In the wake of the fallout caused by a single blog post by none other than Bang-Zoom’s Eric P Sherman, it has occurred to me that the fandom has fallen into what can only be described as a cultural flash bomb, illuminating not merely the dying cries of a niche market, but what seems to be nature’s open-ended plan for media as a whole. It’s something that affects us far more than some may suspect, as the classic measures have heavily been in place over the last years, including cut staff, outsourced work, and desperate moves toward more fan-bait oriented material.
Like any anime diet, it is important to understand the tactful truth of a situation with good bedside manner, rather than an imagined scenario borne out of closed eyes, cynicism and fear. One must know how their body works before applying any kind of reductive cure-all to their living plan. For as few outlets are in existence that contain all the facts necessary to waylay the onslaught of raging fandom, there is a need for a semblance of solidarity in crucial times like these. And this goes for all subcultures, and not merely what brought you, the reader to this site. Media creation and consumption is mutating at an alarming rate. It can be said that the fate of the DVD was foreordained when it was made clear that amassed & copied kilobytes of data was the medium that contained the wonders of our favorite shows and movies come the late 90s. It was only a matter of time that piracy & the age of free would come knocking on virtually every doorstep, which is why it was so important that those in higher rungs of influence to embrace the technology, and shepherd it into a new age. But alas history has proven overwhelming for many, and we now live to see the end result.
With the amazing “bubble era” of US anime distribution, we saw companies make in leaps and bounds what some of us thought impossible a decade before. A fact made all the more tragic as giant strides in computer network technology granted even the average consumer freedoms heretofore never expressed in a common household. Terms like Open Source & Open Internet gave rise to an entirely new cultural shift that has witnessed an explosion of creativity, as well as avarice in forms cloaked in anonymity. Despite all these new freedoms and advances, it became clear that none of this could last forever, and that grand change was on the horizon.
And here we are. American anime distribution is flatlining, and arguably has been doing so long before a near worldwide recession was made public. Echoes of Japan’s early nineties through today rumble louder than ever as a glut of anime has led to a saturated market, and nowhere near enough financial support exists to keep it afloat. And this trouble extends far beyond our shores as anime studios are struggling to stay in business as they succumb to either paltry returns from experimental failures, or from drowning themselves in otaku-pandering in order to save what little was actually left. The salad days of the satellite TV boom of the early 2000s has long since past. A dearth of talent has led to measures including one recently where the Japanese government is creating it’s own hifalutin “anime bail-out” in hopes of nurturing new talent. It may be too little too late, however as the landslide of technological ignorance grows more evident with elder company heads finding themselves more comfortable with heads deep in the proverbial sand until death, or retirement. There are multiple guilty parties, and to be honest, I’m sure we all have a hand in it one way or another. Oh, sure its easy to simply blame torrenting, and downloading, but the problem also leads far into the source with less than open-minded reactions to an increasingly complex fate. Not a single party is completely clean.
What led us to this is both incredibly complex, and yet stiflingly simple if we grasp the larger picture.
This is a quandary with multiple tendrils and even more ill-informed assumptions. Anime cannot be saved merely by placing it back on cable tv. It cannot be saved merely by homogenizing it for american consumption. It cannot be saved merely by making shows strictly for fans. While it is true that anime in general is on the decline, it is also important to remember how much the situation has forced the hands of many into strange, untested territories. And the results while promising ( approximate numbers from Funimation, Crunchyroll, & even ANN’s streaming have come in recently), it isn’t a completely sustainable business model as it is right now. As more and more fans are taking to their computers for their viewing habits (anime and otherwise), it only seems natural that it slowly becomes an extension of what television used to be. (and contrary to widely-held popular belief, and now seen clearly for the first time in decades; television’s sole purpose was never truly about content) When someone remarks that viewing anime from a fansub is akin to watching it on tv, they miss a fundamentally obvious question; just who is keeping that show on the air? (especially now with OAV’s practically extinct, and show budgets inflated to meet demand for quality product– ever notice just how much nicer anime has looked over the years?) Money flow is imperative, and as such an ad-supported model makes for one viable solution. But it isn’t enough. With the internet in such a life-enveloping infancy, it may be easy to lump in definitions of free wherever it is convenient, but this also requires consideration of not merely american companies, but of also the producers and artists responsible for content, particularly the stuff we love.
As it stands, anime won’t die, but it’s future certainly is far from bright if nothing changes. Oh, sure we can pretend that we don’t mind if anime returns to a solely Japanese-centric commodity. It’s important to consider how much the international scheme allowed the bubble to expand before making the assumptions that the quality and output would remain the same if that happened. Living through the heyday of anime on VHS where dubs were scarce, and prices were high was difficult, but not impossible. And it seems very likely that we may be heading in that direction and then some in a very short time. But it will be with a much larger base of local fans scattered throughout the wired than ever before. And without nearly as much financial support as they had experienced in recent years, this could very well harm matters in the long run. Which isn’t to say that Sherman’s statements were spot-on, rather that it is also a sign of fandom germinating into a fascinating stage of development. In fact, it could be argued that despite the popularity of dubbed anime, more young fans of the medium are relying less on english dubbing, and are far more open toward reading subtitles than ever before.(thus extending the long reach of Macek’s legacy of localization) It is interesting to speculate just how far things have come.
Openness such as this can be privy to even more amazing changes in the years ahead if fans decide to create parts for themselves in this potentially brave new world. Following suit are japanese production companies looking for new means of cutting out the middlefolk of localized distribution, and selling their product direct with perhaps even US cooperation at the time of production. As of right now, it is a logistical nightmare to consider, but it can also be a nurture-worthy idea to the adventurous. There are certainly more shrewd, inventive means that may alter the anime landscape in the future, but it is us who have a hand in how it all turns out. And the solution is simple, if you like a show very much, purchase an official copy of it. If you dig a service, get a membership. Support art if it inspires you. And I’m not merely talking about monetarily (though that certainly helps). Especially in helping those smaller indie companies that are going out of their way to speak your individual language. It is in places like this site that discourse can at least be sparked. And perhaps even ideas can emerge. Who knows? Long and short, as things remain as they are, I don’t hold out much faith for the current japanese animation landscape.
I began my own place on the internet in the hopes that there was in fact some small part of this growing frontier, embracing the possibilities of creation sans budgets or limitations based solely upon lack of company support. We can either view the hand as something to bite, or as a sign of welcome. The attraction of Japanese animation to me has always been of expecting the unexpected. Something I can only hope from myself, and would invite more in doing so. In fact many of our favorite animators only make so much at their job which implies a certain amount of love for what they do. A little reciprocation of this can go a long way, which echoes to me less of a need for half-informed theories on how to fix an calamity in slo-mo, but rather one to embrace new forms of artistry & ingenuity to help restore a subculture we have such an affinity for. These are volatile times we’re all sharing, just keep in mind that nothing great can be created in a vacuum, so it all starts (and possibly ends) with us.