the bandwagon.
Percy Carey: What do you think the next anime title to make the jump to the silver screen will be?
Steve Sargent: I heard Robotech was picked up by Toby Mcguire's company, though Cowboy Bebop is already in production over at Fox. Then there's Leonardo DiCaprio picking up Ninja Scroll. I believe they also picked up Akira. I gotta say, I wish they'd leave Akira alone. Should be interesting to see what they do with Ninja Scroll. By the way, have you seen the trailer for the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire? Gianna Jun as Saya?! Hot!
Steve Sargent: Hell yeah!
Percy Carey: Ninja Scroll will always have a special place in my heart. I remember watching a badly dubbed VHS bootleg when I was twelve and still being in awe of the massive geysers of blood and serial beheadings. What is your favorite anime title of all time?
Steve Sargent: I gotta agree with you on this one. It's a close tie with Ghost In The Shell, but I've always fantasized about being a ronin (samurai with no master) like Jubei. I love in the very beginning how he throws his rice ball in the air, takes out 3 guys with his katana, and all in the time it takes for the rice ball to fall back into his hand.
Steve Sargent: Probably, the cosplay. The costumes they put together are simply amazing. No one can knock otaku dedication. It is total and complete.
Percy Carey: Ok, I gotta ask; girls with short skirts and furry tails. What's up with that?
Steve Sargent: Heh heh, to each his/her own. After seeing some female fans dressed as Gurren Lagann's Yoko at the last anime convention, I'm all for it! Seriously, I think it's great that otakus get so into it. Cosplay has become a huge part of the lifestyle.
Percy Carey: Final question, the one that has divided this great country of ours right down the middle. What is your stance on tentacle porn? Yea or nay?
Steve Sargent: Yoikes. I'll have to abstain and stay in the middle on that one.
All you true otakus out there make sure you stay up on the latest and greatest in anime over at www.manga.com and don't forget to tune in for Ani-Mondays on the Sci-Fi Channel.
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