Choudenshi Bioman- The First English Dubbed Sentai Series

Contrary to popular belief, the first Sentai completely dubbed into English wasn’t Zyuranger (Power Rangers Season 1, in 1993), it was 1984’s Bioman! A Filipino TV network dubbed the whole series in English in 1987, and released it to some success on the local TV stations.

Episode One Dubbed in English here on

Bioman is the story of 5 young people (isn’t it always?) who become the agents of the Biorobo and are given superpowers to fight against the evil Doctor Man and his minions.

It was a big hit in it’s time in Japan, The Philipines, and France (where it was a megahit dubbed in French) and if you watch it, it’s not hard to understand why. It did many things differently than the Sentai series that would come before it and the ones that would come after it as well. It is unique, and just plain fun to watch.

A few examples of what made it different-

  • The Biomen’s mentor was also the mecha they piloted into battle, but it didn’t directly communicate with them, that was all done through Peebo, a C-3PO type robot that was clearly the inspiration for Alpha 5 in Power Rangers. (In fact, the first unaired version of what would become Power Rangers was in fact Bioman dubbed in English by Haim Saban! However the FOX execs wanted American actors, not Asian ones on the screen, so he came up with the Power Rangers we know today.)
  • The Biorobo was limited by the ability of it’s human pilots/partners, and as they got stronger so did it. There are actually training episodes of them trying to get stronger so that they can handle the mecha’s more high-performance abilities.
  • The mecha fights themselves are shot so that the mecha have a weight to them and seem big, unlike most shows where the mecha are shot like the guys in suits they are.
  • Doctor Man (I love that name!) had just a few lieutenants, and a few Beastnoids (monsters), and couldn’t make more. So the same bad guys kept coming back, and they had a chance to become characters in their own right.
  • Instead of a new monster each week, there was a new giant robot instead, piloted by one of the bad guy lieutenants.
  • The plots were generally fun and interesting, and rarely boring. They really tried to mix the stories up, and not just go for the same old thing.
  • The English dub is in Phillipino English, and done in a straight but playful way with odd dialect-isms that really add to it’s entertainment value. (They were dubbing it for kids, but not stupid kids.) My personal favorite is the bad guy’s “FOR THE MAN!” salute, which brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. (For those who were born after 1990, “The Man” was 1970’s street slang to refer to white authority figures.)

I actually get bored of Sentai series really quick (they’re too damn repetitive), yet for some reason I can watch Bioman with a big smile, even though it wasn’t part of my childhood. It’s just pure entertainment on a level which isn’t stupid or condescending, but pitched just right for any audience.

For the Man!



Lucasfilm-Disney Merger Reconsidered

When I first heard Disney had acquired Lucasfilm I was like…

I felt like a million nerdly dreams had cried out in agony, and were silenced…

But then, I was like…


This might be…

After all, what has Lucas really done with it?

The only good thing Lucas himself actually did was Star Wars: A New Hope. (Which  is really only a step away from being a Tarentino movie if you understand where most of it really comes from.)

Everything else he did pretty much sucked.

The Empire Strikes back was almost 100% other people running Star Wars, and it’s the best of the bunch.

Lucas was behind Return of the Jedi, which is thoroughly mediocre.

The Prequel Trilogy is only noteworthy because it spawned The Clone Wars tv series, which is overall pretty good. (When Lucas hasn’t had input…)

So pretty much, he’s been a mediocre writer/director and a so-so manager who’s made a few lucky decisions.

Disney, on the other hand, is doing a pretty good job at handling both Pixar and Marvel, letting them do what they do best, and staying pretty hands-off. I both like and respect that, and it gives me some hope for what may come next with Star Wars.

They want to do a new movie series, and a new TV series. Which, if they get the right people, might be a fresh start and a new direction for the setting.

My only worry is that they’ll kill The Clone Wars, because it’s on a rival network to their own Disney XD channel. They killed Spectacular Spider-Man (which was also on a rival network) when they acquired Marvel so they could replace it with the horrid Ultimate Spider-Man on their own channel. I can see Clone Wars having a similar fate, although in Clone War’s case I hope they’ll let them actually end it properly instead of just stopping it.

Ahsoka needs to fly off into the galaxy with Lux, and give it a proper happy-ish ending.

So overall, I’m cautiously optimistic, and will wait and see.


S.H.I.E.L.D.E.D. – Resume Video for guy who wants to work on the new SHIELD TV series.

The most awesome resume video ever! This is an actual production designer who wants to work on Joss Whedon’s new SHIELD TV series, so he put together this video with SHIELD to show why he’s the right guy for the job. Really funny and well done!

Discworld City Watch Television Series | The Mary Sue

I’m a HUGE Diskworld and Night Watch fan, so this is great news for me! Supposedly it will air in 2014. A long wait, but likely worth it! 🙂

It’s been known that a Discworld television show based in the fictional city of Ankh-Morpork and the cast of characters it is associated with has been in various stages of preproduction discussion for more than a year now. In fact, there’s even video evidence of Sir Terry Pratchett talking with writers about coppers starting up an inter-species band, the trickiness of humane prisoner treatment, and what it might be like to have the undead coming in to file reports on their own murders.

via Discworld City Watch Television Series | The Mary Sue.

In Defense of the Male Miniskirt- Thoughts on the First Season of Star Trek:TNG

In Defense of the Male Miniskirt- Thoughts on the First Season of Star Trek:TNG

With the release of the first season of ST:TNG on Blu-Ray DVD in remastered sets this week, I thought I’d comment on what I think of as an overly maligned season of the show.

Nice legs!

There are many things that people tend to remember about the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They remember Tasha Yar, Wesley almost getting killed for stepping on the grass, uneven writing, Wesley saving the ship, wooden acting, universal hatred for Wesley, that damned clip-show episode, and of course the dreaded male miniskirts (and their female counterpart- the cheerleader outfits).

For many, it is a season they look down on, skip when trying to hook people on Star Trek: TNG, and generally say “it gets better later, I swear” to new viewers who are determined to start at the beginning. There’s no Borg, the Ferengi are like a completely different race, the Romulans make only a brief appearance, and Riker has no beard.

So what is there to like about Season One?

This is pretty much how I felt about it over the years, and it stayed that way until a couple years back when I went back and re-watched the first couple episodes in what could be called a curious case of nostalgia. (Someone had stuck them up on Youtube for a time, and I was curious, and feeling nostalgic.) I expected to find many things, but what I didn’t expect to find was a different show than I remembered.

The show I remembered as Star Trek:TNG was pretty much the show from Season-Three to Season Five, which for many people is the show they think of fondly when they think of ST:TNG. Season Three was jam-packed with winning episodes and was when the show basically turned from syndicated curiosity to “must watch TV” for a lot of people. That’s the point where it started to seriously become part of popular culture at the time, and Patrick Stewart was suddenly being considered TV’s Sexiest Man Alive.

It’s a great show, and it was this period that became the template for not only what would come after, but also Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even Enterprise. For people of my generation, this period of ST:TNG was the high water mark by which most Science Fiction TV would be judged, and is only equaled by the mid seasons of Deep Space Nine in quality.

But, it’s not the same show as Season One.

Season One of ST:TNG was a testbed season, a season where they had no real idea of where they were going, so they just tried stuff and hoped it worked out. It also had Gene Roddenberry firmly at the helm, and despite his failing health, he did his best to inject his vision of the future into the show.

So they gave a writer’s bible to a bunch of people, let them put together scripts, and then tried to weave that into a show while at the same time attempting to create a whole new world for their viewers. Nobody (except maybe Gene, to a point) knew exactly what they were producing, but they had a vague idea and they set forth in that direction to find out.

They just knew that they wanted to create the future, and so that’s what they did.

Take the male miniskirt for example. It’s an outfit which pops up regularly in the background as the civilian crew (remember them?) wander the ship during peacetime and rush everywhere during times of trouble. It’s weird. It’s probably uncomfortable to wear. (The extras probably drew straws to decide who would have to wear it.) And it’s one of those things people just look back on and go “what were they thinking?”

And yet, I would argue that it’s one of the best costume choices they made.

I say this exactly because it’s weird, or more appropriately it’s unique.

When viewers saw crew wandering around in those things, their natural reaction was “boy, these people are weird!” or to be more precise “these people are not us”.  In other words, it made life aboard the starship Enterprise 1701-D different from life here on 20th century Earth. It made their culture not our culture, and made their ideas of what was right and wrong not our ideas of what was right and wrong.

Yeah it was odd, yeah they got rid of it pretty quick (just like the rest of the civilian crew idea), but while it was there it served as a reminder that we were looking at an alien culture to our own. One which could be new and interesting for us to explore as we joined them on a journey through the universe and beyond.

It was touches like this that gave Season One of ST:TNG a sense of grandeur that I would argue that later seasons of the show (and subsequent series) actually lack. The ship was a big place populated by lots of people, people whose lives were affected by the decisions Picard made. The producers made an actual effort to make us feel their presence, and even included them in plots, because it made the ship feel bigger. It was a ship that had over 1000 people aboard, and they went out of their way to make us feel that this was the case.

And of course, it doesn’t just stop with the crew.

Partially thanks to the fact that the writers on the first season didn’t have a clear vision of who was who and the overall “feel” of the show, each episode comes across as it’s own unique little sci-fi adventure. The characters are rough, simple, and more types than people, but the plots are different and interesting because they’re all trying to present something new. (In a sense, each of the writers had a completely different setting in their heads when they wrote the scripts, and brought those different takes into the show without thinking about it.)

Did it always work? No. But, because they threw all these different stories together, it really created a sense that we were getting a view of this ship and setting from different angles. You literally never knew what would be around each corner (Not “gaseous anomaly 24,547…”) and each new encounter felt like you were being given a snapshot of a larger world. They did small plots about Picard trapped in an elevator, and large plots about Federation-wide conspiracies, and each of them made the show feel bigger, richer, and more complex.

If I had to sum up the first season of ST:TNG into a single word, that word would be “potential”, because when watching it you felt that anything was possible. It was an open playing field, and it felt like the producers were doing their best to take advantage of that field to give you the best show possible. They didn’t quite know what they were doing, but they tried hard, and I would say this season had a lot of heart put into it.

It wasn’t slick, it wasn’t polished, but it was earnest and it set the ground for what would come later on.

It went where no-one had gone before.

In a male miniskirt.

Beat that, Captain Tightpants!


Korean Drama: Ghost (aka Phantom)

I’m now an addict, I admit it.

I’m addicted to sharp, well written, high quality television. It’s true.

In this case, it’s the currently running Korean drama called Ghost (also know as Phantom, which can be another translation of its name in Korean) which is an utterly unique and compelling TV series. I heard about it from my wife, who has friends in Korea, and decided to give it a watch.

What I found was a show which was at the same time both familiar and completely new.

Without giving too much away, the basic premise is basically about a man who comes out of a horrible accident with another man’s face, and now has to solve the mystery of who killed “him” without his true identity being discovered. The result is what could be called a mystery-espionage-thriller, and is really hard to pin down.

The tension and suspense in the show is nail-biting, and the twists and turns can only be compared to something like 24,  Death Note or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Yet at the same time, it’s like none of those.)  It’s one of the highest rated things on TV right now in South Korea, and totally deserves it. As a side note, it’s also a fairly realistic (though not totally) examination of how real computer hacking and cyber-espionage is done.

One of the things I also love about the show is how it takes your expectations and then twists them around. Much like Game of Thrones, the writers seem to look at each scene and say “what would happen here if this was a typical story” and then they completely do something else.

Is it perfect? No. It still has what I would called Korean Drama-isms, where characters think and do things that real people wouldn’t, but which happen in dramas all the time. There is also a lack of chemistry between the male and female leads, but since that’s not the focus of the show it doesn’t matter much. The real story is among the male leads anyways.

Right now they’re up to episode 11, with 9 more to go. One of the nice things about Korean dramas is that they’re complete stories. Each is only a season long, and in that season they tell a complete story from start to finish, with no plans or setup for more. I like that, and think they should experiment with that format over here as well.

So if you’re looking for something to watch during the hot lazy days of summer, give Ghost a shot. Each episode is better than the last, and I promise it will be anything but dull!


Legend of Korra: Season One Ending Thoughts (Spoiler Lite)

I just watched the finale for the first season of Legend of Korra, and I have to say I truly have mixed feelings about it.

As I mentioned in my previous review, Korra is a heck of an impressive show. It’s been a great series in so many ways, and I think this is what makes the finale such a let-down for me. Over the course of the season the creators have taken such care in developing the characters and nuturing the story along. The pacing of the show, and the themes they’ve been weaving have been a beautiful display of animation artistry.

Then it’s like they suddenly noticed they just had 2 episodes left and panicked.

“Oh crap! We’re out of time! We have to end this!”

And suddenly all that artistry went out the window in the name of just getting the darn thing finished and the major plotlines resolved.

Now, there is a possible reason for this. When Korra was originally planned, it was supposed to just be a single season, or at least that was the official announcement. I have a slightly different theory based on what I just watched.

I think the producers wrote this show to be the first of several seasons, and the pacing and presentation clearly represent that. But, somewhere during late production on the show, Nickelodeon (the company paying for it) suddenly decided that it was only going to be a single season show. (This was very likely around the time that the Avatar live-action movie bombed horribly in the box office.) I think they decided that the whole Avatar franchise was done, and basically decided to cut their losses.

So they told the producers to wrap it up, and suddenly there was a mad rush to get everything done story-wise before the last episode. This would explain a great deal of the way the show is paced and presented, and that there seems to be a lot of unfollowed threads in the show as presented. (For example, what happened to Mokko and Bolin’s coach? The guy they clearly intended to be a major character and likely alternate mentor to Korra? He just vanished after an episode or so.)

So the producers scrambled, crammed the whole thing into a single season, and then presented it to the suits at Nickelodeon. It was only then that the suits actually realized that they had a huge potential hit on their hands, and their reaction was –

“Make more!”

“But, you just forced us to finish it!”

“I don’t care! Make more! Here’s money!”

So, they’re making more. Although lord knows why, because they tied things up at the end of the first season so well and tightly there really isn’t a whole lot of room left. Maybe they’ll do a time jump, I don’t know.

All I know is, that last episode was a mess, and I’m sorely disappointed in the sheer amount of wasted potential. For example, the Equalists actually did have a point, and they clearly also had a large social following among non-benders who were tired of bender rule. (However beneficient they are.) They could have at least given us a look into what life was like for non-benders, or even better, worked toward an end where Korra helped bring benders and non-benders into a more equal relationship. (She is supposed to bring balance to the world, after all. Wouldn’t that apply to non-benders too?) Amon’s real goals were selfish, but his stated goals were noble in their own way.

At the end of this story, Korra and Amon may as well never have come to Republic City, and if they hadn’t both come the world would have been almost exactly the same as it is. Think about it. Nothing has really changed in this setting, not a single thing. They both came, did their thing, and left. But had no effect on the setting at all, except for their few friends. Ang literally reshaped his world, what has Korra done?

Maybe they’ll fix that when they get to second season. Who knows?


Time to Stop Reading Song of Ice and Fire (#GameofThrones)

Tonight, I watched the final episode of Season 2 of Game of Thrones, and with it, I have reached the conclusion that I need to stop reading the books.

(Spoilers for Season 2 of the TV show and book!)

In an earlier post, I stated that I found the first episode of this new season rushed, and wondered sincerely if it was going to be intimidating for new viewers. Well, now that I’ve seen the season, and Game of Thrones has become the most downloaded TV show of the year online, I think I can safely say that viewers have flocked to the show in droves. If anything, it’s more popular this season than it was last season.

Not that I think this season was without flaw- the whole season felt to me like the producers were tripping over themselves to tell the story as quickly as they could, and to cram a much larger story into a very limited time. There was almost no time for anyone to even breathe this season, as events just piled on other events, and the whole thing rushed towards its fateful conclusion.

I’m not too worried about that next season, however, as the producers have decided to break Book Three into two seasons, and give themselves and the story room to maneuver- a very smart decision.

Regardless, as Book Two closes, I have reached two conclusions:

1)      The television version of Game of Thrones is actually superior to the prose version.

2)      I’m going to stop reading Book Three, which I’m about a third of the way through at the moment.

As a writer, it pains me to say that the written version is inferior to an adaption, but in this case I truly believe that to be true. This show has taken Martin’s original story and gotten rid of almost all the fat (of which there was apparently quite a bit), and tightened it up in ways that make it truly superior.

Take Arya’s storyline, for example. In the book, there must be at least a hundred pages spend on Arya running around, getting captured, becoming a servant, and her eventual escape. But, in the book this was very much a solo story, and it only served to further Arya’s character. In the TV version, the pre-capture version of the story is cut down to a minimum, and when she does become a servant in Harenhall she’s the servant of Tywin Lannister.

Now, suddenly, we have her story intersecting with a largely neglected character from the books, and we get two stories out of Arya instead of one. Not only that, but her exchanges with Tywin are some of the best bits of the season, and we grow to respect and fear him in a way we never really feel about the mysterious senior Lannister in the books. (At least not by the beginning of Book Three.)

And it doesn’t end with her, boobies aside, some of the best material of the season was material written for the show that bares only a slight resemblance to the original books. John Snow’s storyline with Iirgit now makes much more sense, and plays out in a more natural and interesting way than the original book’s endless natural trail adventures.

Even Dany’s tale is more interesting, developed, and just plain deep than the plodding, wandering story that it’s based on. And this is saying quite a bit, as I dislike Dany and consider her and her storyline a waste of screentime!

So, based on this, and a desire to actually experience the show as something other than a reflection of the novels, I’ve decided to put my copy of Book Three on my shelf and let it sit there unfinished. I might finish it someday, but it won’t be until long after the seasons based on it have aired and I’ve gotten to enjoy the show as a fresh experience like those who haven’t read it have. Perhaps I will never touch it again, and that’s okay too. I don’t seem to be missing much, and if anything, I might be gaining by not reading the books.

There is another reason, of course. I also know that Book Four and Book Five are, to put it mildly- a mess. I’ve heard Book Four is basically what all the boring characters spend that period of time doing, and Book Five tells what the people we actually care about did during that same overlapping period of time. Rather than have to plod through that, and not knowing when Book Six may come out (if ever), I think it’s better to let the TV show producers sort it all out and serve it to me on a golden platter.

Sure, the show may get cancelled before then. But, if that happens, I’ll just read the books.

It’s win-win either way!



Review: The Legend of Korra

So this week I finally took the chance to catch up on the serial The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra, which is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender and airs on Nickelodeon on Saturday mornings. Originally intended as a mini-series, even before it aired the channel upgraded its status based on just what they’d seen of it, and there’s no question why- it’s probably one of the best animated shows North Americans have ever produced.

The original Avatar: The Last Airbender, was an impressive show, but took a little while to find its footing and was perhaps a little too young-oriented for its own good at first. It wanted to be a show for all ages, but because of the channel I personally found the early episodes hard to watch and a bit too kiddy-oriented for my tastes. I strongly suspect this was the result of Nickelodeon suits screaming “make it funnier” behind the scenes, while the production team was just trying to make a balanced adventure series. My evidence of that is that as soon as the show got popular (and the producers had more power), it slowed down on the humor and became more steady and balanced as it went.(Which made it even more popular.)

The Legend of Korra is a completely different beast (if you’ll pardon the pun), if for no reason than because the producers were more experienced the second time around and they also had more say in things. As a result, they have produced something that is both unique and fascinating on so many levels that I almost don’t know where to begin to describe it. So first, for those who many not know what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at the preview trailer:

Want to know something scary? That trailer doesn’t even do justice to how visually beautiful and well animated the show is. It’s like watching a weekly movie, and one done by experienced hands at an A-List studio who know exactly what they’re doing and what they want to achieve. The life this brings to the characters and the setting is amazing, and when the action kicks it, it becomes pure poetry.

And action there is! But before I go on, I should probably explain the plot.

The story is fairly simple- Korra lives in a fantasy world where people called Benders have the ability to control and shape elements telekinetically. If you’re a Bender and you’re attuned to Water, you can make water fly around and do tricks, the same with Earth, Air and Fire. They can’t create the element, but they can shape what’s there, and there are sub-specialties under the main categories, like Metal-Bending and Blood-Bending.

Each generation, there is a single Bender born called the Avatar, who can control all the different elements, not just a single one like most Benders. The original series was about an Avatar named Ang, who was the last of the Airbenders (duh!) and who helped bring peace to the setting and ended a hundred-year long war.

At the start of this series, Ang has already passed away, and a new Avatar has been born to the Water Tribe named Korra. She’s good with water, but her command of the other elements is spotty at best, and her particular weakness is Airbending, so as a teen she goes to live with Tenzin, Ang’s son, in Republic City. (A city founded by Ang, which is now a roaring metropolis.) Shortly after her arrival, she hooks up with a team of sport-benders called the Fire Ferrets, and ends up joining their team. She also runs afoul of the Equalists, and their leader Amon, who claim to be working to promote rights for non-Benders (most of the population) who live under Bender rule.

And, it’s these last two points that make this show both unique and surprisingly deep at times for what is technically a “kids show”.

Half of the show is a “sports drama”, as Korra becomes involved with the Pro-Bending League and bonds with her teammates Mokko and Bolin. The sport itself is surprisingly well thought-out and presented in a way which is both dramatic and easy to follow for the audience. The rules to the sport are almost intuitive, so even those who missed the episode where it’s explained can understand it.  Also, watching the teenaged Korra learn and develop through sport is fun and a real inspiration for getting youth involved in sports and physical activity. I wish we had more sports shows for kids like this.

It’s caught on to the point where people are actually trying to create real-life versions as well:

The other half of the show, the Equalists, shines just as brightly. They could have been simple bad-guys, but instead they’re presented as real people who live under the yoke of Bender oppression and believe in their fight for freedom. This is surprisingly heavy for a youth-oriented show, and the producers don’t shy away for what this means and the implications involved. Is Korra really working for the good of all people? Or is she the “savior” of an overclass who dominate those who can’t bend?

Fan Made Equalist Video:

The other nice thing is that their leader, the masked and mysterious Amon, is also portrayed as both extremely smart and capable. His plans almost always work, and all the positive thinking and determination of Korra and her allies mean almost nothing against his intelligence and foresight. She’s not even in his league, and the show makes that clear from the start. There will be a long journey before Korra could even hope to face Amon, and Republic City likely doesn’t have that much time left.

Which brings me to the other shining jewel of the show- the setting!

Where the original show existed in a sort of low-tech steampunk Victorian setting, Korra’s setting is an evolved version of that which bears a striking resemblance to the Roaring Twenties. The city is alive with culture and style to the point where you almost believe its a real place, and they draw heavily on that period to give it authenticity. In fact, I would argue that Republic City is basically an idealized Shanghai of the 20’s and early 30’s during its glory period, with Bending thrown into the mix.

Even the “previously on” segment that catches the audience up at the start of each episode is presented as an old black and white newsreel, with an old-style announcer’s rapid play-by-play patter of the events.

The characters themselves are all well thought-out, nuanced, and generally quite likable. Korra herself is a seat-of-the pants headstrong country girl in the big city, and unique in American TV in many ways, for example, from her “date” with Bolin:

How many other shows would let their heroine do that?

The drama in the show isn’t especially deep, but it’s not meant to be, the show is a coming of age show mixed with an action show, and it plays both of those cards quite well. The mix of humor and drama is almost pitch-perfect, and it really lets all the characters have their moments and show their humanity, so that you really feel for them when the bad stuff goes down.

Overall, I give The Legend of Korra an A+, and highly recommend watching it if you get the chance. It really is a premium show, and deserves the accolades it gets.

What Writers can Learn from Fanfiction(.net)

About once a year I make a point of visiting the website, which as the name might suggest is a giant trove of fanfiction, perhaps the largest on the internet with 6.6 million titles as of March 2011. Fanfiction, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a special form of writing where you take existing characters, settings and situations from media and write your own stories with them. So, for example, if you were a fan of Harry Potter (as a few people are), you might choose to write stories about Harry’s other adventures, or even your own adventures at Hogwarts. The field is wide open, and the only limit is that it must be tied to an existing work of media fiction in some way.

It is of course technically illegal, since these writers are using copyrighted materials to produce their own works, but as long as nobody tries to directly make money off it the tradition of the rights holders has been to turn a blind eye to fanfiction. This is actually very smart, since fanfiction itself acts as a form of advertising for the different media properties and there are many fans whose first taste of a story may in fact be a fanfiction written by their friends. Seeing how passionate the story has made their friends, people often look into the original stories, and so new fans are created. (All at no cost to the original rights holders.)

Thus, a place which is technically a giant repository of intellectual property theft, exists and will continue to exist as long as the bills are paid.

Now, I mentioned I try to visit at least once a year. Why do I do this?

Well, it’s not because I’m a reader of fanfiction (I haven’t been in some time), nor am I a writer of fanfiction (as I’ve publically stated, I think it’s not good for writers who have any longer-term prospects), but I do think the site is an extremely valuable tool for writers to be aware of, and I’m going to tell you why.

Simply put- fanfiction is what happens when stories make readers so passionate that they want to create more of them. Some aspect of that story has struck a chord with readers/viewers to the point where they not only want more, but must have more, and want to share it with others.

So, based on this, is a treasure-trove of pure hard data about what stories are actually resonating with readers. This isn’t stories that have been “liked” on some website, reviewed, or “voted most popular”, this is unfiltered data about what has actually struck a primal chord with readers. Not only that, if you were to really examine it, it would show you what elements of stories really worked with readers as well. Who did the readers really connect with? What part of the story did they like the most? What things do they tend to ignore when they remake their own versions?

The possibilities for data-mining are endless, but unfortunately few people have the time to do that much digging, and this is especially true for writers, who have to, you know- write.

The other issue is of course that not everyone writes fanfiction, nor does it apply to both genders equally. Charles Sendlor, on his fascinating blog Fan Fiction Statistics, was able to get actual data from on users for the year 2010, and discovered (to sum up) that 78% of users were female, and that the average age of fanfiction writers on the site was 15.8 years of age. (With the very vast majority of users being between 12 and 21 years old.)

So, if you’re trying to find out how middle aged women feel about James Patterson thrillers, then this is not the place for you. However, if you are trying to figure out what sells to young adults, step right up! Because this is where you will learn exactly what appeals to them!

So, how do you find this information?

Well, there are two things you should be looking for: popularity, and titles written.  You can access both of these easily by picking one of the nine major categories on the site and then selecting Sort by Popularity from the options at the top. (Unless you’re looking for specific titles, in which case you have to do it the hard way.) This will then show the different titles in the category by order and alongside each in brackets will be the number of titles (stories, not chapters or parts) which have been written about that particular story.

For example, let’s look under the “Books” Category for today (May 20th, 2012):

  1. Harry Potter (593,840)
  2. Twilight (199,947)
  3. Lord of the Rings (46,365)
  4. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (26,092)
  5. Hunger Games (18,950)
  6. Maximum Ride (15,783)
  7. Warriors (12,746)
  8. Phantom of the Opera (10,278)
  9. Chronicles of Narnia (9,522)
  10. Gossip Girl (9,169)
  11. Song of the Lioness (8,116)
  12. Outsiders (6,974)

I’m sure most of these top 12 surprise very few people, although there are a few curve-balls in there. Phantom of the Opera has over 10 thousand stories written about it? And the Outsiders, a book written in 1965 about teen gang members, is #12? It’s interesting what sticks with young people, even over time, isn’t it?

The “youth” of this list is clearly showing as well. These are almost all “coming of age” stories of some kind, with elements of fantasy or teen angst thrown in for good measure. Definitely a list you can see teenagers reading, especially teenaged girls.

But if you go further afield you will find this isn’t always true, the top twelve for the TV category today isn’t entirely a youth-oriented list:

  1. Glee (72,383)
  2. Supernatural (61,999)
  3. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (44,290)
  4. Doctor Who (37,517)
  5. NCIS (30,811)
  6. CSI (26,248)
  7. Stargate: SG-1 (25,828)
  8. House, M.D. (20,508)
  9. Criminal Minds (20,316)
  10. Bones (18,198)
  11. Stargate: Atlantis (17,785)
  12. Gilmore Girls (16,115)

I’m almost tempted to read GLEE fanfics just to find out how they handle the dancing and singing elements, aren’t you? But, the rest of that list is basically right off the Neilson ratings, with a few little geek twists. (Doctor Who for the win!) Although for all its popularity, it’s interesting that Star Trek didn’t make the top 12. (This may be because there’s other Star Trek specific fanfiction repositories elsewhere on the web, though.)

Similarly, most of the Movies list isn’t likely to surprise anyone:

  1. Star Wars (28,331)
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean (19,553)
  3. High School Musical (18,139)
  4. X-Men: The Movie (14,696)
  5. Star Trek: 2009 (8,285)
  6. Labyrinth (7,455)
  7. Newsies (7,020)
  8. Camp Rock (6,857)
  9. Transformers (5,106)
  10. Batman Begins/Dark Knight (4,950)
  11. Inception (3,477)
  12. Matrix (3,173)

But again, there are anomalies- Newsies? (A 1992 musical about paperboys!) What the heck? 1986’s Labyrinth is also an interesting one to find on the list. I also feel this list is much more male-centered, and I would expect to find many more young male writers in this category as well. (As I would with the Video Games section.)

Also note the lower numbers for the movie list compared with the other two. Nice to know that the print medium is alive, well, and kicking ass in its own ways. Maybe this is because books are a co-operative form of storytelling, and so much of the story is already in the reader’s heads. (Or insert joke here about movies having very little story to begin with…)

In any case, my final thoughts, having looked at the different categories, are these- What teens want (despite the Twilight Vampire romance boom) are stories about group dynamics and finding your place in the world. Seems obvious, I know, but at least it has hard data to back it up now.

At least, that’s what I took from my casual survey. Your mileage may vary!

Happy hunting!