Anime going mainstream, what's the point?

The idea that someone would presume to ignore all anime simply because Pokemon sucks. I want to prove them wrong.

001393531.jpgFor whatever reason, I’ve spent the last few years trying to share my passion for anime, hoping to establish new fans, dreaming of a day when I could turn on my TV and find, say, Escaflowne lining up along side The Sopranos. I guess I want more people to understand anime and to know that it has more to offer than its stereotypical reputation may suggest. I think that’s what drives me more than anything else, that sense of injustice, the idea that someone would presume to ignore all anime simply because Pokemon sucks. I want to prove them wrong.
The context of this editorial is an exciting new development for the UK community; we’re getting a completely dedicated (not to mention free!) anime TV channel called “Anime Central“; come September, it will be accessible to millions of digital TV subscribers. Further more, the schedule reads like a dream, matching classics of the caliber of Cowboy Bebop and Escaflowne with new favorites like Planetes and Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for; now or never.
Perhaps I should be careful, what if I get what I wish for? What happens when anime is embraced by the “mainstream”, becomes “cool” and everywhere I look, I see people showing off their NERV t-shirts. Don’t get me wrong, I love anime and always will, but I suppose a part of what fuels my fascination to such a degree is that it’s so obscure; since I can sit in a crowd of hundreds of people and know that I’m the only one that’s watching Gurren Lagann, I feel almost duty bound to recommend it; hence this blog and all the rest, that innate need to scream “anime” from the roof-tops wouldn’t exist if there was no-one worthwhile left to convince.
I must admit I’m fascinated by the populist reaction to anime. We’ve all heard the cliche opinions (anime is porn, didn’t you know?), but now that the masses are getting real exposure to the good stuff (either via TV or the net), I wonder about their reaction, whether or not they will see the light? Or if in the end, it takes a special kind of person to be attracted to anime, a specific taste that will forever confine it to the small niche of dedicated otaku?

14 replies on “Anime going mainstream, what's the point?”

I have never quite understood the mentality of “it’s cool until it goes mainstream.” Usually going mainstream allows an artist or medium to get better financing, more fans, more attention, and the ability for more to be created. Going mainstream is definitely good, and all anime fans should want it. Being cool just because it’s niche doesn’t make any sense. If it wasn’t for David Lynch going mainstream by having the television series “Twin Peaks,” I certainly never would have been exposed to his bizarre but brilliant, and almost completely underground films. I would see going mainstream as a huge advantage for anime in the Western world. Unfortunately, at least in our lifetimes, I don’t think we’ll ever see the point in which people walk around freely with NERV t-shirts and the like. It’s just too much of a culture shock for most Westerners to try to accept cartoons as serious, or as a legitimate art form. Perhaps some day, but not for a long time.

I dunno. I’m pretty excited that anime is being given a chance like this (I don’t have a TV during term time, so I won’t be able to enjoy it myself), but there have been precedents in the past and they’ve never amounted to much success.
Off-hand I can think of Sci-Fi having a sort of morning variety show that broadcast anime like Evangelion (and had Johnathon Clements appear in various features, too), as well as showing more adult series and film in the evenings. It just fizzled out due to poor ratings etc. But still, this was maybe three or four years ago. Anime in the UK definitely seems to have a stronger footing in the mainstream these days. Maybe enough to sustain a dedicated channel segment like this. I hope so; I’d love to see Escaflowne on British TV again. It’s one of my weirdest childhood memories seeing it on Fox Kids all those years ago 😀

There is always the past failures to worry about, Hige, but I’m looking forward to seeing whether or not we’ve progressed much over the last 3 or 4 years. In that time, we’ve seen the rise of fan-subs, video streaming sites like YouTube and good old DVD releases, so I’m fairly certain the fanbase is expanding at a rapid pace. However, the proof will be in the success or failure of “Anime Central” – the fact it has “Anime” in it’s title is both brave and worrying! 🙂
And you may be right, BrikHaus. The “culture” shock is definitely a valid point and obviously, we’re programmed from a young age to believe cartoons are for kids. For many people, the adult and complex themes of anime is too much to take in. Either way, I’m interested to see how “mainstream” culture is effected by anime in the coming years, whether or not we start to see it as a tangible influence on our own pop culture. I’m a firm believer in the power of good story telling, animated or not, and once we start to see good anime appearing on our screens, we may see things flip quite quickly.

I completely understand.
Its almost as if being “otaku”, wanting more people to know about anime and liking it in a bit of obscurity is part of what makes it so great.
But yeah this main stream stuff is great,I just hope it doesint fall on its face.

Normally, I’d agree with you. I wouldn’t mind things going “mainstream” since it implies better funding for projects and more accessibility. However, when it comes to anime going mainstream in the West, this isn’t really the case.
As much as I’d like anime to be more popularized around here, and lose the stigmatization of being “cartoon porn” or “kiddy shows”, it’d do us hardcore fans more harm than good. The way I see it, the more popular anime gets here in the West, the more companies will try to crack down on piracy and downloading, which means acquiring episodes fresh off the air from Japan may prove to be much more difficult.

We’ll see if its more successful than the American attempts at an anime channel.
Featuring classic series that might generate interest in, or at least acceptance of anime is OK, but for hard-core fans the best outcome would be for enough interest to develop in closing the gap between Japan and the rest of the world that series would appear almost simultaneously in Japan and abroad. That, and a respect for unedited, original language anime.

Unfortunatly the downside of going mainstream is that companies start to commercialise – I can imagine a day when obscure genres that are common in anime are marginalised by consumer demand for something more appealing to the masses. I used to think more money would mean better stuff, but in practice, after having seen how the literature industry works these days, it might not be.

I think Karl makes a good point, in that mainstream giveth and mainstream taketh away. Just getting a bigger audience and better funding are two really wonderful advantages of going mainstream. However, with these upgrades comes the temptation to simply pander to the lowest common denominator in order to maintain commercial success. Also, the sponsors can often have a detrimental say in how the story is told, because of the power of the purse strings. It’s really up to the originators to stay strong and use the money to enhance their projects, without getting tied down by the baggage that comes with mainstream success.

@ Karl and Kabitzin: Anime already panders to the lowest common denominator in order to obtain commercial success. Just look at some of the crap out there already. There are already children’s shows, hentai, and just plain bad programs that exist, which have no lofty artistic aspirations. Japanese animation companies are businesses. First and foremost they want to make money. If they do that, they’re happy. Second, if they happen to create something that is critically well received in addition to their profits, all the better. Becoming mainstream in the West will have little impact on the ways in which anime is produced in Japan. Sure, you’ll have the occasional “Afro Samurai” but those will be few and far between.

@BrikHaus & Kabitzin
There is also the issue of censorship – part of the reason I enjoy anime, is that it dosent not conform to western taboo – it is made for a Japanese audience, but I can relate more to the shows they watch than the shows people watch in my own country.
If anime were commercialised for the export market (and it seems to be going in this direction), how long would it be before companies decided “lets not mention Satan in this scene, because it might offend elements of the export audience”, etc?
Commercialisation can damage creative freedom.
The saving grace of Japanese entertainment so far has been manga. But the pressures of market demand may force the anime and manga industries apart, with great Japanese manga series not often being adapted into anime, in favour of series that can be easily exported.

Id just like to elaborate on why I enjoy anime so much:
Im an information junkie. I enjoy finding new sources of entertainment in life, whether they be ancient epics or modern cyberpunk, obscure folklore or science fiction classics, idealism or nihilism, religion or irreligion, fiction or non-fiction, myth or history, domestic or foreign, mainstream or underground.
Anime attracted me because of its unique diversity – I have listened to music, watched TV, watched films, played computer games, read comics and read books from across the world – Europe, North America, India, China, Japan, Korea, etc – and from every genre. And in all that time, I never found anything apart from literature (and the films adapted from it) and manga (and the anime adapted from it) that were so diverse.
Maybe there will always be counter-culture movements, and maybe marginal or underground expression will always make it into the mainstream, in which case there is nothing to worry about, but its nice that anime has a higher degree of artistic diversity – I cant watch something like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ on British TV – I cant watch a Indian version of ‘Bleach’ – I cant watch an American ‘Berserk’.

Hey Karl. I’d love you respond to what you’re writing but I agree with most of it so its hard to find much to say… I’m interested by the fact that you are an anime fan in India? What’s your anime scene like over there? Get much on TV and DVD?

Im actually based in the UK, but I do follow the anime scene in India because along with Japan, its probably my favorite foreign country, so ill try to tell you as much as I know 🙂

India’s anime community is fairly decent in size and growing fast, with some pretty hardcore fans, but its still an underground thing. You can usually find anime discussion threads on Indian forums, and there are a couple of dedicated forums like Animestan, the blog/forum which my name links to.

Unlike similar asian countries like South Korea, China, Hong Kong and the Phillipines, India never had a legacy of Japanese speakers after WW2, instead having a legacy of English language use, so Indian readership has been dominated by the more available English-speaking European and North American comics, (basically India was growing up on Tintin and Batman when countries like South Korea in comparison were growing up on Astro Boy and Fist of the North Star). India’s anime community only began more recently with the English-speaking fan community, rather than stright from the horse’s mouth. That is a shame because India is culturally more similar to the east asian sphere, but grew up largely on European style comics, just due to a quirk of history.

Like most places, the main source of anime viewership, is downloaded fansubs, which are considered superior to the dubs aired locally on TV, although a lot of people have crap internet connections, so have to rely on sharing disks in the local community. A lot of people for this reason are exposed to anime at university, where there are fast connections and shared dorms. The local audience recieves Animax India, which airs popular shows like GitS:SAC, Naruto, Cowboy Bebop, etc, usually dubbed into English, although Animax claims it wants to do regional languages like Hindi too, and is known for in-house dubs into other east asian languages. Some other American style cartoon channels occasionally air anime like Dragonball, but Animax is the only dedicated channel. DVDs have become more available recently, although usually arnt regionalised into local languages since most of the target market speaks English. Also, some anime fans import anime from America or Japan. In the last few years, some larger book stores have started to stock manga. Before that, the occasional manga series used to be imported or sold second hand in random small book stores.

Its also worth noting that to celebrate the anniversary of Indo-Japanese relations, (which have always been quite strong due to India being part of the same cultural region, being seen by some Indians during the independence movement as an asian inspiration, India not being effected by WW2 in the same way as countries like China, and being seen by Japanese as the homeland of the Buddha and the famous saint Bodhidharma), an anime was created of one of India’s two great Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana, and this was really popular in India, even before the recent surge in anime viewership. Ramayana: The Legend of Price Rama was made in 1992, and has aired extensively on Indian TV since. Many Indians who dont follow anime even consider it to be better than the other myriad adaptations of the epic (so do I).

Other anime and manga occasionally uses Indian themes, like yogic type powers in Naruto, the Kushan Empire in Berserk, Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha manga (which according to some sources is selling well for a manga in India), anime like Rg Veda (the name of India’s oldest sacred text), and Indian mythology in games like Shin Megami Tensei, etc. Also of course Jouney to the West, a story about Chinese monks visiting India for Buddhist scriptures has been adapted countless times.

India and Japan share similar philosophical ideals and culture, thanks to the common influence of Buddhism (some Indian gods have been adopted into the Shinto-Buddhist pantheon for example, and Shintoism was pretty similar to Hinduism anyway), so when I look at India, I kinda see a country that could potentially be another Japan entertainment-wise – but unfortunatly is held back by attitudes like ‘cartoons are for kids’, and consumer demand from the masses for Bollywood musicals that are mostly crap, etc. Also, although India is a free country, there is usually some political group or journalist willing to stir up a moral outcry.

That sort of thing dosent effect anime fans who are old enough to buy their own anime, and I think a large proportion of the community are in their 20s, but it probably does send some ignorant parents into a frenzy if their kid watches Animax, etc. On the other hand there has been far more posetive journalism from jounalists who are also otakus, both in national papers and on sites such as this:

Techshout link

India’s TV market is already the third largest in the world, and will tripple in the next decade, and India is one of the largest animation outsourcing destinations, so im hoping to see an Indian version of Bleach or GitS or Initial D one of these days. Superficially speaking, it seems India is poor (how the hell do you set a cyberpunk story in a city that looks like it is falling apart), or that India is conservative (like how the government banned Salman Rushdie’s book for the sake of minority opinion), or that India isnt part of the east asian cultures (being host to European and Arab invaders from the west in the last few centuries of its history) – but this is the same country that wrote the Kama Sutra, gave birth to the Buddha, has epics in which gods fire nuclear weapons Dragonball style at each other, where half the world’s software is written, with an established heavy metal, hip-hop and electronic music scene, where shiney skyscrapers are springing up every few weeks, which had its own wandering ronin, and 5000 years of history, etc.

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