About Me

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.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Evolution of Anime

In recent months over on Anime Suki's General Anime forum, there have been a few threads basically questioning and debating over the recent direction of anime and its industry. Most of these threads have been started by critics of that direction; those critics tending to be people who were anime fans during the 80s or 90s or possibly even before those decades.

In those debates, I've often played the role of advocate for the critics position, since that's the more unpopular position, and I think that it's sometimes good to give voice to unconventional, unpopular positions in order to put conventional wisdom to the test. This can lead discussions into greater depths, as people dig deeper and deeper to support their own positions. In doing so, within the context of a debate over anime, people can learn more about anime itself, from both their own research, as well as from the knowledge put forward by the other side of the issue.

From these debates, and from paying closer attention to recent season line-ups for anime, I am noticing a profound shift of sorts, I think.

And the shift isn't necessarily what people think it is, although it is related to that.

The Anime Suki poster Bri provided data indicating that there has been a decline in anime of the fantasy and sci-fi genres (as well as in two other genres that escape me right now). By "decline", I mean a lower percentage of the total number of animes put out each year.

But, I don't think that the issue is so much a decline in any one particular genre.

I believe, good reader, that the issue is that the genres themselves have changed. But while the genres have changed, it has lead to a particular type of anime to thoroughly dominate the industry (i.e. account for, in all likelihood, over 50% of all animes produced since the conclussion of Code Geass R2). This domination of one particular type of anime is vaguely perceived by fan and critic alike, but is often mistaken for "moe", or "ecchi", or "fanservice", or "lolicon", or any number of anime elements or conventions.

What I'm refering to is ultimately bigger than any of that, and you'll see what it is that I'm referring to shortly.

First, though, let's look at the new genres...

Genre 1 - Avant Garde Sophisticaed School

Flagship Animation Company: SHAFT

Key anime examples: Bakemonogatari, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Durarara!!

Likely Spring 2010 examples: Arakawa under the Bridge

In recent years, this genre has taken off, and has truly blossomed. It is distinct from other school-based animes in that it has a certain level of maturity and literature quality to it. It is very dialogue heavy, and relies on genuinely witty repartee. Animes of this type have a crisp comedic edge to them, but also tend to take themselves somewhat seriously by casting a somewhat darker mood than what many school-based anime have.

They aim to be hip and trendy; they are your College Professor's anime, you could say. They are the animes that you would probably find the easiest to write lengthy College papers on.

This modern anime genre also tends to be accompanied by a very avant garde artstyle and animation flare. SHAFT has mastered this artyle and animation approach unlike any other animation studio. It could even be said that SHAFT has helped to give life to this modern anime genre.

Genre 2 - SuperSpecialSweet Moe School!

Flagship Animation Company: Kyoto Animation

Flagship Source Material Provider: Key

Key anime examples: Clannad, Kanon, Air, K-On!

Likely Spring 2010 examples: Kiss x Sis, Yutori-Chan, K-On! Season 2

When people talk about moe, in reference to entire anime series' (and not just to indvidual characters), it's the animes in this modern anime genre that they are thinking of.

Animes within this genre are there to pull on your heart-strings; they're there to make you feel all warm and cuddly inside, at least about the characters involved. They're there to make you go "oooooo" and "aaaaa" over the eloquent cuteness of it all. When it comes to pure emotional investment, this modern anime genre can touch the hearts of its biggest fans like no other.

Now... none of this means that these animes are necessarily dumb, or anti-intellectual. I want to be clear about that. Clannad: After Story, for example, has a very profound and touching story to it. Its principal characters are very thoughtful people, and its familial themes are not ones to be taken lightly.

But, on the flip-side, animes of this modern genre can also be as carefree and light-hearted as K-On!

What ties K-On! and Clannad: After Story together is that they both have that same moe visual style, and they both seek to arouse strong positive emotions from the viewer through watching cute and playful non-jaded characters try to achieve their hopes and dreams.

This anime genre fuses innocence with a gentle intelligence; represented best, perhaps, by the Clannad: After Story character of Kotomi.

Genre 3 - Lustful Lesbian Love School!

Key anime examples: Kampfer, Ikki Tousen

Likely Spring 2010 examples: B Gotta H Kei, Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor

This anime genre is basically the modern version of the ecchi genre. You can even think of this title as just "ecchi" if you wish. However, it's a bit more precise than ecchi in that it is always based within a school setting.

Genre 4 - Action School

Flagship Source Material Provider: Ryukishi07

Key anime examples: Higurashi no naku koro ni, Okami Kakushi, Mai HiME

Likely Spring 2010 examples: Angel Beats, Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Maou

Animes in this genre fuse loads of action with a predominant school or academic setting. The action can come both in a gorey type, but also in the more conventional combat style of the anime Mai HiME. The works of Ryukishi07 has really taken this modern anime genre by storm in recent years.

Genre 5 - School Sports!

Key anime examples: Prince of Tennis, Cross Game, Ookiku Furikabatte, Major

Likely Spring 2010 examples: Ookiku Furikabatte Season 2, Major Season 6

This genre is pretty self-explanatory. In fairness to Cross Game, it's about much more than just sports... but baseball certainly is a key component of the anime.

Along with these 5 modern anime genres, there is a sixth... Historical Pieces. This is a genre that seems to be rising in popularity as well.

However, for the purposes of this blog entry, I'm mostly concerned with these five.

Why, you ask?

Because they all have something in common.

If you can't figure out what it is, well... you probably should go back to school then. ;) :D

0utf0xZer0, a good friend of mine from Anime Suki, once took note of how little the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya appeared to impact on anime, at least as far as influencing future anime titles was concerned.

Au contraire, mon ami. ;)

What that anime did is become the catalyst of a vast number of new modern anime genres, all rooted to varying degrees in Haruhi's anime.

I'm sure she would be quite proud of this accomplishment...

You see, the way a new big hit within an entertainment genre influences the future of that genre is not always with carbon copies of that big hit itself. Rather, what often happens is that people are inspired by one or another particular part of that new big hit.

Haruhi's melancholic soliloquies and Koizumi's philosophical treatises inspire Avant Garde Sophisticated School

The moe character designs and art style inspire SuperSpecialSweet Moe School

Haruhi's molestation of Mikuru inspires Lustful Lesbian Love School

Yuki Nagato vs. Ryoko Asakura inspires Action School

And the Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya inspires Sports School

The five fingers of the hand of Haruhi are a creative force leading to these five new anime genres. ;)

And, as a big fan of Haruhi's anime, I do like a lot of the animes within them.

But... and you knew a but was coming, I'm sure ;) ... the result is that more and more anime are, I think, school-based.

Even animes that aren't school-based are increasingly borrowing from the school-based anime character types popularized in the Haruhi anime.

Case in point being the Sacred Boobsmi... er, the Sacred Blacksmith. ;)

This is why you don't see many of the traditional genres played straight any more in anime. The atmosphere of the school has spread out, and is touching many an anime now. Of course, a huge number of modern animes are school-based as it is.

Now, I want to be clear here on two points...

1. School-based animes can be great. As I've commented before, it's incredible how anime can make something as mundane (and usually hated) as school seem comedic, dynamic, thought-provoking, exciting, fun, and just an overall blast of adrenaline. A totally cool real rush, if you will.

However, there's only so many ways you can play out a Student Council. There's only so many ways you can play out school-based activities. School-based animes bring a nice structure with them, but because of that, they also bring limitations too. There's only so many different sorts of characters that you can have as students in a school. They generally can't be defined or fleshed out through a full-time profession or career, for example.

2. School-based animes aren't just animes that happen to have schools in them. For an anime to be school-based it needs to have a solid majority of its acitivity center around the school, and/or a group based on people who go to the same school together.

One of the limitations of a school-based anime is that it doesn't naturally lend itself to something that I've come to miss... and which I think anime has come to miss.

And that is... epic stories. Epic in the traditional pre-internet sense of the term. Epic as in stories where the fate of an entire world, for example, hangs in the balance. Basically, an epic story has a major plotline, and major reprocussions within its own fictional universe.

And... as hard as I find it to believe given what the 2nd half of its 2nd season was like... I'm really missing Code Geass now.

Code Geass and Gurren Lagann.

Because they had epic stories.

Looking at the Spring 2010 anime selection, I don't see a Code Geass or a Gurren Lagann there. The closest to it, as far as being epic is concerned, is probably Angel Beats. But that, of course, borrows much more from the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya than it does from anything else.

This, I think, may be at the crux of many of the criticisms made of modern anime.

Just a simple lack of epic stories; stories that go beyond the limitations of the school.

Nothing wrong with school-based animes, and these modern anime genres... but they should not completely supplant the older genres of fantasy and sci-fi.

Overall, modern anime is still doing pretty good in most regards, I'll admit.

But we could badly use another Rebellion against Britannia, or another fight against the Anti-Spirals, just about now.

As always, any and all comments are welcomed. My apologies to anybody I may have inadvertently offended with this blog entry.


  1. I honestly have to agree on the rather excessive amount of school-based anime. However, I think the reason for it lies a bit deeper than animation studios simply playing "me too" with what's popular at the time.

    I did a bit of research on your selection of examples, which is why it took me much longer to write this reply than usual. What I found is that almost every example you had given for those five genres is an adaptation of either a light novel series, a visual novel, or a manga series(mostly of the 4koma variety). In other words, the current state of anime is controlled largely by the state of those three sources, and they seem to be overwhelmed with stories based around school.

    Another possible problem is this: That's simply what the market wants. Given the economic climate, it isn't really "smart" to put out something that goes against the current demand. So as long as things like K-On! keep selling left and right, that's generally what we're going to get from studios.

    For the record, I miss the "Save the world/universe/Tokyo/whatever" type of story, as well. Lucky for me, there's plenty of older shows I've yet to look into, but I don't think it will last until this school craze dies down.

  2. School anime are nothing new, they have existed for decades and were always popular, but it's true that in the last few years we have seen them become more sophisticated. This may be the reason why they this classic genre is a little more prominent than before.

    I wouldn't worry about anime like CG and GL because they sell better than 90% of school anime, it's just that they also cost more to produce.

    Nice analysis, sadly I don't have time to say much more, exams are killing me.


  3. Excellent overall post. Largely agree with the majority of what you said.

    I too miss "epic" animes and would like another Death Note, Code Geass or TTGL. However, given the current climate and the cost of producing well planned out story-driven animes is expensive like you said and is much easier to just churn out "school-based" stuff like you said. Not saying its bad, but it does get boring when stuff like K-on is supposedly one of the most popular series in recent years. Though stuff like Clannad After Story and Bakemonogatari have made the "school genre" interesting and evolving.

    As for you "action" school genre, I think it should be split into three genres. "Grim Dark" action, "Shonen" action and "Psychological" drama.

    Psychological drama is stuff you said stuff like Higurashi, Chaos Head, 11eyes, Ookamikakuishi, Umineko and the coming up Angel Beats.

    "Shonen" action would be stuff like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist, Fairy Tail and D-Gray Man.

    "Grim Dark" action would be stuff like Darker than Black, CANAAN and Kara no Kyoukai.

  4. Nice write up. I agree with your assesment of school life dominating modern anime.

    As an possible explination I would say anime (and the mangas on which they were based) has always reflected the time it was made in and centain types of anime fitted in with those times.

    For example the Space Opera dominated late 1970s and early eighties anime. It allowed many young artists used the genre to deal with the traumas of the second world war by putting modern and imperial Japan against each other. Yamato for example is really about the redemption of the spirit of the nation.

    The late eighties and early nineties saw the rise of cyberpunk. Movies like Terminator and Blade Runner affected Japanese artists, computers and early forms of ICT in combination with the economic boom of Japan and the fear of nuclear holocaust by the superpowers and environmentalism gave rise to dark post apocaliptic shows where humans and technology would mix.

    The late nineties and early 2000s, Japans lost decade, for the first time in decades the Japanese economy wasn't growing. The harsh repetition based schoolsystem was failing as it no longer produced students that were suited for the information age. Graduates could no longer find work and the birth rates kept dropping. In such an environment and in combination of anime moving to late night television resulted in new darker, psychological, introspective and less restrained works.

    The mid and late 2000s. The schoolsystem was changed to make it more enjoyable and less stressful on kids, people got used to the new economic reality, the fears of war were a thing of the past. Individualisation, materialism and a decline of family structures created new problems. Young professionals are now more then ever judged on merrit, relationships became more demanding and young people stay longer at home. This was the perfect feeding ground for the current escapist era. High school life and childhood are idealised over the complexity and stress of adulthood and work. Perfect, cute non-threating love interests that love the main character unconditionally. It's what we see in modern anime.

    As said anime reflects the time it was made in, and future anime will reflect the Japanse society of tomorow.

  5. Interesting post… I actually do find it a lot easier to sympathize with the criticisms aimed at modern anime when it’s framed in terms of settings than in terms of moe – more on that in a minute.

    I see Haruhi’s influence a bit differently than you though. School settings were very popular in some of the genres you mention even before Haruhi. Most of the sports anime I can remember hearing about that predates Haruhi had a school settings. The Ikkitousen franchise dates to 2003, and it’s not the only hot girls fighting anime to predate Haruhi. And the “romance – tearful separation – happy reunion” plot formula used in Clannad and shows like it was popularized by the late 1990s visual novels versions of To Heart and Kanon. To Heart and Kanon are particularly important IMO, as I suspect these titles played a large role in establishing the school setting as the dominant paradigm for moe.

    However, outside the visual novel adaptation genre, I don’t think school life scenes were a big draw for most people prior to Haruhi. Shows like Mai Hime and Fate/Stay Night had some school scenes in them, but the action was a big draw. And high school comedies like GTO or School Rumble tended to have a much more over the top brand of humour.

    I agree that this focus on school life limits the kinds of characters that modern anime can have. Some shows – Haruhi, FSN, and GTO included – manage to introduce some pretty interesting characters into a school setting by way of their premise. But there’s lots of room for moe in other settings too. The high fantasy series Utawarerumono had the extremely cute dog-eared healer Eruruu. Moon Phase (which I consider far better than Shaft’s other loli vampire show thus far) had a photographer for an occult magazine end up with a 14-ish vampire girl following him home. The only school scenes in the 2002 visual novel Ever 17 are flashbacks, as the entire game takes place in an underwater theme park the characters are trapped in.

    Of course, moe itself can present challenges for writing older characters. Witness the amount of trouble I had buying the Sora no Woto girls as a legitimate military unit, they would have been better off portraying them as a bunch of Girl Scouts roped into border guard duty due to a manpower shortage or something. But on the flip side, Ever 17 did a pretty good job of making older characters moe – You Tanaka is a pretty convincing genki girl despite being ready to enter second year university, while 23 year old Tsugumi has a brand of playfulness that reminds me a lot of Hitagi.

    And yeah, we need another Geass/Gurren Lagann class show. We had a Sunrise of Gainax mecha show every season from late 2006 to early 2009, and they all sold pretty well. I think this may be a matter of budgets and schedules though. These series tend to be very expensive to produce, so anyone funding one is probably going to want a known studio doing it. And my guess is that even Sunrise has to take breaks from big shows occasionally. Gainax certainly does – Gurren Lagann apparently spent several years in production before airing.

  6. Sunrise has been working on the 6 x 50min Unicorn OVAs which is an inmense project with world wide release starting March. They've got the 00 movie in the works as well. So that's kept them busy. Still, there should be some news on Geass R3 this year.

    Gainax...well that's anyone's guess. Anno has most of the best people from Gainax working for his studio Khara on rebuild of NGE. No idea how that will pann out.

  7. Thanks a lot to everyone for the excellent feedback. :)

    Tigermoon has given me an idea for a new blog posting that I'll probably make soon - thank you for that Tigermoon. ;)

    I wanted to address some of 0utfoxZer0's points directly...

    Yeah, one thing I will say when I was following and participating over the debates over the quality of modern anime, was that nobody could seem to get on the same page about what precisely it was that distinguished modern anime for pre-2000 anime.

    There is more moe, but moe was always around; simply not known by that name. Many of the Sailor Scouts of Sailor Moon had moe elements to them, after all.

    And many mid-90s animes had ecchi and/or fanservice.

    So... as I thought on it, it occurred to me that what really distinguishes modern anime from older anime is the setting issue. This setting issue probably tends to amplify the sense of moe and ecchi - the typical school-girl uniform tends to lend itself to both. ;)

    However, you can have moe in fantasy, moe in sci-fi (Solty Rei is a good example of this; that's a pretty obscure example but it's honestly the best I caould think of, lol), moe in just about anything... but moe in school tends to make it a constant heavy presence which can simply overwhelm some viewers.

    So, moe and ecchi isn't really a problem. It's just that a little bit more setting diversity would be good. Nothing major though.

    As for my arguments pertaining to Haruhi... I'll admit that the huge Haruhi fan in me is shining through there, lol. And maybe guilty of a little bit of fanboyism, lol ^_^;;

    It would probably be better to say that Haruhi helped to popularize (as opposed to outright create) these kinds of anime to the point where they're arguably now genres unto themselves.