Saturday, December 26, 2009

Downward Spiral: Rise and Fall of Anime?

Yeah, I’m talking about you.

Hello Otaku readers, and others who shall not be named.

So CNN Go has run this “rise and fall” style list about anime as a viable contributor to popular entertainment. Notice I use the word “contributor” and not “product.” This is because this article glosses over any actual business or strategy issues which had to do with the stated outcome, and only puts emphasis on the cultural fan aspects of the back and forth between Japan and the rest of the world which always has a certain color tint to it in terms of which land mass you’re standing on. This is not to say that emphasis on the “fandom” aspects of pop culture development and distributive interpolation between otaku japonica and the rest of the world is misplaced, but rather is only one half of the delicious black and white cookie that is the anime universe we all seem to share space in… in one form or another.

In particular, it was point for year 2005, on the early shift of the style of commercial anime being made that had me raising the out of bounds flag. Not that it’s wrong in describing what happened, but it leaves out the necessary “why.” The “Densha Otoko” thing is something that seems to be a likely source of directional change if we apply a Hollywood style trend-chasing idiot flash in the pan mentality to the Japanese entertainment industry. But that’s not really how it works, one need only compare that popular anime with the hero with the yellow hair who wears orange and must increase his fighting ability under the tutelage of great masters in order to defeat his black haired blue wearing nemesis who has evil powers to save the girl he likes… no not that yellow haired orange clad fighter, the other one. The Japanese entertainment business is a business, and a Japanese business at that, meaning that Japanese business sensibilities are going to be what steers the wheel here and Japanese business sensibilities are quite the opposite from trend chasing, and much more in the “stick with what works” camp. Just look at how long the LDP was running things? (The "stick with what we think works" strategy at least)

Well then what’s with the change in focus? The answer is two fold. First; there really wasn’t a massive shift in the type of content being produced, only in how much of it was being dumped into the U.S. market, and second; the reason is YOU. Yes American otaku, I hate to do the bubble bursting again, (you've heard it here before) but you are NOT part of the anime market. Your existence means next to nothing to most IP producers here in Japan, and yet you keep thinking that somehow the fact that there is such a strong fandom in the U.S. has some sort of bearing on what happens in the boardrooms of Bandai or Pony Canyon or whoever is bankrolling the next project. Well at the risk of alienating any more American otaku, let me just say that you mean nothing to the anime industry and it’s your own damned fault. Why you may ask? Because you’re not profitable in the least. The American market has simply sucked up content at an astounding rate, without providing any net present value for the companies that outlay cash to produce them. It’s folly for me to think that I could actually convince some anime fan that in early 2008, watching fansubbed episodes of Gurren Lagann and then cosplaying as Kamina or Bachika is really an insult to Gainax and other Japanese companies, but believe me, that’s what it is and that’s what those companies feel with a high degree of impact. Here they are having made this product, ready to license it to the U.S., and you are in their face saying “I’ve already seen it and so don’t need to pay you or your licensee anything… thanks for the free show.”

So in short, the reason that anime has become so very Japanese-centric is because anime is Japanese, and only the domestic audience provides these companies with significant revenue (revenue as opposed to profits… revenue is what you use to pay your staff and keep the lights on). America in this instance, save for a few properties and Puffy Ami Yumi, is more or less worthless, since none of what the fans do in their media consumptions benefits the actual producers in the slightest. If the U.S. market could actually earn money, then you bet these producers would care about appealing to it. But since American fandom seems intent on pissing on the hard work of Japan, by watching fansubs and de-valuing licenses before they can ever be capitalized (like I have said before, if the core audience watches the title online before a broadcast license is in place, then that potential license becomes worthless since the core audience has already seen the piece and so any station airing it can not guarantee advertisers that a certain amount of people will watch, making that property worthless), then it will be a long time before Japan cares what works in the U.S.

The reason anime is declining in general even in its domestic market, is because the Japanese market itself isn’t what used to be. There are a few reasons for that, like JPY stagflation, prohibitive costs, change in lifestyle of the average Japanese citizen, but the main reason is the age-bulge. I’ve gone into this before, but the basic reality of it is that a ridiculously percentage of Japanese are now over 60, and it will just keep going up for a while. You know what people over 60 don’t do? Watch anime (except for Sazae-san, which I’m sure you’ve never heard of), and they don’t really buy manga either. They travel Japan, play golf if they’re able, and watch cooking shows and the “Go” channel (yes, there’s an entire cable channel dedicated to people playing that game). So much of the anime produced is for the outnumbered Japanese youth that see nothing but the bleakest of bleak economic futures where they will have to work to support mom, dad, grandma & grandpa x2, and god forbid any kids they might have… From SaiKano to Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 the future sucks if you’re under 30… or 40 for that matter, and a massive cataclysm might just make your life easier if you actually live through it.

Each generation has something that speaks for it. The fact is, that in the U.S. at the time, anime spoke for huge chunks of Gen X and Gen Y mostly because it simply was not the Hanna-Barbera Americanized crap that the baby boomers seemed to think would last forever. Not because anime had some universal appeal outside of Japanese cultural sensibilities. Akira was simply “cool” in the U.S. because it had very high quality animation, cool motor-cycles, and all kinds of action (like when that guy got shot a whole lot and there was blood everywhere… dude yeah… heh cool). The socio-political themes of late 1980’s Japan were completely lost on American audiences, but they were in Akira none the less. This is s symptom of anime that would last a decade, with each culture superimposing it’s own experiences and identities onto a medium which (at that time) lent itself so easily to that activity by having character designs and settings that were so ethnically and culturally ambiguous as to not give the slightest pause to totally immersing oneself into the story. That’s either not possible or necessary now, and the Hot-Topic Twilight crowd now seems to be where merchandisers and licensors want to go… leaving celluloid gravestones in their wake.

And now for something not so completely different:
Warning: Otaku-Fandom rant to be forthcoming.

Real anime fans out there, yes that includes even you weaboos, should be worried about this. The reason is that the Darwinian wheel of fandom spares nothing that shows weakness. Fringes of abhorrent behaviors of human society will always try to climb on board the weakest platforms of popular culture. One of the major casualties that we can look back on which has happened recently is the anthro or “furry” fandom. Here’s a fandom which, in the 1980’s was just another indie comic genre that had everything going for it. Now, it’s associated with everything from skunk fuckers to pedo-freaks. Anime is showing some dangerous cracks in the façade where this kind of thing is going to sneak in and ruin it for the rest of us. Much as I often agree with the guys over at Santoku Complex in defending fictional depictions of anything ever (since it’s fiction, so that’s that) I believe there IS a line that can’t be crossed.

For example, horror movie fans can watch whatever kind of slasher, chainsaw dismemberment movie they wish to, because it’s a movie, but putting that notion into practice, is not a good thing. So although I am a very staunch supporter of the rights of the individual to consume drawn/animated/CGI artwork of anything they choose, I have to draw the line when the type of people who advocate putting that into real practice jump on the fandom bandwagon proclaiming it as a manifestation of lifestyle. No. No no no. People who support the freedom of expression and common sense notions of a drawing being a drawing have to stop at some point when it comes to giving the inch that would become a mile to the actual pedos out there. The whole “Freedom-tan” notion and the organization behind it are an example of something that crosses the line, just a little. The reason is, that the reason they defend such properties is because they obviously believe in putting such notions into practice. No, not everyone there does... probably not even half the people there do, but there's going to be that 10% which is going to paint the other 90% in that light. To have this associated with Japanese pop-culture, is an insult and a serious problem when it comes to having anime and other japanese pop culture products being taken seriously as a commercial product.

First: no, you’re not Japanese, don’t think that adding “tan” to the end of your mascot/slogan/mission statement/whatever, gives you an insight into actual Japanese sensibilities. You don’t live in Japan, and by doing this you're really not gonna make many friends there because believe it or not, while tolerated, this kind of thing is regarded as more or less creepy, because you're never sure if these guys are gonna take that fandom one step too far into real life.

Second: The basic ideas of freedom here, is to allow for freedom of expression, such as those within the Constitution of the United States of America. While noble, this is by no means universal, and may not apply to you in the same way or at all, since you have a monarch on your money (UK, Canada, Australia, NZ ), or might be living down the street from a monarch like in Tokyo, Thailand, or Brunei. I can't fucking stand when some retarded American starts jumping up and down about "constitutional rights" when they're in another country... They don't apply you dumbass, and this attempt to superimpose them onto other countries with different cultural sensibilities and (more importantly) different laws based on those sensibilities, is the dictionary definition of "stupid American."

Third: While it is deplorable that someone would be prosecuted for having fictional depictions of anything which in practice is illegal (such as murder, terrorism, drug use, underage sex, dog-fighting, dolphin BBQ, etc) having actual film of that criminal act being committed, is simply having evidence of a crime that has been committed, and that leads straight to legal gray areas of all sorts. If you were trading real snuff films it might be the same.

I could go on forever, but the basic premise here is that anime fans had fought long and hard against mainstream media to make sure that commercial markets did not associate the genre with nothing but sex and violence. We succeeded and anime become (albeit an unsustainable) genre of entertainment. Now, that anime is showing weakness as a commercial property, pedophiles and skunk-fuckers are jumping all over small bits of the darkest depths of doujin manga and 2am anime and calling attention to it as if it was a validation of their genuine desire to have sex with 8 year olds. So far, the only defense against this kind of infiltration has been to make the genre profitable, creating a large group capable of drowning out these pedos so that they would go somewhere else. Now that anime is losing money, they’ve come in like a hoard of locusts to claim anime as some sort of champion of a pedophiliac lifestyle that should be accepted because they say so. That’s like an axe murderer asking for an acquittal because he genuinely “felt like” hacking someone to death and that desire is part of his personality that you shouldn’t impede. No sir, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. However I may not agree with your philosophy of action and I will fight to the death should you attempt to practice such action on me... and my own freedom-tan will be right there with me.

If anyone out there has read the Japanese story of 蜘蛛の糸 (The Spider’s Thread... a good read if you're studying Japanese, not too much kanji) this is the situation anime fandom is in. We are climbing up a thread, up to a level where we can exist as a viable industry. On the thread up which we climb, come hoards of the deepest darkest souls that the underworld has to offer. Should the climber become too distracted by them, or fight them directly, they shall fall and be dragged down to the depths from whence they came. Anime otaku must simply keep climbing forward, even if it seems as if they are about to eclipse us, the forward climbing must not stop.