April 19, 2018

Family Gekijyo (weeks 1-2)


Family Gekijyo, the Japanese channel replacing TV Japan on Dish, didn't have a published program schedule when it launched on April 2 (the on-screen program guide works). After all, there was barely anything to schedule. But something is better than nothing, so let's discuss the something.


The first two weeks, Family Gekijyo (on Dish) ran episodes from a live action urban fantasy series and three "classic" anime series in a "creeping loop." Sunday saw coverage of a shogi tournament. Then back to the loop. Then a rerun of the shogi tournament Sunday afternoon.

Then back to the loop, now with reruns of the shogi tournament filling the late night slot. (By "creeping loop," I mean that every day, each series advances two episodes and loops again.)

The only website I can find is the one for the Japanese market. That program schedule makes me pine might be. Following the cable strategy of running a prime time slate for the East Coast and rerunning it four hours later for the West Coast, they could get by with two-thirds of that material.

Here's the content on Dish for the first two weeks and their original broadcast dates (except for the shogi tournament, all half-hour shows):

 • 21st Ginga Shogi Tournament
 • Zerotesters (1973-1974)
 • Reiden the Brave (1975-1976)
 • Beeton the Robot (1976-1977)
 • Garo: Yami o Terasu Mono (2013)

Zerotesters is clunky old space anime. Reiden the Brave is a clunky old mecha anime. Of the old shows, Beeton is by far the best, a family comedy that's sort of "the same only different enough to keep us from getting sued" version of Doraemon.

Garo: Yami o Terasu Mono (lit. "Wolf Fang: Those who Illuminate the Darkness") is the third installment in the wide-ranging franchise, with a new cast and an "alternate universe" setting.

Thanks to Moore's Law, the special effects have improved markedly over the show's Kamen Rider roots. The martial arts sequences are impressive. Its biggest fault is taking itself too seriously, like Buffy with no sense of humor. And landing in the loop at random times didn't make it easy to follow the story.

On the other hand, the episodes I caught three or four times did begin to make sense (given a compelling-enough show, that's actually a good way to study a foreign language).

It's definitely not a kid's show. The occasional winsome lass (it's not Game of Thrones either) appears in a Garo episode sans clothing. The "family" in Family Gekijyo is of the commercial variety—as any consumer of "young adult" manga and anime can attest—not the stodgy NHK version.

Even a kid's show like Beeton the Robot did a running gag in one episode that had a Betty Boop lookalike constantly falling out of her clothes (think Benny Hill). Highlighting that "advantage" without getting too crass about it could help differentiate Family Gekijyo from TV Japan.

As for shogi, I know practically nothing about it, so it falls into watching-paint-dry territory. That's true of international chess too. And go. Alas, cerebral spectator sports aren't nearly as interesting in real life as they are in manga and anime. But that's a subject for another post.

I can only hope the rest of Family Gekijyo's prime time slate is indeed "coming soon."

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April 12, 2018

Family Gekijyo


A dozen years with TV Japan were rudely interrupted by NHK Cosmomedia America abruptly jumping ship to DirecTV. TV Japan had been on Dish since its debut in 1991. Maybe it was enticed by the bigger pool of subscribers (twice that of Dish), but I think the switch has more to do with streaming technology.

TV Japan recently launched a library service (no live streaming) called dLibrary Japan. Streaming is the ideal delivery platform for these niche services. TV Japan only reached 80,000 households at Dish. I have to wonder if NHK Cosmomedia plans on incorporating dLibrary Japan into the DirecTV Now infrastructure.

If so, that'd make for an enticing offering.


But Dish did something intriguing too. It handed TV Japan's slot to Family Gekijyo ("family theater"). The kunrei-shiki romanization (ignoring the long final vowel, the more familiar Hepburn renders it gekijo) straightaway tells you it's a Japanese import. As the official press release states:

Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, the Tokyo-headquartered Japanese entertainment and media industry leader, has announced the launch of its popular Japanese channel FAMILY GEKIJYO exclusively on the USA's DISH Network, in collaboration with Superswiss. The launch took place April 2, 2018 at 5:00 pm (MDT).

The press release also mentions Tohokushinsha's intention to delve into OTT services.

As best I can tell, Family Gekijyo (Japan) resembles ION Television: original programming backfilled by reruns. A handful of NHK series from a few years back are featured on its home page.

TV Japan is a compilation service crafted for Japanese living and traveling abroad. It does a good job of staying on top of the news and current with the top-rated commercial series in Japan. Family Gekijyo is produced in Japan for a home audience. Alas, it simply can't time-shift the raw feed and beam it across the Pacific.

According to Dish,

The international version of this popular Japanese channel is being created to offer general entertainment programming, including live action series, anime, documentaries and game shows. Plus, news programming to come!

Parent company Tohokushinsha Film Corporation does bring a sizeable media catalog to the table. Since 1989, "TFC's satellite operations have expanded to a total of 11 channels, and controls every aspect of [its] satellite business, including programming, sales, and transmission infrastructure."

Family Gekijyo certainly has hypothetical access to enough material to fill a 24/7 service. The problem is lining up all those broadcasting rights ducks in an orderly row. As noted above, the "international version" is "being created" as we speak. It was not launched as a finished product.

Far from it. More like "we'll start working on it real soon." Even without so much as a placeholder website for Dish subscribers, they must have pushed ahead with the roll-out because of the opening created by TV Japan's departure from Dish.

In any case, I'm not eager to leave Dish right now. DirecTV would cost at least ten dollars more a month, on top of new equipment and a fresh 24 month commitment. Besides, starting from zero like this, I'm curious to see how it shakes out—as long as something does shake out in a reasonable amount of time.

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April 05, 2018

Winning by losing


When I was in college in the 1980s, Japan was constantly in the news, and the news was mostly about economics and international relations. But aside from Godzilla movies and Kurosawa films, hardly anybody knew anything about Japanese culture.

Except it was inevitable that Japan would soon rule the world.

These days, Japan is only in the news because of natural or made-made disasters (like North Korea). Or the odd summit meeting. And yet foreign tourism to Japan has reached all time highs and Japanese culture has become ubiquitous outside Japan.

Sony recently purchased Funimation (the biggest anime distributor in North America). Netflix is pouring some of its billions into 30 original anime productions.

The 1964 Olympics focused on the modernization of the Japanese economy. The 2020 Olympics will focus on the internationalization of Japanese culture. Even as Japan gets eclipsed by China economically, it grows more powerful than ever culturally.

Eamonn Fingleton likes to argue that slipping into third place behind China was Japan's "briar patch" strategy to get the rest of the world to stop focusing on trade imbalances. As this Noah Smith Twitter thread shows, it has worked brilliantly.

Noah Smith tends to grossly overgeneralize when it comes to Japan (a bad habit among foreign correspondents in that part of the world). Though that is kind of the whole point. Japan can now count on the overgeneralizers overgeneralizing to its advantage.

Third place is proving not a bad place to be.

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