- Newfoundland, Canada
- I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The Secret to Popularity
Take a good, long look at that picture (I'd recommend clicking on it to get a clearer picture). Take particular note of the similarities between these seven mass marketed, heavily merchandised, promotional personas that have each managed to transcend the entertainment medium or genre that they helped make famous.
Can't find the similarities?
Well, if not, I'll get to them shortly. ;)
Through out my life, I have been a part of various different fandoms; moving from one to the next to the next as I grew tired with one and longed for something new. As a toddler and a young kid, I was a cartoon fan, first and foremost, and this guy was my hero...
This guy, the beloved-to-80s-boys everywhere Master of Toys, also shares a lot in common with 'The Majestic Seven' of worldwide entertainment featured in the picture above his here. But, he was different in one key way, and that key difference can help explain why He-Man never completely managed to maintain his apex of popularity like all but one of 'The Majestic Seven' pictured above... and that one is currently at a crossroads, and her name is Haruhi Suzumiya.
Will Haruhi have the lasting popularity of Superman, or the nostalgic but faded power of He-Man? The answer to that question may also have a great deal to say about the long-term prospects of anime as a whole, at least outside of Japan.
However, time to get back to my story...
Along with being a He-Man fan during much of the 80s, I was also a pro wrestling fan, and there my favorite guy was the Immortal Hulk Hogan. My memories of watching pro wrestling back then are fairly foggy, but I still remember being mesmerized by the charismatic champion in 'the red and yellow'. I recognized him by his colors, first and foremost.
After the 80s, and as I entered the higher Elementary grades, I soon turned to a mixture of western comic books and Star Trek: The Next Generation for entertainment. I wanted something a bit more age-appropriate, I guess you could say, but with the same bold, colorful, adventurous excitement of the esteemed defender of Castle Grayskull. On the reading end of things, comic books provided a refreshing break from school textbooks and homework, while on the watching end of things, Star Trek always made me think and reflect, but typically through fun unpredictable stories.
Through out high school, my interests were divided pretty evenly between Star Trek, pro wrestling, western comics, and video games. And for each of the above, certain characters stood out from the crowd, and what mostly appealed to me was the sense of theatrical magic that crackled in the air within each of these entertainment mediums or genres at their height.
However, as I entered adulthood and the 2000s rolled around, my interest in comic books and Star Trek began to wane considerably. Pro Wrestling, and video games, also started to lose me, although to a lesser extent. There were two key reasons for dwindling interest in all four areas...
1) The medium or genre itself started to take itself exceedingly seriously, and it just wasn't 'fun' anymore. In the case of comic books and Star Trek, the focus was increasingly angsty, dark, and emo. In the case of pro wrestling and video games, the goal was now pushing the envelope simply for the sake of pushing the envelope, rather than meeting fans where they already were. And there is some overlap between all four here as well.
2) Each treated themselves more as an industry catering to a hardcore base rather than as an entertainment business trying to appeal to as many fans as possible. They became focused on their internal narrative lore, and making tips of the hat and winks to hardcore fans, instead of on telling fresh new stories. They became bogged down in insider terms and lingo (anybody here know what a 'smark' is, I wonder?) that served to erect walls separating the core fanbase from the wider potential fanbase.
So, what became of my four (largely) previous fandoms?
I'm not aware of the current health or viability of pro wrestling, but I do know that DS9 and Voyager never quite reached the level of success of TNG while Enterprise didn't even reach a seventh season at all. I'm also aware of how small the western comic book market is today when compared to where it was at in the early-to-mid 90s. On the other hand, Superman and Batman-related cartoons, and live-action movies and shows, have done exceedingly well for the most part, largely due to how they have rediscovered what made these characters and their mythos appealing to a mass audience in the first place.
And as for video games, I've recently started reading the blog entries of this fascinating fellow, due to a recommendation by regular blog reader tigermoon, that I thank tigermoon for. From what I can gather from Malstrom's blogs, the 'gaming industry' could be better (or, rather, is getting in the way of gaming being better), and its current weaknesses are due to the same problems that I started noticing within it almost ten years prior.
So... how does this all relate to anime? It relates to anime because, I fear, that anime is starting to walk down the same path that Star Trek, pro wrestling, video games, and western comics walked down before it.
Anime is increasingly rooted in its own insider terms and lingo. As an industry, it appears increasingly inward looking, and attempting to appeal to a core otaku base instead of trying to capture a more mainstream audience. Looking at the new fall line-up, I don't see much, if any, complete crap... but I do see a lot of very derivative shows. It would be better, I think, if anime tried to find inspiration from outside of its own running character types and cliches for a change. This, it could be argued, is what Miyazaki does, and why his animated movies stand out so strongly and consistently do well commercially. At the same time, though, there are some common and seemingly universal (Mario is big everywhere, including Japan) strands that course through the popular characters that transcend and lift their industries.
Haruhi Suzumiya, I believe, may have what it takes to be that character for the anime industry.
Let's revisit 'The Majestic Seven' in my opening picture at the very top of this blog entry. What do they all have in common? Superman is red, yellow, and blue. Hulk Hogan is red and yellow. Mario is red, yellow, blue, and white. Wolverine is blue and yellow. Kirk is wearing yellow, and Picard is wearing red. Haruhi Suzumiya is red, yellow, blue, and white.
Primary colors and white.
These are the colors that, if arranged in a sleek streamlined way, tend to captivate the eyes and entice new fans. So, if you want to create a new superstar character, I'd encourage you to use two or more primary colors, with or with out white, when making the character design for that character. At a visual level, it's a tried, tested, and true method if ever there was one. But there's more than just visuals... the seven characters share certain personality traits in common as well.
First and foremost... confidence. Each and every one of these seven believe in themselves, believe in what they stand for, and have an almost unflappable faith in their abilities. People are inherently drawn to 'strong horses', and these seven are all strong.
Secondly, playfulness. Yes, playfulness. Yes, even Superman, Wolverine, and Picard are playful. Flying and punching bad guys is inherently playful... part of the reason why Superman Returns didn't do better is because Superman didn't throw a signal punch against a signal bad guy the entire time. A guy going around calling people 'bub', and popping long sharp claws and slicing things to bits with them, is obviously having a great time, even if he won't admit to it. And some of Picard's most memorable scenes is when he's quoting Shakespeare and helping Data out in trying to become more human.
Finally, idealism/optimism. Optimism sells. Angst can add depth to stories, but at the end of the day, people want to see their favorite characters succeed, especially if they're living vicariously through that character. I will admit, though, that Wolverine is more grim and dark than optimistic. He is the exception to the rule. However, he makes up for it due to extreme levels of confidence.
You want a brand new character that instantly catches on with the public? Give them a sleek and distinctive character design that incorporates primary colors and/or white, give them an idealistic or optimistic goal, and make them confident and playful while in the pursuit of that goal. Haruhi Suzumiya, when not K-Onified, provides each of the above in flying primary colors. ;)
Beyond that, it helps to have a certain regular sequence that the character is famous for. In Superman's case, it's changing from Clark Kent into Superman (especially if in a phone booth or an elevator). In Hulk Hogan's case, it's hulkin' up, laying some fists down on the opponent's head, launching a big foot into the face, and bringing down a big legdrop for the win... followed up by posing and ear-cupping celebration. In Mario's case, it's jumping on goombas to win and getting bigger from mushrooms. In Wolverine's case, it's popping his claws and shredding things. In Kirk's case it's slow... carefully... enunciated... speech. In Picard's case, it's drinking earl gray tea. And in Haruhi's case, it's the Hare Hare Yukai dance.
And finally, there is the catch-phrase. I'm sure we're all familiar with the catch-phrases of these seven... er, except Haruhi, now that I think about it. Haruhi really could use a catch-phrase!
Look, up in the sky! It's an alien interface... no, it's a nice plane... no, it's SuperSuzumiya!
SuperSuzumiya: I stand for fun, aliens, and the Japanese way!
Haruhi Suzumiya (with Kyon holding a mike up to her mouth): Well, fleein' Kyon, I have just a few words for the CCP! Whatcha' gonna do when Mikuru's 24-inch breasts come crashing down on you?!
Haruhi Suzumiya: I'm the best at what I do, Kyon, and what I do is pretty!
Koizumi: Maybe if we exploded a piece of dynamite over there it would make the scene better...
Haruhi: Make it so!
Haruhi: I... said... make. it. so!
Or, to get back to somebody that Skeletor calls a musclebound moron...
Haruhi (holding Mikuru aloft as though she were a sword): By the power of my moe mascot...!
... I HAVE The FANBOOOOOOYYYYYSSSSSS!!!
But, of course, it might be good if Haruhi picked up her own unique catch-phrase. For example, I totally think of the word 'totally' whenever the totally cool Wendee Lee comes totally to my mind! ;) Maybe something totally rocking can be made out of that, kind of like how Mario's "Yahoo!" became a famous e-mail and online chat service. XD
In all seriousness, though, a catchphrase would be good for Haruhi. And it would also be good if Haruhi could be successfully marketed to a mainstream audience... much like how Star Trek's latest resurgent movie was. And so, here's a specific idea for that:
The Haruhi-chan anime, and the Yuki-chan manga, is the right way for this franchise to go. Haruhi is too marketable a figure to be held back by novel source material, in my view. What I'm about to recommend here is a bit wild and out there, but I think that it could work.
Have an anime in the vein of Haruhi-chan but with full-length episodes and characters drawn in normal style. And make it episodic, "day in the life of" and fun-loving much like Haruhi-chan is. It could be about anything... Haruhi goes to Hollywood and makes a big production movie! Haruhi goes ghost-hunting and runs into a Skeletor knock-off! Haruhi goes Lara Croft tomb raider, and her and her SOS Brigade have to beat out shady criminals for pieces of ancient lore that might be tied to aliens or time travelers! With a character like Haruhi, the possibilities are endless!
So, perhaps, a non-canon anime original Haruhi anime like this could be totally cool, quite successful, and a major boon for the anime industry as a whole. Consider that Haruhi is to the big eyes and school uniform of anime what Superman is to the cape and tights of super heroes. In other words, Haruhi has come to define the look for wider audiences, in my view. When your average person thinks of a superhero, they think of Superman... and when your average person thinks of a school girl, they think of Haruhi Suzumiya. She has somehow become the iconic prototype of this basic character model the same way Superman is for the comic book superhero character model. Haruhi Suzumiya could totally be successfully marketed to a very big audience.
Or... she could become an intense, but passing, fad of sorts like He-Man was. What partly did He-Man in was a focus on the merchandise and the hardcore fan of the show, instead of on fresh new story content.
Will Haruhi be the Superman of anime, or the He-Man of anime? Will anime itself reach a larger audience or cannibalize itself from being too inward looking and derivative?
These are two questions on my mind right now as I go forward as an anime fan. I remain cautiously hopeful that I will like the final answers...
I hope to get back to my Top 10 Reviews soon, by the way. Apologizes to my regular readers there. ^_^;
All comments and feedback are welcomed!