Is Anime making a comeback?
The responses to my Twitter question, "Is anime making a comeback?" were surprising. A flurry of "Yes", "No", "It was never gone how could it make a comeback!?", and at least one "what is anime?" So today's post is about the state of the anime, the unique stylistic animated shows from Japan that took the world by storm. Also, we will talk about Manga, which is Japanese comic books.
*chuckles* If you laughed at this image you are both an Otaku and an AE gamer. Currently, the most popular and talked about anime series is Attack on Titan. The lead developer of our game EpicDuel
is also named Titan. (I see what you did there.)
An brief history of anime (not by Stephen Hawking)
I grew up in the USA where animated cartoons were widely regarded as childrens shows. The idea of animated series aimed at teenagers and adults was a pretty weird concept. 30 years ago, there were shows like Speed Racer and Voltron on TV, but it was not until Karl Macek brought Robotech to US televisions did the masses see what anime really was. I have seen every episode of Robotech at least twice. It was a space drama filled with action, love and true danger. It was serious. Main characters died in it. It was serious. It also had giant transforming robots -- so there was that. I always felt it was was really weird that the series was in three sections with three different art styles and a very illogical overarching plot. Later I found out that it was actually three seperate series that Karl stitched together in order for it to be long enough for a network to pick it up. That, along with Sailor Moon, Voltron, Speed Racer and other imported shows, was how many of us got our first introduction to anime. Of course, the really serious anime fans had somehow aquired VHS tapes of the movies Akira or Ninja Scroll. These two movies created the first wave of anime fans here in the states. They spreaded like an infectious plague. Mostly because WE HAD NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THEM BEFORE! There were not for kids like Pokemon. They were bloody, filled with impossible action, horrifying, at some points downright gross, and the storyline was meant for teenages and adults to watch. As the demand for anime increased, we saw more and more series and movies emerge. But it was still pretty hard to find anime titles here in the US.... especially in those days long before things like Netflix and streaming video.
Adult Swim & the Anime/Manga Explosion
I was living in San Fransisco, California, two blocks from Japan Town, in 2000. They had a video rental store and I lucked out! My girlfriend and I at the time used to rent things like DragonBall, Escaflowne, Berserk, and sometimes we would get things that were in Japanese... no idea what the title was... and just watch them for the awesome matrix-style action. Well, actually voice act the different character's parts in real time to be silly (I got quite good at it... but it turns out the plot of Bubblegum Crisis was not to find their missing hair dryer).
It was after moving here to where the Lab is located in the Tampa bay area of Florida that anime really hit the mainstream. I believe it was very largely due to the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim Block. Starting late at night they showed crazy awesome anime like Cowboy Beebop, Inuyasha, Trigun, Outlaw Star, Yu Yu Hakisho, and later amazing titles like Bleach, Paranioa Agent and Samuari Champloo. It started a boom. Our games were heavily inspired by these anime which edgy by appropriate for most audiences.
Around 2007, Anime and Manga hit critical mass. You could tell by walking into any book store or video store (remember when there were still video stores?) I judged anime's popularity by the number of shelves they took up. Even the major book stores didicated up to 10 shelves of front store space to manga. Death Note was always my favorite. I feel good for having spotted that one early... they did a sample of it in a the monthly "Shonen Jump" magazine. The same place many popular manga like Naruto, Soul Eater, Bleach, Fairy Tale and Once Piece apeared prior to being made into manga, then into anime. Many of the conventions suddenly had a heavy anime presence. Anime influenced art filled games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. New titles were coming out faster and faster.... and if you were a fan of anime like myself, you probably noticed the quality just kept getting lower and lower. Companies were falling all overthemselves to get their DVDs on the market to sell for $20 to $40 (which only contained a handfull of episodes each.)
By 2009, everyone under the age of 25 knew how to get videos and comics for free on the internet. Torrents and other file sharing sites had hit critical mass. Need a video that has not even appeared in theaters yet? Just ask the neighbor's kid... he will have it for you in less than an hour. (Actual quote from a neighbor.) Nobody bought videos from the stores any more. The anime bubble burst nearly over night. I could tell. I was always watching the shelves. Every week I would go to the video store and book store. I knew ever cover by heart and noticed every time they got something in. New stuff was coming in, but nothing was selling. The new stuff that came in was really low budget with terrible animation. At this time, Adult Swim's ratings had dropped and they put Family Guy and Futurama in their key spots. A pretty rapid switch from anime to "funny/dumb purposefully terrible animation or live action" had taken hold. Shows like Aqua Team Hunger Force, Children's Hospital, etc. Do not get me wrong, I think these shows are funny. But this post is about anime.
I was really depressed as every time I returned to the stores. The anime & manga sections kept getting smaller. They got puched to the back. Distributors were going out of business and a lot of imports halted. In fact, all of the video stores here went out of business. Anime was also getting a bad wrap. There was one type of anime that was apparently still selling. The whole "moe" thing (pronounced: "Moe-Aeh") which is the idolization of ultra cuteness can be.... really creepy. It is also important to note that anime let us see action and crazy supernatural things that were simplly possible in real life. After the Matrix, special effects in film and TV have been on an exponential rise and now (especially with the new Super Man movie) it is possible to do anything that we had seen in anime with real people!
It felt like anime died the death of an unneeded, disgraced politition.
In 2010 I went to Japan. Anime and Manga was still huge there. I went to Comiket, a 500,000 attendee ultra indie-comic convention. It had over 45,000 artists contributing. That is more artists than the total number of people who went to DragonCon last year. (Think about it.) There is a town called Akihabara (aka "Akiba" also aka "Electronic Town") It is basically Otaku paradise -- an entire town of anime, games, music, robots, arcades, computers and ultra geek stuff. There were a lot of indie game shops. Every week they had new game releases and the lines went for blocks! It was so inspiring. At this time they were just releasing the new Neon Genesis Evangellion movies so that was pretty huge in the shops where they sell figurines and models. I was so happy! When I came home we built Yokai Island in AdventureQuest Worlds
based on a random combination of things from the trip. You can learn a lot about Akiba and Japan from Danny Choo's site
. He is a really interesting fellow. I tried to meet him but no luck... (yet.)
Back home, there seemed to be no interest in Anime. The conventions I went to dropped down to only two booths that sold anime. (Same two that were at DragonCon this year.)
I went back to Japan in 2012. Akiba had changed. A lot of the shops I looked forward to, including the indie game shop, were gone. All fo the arcades were now owned by either Sega or Taito and people I talked to said they were not doing very well any more. With mobile games the way they are, how could they? The entire way we consume media has changed. We watch video on Netflix, Hulu and streamed off the web. We get our music from iTunes. We even get our books digitally now. While Akiba still had a lot of great shops -- the shift that I saw at the old video stores was definately taking place. Currently I am watching Steins Gate. The anime series takes place in the town of Akiba and is really interesting. I highly recommend it ages 13+.
Over the past year, two interesting titles have emerged. First is Sword Art Online. An anime about a video game that is a little simliar to Dot Hack, but far more interesting. Second is Attack on Titan. Which, is reaching the level of popularity that InuYasha and Bleach once held. It was pretty much the only anime people were cosplaying as at DragonCon this year. Perhaps the series is strong enough to bring the interest back to the art form?
When I asked on Twitter if you thought Anime was making a comeback, many people said something like , "How could it? It was never gone!" It dawned on me that while all of the ways that I used to experienced anime (DVDs, Adult Swim: Toonami, etc) are gone... that so many of you watch the shows on the Cartoon Network, Netflix, Crunchy Roll and other online video streaming websites. To many of you, it has always been this way. That makes me really happy. Because this means I was wrong. Anime did not die. It just changed form. Granted a not very profitable for the anime companies perspective form, but a new form never the less. If a high quality series like Attack on Titan can show the companies that you need to build something with heart -- not just shovel the same-ol-same-ol out and slap a $20-$40 price tag on it. Then maybe the world is doing the right thing. It is natural selection in process... weeding out the anime.
Anime & Manga exploded five years ago and I was really happy. Because the things I built are inspired by the stylistic creativity and action of those animated series. Anime & Manga continue to thrive as a niche for people who are passionate about great art, animation and stories. Which makes me happy... because you are the type of people I want to be building things for.
QUESTION: In the past, I asked what your favorite anime/manga was, but now I want to know.... what was your FIRST anime/manga and how did you see it?