The Return of Classic Anime?

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The following is a summation of 20 or so years of anime fandom, past and possibly the future. Anime has gone through rough times these past few years, but news of things like Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Your Name, dominating the box office worldwide gives me hope. Not only are things looking up for creators (as long as your not a young animator) but fandom seems to be healthier than ever. Is it sustainable? Who knows, everyone seems to thing the entire industry is in a bubble yet again, but one thing is definitely making me happy – classic anime is finally getting some love.

I’ve been an anime fan for nearly all my life, granted, it wasn’t for several years that I knew of the term “anime” and recognized it as a wholly separate entity from normal old cartoons that cluttered up many a Saturday morning. Like most kids of my generation, I used to watch stuff like Robotech and Voltron, but it was not until I was visiting a friend’s house in third grade where I fell in love with it. This kid I was hanging around with had a nerdy father that had rented Akira, and even though we were unable to watch the entire film (not appropriate for our age back then) it became a new thing to look for anytime we had a few extra bucks laying around. This became my favorite time to be an anime fan, because every trip to the video store was like a treasure hunt – even the worst amine that we rented (Final Fantasy Legend of the Crystals comes to mind) was an almost alien experience and very exciting. We were like film connoisseurs looking for obscure films at a Blockbuster Video, part of a secret club that not many knew about.

While in college, it was easy to spot a generational shift in anime fandom. Gone were the days of pirated unlicensed VHS copies of anime lugged to club meetings in milk crates – everything was starting to be readily available 24/7 on the internet, and even for a time, Cable Television. A lot of the younger fans that were attending had zero interest in “classic anime” or trying anything that wasn’t already popular. The term “classic” is extremely vague and carries the baggage of a general correlation to the age of the subject. To some, it could even be a sort of a pejorative term as many regard older media as inferior and “not cool”. I remember several anime club meetings where certain members would whine about having to sit through anything “old”. This disregard for the history of the medium that we all love highlighted a division between fans, and one that I feel nearly led to the demise of the medium.

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This “Toonami Generation” led directly into the “fad generation” of anime fans, this may be an unpopular opinion, but this was a generation of fans that did not like anime as much as the anime culture that started to appear in the mid 2000’s. I stopped going to anime conventions in around 2006 because the viewing rooms were empty and playing ancient ADV releases from five years prior that many had long since bought on DVD and sold back to their local video store. Panels were empty, and the merch was starting to no longer contain any novelty items from Japan, it was all retail stores desperately trying to unload boxed sets of stuff that nobody was going to buy. Want volume 1 of Bleach on DVD? “Step Right up!” Want An animation cel from Macross Do You Remember Love? “what’s a Macross?” People were there to hang out, which is cool, but the reason for the con itself seemed to be a total afterthought.

So what happened?

In 2000 digital animation became the norm, and traditional animal cels went the way of the dodo. Suddenly, anime hit somewhat of a “fad” and became a mainstream medium thanks to high DVD sales of these flashy new cheap digital shows. Best Buy suddenly had an anime section, Hollywood actors were doing voice over work, and popular TV shows had anime parodies or actual continuations like Supernatural and Marvel comic properties. Hell, I think there was even a Twilight Manga at some point. At least 10 TV channels (some completely gone at this point, or restructured) had entire blocks devoted to anime, something that I assume was more-or-less bought by DVD companies to promote back-catalog items, but also because everyone wanted their own Adult Swim.

Even Tech TV (merged into G4 a long time ago) had an anime Block, miss that channel a lot.
Even Tech TV (merged into G4 a long time ago, even G4 is dead now) had an anime Block, miss that channel a lot.

Just like when anything gets popular, a counter faction sprang up to often deride anything that had a tinge of being made in Japan. Some of these were bitter former fans, ones that saw what they enjoyed being taken over by so-called “weaboos” a pejorative term for anime fans that sprang up a decade ago. Others were people that saw this con-culture of the Fad Generation, found it annoying, and decided to hate on it as a whole. I liken this to what happened to professional wrestling fandom about the time that UFC and other mixed martial arts groups got popular at around the same time.

Then the bubble burst. Many fans were ignorant of the issues plaguing the Japanese industry, but things weren’t good. Sales were going down, merchandising was flat and the once lucrative option to sell to the west was drying up due to tastes changing and popularity dying. Stores were stuck with mountains of stuff nobody wanted, companies started to close, and anime looked to be on it’s deathbed.

An interesting graph from an Asahi Shimbun article reporting that industry insiders are claiming that the “anime bubble has burst”. The top part with the red line shows the number of new works of anime produced each year since 2000. The bottom part shows total sales for the anime industry, with the darker blue section of each bar representing anime aimed at a general audience and the lighter colored section representing anime for kids. Both graphs show a decline since 2006.
An interesting graph from an Asahi Shimbun article reporting that industry insiders are claiming that the “anime bubble has burst”. The top part with the red line shows the number of new works of anime produced each year since 2000. The bottom part shows total sales for the anime industry, with the darker blue section of each bar representing anime aimed at a general audience and the lighter colored section representing anime for kids. Both graphs show a decline since 2006.

I think the biggest thing that signaled this crisis was the collapse of ADV in 2009. At their peak they were a great company, having the rights to some of anime’s biggest shows like Neon genesis Evangelion. after seeming basically untouchable, they decided to have a TV network, a magazine, a manga line, etc until they were hemorrhaging money. They did this so they could say arrogant press-lines like “we’re the biggest animation company besides Disney”. They thought they were a huge media conglomerate instead of what they really were: a successful anime dub-house.

At the last few A-Kons I went to (anime con in Texas) most companies would show off maybe 2 new licenses, then you would walk by ADV’s table and they would have 20 new acquisitions, mostly containing shows of questionable subject matter, and no fan base whatsoever, and shows that utterly flopped in Japan. granted, they got these deals for pennies on the dollar, but it costs money to dub and produce anime….money they didn’t have. They got funding by some corporation in Japan, that started a hostile takeover, and it crashed them…

Thankfully, this blog post isn’t the history of anime’s demise, but the above is a nice way to illustrate what the anime market looks like now and why the title is “The Return of Classic Anime?”. I used to have to go to ridiculous lengths to try to find some obscure anime and manga that I like, still keeping that treasure hunting mindset that was solidified in my youth. I have bootlegs that I either created or purchased of shows that I assumed would never have a chance of coming out over here, things Like Leiji Matsumoto’s Starzinger and Danguard Ace, manga for decades old Gundam side-stories and other stuff that was annoying to acquire.

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I recall years of articles in magazines and on sites like Anime News Network where people would ask things like “Why hasn’t X been licensed yet?” to be met with a reply of something like “it’s old and there is no market for it”. It can be argued that any recent success the anime market has had could be chalked up to yet another bubble that is due to burst, but one thing is evident – there IS a market for that older stuff. Anime now has older fans that want stuff akin to the way Criterion sells old films – I’ll call it the Premium Market.

Fans in this market are willing to pay a lot more and are excited about old stuff or long dead licenses. They actually still buy physical media, and aren’t just looking to get a ton of stuff for cheap. These are the fans that anime companies have needed for a while, and they are the ones driving sales for things like the hardback editions of Gundam: The Origin from Vertical publishing, or just about anything from Discotek Media. These are basically the vinyl collectors that are breathing life back into the music industry for the anime industry, a fanbase that was pushed away as a weird novelty before finally getting their due.

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I started really thinking about this while listening to a recent podcast from Anime News Network in which they interviewed somebody about anime expo 2016, and it seemed like these fans were the talk of the town. Take this recent Publisher’s weekly article discussing the convention in which this new trend was discussed:

At the Kodansha Comics panel on Saturday, Ben Applegate, director of publishing for Kodansha Comics, cheered the ongoing rebound in manga print sales. “You’re probably seeing all the industry people here smiling, so you know that the manga industry is doing really well,” he said. “This resurgence of manga is allowing us to take chances on different series we wouldn’t usually in the past.”

The exact topic being discussed was a release of the 1970’s Queen Emeraldas Manga, and the astonishing way that it SOLD OUT pre-order-wise at this very convention. without skipping a beat, a recent manga publisher called Seven Seas recently announced that they were publishing a Captain Harlock manga in the west, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes is currently being released in novel form, and soon in anime form. had you mentioned any of this to me a decade ago, I would have laughed.

Anime companies, in the United States at least, are finally starting to see that there are ways to sell older stuff, and simply making it a cheap bargain bin item is a good way NOT to sell something. Making deluxe sets with collectors and connoisseurs in mind has breathed life back into a once though of as dead market, and has made classic anime something not to be reviled, but something honored.

Here’s Some Other Stuff I’m Working On

I have a lot of diverse hobbies that do not fit into the topic of UK science fiction, and as such I have dabbled with a sister blog to this one. I recently started up “Classic Anime Blog” for your old school anime needs. If you like anime, and especially the more obscure stuff, feel free to drop a like!

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I also have RSS feeds from this, the podcast I do, and my work for WWE’s JBL on the sidebar, check those out as well!

Thanks for letting me get my commercial out of the way, and stay tuned for more sci-fi goodness!

A Fandom Divided: Stop The Insanity!

Craig Ferguson said it best when he put lyrics over the iconic theme for Doctor Who, lyrics in which he tried to sum up the point of the show for those that may have not seen it:

“One thing is consistent though and this is why the show is so beloved by geeks and nerds.
It’s all about the triumph of intellect and romance
over brute force and cynicism.
Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism!”

Cynicism can hurt any sort of fandom as it gives many a false sense of what the general opinion of the masses could be. It also makes it hard to attract new fans, as the older fans are seen as jerks by the general masses. I try to stay away from acting like this if I can, but fail miserably when it comes to things like WWE wrestling; something I used to love, but struggle to tolerate today. The difference between me and other fans, is that I try not to get too worked up about things; if something pisses me off, I simply distance myself from it for a while as to not prolong the torture I endure when I attempt to watch it. This however is not a trait shared between me and other fans of certain shows I like, Doctor Who being the one that caused this reaction.

I’m all for having differing opinions on things, in fact, while doing this blog I began to read a fellow blogger’s site, Tea With Morbius run by a Mr. Matthew C. We don’t see “eye to eye” with our views on the show, but he doesn’t attack me for it, we just have polite discussion about things we both like. That’s the beauty of a show like this; it has been going on for so long that it has many fans of many different eras. This common courtesy has not been happening on a lot of Doctor Who related message boards as of late, with one of the more popular ones out there turning into a vile cesspool of trolling, personal attacks, and utter disgusting behavior. Sadly I decided to stop attending one such site today, not because I don’t like seeing different opinions, but because I don’t like seeing a group of people scared to say what they believe with fear of being attacked.

This isn’t just from cynical “haters” of the current season, but smug “fanboys” as well, while I don’t like such brandings, they are sadly the best way to illustrate the situation. On one hand we have folks that post their undying hatred for the current show to the degree that some have begun to personally attack others for liking it. This has caused a group of “cheerleaders”, folks that champion the current series, to show up and try to counter them at every turn. All I see are two groups of asinine people fighting for no reason. I guess it may just be my current annoyance with many dualistic institutions such as our current government and its sudden inability to work together; but I don’t want my favorite fandom to suddenly get a huge schism right down the middle. I have seen this happen with other things such as the aforementioned pro wrestling scene (WWF vs. WCW in the past, currently WWE vs. TNA), The Japanese anime Gundam (UC fans vs. “Wingers”) and many more.

Why can’t we all be more moderate? With Doctor Who, I mentioned that there are many different flavors for fans to like. In my case, I grew up watching old Tom Baker episodes on PBS in the late eighties, when it came time to actually watch more than just the handful of 70’s serials I had seen, I made a real effort to take it all in. I fell in love with the William Hartnell episodes of the 60’s as well as those same Tom Baker episodes immediately. I did, however, not take to the 80’s era as much and still do not regard it as one of the better eras of the show. But that’s the thing; it’s just my opinion in the end. Many HATE the older episodes, and love the very same ones I do not like. Do I feel the need to yell at those folks and get them to my side? NO! I respect the show too much, and generally like any era of the show. I’d take a “bad” episode of Doctor Who over pretty much anything else on TV most of the time, well that is except for the TV movie (I kid, I kid!).

We all just need to chill out, and stop the penis measuring contest. In the grand scheme of things there are more important things in the world to get riled up about, and a science fiction show isn’t one of them!