Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's the Economy Baka,

When Akira goes from Dystopian to Utopian.

Now that the sky is falling, is the very way of life for the new century otaku going to fade away like SUVs, air travel, and free trips to the salad bar? Anime has already made the irreversible step from niche export to global entertainment media, and as such its fate is tied to the health of global markets in general as a source of financing, and as a means of sustaining healthy consumer sales (sagging economy means people buy less).

The world has seen for a while now that the health of entire economies and not just industry specific issues is what will affect the ability of anime, manga, and the culture that goes with it, to continue as a commercial product. Something it must do in order to survive at all. So let's look at Japan's situation, which can be summed up in the immortal words of Generation X's own answer to Winnie the Poo, Peter Griffin; "Had better days Lois... Had better days."

The Japanese economy has been acting strangely ever since NOVA hit an iceberg (of their own making) and went down hard, followed by political shenanigans, and now we have a NOVA repeat with academic services provider Gateway 21 having to announce this past Sunday they were "broke." For those not in the know, they ceased operations after running 12.9 Billion Yen in now unrecoverable debt. 12.9 Billion Yen from young students paying for study abroad courses which they will now never get to attend, nor will they get that money back. This is a minor news story to most of the world but a little inside info is that the Gateway domino might just knock over larger firms such as Education Japan Corp. This sector toppling over with Enronian results to customers and investors may not hurt the Japanese anime/media/entertainment industry directly, but at this point the impact on the National economy is enough to make just about everyone except sake brewers and Cup o' Noodles nervous.

With America's core anime market dependant on mommy and daddy's money than their own a sagging economy means less direct purchasing power as well as less of an ability to purchase products from advertisers which keep anime on the air, where it needs to be in order to sustain itself.

Evolution doesn’t happen when things are going great, but rather when drastic changes in the environment make adaptation necessary or face the consequence of extinction. The adaptation that seems to be the nicest looking right now is simultaneous global delivery, the only way in which the consortium of companies attached to just about any anime project can pool their resources and actually earn revenue from the true size of their audience.

For most of the past year, this is where the story has ended. From the conspicuous absence of ADV from the New York Anime Festival (if they don't show up to A-KON, stick a fork in them) to the sucking sound that is Japanese anime production and 4 Kids taking their money elsewhere, there seemed to be no real hope of making things happen other than the fact that the few remaining players in the Japan-US field had found a way to minimize the down time and shave a few points off of sales and meager licensing. Add to the mix that shows like VSDA and LIMA are dinosaurs living out their last dying days in Las Vegas, and there was very little hope for the future. Until recently.

Current Japanese Prime Minister Aso has on more than one occasion publicly stated that his government is looking at Japanese IP with an emphasis on Manga Anime and Video Games as a global export which can bolster the Japanese economy. As soon as a delivery system comes across the table that works with the same kind of security as Komatsu gets for heavy machinery (ie you get actual revenue from global markets instead of fansubs taking money away from potential earnings by making advertizing guarantees worthless).

So yes anime fans it seems like what we want and consume, otaku culture itself is getting a v.i.p. trip to the front of the government subsidy line in the land of the rising sun. If by some miracle, the right kind of person steps up and uses that to create a new media delivery infrastructure and not simply prop up a failing antiquated system, we are looking at a new golden age born out of the greatest economic flux in almost a century.