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 Galaxy, Durarara!!, 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.