A lot of people, at least on the internet, tend to agree that art should be preserved. Primarily because art, in all of its forms, help act as a reflection of the period it was created in. Art doesn’t only serve as a way to dissect the culture but it serves as a history lesson of the period in ways and an important look-back to the techniques used by artists and how it has evolved to the techniques we use today. However, typically whenever someone thinks about the preservation of art they first jump to the idea of preserving literature and paintings. Seldom if ever do I see the argument that films, video games, or media just in general should be preserved in the same way we preserve traditional art. Sure, classic films are still sold and re-aired on television commonly, but a state of preservation is different from that, and we see the difference when beloved games or anime series suffer from it. Today, let’s dive into the topic of preservation of media.
Last month FUNimation announced something that tons of fans of Kyoto Animation rejoiced for, after a long period of it being literally impossible to watch the show, Nichijou was finally licensed and available once again for western consumption. In fact, it was such a short time ago that the entire series was unavailable legally in the west that in my post about piracy just two months ago used it as an example of something I wouldn’t blame anyone for pirating. I mean, of course Kyoto Animation still had the rights to the show, but it was in a state where it was impossible to obtain in the west (unless you spoke Japanese and were willing to drop $400+ for the series to order the BDs from Japan, which is just ridiculous). Now there’s the possibility to buy the series from FUNimation for much less than second-hand Japanese sellers (currently $70 for shipping within the United States) and if you live in the United States you can legally enjoy a show that a lot of people enjoy in the west through streaming.
Here’s where an inherent problem comes up, though. What if the series you want to watch isn’t available legally and it’s nowhere near popular enough to garner attention as something worth licensing and on top of that the studio responsible for it dissolved and even legal Japanese copies of the show are hard if not impossible (i.e. there are literally zero places or methods to get it legally) to obtain? This isn’t something I’ve faced yet, but it doesn’t seem impossible as I’ve run into similar problems with music. The problem is that these series, songs, media in general have made a cultural impact to some degree and when they become literally impossible to obtain, what do we do?
This is a topic that a few people before me have talked about better, but it’s still one I wanted to explore, because while the inevitable legal disappearance of influential media is a bad thing, that brings up other questions with multiple, sometimes subjective, answers. Questions like, what determines if media is influential and worth preserving or not? What is the best way to preserve influential media? How would we go about legally preserving media?
First thing’s first, how can we determine what media is influential and what media is worth preserving. Honestly, despite how clean-cut you can make a decision making process like this, the end choices will always be controversial. No matter what standards are put in place there will be a problem with such a broad word like “media” and influential can take different meanings depending on the group because of how young popular media tends to be now. Even though I opened with an example of Nichijou it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone that there’s a rather large pool of people who dislike it even with its large western following, and with very poor early sales it’d be fair to say the Japanese audience wasn’t too fond of it either. On top of that, it wasn’t until very recently that FUNimation Entertainment went through the process of licensing the show despite it’s rather large western following. You could go even further and say that the other media that Nichijou influenced was rather small if even existent, with the only example I can think off of the top of my head is the anime Yuru Yuri (which is just an implied influence on my part). With that it could be fair to say that Nichijou wasn’t influential, still hasn’t shown signs of influencing the industry outside of one show, had poor reputation from the audience it was made for, and the audience that it did have a good reputation amongst wasn’t swaying enough for business to decide the legal providing of the show was worth the cost. But, it’s still a show I wouldn’t want to see unable to obtain.
From there I want to address my first question. If Nichijou failed to be a good example as something that was influential to the medium it was created in and neglected by audiences and distributors alike, why should it be preserved? Just because there’s a lot of people who adore it? Just because it’s a Kyoto Animation production? Why would a show from 2011 be kept in a place where anyone could legally obtain it if it’s not historically important? Well, for purely subjective reasons. But if we give Nichijou a pass what else gets a pass? What makes Nichijou good enough to get a pass when a different show that could very well get into a similar positioning might not? I don’t have the answers to these questions but it’s important to think about, I think. Emerging media is so young when you compare it to things that have obtained a state of preservation, Nichijou at the time of writing is only five years old. It’s so young but because of an ever evolving scene of emerging media and how quickly we consume everything, to some it’s something worth cheering about that Nichijou finally got licensed.
This follows into the second question. If media is constantly evolving and changing and emerging media is released on an unbelievably large-scale (38% of all games currently in the Steam store were released in 2016 just as an example), how would we go about preserving media and curating what media gets preserved? For this, I can’t even begin to fathom an answer, but it’s very clearly a problem. The only way I could even begin to approach a solution would be to have a very large organisation handle it but from there even more problems sprout up. First of all, where would the organisation be created? Yes, this matters but I’ll get into it in a little. Next, how would this organisation operate? Then how would this preserved media be available to everyone? After that, how can we promise that the preserved media would always be available there? The questions go on and on and on, and the central problem is that the answer to them is incredibly unclear. With each question and reasonable concern we get, a new problem arises. More questions pop up. But the complexities haven’t ended yet because we still have one more major problem to address.
How in the world would we go about legally securing all of the rights to preserve this media? Depending on where the preservation was located there would be different laws and complications to address. On top of that, how could you go about having a permanent license for distribution and how much would that license cost? If there was a fee to get whatever media you wanted royalties would need to be issued and if we had a large database of media what way would we go about reissuing those royalties, what would organise it all in a timely manner? I know that academic databases are a thing, but those are always restricted to a set number of publications, how would we preserve every single piece of influential media and how would it prove itself?
The most insane part about this all is that I only accounted for digital media and while that makes up most of what normal people consume daily, physical media like the works of things like influential doujinshi music circles in Japan be saved? That only goes on to stretch the question of how media would prove to be influential by asking how far does it need to be influential and how many scenes of media would be kept track of? I could barely scratch the surface here and I only looked at the example of one show, but I want to say that it is important to preserve media. An effective method to do so is nearly a requirement to preserve specific aspects of our history. Problems stem from the fact that our society and the media we consume is evolving at light speed, and I know I asked a lot of questions this post, but they’re all worth asking and thinking about if you want to explore this topic even slightly realistically.
It’s good to be back. This post took a while for me to be happy with it, but it was definitely wanted to put out there as one to have you all think on. The break was nice, and now that we’re in 2017 there’s even more posts and overly wordy questions to be presented by me as the months go on! I apologise for taking a bit longer of a break than intended, and for not posting at all when I said I’d try to get a few things out, but I’m back. Thank you so much for reading my post and thank you if you decide to comment, as I love to hear what you all have to provide to the topic. I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by pixiv artist トマリ.