After giving it some thought, I believe that there are five phases of entertainment.
In other words, that in each and every entertainment medium (be it movies, mainstream American TV, video games, western comic books, manga, anime, or anything else) there are five phases that the entertainment medium continually goes through, at least barring the existence and growth of major distinguishing subdivisions within the medium itself. Such subdivisions could manifest themselves through clear and pronounced differentiation between various genres (i.e. sci-fi TV shows being drastically different from horror TV shows being drastically different from sitcoms).
However, putting such subdivisions aside for a moment, here are the five phases of entertainment...
Phase One: Revolution - This would include an entertainment medium at its very birth. All such births are inherently revolutionary, as they bring a brand new entertainment form to society at large. So, this is actually the beginning point of all entertainment genres and mediums, even those which sprout out of pre-existing mediums (superhero comics arising out of the broader comic medium, for example).
Revolutions also can occur within pre-existing entertainment mediums without creating a brand new entertainment medium unto itself, though. What happens in this case is that the pre-existing entertainment medium is revolutionized in this stage. This doesn't mean the entertainment medium gets a fresh coat of paint in the form of superior visual graphics (video games), higher quality paper (books), or improved audio quality (music). It doesn't just mean a format update, or some other sort of sustaining innovation.
It means an innovation that presents a brand new content-driven element into the entertainment medium. A Revolution is obvious in that you can point to what came after it, and be able to instantly tell just what content impact the Revolution had.
With this in mind, here are two examples of Revolutions within various entertainment mediums...
1) Pro Wrestling - The Hulk Hogan/Vince McMahon Jr. Revolution, circa mid-to-late 1980s. Pro wrestlers become increasingly gaudy and colorful and distinctive in their dress and personas. Almost every wreslter has a particular gimmick or element to his character that he plays up with every interview and match. It's appropriate that the Hulkster's in-ring name is borrowed from a prominent Marvel Comics superhero, because this revolution made a lot of pro wrestlers feel just like comic book superheroes and supervillains.
Before the Hulk Hogan/Vince McMahon Jr. Revolution, pro wrestling took itself a fair bit more seriously, and tried to closely emulate professional boxing and amateur wrestling. This was reflected in long-standing WWF Champions like Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund, who presented themselves as great atheletes first and foremost, and rarely as larger than life charismatic personas.
2) Video Games - The home console revolution, circa mid-to-late 1980s. Just as pro wrestling was undergoing a Revolution, so were video games. Prior to the home console revolution, video games were played primarily at arcades and on computers. What the home console revolution did is try to bring the sort of gameplay enjoyed in arcades into home entertainment systems, particularly for the benefit of children and teens. Nintendo was of great importance in this revolution, but there were other home consoles that played a role in it.
Now, by games being played on home consoles, this also slightly altered how games were played, and what types of games there were. Arcade games could often run continuously through the inclusion of more quarters, even if you were playing poorly, but these home console games would have limited lives and continues to make them more challenging.
As you can see with these two Revolutions, a Revolution within an entertainment medium or industry means a content-driven change. What comes after doesn't just look like a newer and sleeker version of what came before. What comes after has notably different content, bearing the marks of the change wrought by the Revolution. By "content", I mean elements like predominant character types (where applicable), and narrative approaches (where applicable). These elements go above and beyond presentation style.
Phase Two: Inspiration - The Revolution usually comes in the form of a few new revolutionary entries within the pre-existing entertainment medium, or in the form of the first few entries of a brand new entertainment medium. In the case of superhero comics, the first Revolution would be seen in comics like Action Comics #1, and Marvel Comics #1. These comics represented the revolutionary birth of the superhero comics, and in a very short period of time, other comics would follow their lead, as the writers of those comics would be inspired by them.
The Inspiration phase is a phase of early growth and true creative outpouring. In this phase, outright copying of the revolutionary work or works is not going on, but key elements of those works are being used by other creators as sources of inspiration. Other creators may take some of the ideas put forward by the Revolution and apply them in different contexts.
So, for example, very independent superheroes like Superman and the original Human Torch are put in the context of an empowered patriotic WW 2-era American fighting directly against the Nazis. And so, Captain America is born. The revolutionary superhero concept is still there, but is placed in a somewhat different context and predominant setting (fighting wars in Europe instead of fighting common crooks at home).
In the inspiration phase, the revolutionary few become the inspired dozen or so.
Phase Three: Explosion - If this phase is reached, it means that the revolutionary works, and the immediately following works that were inspired by the revolutionary works, have met with a considerable degree of commercial success, critical acclaim, popular hype, or some combination thereof.
The entertainment world has effectively stood up and taken notice of the Revolution.
In the case of a brand new entertainment medium, their place in the broader entertainment world is cemented by the Explosion.
In the case of a pre-existing entertainment medium that recently underwent a Revolution, the old stalwarts of every corner of that medium now realize that the impact left by the Revolution is more than just a fad, and will be here to stay for a long time (probably until the next Revolution, if not longer).
So, commercial interests get more involved, either by a rapid increase of brand new entries into the brand new entertainment medium or by the pre-existing entertainment medium increasingly trying to ride on the coat-tails of the revolutionary works.
The business leaders of entertainment industries tell the creators and developers to produce more works like the revolutionary ones that have been great successes. As such, we start to move closer to true copying here.
For a recent example of an Explosion, look at the rapidly surging numbers of Reality TV entries shortly after Survivor had two or three highly successful season. This Explosion proved that Reality TV had truly revolutionized the North American TV entertainment medium.
Explosions like this often requires a lot of capital, and a lot of investment, on the part of commercial interests. That, and simple numbers, is the key difference between the Inspiration phase and the Explosion one.
In the explosion phase, the revolutionary few become the inspired dozen become the explosive dozens (plural) . For many fans of the Revolution, the explosion phase is often the best phase. This is because the Revolution that they loved has now fully arrived, and has grown to dominate much of a pre-existing entertainment medium, or to become a new and stable one. This is also because the explosion phase gives fans of the Revolution a lot of what they like.
Phase Four: Derivatives - If this phase is reached, it means that the most recent truly revolutionary works are no longer seen as revolutionary. They are now, merely, the forebears of the new reality. The initial hype of the Revolution, the Inspiration, and the Explosion, is slowly beginning to fade, as more and more people grow accustomed to the new status quo.
In the case of a brand new entertainment medium, this new status quo is the stable place of that relatively new entertainment medium within the broader entertainment world.
In the case of a pre-existing entertainment medium, this new status quo is simply what that entertainment medium looks like today. The pre-last-Revolution era for that entertainment medium now becomes a somewhat hazey memory.
People who weren't fans of the Revolution, now look back on those pre-Revolution days with a great sense of nostalgia. Many new fans to the entertainment medium are not even aware of what the entertainment medium looked like pre-Revolution.
A very sizable number, and overall large percentage, of the works within the entertainment industry often seem very derivative in this phase. And, in fact, they often are derivative in this phase.
The Revolution has been efficiently distilled down into largely predictble and potent formulas for economic success in the post-Revolution era. Hence, works become very formulaic. Most fans now expect the continued increased presence of character types and/or narrative approaches (in the case of books, for example) popularized by the Revolution. Some older fans, though, grow resentful of them, if not tired of them.
The internal lore of the last Revolution, and the Inspiration and Explosion which followed it, begins to build up. This internal lore becomes seen as "required knowledge" for any and all serious fans of the entertainment medium. Fans of the entertainment medium who are not thoroughly familiarized with this internal lore are sometimes looked down upon, or even outright ostracized. This internal lore tends to have a fandom all of its own, and many fans are increasingly amused by the entertainment medium engaging in self-referential humor and even plain reference droppings and cameo appearances.
This makes the entertainment medium less accessible to new people, whereas it was very accessible during the Revolution, Inspiration, and Explosion phases as the medium was in a state of frenzied flux at the time, and every fan was just trying to keep up with it all.
A good example of this may be western comic books (DC Comics in particular) shortly before Crisis on Infinite Earths. Before Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC multiverse was incredibly complex and filled with voluminous amounts of nuanced details and interlocking continuity chains. Earth 2 alone could be a lot to keep track of.
In the derivatives phase, the revolution is not the Revolution any more. It's now simply the admitted status quo.
Phase Five: Stagnation - If this phase is reached, it means that the last truly revolutionary works are themselves becoming hazey memories. The names of these works are still held in high esteem, and viewed as important classics of the entertainment medium that they belong to, but fewer and fewer people have actually watched them, or remember their content if they did watch them. Only the most passionate of older, long-standing fans can clearly remember most of their content.
In the Stagnation phase, the entertainment medium often feels like its always been the way it currently is. For many fans, it's hard to imagine the entertainment medium being much different than it is right now. The internal lore mentioned in the Derivatives phase is now no longer lore. It now defines the medium through-and-through.
In the Stagnation phase, the entertainment medium is probably not growing; at least not to any extent beyond the growth of the general population. In this phase, many fans may choose to leave the entertainment medium out of a sense of boredom, looking for something new and exciting elsewhere. So, if anything, the Stagnation phase may bring with it a commercial decline, as well as a possible decline in the total number of fans. However, in the stagnation phase, fans are likely to gravitate around a handful of particular entries of generally high quality. When everything is derivative, having the best coat of paint does make a huge difference.
During this phase, there is a sense amongst many fans that a new Revolution is needed. That the entertainment medium could badly use a New Big Thing to really shake it up, and breath new life into it. But, it's hard to see what that New Big Thing may be, or where in the medium it might come from, as the creators and commercial interests within the entertainment industry are firmly entrenched into churning out new products that are almost carbon copies of a hundred products that came before.
Somebody needs to take a real risk, but nobody seems willing to.
A good recent example of Stagnation is probably North American TV entertainment just before Reality TV revolutionized the airwaves. That's a controversial statement that I'm willing to consider contrary opinions for, but it is a statement that I feel has some accuracy to it. However, it's a statement that also serves another point.
Stagnation often leads into a new Revolution, completing the circle.
When it doesn't, however, stagnation tends to lead into either...
1) A small niche cottage industry, kept up almost exclusively by a hardcore fanbase.
So, those are the five phases of entertainment, for each and every enterainment industry and medium.
At this point, you might be wondering... what does any of this have to do with anime?
Great question, and one I might address more thoroughly in a future blog entry.
For now, though, I answer that question with another one; one that I think may poignantly close out this blog:
Which of the five phases of entertainment do you think anime is in right now?
- 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.