Bridging The Gap: A Great Crossroads

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.

6 thoughts on “Bridging The Gap: A Great Crossroads”

  1. You know, at the end of the day, it isn’t free. The money has to come from somewhere. I guess the question is where. Looking beyond a genre and into a medium; for example, radio was the only means of mass communication for entertainment for a while. The RCA corporation (that was it was called in the early 1900’s) sold radios to people, while broadcasted shows for free. Then commercials came. These were just your local folks trying to get your attention. Fast forward (oh we are so fast forwarding). In today’s world, people do pay for things – but on the internet? Out of love and respect, most of the times (check out The Young Turks for a good model of that). The content creators are working harder than ever but for now, the return is small.

    As far as I know, the fan-pandering shows are some of the earliest attempts of targeting a niche. Looking at the body pillows, figurines and plenthra of other merchandises, I’d say the effort has worked out to a degree, at least in Japan – think the Evagelion marketing machine, for example.

    At the end of day, what you say is sound, and I add this: look folks, whether you’re young or old, if you really like something and tried it, save up and purchase a copy. It comes with so many physical extras that would definitely make you giddy, and every yen/penny (literally that little, yes), goes toward a real human being pulling triple all nighters, sleeping in a smelly animation studio somewhere in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto (OK, maybe not Kyoto), trying to do what he or she (yes, she, in the same smelly studio) loves for a penny or two.

    And if that sounded hyprocritical, it partly is. Because even I cannot purchase everything I’ve ever watched and loved. My last attempt was buying a bunch (like 12 titles) of legitimately licensed shows in Taiwan – I went to a store and bought a ton – and burn them onto my disk, not for distribution, but for convenience; after moving a lot, I started hating physical medium – but I forgot the password and now I have to format that hard drive, which meant I lost shows like 7 Samurai, Pani-Poni Dash, Galaxy Angel, Honey and Clover (no!!!!) and other goodies. Silly me. Of course I couldn’t bring all these DVD box sets when I moved overseas! Too little room, too expensive in shipping.
    Sorry for the long comment, but that shows the struggle that I go through every time I download somethng and watch it. I suspect young/younger folks don’t have such issue.

  2. It’s important to consider that filmed/video entertainment of any kind can be considered a luxury. Whether it be a television show we caught as children, or a day at the movies. At one point or another, it is funded, released in order to be sold, without our money serving as a vote toward those whom have connected most with us. And sure, anime hasn’t always been the most affordable form of media. But it just stand to reason that only so many shows truly connect with the public. Without this filtration system, we have a neverending cycle of diminishing returns happening. While it is true that many have adopted a sense of entitlement, there are many of us who do remember the times when a two-episode sub-only VHS would fetch for 39.99 each. Many may have even called this a “rich kid’s hobby” back in those days. But it is part of a more basic business reality that made sense for the time. And without proper support for the medium, we can’t expect shows to remain at any kind of momentum as we have witnessed in recent years. The numbers simply aren’t there.

  3. I dislike the way Sherman glibly equates "do the right thing" and "support anime" with "buy my product." Since he personally profits if people believe his argument, it is disingenuous for him to act as though he can offer an unbiased moral assessment.

    Furthermore, there are many ways to support the anime industry, a fact that repeatedly gets ignored in the ongoing debate in favor of R1 DVD purchases.

  4. Well he certainly cleared up that static on the ANN cast last week, when he specified that if the numbers don't return to an equitable level, companies like Bang-Zoom will cease to focus on anime productions. This makes a great deal more sense, and would have probably not made as much of an uproar had he worded it in this manner. What was fundamentally being lost in the post was the role of localized distributors, and the separate entities involved in making it internationally sales worthy.

  5. Support can happen beyond the R1 model, the problem is making it something profitable for all parties involved. So far, it isn't making those kinds of moves. Here's hoping we can help the companies find new footing, and in turn, help the medium out of its creative rigor.

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