Bridging The Gap: The Anime Blurring Effect

Ever have the feeling that the modern Japanese Animation fan is missing out on what could be the coolest series you’ve ever seen? Has it ever felt like the fandom is so splintered now that there seems to be no singular hit to take the medium to the next level? How about that one unique, mind blowing work that seems to just float over the heads of all of your peers, leaving you the single fan of it in your anime club? When does it stop being exciting, and start becoming a chore? While it is true that there are many more shows out there vying for our attenion, that it feels as if the anime medium may cover more interests, and types, it’s important to consider the big names that achieved that magical pull on us. Much like classic rock, punk, or even garage, the gateway drugs haven’t been as out in force as they once where, and I for one am curious if it isn’t merely burnout that is enabling many of us to feel this way.

What if we have witnessed a game-changing title that has in fact the potential to alter the landscape, but many of us have accidentally tossed it aside, leaving the sponsors and studios little faith in the project to continue? Are we in fact punishing creativity & rewarding mediocrity? The last statement has always had some weight to it, but could it simply be something much more fundamental in how we consume anime in the post broadcast/OVA era? Some younger fans may initially look at us older fans and argue that we simply do not understand the timbre of the times, and have been missing out on what many consider to be personal favorites, or even classics. But we have indeed seen titles appear in the past that nearly had an all-encompassing love for them. The fandom hasn’t always been this compartmentalized, and yet this is what the anime studios seem to be attempting to do with increasing ferocity. Much like how mainstream films have been multiplexed, and oversimplified here in the states, it’s easy to see who these shows are made for, and are clearly not made with all audiences in mind. But could there in fact be such a thing as too much? So much in fact, that even a massively well done risk-taker with a real vision can get lost in an ocean of product?

And so the sweepstakes begin anew. Another season of anime offerings is now upon us, and as fun a year as it has been sharing thoughts, ideas, and qualms regarding the current state of the industry as a whole, it’s probably safe to say that as much as I tend to gripe, there are some cool things happening here, and there. The problem is whether it reaches the viewers or not. Looking at this year’s number of television-based anime, the numbers are still impressive given the state of media all over. According to sites like Moetron & Animeraku, we are looking at 20-30 new shows per-season leading to almost a full 100 new shows (including new seasons of continuing favorites) released annually. Doing the math, that is a LOT of material to choose from. And being perhaps a little more preferential with shows than the average anime fan, this coupled with our evolving online distribution system, we are looking at what the now-infamous Mr.Plinkett called a “Blurring Effect”, which essentially means that with the advent of new and changing methods with how we utilize media and entertainment, it becomes much more difficult to navigate toward shows that may actually break molds, and offer something new to the more discerning viewer.

Which leads to the panic of investors. Hence the often desperate acts of studios to remake classic shows, add another unnecessary sequel to a middle of the road favorite from last season, or stranger yet, imitate the animation of the west, with delusions that it’ll translate back to an already weaned western audience (Gainax, I’m looking at you!). It is understandable to wish to recoup on your investment, especially now. This is why one sees so many of the same character archetypes being reused so often.  Noone wants to be broke. But also, noone wishes to see panicked studios resort to animating shows like Hannah Montana with no contextural understanding of what it is. (“American moe” Are you serious?)

And as a result, it can be easy for so many to become discouraged by such a phenomenon. I have many friends who have in fact, given up completely on looking for something to recharge their love of anime, and have moved on. No harm done, it makes sense. The waters are thick, and choppy. And not everyone will be as patient, or even sure of what it was that had them coming back for another fix. As for the rest of us, we keep trucking forward with an endless hunger for the hunt. To share what we have found, in the hopes that someone else out in the ether sees what we do.


So now we have seen some pretty interesting genre-breaking titles come out of the woodwork from The Tatami GalaxyDurarara!!, to House Of Five Leaves. Even last year’s Higashi No Eden, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 were valiant attempts to do something new & exciting from a story standpoint, and yet we still see many fans feeding off of splintered tendrils, unwilling to share in what could be a communal experience of a story. Perhaps when considering American fandom during th VHS days, it was easier to do so as we had less options as we do now. And when we had less, higher concentration was made upon the bigger hits of the day. So all we were exposed to outside of bootleg tapes were the heavy hitters, the anime equivalent to Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, or even a Smells Like Teen Spirit. With the anime bombarding us from all corners, and coming in ever more still with an increased number of productions, not including OADs & features, are the chances of an anime blockbuster continuing to tumble down? Or have we not experienced a show to that caliber just yet? If so, it is a lot like waiting for disco to end, lest we remain vigilant. And you know what had to happen there.

11 thoughts on “Bridging The Gap: The Anime Blurring Effect”

  1. It’s easier to look backwards and see what the groundbreaking series were. Generally speaking, if you remember a series a year after it began, then it at least has a chance of being memorable and trend-setting.

    Also, it kinda helps if you’re a new fan… I’ve been active in anime/manga fandom for about twelve years now. There aren’t many new shows that make me say “Whoa, that just happened” these days. Perhaps I’ve grown from seeing more series and varied genres, and I’m now cynical. Or perhaps there is nothing new under the sun, and every seemingly new idea has an antecedent.

    It’s possible that the saying “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is true. But styles and trends change, and it just doesn’t work to compare today’s series to the ones from ten or fifteen years ago.

    If you feel burned out, and wondering where all the awesome media is, then I recommend broadening your fandom horizons. Try something in a different media form or category.

    Finally, don’t be surprised if you start seeing “American moe.” Why? Because there’s plenty of examples in TVTropes that list western media under their broad definition of moe at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Moe

  2. Oh absolutely. It’s very important to consider changes in trends, and the way things evolve. But at the same time, the only way this happens is via the market, and who is looking at what.

    It isn’t so much discouraging to see this happen as a fan myself (been doing this for well over 20 years now), but rather to many who have seen the iconic shows of the last two decades, and not see anything have that kind of impact, even in Japan.

    So this is a two-fold issue. There is the fandom, looking at a googleplex of shows coming in when in the 90s, we only had roughly double-digits to choose from. And then there is the reception of viewers in Japan, facing a glut of shows that either are too fanboy-centric for them to care, or too esoteric for them to venture deeper into.

    It’s rare to get that balance right, but it has happened.

    My concern is for the producers & artists who in fact DO have a great set of ideas that could encompass a wider range of viewers, but are being lost in the shuffle at the moment. Being jaded doesn’t mean we are bereft of hope. There’s a reason we stick around.

  3. Agree, there is also what is burnout from a lot of the same repetitive series, that even makes me scratch my head and wonder why that series is so darn popular and why others aren’t. Also seeing the limited this and limited that is not helping much either. The other day, I happened to go thru a lot of my old VHS, and end up tossing a majority of them out… since it can’t been seen anymore.. so then there is the starting march of going the legal route of things and waiting for series to be license…

  4. Well, I’m a relatively new anime fan (five years or so), so I’m still enjoying what is probably considered by everyone else to be standard and reworked shonen stuff (Naruto, Bleach, etc.). There’s still enough series out there, in all different genres and sub-genres, that feel absolutely new to me.

    I’ve been thinking about adding Tatami Galaxy to my plan-to-watch list. The art has such a surreal, cool look – it reminds me a bit of Mononoke.

  5. You’ve brought up some excellent points. I must confess, I don’t write a blog and only occasionally leave comments because 90% of the time I have no bloody clue what people are talking about! Too blogs talking about too many series and making references to too many other series. I’m getting a bit tired of it.

    The other day I was wondering, “Where’s the Cowboy Bebop for the 2000s?” and I didn’t have an answer. I agree with your suspicion that the fandom has splintered into so many different subgroups that even if there is innovation, it happens within that particular subgroup and not across the board. For example, Planetes is, I would say, the most intriguing and innovative sci-fi anime to come out in recent years. Everyone I know who’s watched it agrees that it’s superb, yet only fans who would be into sci-fi anime would pick it up in the first place. It won’t change anime as a whole, but it certainly brought a breath of fresh air to its particular genre.

    Also, when it comes to innovation, I tend to find it more in anime film/movies rather than TV series. TV series have to pander to their fandoms to some extent, for better or for worse. I just re-watched two of Satoshi Kon’s films recently (Millenium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers), and they were more enjoyable than some of the recent series I’ve (tried to) watch. If OVAs are dying, I fear that films/movies might be next on the chopping block, and I fear where anime will end up if we lose them. We really could use more and better movies — and I don’t mean just more Miyazaki/Ghibli stuff — from newer directors like Makoto Shinkai, etc.

  6. Completely agreed, f0calizer. As of right now, the means by which we view our anime has shifted dramatically from a simplified means of distributing it, which in effect leaves few avenues for a mass abundance of fringe fans to be made. The bread and butter of the industry for the longest time was television, but with more options for entertainment out there than ever, it becomes harder to cover multiple bases. So what we see now are a mass of series, designed specifically to cater to niche audiences. And while any clientele is good, it does little to offer something of value to someone who has friends who may enjoy the medium, but can find no easy entry into the fold.

    OVAs & TV are definitely products of their time. I’m just curious as to whether or not it is possible to create something that transcends niche, and can offer anime’s value to a wholly unexpected mass appeal, given the new methods that are evolving before us.

    Or maybe I just want to see the medium shift & shake again.

  7. Collective unconsciousness of the anime is probably not trendy anymore. It’s pretty much compartmentalized, and very individualized. Japan was pretty uniform society back then, but now it’s getting diversified in terms of interest and hobbies. The word “My Boom” symbolizes that. Boom was (trend) supposed to be one single fad at a particular time, and if people didn’t follow it, they were branded as outcasts. Now, nobody will accuse you for having your own world that nobody understands, and in a rather collectivism group-thinking society like Japan, this is pretty significant. So, in some way, youth today become more individualistic, unique, and maybe “otakunized” in some sense. People live in the cave or niche, or gap, whatever it is, it isn’t necessary to fill the gap. Or bridge the gap. Before cell phone, internet, email, and all that, people were connected through local communities and neighborhood, and there was the helm or hub, it was jinja (shrine) for instance, or some local deity or common ancestor like Abraham figure, or street TV with Rikidozan match, or NHK Sumo match, but now neighborhood is weakened and people rather hang out with people with similar interests. So God is dead. And we don’t really need to revive that God.

    I don’t care if people don’t understand me, as long as we all just understand each other that we’re all different and unique. It’s a lonely feeling, which is why I’m probably addicted to a romantic comedy anime. But 2-D is better than 3-D for sure. I know how cruel a community can get to an individual. I spent school years in Japan before “My Boom” era.

  8. I grew up during the wave of OVAs, in the 90’s.. and I totally enjoy that time period.. some of the memorable anime series always has me thinking what would happen if so and so.. still.. 2D ftw!

    Cowboy Bebop of the 2000’s.. hmm.. that’s a tricky thing to say.. some people can probably say Samurai Champaloo since it is from the same director, but if you enjoy the ending then bah… what is a memorable title? I kinda think Satoshi Kon works, like Millennium Actress or Tokyo Godfathers also fits the bill. Have yet to watch Paprika. >_<

  9. I understand all your points, and are pretty valid, but also pretty scarier, iam only hoping that Anime never dies even if we get “not so good animes”, or animes that only follow the trend, becuase if anime dies, well the hopes for a new resurrection will be completly lost, and thats the scary part, so for now i will be supporting anime even the ones i dont like too much.

    I have been watching anime since mazinger Z and astro boy, when i was a little kid, then it came dragon ball, evangelion, Rurouni Kenshin and the likes, i my love for anime had been cemented, iam 34 yo now, and i like series like darker than black, berserk, bleach, claymore, NHK, fullmetal alchemits(both), Le chevalier deon, Kenichi,D gray man etc, and i think they are shows from time to time that really deserves praise even if they are not classics, they are indeed worth watching.
    By the way english is not my first language, therefore sorry for any missplaces, iam from venezuela by the way nice site guys.

  10. I agree with you ManuOtaku. There have indeed been some hidden treasures out there over the last few years, but the problem is the now daunting number of shows out there that threaten to cloud our vision of what could be very special shows. The competition is so fierce at times that even strong shows lose out on an audience. And that part hurts the most, for me at least. I’m just hoping that with the concept of anime blogging that we’ll be able to better help fans find what they are looking for. Problem is, we’re only people too, and anime can only take up so much of our lives.

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