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.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Anime: Now Completely Under Siege

Faces of Anime's Past and Present, Reflecting a Troubling Future...

This blog will be one of the most important ones that I ever write. It reflects fears that I've had concerning the anime industry for some time now. Two recent (but in some ways looming) events now come perilously close to confirming that those fears are justified. The picture above is presented here for multiple reasons. For one, these faces are those of prominent anime characters, from animes that can effectively serve as two bookends of a period of incredible growth in the anime industry. 

From 1995's El Hazard: The Magnificent World to 2009's The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, anime has been a place of grand and compelling narratives, and of entertaining and psychologically fascinating characters, able to rival the best that other entertainment genres and mediums could muster. It is true that there were great animes both before, and after, the dates of these two animes, but I personally feel that 1995 to 2009 is where you find the bulk of great animes, and where the industry had both the quality and quantity of material to put it on par with even the best that other narrative mediums could offer. 

But that may sadly be about to end...

One reason is an event that every reader of this blog likely knows about. It's the passing of the Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill.

Much has been written about this, and it would at this juncture be somewhat redundant for me to add to the volumes that has already been wrote on the topic. To sum it up in a nutshell, though, the anime and manga industries could soon be facing very strict regulation that will make it excessively difficult to sell its more edgey and mature stories to a wide, mainstream audience that goes beyond the most hardcore of otakus. 

Now, we may be seeing the first signs of the anime industry's response to this bill, in its upcoming Spring Season listings. The release (and makeup) of this listing is the second event which concerns me here, as I frankly think that it shows that the anime industry, much like both of the anime characters featured in the pic above when faced with imposing clerics, is now in full retreat. Also like both of those anime characters featured in the pic above, I think that the anime industry has now taken upon itself a siege mentality, in which it feels victimized and defensive. 

So... I think that the anime industry is beginning to collapse into a shell, by conceding more mainstream markets while focusing solely on a collection of niche otaku audiences. 

Why is my assessment so dire? 

Because the Spring Season of anime is not just any season. Historically, the Spring Season is to anime what the Summer Season is to Hollywood movies - in other words, it's the season of ambitious blockbusters. This is when the most renown and influential of the animation studios bring their "A" games, so to speak. This is when the Sunrises and SHAFTs and Kyoto Animations of the world typically bring out their flagship titles. This is when you'll get new animes that are carefully crafted to have broad appeal and high production values.

Don't believe me? 

Then let's look over some of the bigger anime titles of the last five Spring Seasons...

Spring 2006: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Fate/Stay Night, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni

Spring 2007: Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Darker than Black

Spring 2008: Code Geass R2, Soul Eater

Spring 2009: Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, Haruhi 2009, K-On! (arguably)

Spring 2010: Durarara!, Angel Beats!, K-On!! (arguably)

Say what you will about K-On!, but at least the concept behind it was a somewhat new and fresh one, as it cuts out the male lead entirely. It also had great commercial success. And while Angel Beats! and Code Geass R2 may have been narrative messes, at least they were very ambitious narrative messes. The moment that I saw the first promo image for, read the anime premise for, and saw the first trailer for, Angel Beats!, I knew that Jun Maeda was aiming for a hit anime here. That this was an ambitious project on his part. That he wasn't just playing it safe, in other words.  

Now compare the animes listed above to all the ones shown here

Honestly, folks, do any of these make you think of Haruhi? Or of Code Geass? Or even of Angel Beats!? Do any of these feel like a serious and ambitious attempt at a blockbuster TV series anime with broad appeal to you? 

Now, let me be clear here, I'm not saying that there's no good animes here. For example, TWGOK S2 will probably be a decent watch just as its first season was. But let's be honest here: It's target audience is a very limited one. It's aiming strictly at one, maybe two, specific niche fanbases within the broader anime fan community. Likewise, there's nothing coming out for Spring 2011 that strikes me as being like a Code Geass, or a Haruhi. In other words, I see nothing here that seeks to fuse many different popular anime elements and subgenres together to appeal to a broad "casual otaku" audience. And I certainly don't get the sense that any of these Spring 2011 animes are aiming for a grand epic narrative, like most of the previous Spring Season anime blockbusters that I mentioned above. 

So what does this mean, exactly? What does anime's equivalent to a Summer with no Hollywood Blockbusters mean? Why the atypical lack of such animes?

Blockbusters become blockbusters by taking risks. By trying to balance several different (and sometimes even conflicting) elements together in order to appeal to a broad cross-section of fans. Often times, they also try to create grand gripping tales to bring in folks that (like myself) just like a great story - a great story like that of El Hazard: The Magnificent World or The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

There's always a slight risk with these sorts of shows that the fusion won't go off well. That the balancing act will not hold. It's much easier, and in some ways safer, to just play to one niche part of the broader anime fandom. For example, I'm confident that Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai will go over great with the same people who love Amagami SS and Yosuga no Sora. But unless it surprises me, it won't bring in everybody who liked Clannad: After Story. And unless I'm really misjudging one or more of the upcoming Spring 2011 animes, none of them really strike me as a serious attempt to appeal to a broad section of anime fans, as virtually all of them strike me as aiming strictly at only one or two smaller niches within the broader anime fandom.

I'm truly starting to think that anime is going into a siege mentality now, probably brought on in part by the Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill. I'm starting to think that the anime industry is just going to play it very safe for the foreseeable future. But by playing it safe, they may be ironically and tragically setting the stage for their own decline. 

Enjoy the picture at the top of this blog while you can. Because if anime continues on its present course, the day may be coming when you'll never see colorful multifaceted anime characters like those two ever again...


  1. Okay, right off the bat, a few points here:
    1) Generally, version 1 charts are incomplete simply because they’re released so far ahead of the season in question.
    2) As good as Higurashi is, I don’t think it was designed with the intention of being a blockbuster.
    3) While Kyoto had gained a lot of fans with its 2005 adaptation of Air, I know that at least in the west, Haruhi was a surprise hit. I don’t think anyone expected it to be as big as it ended up being.
    4) On the flip side, Macross Frontier in 2008 was definitely intended to be a blockbuster (25th anniversary project for one of the biggest anime franchises ever, for starters…).
    5) The bill wasn’t even announced until November AFAIK. All of the big projects for Spring 2011 should have been well into production by then.
    6) As I’ve mentioned previously, the only parts of the ordinance that are actually new are the provisions regarding glorifying or emphasizing illegal and/or incestuous sexual acts. Very few if any blockbuster animes do that. The other rest of the ordinance has been in effect for years.

    This being said, I do agree that there doesn’t really seem to be a “blockbuster” show for Spring 2011 – Deadman Wonderland has some following but I’m not sure it really makes the cut. Gintama does have a huge following but it’s a sequel, so I don’t think it counts.

    There are only a certain number of studios that make these sorts of shows, so I’m going to step through the list and see who is accounted for and who is MIA.

    Here’s who I consider to be blockbuster worthy:
    -shows based on a major Key or Type-Moon property
    -shows based on a A list light novel (things like Durarara, Index/Railgun, and Shana, basically)
    -A list manga adaptations (Soul Eater and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, both by Bones
    -Any Gundam or Macross
    -Major original projects by Sunrise or Bones (Code Geass, Star Driver, Darker than Black)
    -Major original projects by Gainax (ie. Gurren Lagann)
    -Just about any project by Kyoto Animation

    I think that covers basically everything you mentioned except Higurashi and Nanoha Strikers

    So let’s run through that list:
    Key: appears to now be teamed up with PA Works. PA Works has been growing rapidly in the past year or so, but only produced one thirteen episode show per year in 2008-2010. If they do a second show in 2011, it won’t air at the same time as Hana-Saku Iroha.
    Type-Moon: All of their major properties – Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and Kara no Kyokai – have gotten a “blockbuster” style adaptation, so they’re mainly concentrating on smaller anime projects at the moment. Their new game, due on December 24, probably has adaptation potential but it’s not going to come that quickly.
    Brains Base (Durarara!): The “A team” that they had working on Durarara! was really busy in 2010, putting out 24 episodes of that show plus 11 episodes of Kuragehime for the major Noitamina block just this season. Wouldn’t be surprised if they need a breather, although they could be a wild card.
    JC Staff (Shana, Index, Railgun): Tends to launch major properties in the fall season, although the lack of other blockbusters for Spring makes me think they should have tried to get Shana 3 out for spring (I remember they talking about how the S OVAs were for side stories they wanted to do in preparation for a final season).

  2. Gainax: They don’t seem to do “big original projects” very often – Gurren Lagann was the first in several years IIRC, and the team that did that has been occupied in the interm with the Gurren Lagann movies and this season’s Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. Chances are it will be a while before we see another big show from them, then.
    Macross: The second Macross Frontier movie is coming out February, at which point they’ll probably take a breather – Macross stuff is generally spaced out a few years.
    Kyoto Animation: Currently working on both an OVA and TV series for Nichijou (apparently even more Axumanga Diaoh like than Lucky Star and K-On!...) and a K-On! movie.
    Gundam: Recent releases include the Unicorn OVAs and the Gundam 00 theatrical sequel (released in Japan in September). I do expect another Gundam TV series, but not for a bit yet.
    Sunrise (non-Gundam major projects): This one has been surprisingly silent since Geass R2.
    Bones: 2007-2010 saw two major manga adaptations (Soul Eater and Full Metal Alchemist brotherhood) and some big originals (Darker than Black I and II, Star Driver). I’m not surprised that they aren’t launching a big original immediately after Star Driver, the lack of another A list manga adaptation does worry me a bit though. They do have a new Fullmetal Alchemist movie in the pipeline, at least.
    I suspect that a spring launch for Shana 3 (widely speculated to be coming, they explicitly said that the S OVAs were going to be side stories they wanted to do prior to a final season) could really clean up sales-wise due to the lack of big competition.

    I suppose you can also call Shaft a blockbuster studio now due to Bakemonogatari, but their upcoming slate isn’t exactly weak either: they have a Bakemonogatari prequel in the works and I get the impression that Shinbo may be trying to replicate Nanoha’s success with Madoka Magica.

    So from my perspective, the only unusual things are the lack of a major blockbuster series from Sunrise and the lack of a major manga adaptation from Bones. The rest is basically scheduling conflicts. And while I find those concerning, I don’t think that’s due to the Tokyo bill, simply because things like Code Geass and Fullmetal Alchemist fall outside its scope. Especially since Sunrise and Bones wouldn't be deciding whether to greenlit a major series five months before airing.

    The other thing that may be a factor is the theatrical anime boom. Rebuild of Evangelion and Kara no Kyokai managed huge sales during the past few years, and I think 2010 demonstrates that the rest of the industry is interested in emulating that success. 2010 saw movies for Haruhi, Fate/Stay Night, Macross Frontier, Gundam 00, and Nanoha., and still to come are a K-On! movie, a second Nanoha movie, a second Macross Frontier movie, another Fullmetal Alchemist movie, and a Strike Witches movie (okay, the last one is an otaku franchise). I suspect that those projects are drawing away staff that would normal work on blockbuster TV series, it just surprised me the lack of news from Sunrise and Bones since those studios normally have more than one big project on the go at a time.