2010: The Year We Make Less Anime (..Please?)

I need you to clear out your desk by 12:00am. Don't make me break out the fire extinguisher.

Okay 2000 – 2009, It’s time to pack it in, you’ve had your fun. Get out. Seriously. We need your locker for the new guy. No hard feelings. We all knew this day was going to come. And sure, I know we had ourselves more than a fair share of great times. That Suzumiya-san sure was awesome wasn’t she? Several years of Naruto & Bleach were more than I could ever have wanted out of a decade of anime on big money. What’s better than a couple hundred filler episodes? Hundreds more, right? And how about all of those uber pretty shows that delivered the service, and none of the charm? I could have gone another year with more moe heavy works, and hijinks bordering on pedophilia on novacaine doused with hallucinogens in aerosol form. Hell, I’ll miss those too.

To be honest, I’m still not sure how to feel about the last ten years in anime viewing.

As I relax away the final hours of 2009, I’m filled with memories of some incredible adult material, and yet strangely few compellingly good shows for anime’s primary audience, children. Don’t they count too? As cool as it’s all been for the Akiba-kei lot, it would have been nice to see an adventure series or two that retained a sense of wonder about the world without catering to the video/card gamer demographic. As hard as I tried, it was quite difficult. Sure, we had Dennou Coil, and even this year’s Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was great, but nary else came out that embraced the possibilities inherent in Japan’s future. It was as if somehow, a mysterious cloud appeared over the islands and created some kind of alternate Japan where children sprouted out at age 14, and started the journey there without the early stumbling that comes with being too young to understand the oncoming complexities of a modern world. It is possible to create compelling storylines involving children that cross age boundaries. We may never have had Nadia or Future Boy Conan. Oh sure, a few leftovers from series that began in the 90s were still in force.

But the maturity levels of the anime world bounced all over, much like our stumbling about into the frontier that was the internet over the last ten years. So as much as it seemed like we had a great deal more to choose from on the surface, it seems that much of the Japanese experience has been whittled down to a kind of simulacrum of what mass consumers expect it to be. For every Paranoia Agent, there were several Afro Samurai. For every Mushi-Shi, there were several Ikki Tousens. Point being that the Zeroes was aloof in simltaneously fascinating, and yet regressive manners that I won’t soon miss. Anime was in danger of drowning in sameness, with few iconic creations to help define it. Something must be said for a decade where meta led to some of the decade’s most significant creations. It is as if the creatives are openly admitting that there’s little left for anyone to feed off of, so the fans themselves make for the very best last prime beef anyone has left in storage. Self-cannibalism. Something I wholeheartedly disagree with.

I’m truly looking forward to what the 2010s will provide us. As the market is in the midst of a potentially complete restructuring, along with the advent of independent talent & homemade works, there will likely be chances for new voices to enter the fray. In fact this possibility alone leaves me giddy as the genie’s bottle must be redefined. The idea that the best, most effective ideas may come from passionate indivuduals as opposed to merely commercial contingency plans sounds thrilling to me. I could do with a lot less anime that looks to capitalize merely on the visual appeal of the female designs. Hell, I don’t mind if they are butt-ugly, as long as they are well written and are teeming with life.

Bring it. I want an anime landscape broken and bruised. tattered and worn, with the stains still fresh on the shirt mixed with motor oil. I want to see more of the unexplored, and more of a sense of wonder than we’ve seen in quite a while. As exciting and as infuriating this has all been, I know it wasn’t all your fault. There were so many things to consider. Such as the bubble of the early part of the decade. We know you had to live up to what the west imagined you were all about. It was just too bad that so many would rather take as opposed to give. Perhaps if we devised a way for the masses to maintain the relationship, things would have worked out differently. Also sorry to see that JapanLand never took off. That runway landing on top of the life-size Yamato would’ve been sweet. And Gojira would’ve been able to shake the hands of those getting off the plane. Aw, shoot that would’ve been awesome. So, we all know that you had a little bit of a raw deal. So now I’m encouraging you to allow your little brother let loose okay? I know you’re capable of inspiring him to new heights of potential. We know what masturbation can do, Zeroes, now let’s see what happens when one is liberated by the limits, gets focused, and in the game.

Behind The Nihon Review’s insights

7 thoughts on “2010: The Year We Make Less Anime (..Please?)”

  1. I think you sort of missed the point of what the past decade of anime really brought the table: the feasibility of niche-marketing. In decades past, the cost of producing cel-based animation were so high that only the broadly-focused widely-targeted shows could survive — things aimed at children, families… shows that could air in primetime or Saturday mornings. Anything else was reserved to short/obscure OVA series or not produced at all. It’s no wonder that this decade contained so much material that catered to the otaku market — it had never before even been possible to create full-length TV shows that spoke to that audience specifically, largely-unfettered by the concerns of TV networks and sponsors seeking respectability and ratings.

    There continued to be plenty of children’s anime (many of which the average modern anime fan has never even heard of). There continued to be plenty of family shows with adventure themes and a sense of wonder. And there continued to be a number of intelligent, artistic pieces that could arguably stand to be called masterpieces in their own way. But there was *also* this entire echosystem of smaller, more niche-targeted shows that didn’t try to be, need to be, or claim to be “all things to all people”. They had their slice of fandom and made their money, and were promptly forgotten by many. But they provided their share of entertainment to those who were seeking it, and that was what they were intended to do.

    The problem with this retrospective is a bit of a reflection of the way a lot of people still look at anime these days. They take the entire continuum of shows being produced each season and make them all equal, and come to the conclusion that the signal-to-noise is really low. But the quality material is still there, and in no smaller “real” quantity than what it ever was, you just have to search for it more intently given everything else that’s out there. What this past decade has demonstrated is the importance in finding your own niche and in seeking out the shows that appeal to you. “Anime” is not a singular entity anymore, any more than any other form of media. And if anything, the trend towards increased “niche-focus” will continue as producers further reduce cost by moving away from television entirely and look to the Internet. Anime doesn’t have any reason to remain in quarter-year chunks of 24-minute blocks, and the days of long-term mass-market “iconic creations” are probably gone. We live in a world where multiple parallel sub-cultures all operate at “Internet speed”, and that will continue to engender many rapid and divergent changes.

    So, to “survive the next ten” would probably start with a realization that anime is a medium, not a genre. The days of thinking of everything animated in Japan as being part of one giant basket should have died in the 90s. And second, it’s probably best to admit that your own tastes are themselves just a small facet of what the medium can offer; in other words, find your own niche and accept that the niches of others are no less valid or worthy just because you don’t appreciate them as much. Finally, I suppose, would be to keep an open mind. As much as you lament the loss of anime “for kids” these days, I’m thinking you’re probably not actually a kid; do you even know what Japanese “kids these days” really want to watch? It’s probably not the same things they used to show when you were a kid. Times change, and sometimes in surprising ways.

    All that to say, I really don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with the anime market of the past decade, beyond the ever-present struggle to survive changing times. Certainly, it evolved to fit the changing market, and evolved at a much quicker rate than ever before (even if some would say that it’s still not quick enough). What the industry probably needs to continue to do is the same thing they’ve always needed to do: pay close attention to what their customers want, and iterate/reinvent themselves quickly to meet the need. Companies that can do that will survive, and those that don’t won’t be around for the next batch of retrospectives at the end of 2019.

    As an expression of hopes and wishes for the next decade, I think your retrospective was fine. But as a reflection of the state of the industry and the needs of the market going forward, I think there’s still much that can be learned from 2000-2009. Here’s to hoping he can keep his locker.

  2. Kudos to your response, as it pretty much nails the other side of how I feel on the entire last ten as a whole. It was as if this sort of blossoming was necessary in order to tackle the diverse influx of international fans that suddenly came into the mix. I probably also should have made note that it was the niche that truly defined the second half despite my own feelings about this.

  3. Very nice retrospect. I don’t feel qualified to dig into the 00 decade for this given medium, but I have been watching and I think the concept of niches within the medium are where it’s at. Thinking in relation to the music industry, there is an extremely vast landscape blossoming with so many outlets for listens to connect to and become fans…. perhaps that is the nature of “opening acts.” It’s difficult to relate that to anime because it is often a greater effort (manpower) to create a single season series than it is for a 4-piece rock outfit to create a 45 minute album.

    People will be attracted to what they like, and for the most part, I think fansubs open up the industry a lot more than conventional means. Future distribution methods, like PSN may change that, but it’s not like going into a record shop and sampling some stuff.

    So, sure I think the creators should reflect on the content of this past decade, but on top of that, I find that technology, industry innovation, and the general architecture of the industry should also be scrutinized… if 2008/9 was any indication, I think many studios are becoming active in trying to adapt the industry for the modern architecture in which we experience the medium, but I don’t expect the creators to worry about such things.

    What the industry doesn’t need is a “hoarding” attitude towards consumers. They should realized that the movement of consumers is going to be fast and they will flock around, so the best solution is to allow openness and diversity… much like the music industry.

    :) Cheers to a new decade.

  4. I’m impressed that someone had the nerve to basically give the entire decade a kick in the ass, though I don’t share the same perspective. In my opinion the problem was that time and budget pressures resulted in poorly planned, half-assed shows that should’ve gone out with a bang instead of a whimper. This is nothing new, and it may never go away. I guess that’s the flip side to what relentlessflame said- the studios used their new abilities to move away from the center instead of doing the same things better.

    That’s not limited to anime, though. There was a fracturing across all media, and while it’s hell on advertisers and centralized planning types, it’s what we asked for. It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here.

  5. @ Ryan A.

    Oh most definitely. But I still do feel that any medium is capable of falling into a collective state of disrepair where sameness has led the format into an evolutionary dead-end. I too feel this way with music more often than I’d like to experience. And with anime, it has both been a boon and a curse to open up the field and deliver diverse types of material. That said, the relentless pandering that came with the last ten years was distressing to say the least, and was far from what attracted me to the medium in the first place. This is also attributable to marketing, as it became paramount for successful shows to have merchandise to be their outreach arm. Coming from the US/Japanese anime industry, I can tell you that the pandering teetered on oversaturating the market with a stereotype, rather than an appreciation for story, which is where I come from.

    The more the decade dragged on, the less shows had any gripping power on me. And this isn’t some form of outgrowing or anything. Entire story elements were often jumbled, or lost completely, leaving us to just hope that the characters would lead us back on track, which is especially difficult in animated form.

    So I guess where my hope comes from is that with the (hopefully) changing business models,(Japanese companies can be terribly stubborn when it comes to things like this. Believe me.) there will be less emphasis on the cheap sell, and more on how proud they are of their product. So I see the potential in what could be done to assist more independent works gain exposure as it really feels like many of the majors are upping the stakes with genre proliferation, just not so much in memorability.

  6. Well responding to this, with some thoughts. I find that a new decade definitely has opportunity and there are definite classics to maybe be aware of.. but one the industry has changed and continues to perhaps change.

    So there is probably new possibilities.

    Two the anime titles you mention are pretty specific, and would probably appeal to a specific niche under the larger umbrella of anime watching.

    So while I don’t really appreciate certain series in the current anime fandom, there are other titles, that will appeal across a variety of tastes and opinions.

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