In My View: Naruto and Witchblade? What exactly is this world coming to?

So I think I might just be out of touch with the average anime fan. I was perusing through ICv2, mostly because they actually release numbers (or at least sort of release numbers) and I came across this list:

ICv2 Top Ten Anime Properties—Early 2008:

Appleseed Ex Machina

Dragon Ball Z

Naruto

Devil May Cry

Death Note

Pokemon

Witchblade

Bleach

Fullmetal Alchemist

Afro Samurai (emphasis added)

 

Okay so we’ve got five shows that have been released within the last year (or so), which honestly is a lot better than last years list. So I mean that’s looking up. More people are buying new stuff than they were. But… what am I missing here?

I think it’s that, with the exception of Death Note, none of these shows look particularly good. I mean don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect much out of Witchblade. The comic book was about T and A, I don’t expect much more from the anime. In fact of any type of comic that the anime industry could pick up that’s the one that surprises me the least of all. And Afro Samurai? I mean good lord Samuel Jackson hasn’t done a good movie since Formula 51 (and that’s using good in the loosest possible terms). But him, Robert Deniro and Al Pacino could all get together and make a movie titled “SUCK” and people would still buy it. So… I guess that doesn’t surprise me much.

And ironically, I really thought losing the Gurren Lagann license would put ADV into the sinkhole, but Devil May Cry was an actual hit? What kind of messed up crazy world am I living in?

(Please note: What follows next is pure speculation on my part and has no relevance to facts past or present.)

In all fairness, the article did say worldwide sales were down. Then it propped it up with a hopeful line right afterwards. But looking over that list, it leads me to one of two conclusions.

The first is obvious. People aren’t buying DVDs. Now I don’t really want to speculate why they aren’t buying DVDs. I could come up with four or five right off the top of my head. The economy is down. Food and gas prices are up. The housing market in the United States is in a free fall. Consumer confidence is down. In fact a quick trip to the front page of CNN pretty much told me that the best news out there in the last two weeks is that London stinks (quite literally). I can’t blame fansubs for it. At least not all of it. But I’m pretty sure they play a part too.

The second is a little less obvious. This might actually not be that bad.

Yes, I said it. I’ll say it again. It might actually not be a bad thing that animation companies in Japan have to cut back. Despite what the BitTorrent trackers and the convention numbers might say, I think the market hit saturation about three years ago and has been slowly shrinking since then.

It just depends on the lesson that they take away from it is. A while ago Ryan over at Nakama Brittanica wrote a fairly long piece about economics and guessing about what will happen in the future. And while I agree that people like me are definitely stabbing at shadows, I can’t help doing it. He also brought up the idea that there was a “golden age” of anime stretching from the time of the first Ghost in the Shell movie to Fullmetal Alchemist.

In a way, I agree with him. There was definitely a rennesaince in anime that happened during that eight year stretch. But there’s something else important to note about shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Cowboy Beebop, Trigun and even FLCL. They had an appeal outside of the standard fan community. I’ve talked to more casual fans that have watched those shows than have even heard of Beck or Haruhi or any of the dozens of shows that are arguably just as good, but didn’t have that kind of appeal.

But that’s what four of those shows have in common. They appeal to a broader market than the average fan. Now in some ways, I’m sad that shows like Witchblade and Devil May Cry are the ones that are finding that larger audience. Because it may send the message that “Hey, if you through in some easily recognizable franchise then it’ll do well.” To be honest, I’m not convinced that’s the way to go.

What they need is a great show. Something that reaches across genre lines and niches, something that anyone can enjoy. Now I’m not sure if Gurren Lagann or Code Geass will be that show. I’d be guessing if I said they’ll hit it big. But I’d be surprised if they do.

In fact, I just haven’t seen the series that going to do it yet. But hopefully Ryan’s last paragraph is more prophecy, than wishful thinking:

Looking toward the horizon, we can’t predict what will be good or successful with too much accuracy – or what will befall us in artistic and economic circles, so as far we know, the next golden age is right around the corner. I hope that will be the case, and wish all the companies in the industry the best of luck during these harsh times.

—–

Related Links

The Pink Slyphide did a piece about the possible re-emergence of a dual market. (I mean for those of us who remember the VHS days.)

Densetsu Shoujo’s take about recent complaints on the encoding for Crunchyroll downloads.

Orz-Swiss Cheese Porn’s attack on trying to pander to the audience with fanservice.

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8 Comments

  1. Firstly, I don’t understand your idea that this might be a good thing. It seems to be as though your speculation about the market’s shrinking is going to lead to anime companies who are producing bad anime clueing in and, I don’t know, producing better anime. But that’s a MASSIVE leap of logic. It seems to imply that they’re not trying to create stuff that’ll be a massive success now, but will now that their usual stuff isn’t selling well and Naruto and Bleach are.

    Secondly, you didn’t think FMA was good? Tragic! I’ll readily concede all the others (since you made allowances for death note) but FMA is on a whole other level than the rest of the (now)generic shounen action stuff.

  2. @Shiri – I agree that it’s a pretty big leap in logic. But if you consider that a shrinking market could possibly lead to a consilidation of talent then I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. But, you’re definitely right. They could go the other way and try pandering to the ever increasing niches within the consumer base.

    I thought FMA was good. And I’d definitely put it in a category above Naruto. I just didn’t love it. But I think it had the power to reach outside of the fanbase to people who casually watch anime.

  3. This is an interesting speculation, though you may want to specify which market you are talking about (Japanese or American – and let’s not forget Europe market, especially now that Animax has started its expansion project). Because while I may agree with you if you’re talking about the USA market, as your definition of “golden age” seems to imply (sure, FMA was a hit, but Trigun, Bebop and the GITS movie weren’t exactly “mainstream” and appealing to others than anime fans in Japan), the Japanese market doesn’t seem to operate the same way.

    Anyway, I agree with Shiri, I don’t think a shrinking market would urge companies to produce better anime (“better” as “more interesting”). Even now companies aren’t making “better” anime, they’re making more of the same, only with more pandering so they can be sure people will buy/watch it. Look at the Gundam Seed -> Code Geass -> Gundam 00 line (all of them is the same as the one before, only with better animation, more melodrama, and more fanservice and other pandering). Hell, even Macross is doing it now, with Frontier. Or look at companies doing the nth eroge/bishoujo game adaptation with no signs of the trend going downwards. Or even look at Bones doing Soul Eater (after their last year was a failure), something that seems very far from their usual profile, but rides the Gurren Lagann wave which, combined with the “woo-hoo, uncensored version!” schtick means success. Or look at Gonzo and their attempts at reaching the American market (Afro Samurai, Romeo x Juliet, earlier Samurai 7 and even Gankutsuou, though at least Gankutsuou was a great show).

    Anyway, the Japanese audience doesn’t seem to be open to shows that are unique and different. Everything I see seems to confirm to me that they’re more interested in seeing what they already know they’ll like – bishounen, loli, melodrama, eroge, meta, Naruto/Bleach/etc for the kids, etc. Shows that don’t follow a well-tried formula have a hard time out there, and if the market shrinks and companies have to choose between taking risks or going for sure, they’re not going to choose the risky way.

  4. Witchblade and DMC are established brands in America (gaming and comic names).

    I’m surprised they aren’t higher up on the list.

  5. That’s a very good point. DMC and Witchblade are popular because people recognise the BRANDDDDDD. Not whether it’s good or bad. Hell, if we were to make a Dynasty Warriors or GTA or Halo anime, it would fly off the shelves faster than even Gurren Lagann on a good day. Even if it was a Sweded movie with cardboard backgrounds.

  6. So Gonzo was the studio that produced (animated?) Afro Samurai, but Funimation and SpikeTV with S. Jackson did the dubbing? I’d reference their production blog but it’s down.

    http://www.afrosamurai.com/blog.cfm

    Baka Raptor was talking about how we view anime differently depending on its adaptation as well. So I think looking at the origins of the final anime production definitely has an effect on such. So maybe, in part, we are to question anime and its industry, but to what extent does the video game/manga/light novel (if they are not all one in the same corporation-wise [though this is not the same consumer-wise?]) affect the anime aspect? So there’s always an interconnectedness going on.

  7. So Gonzo was the studio that produced (animated?) Afro Samurai, but Funimation and SpikeTV with S. Jackson did the dubbing? I’d reference their production blog but it’s down.

    http://www.afrosamurai.com/blog.cfm

    Baka Raptor was talking about how we view anime differently depending on its adaptation as well. So I think looking at the origins of the final anime production definitely has an effect on such. So maybe, in part, we are to question anime and its industry, but to what extent does the video game/manga/light novel (if they are not all one in the same corporation-wise [though this is not the same consumer-wise?]) affect the anime aspect? So there’s always an interconnectedness going on.

    http://www.baka-raptor.com/2008/05/03/the-video-game-rule/

  8. @kuromitsu – I’m specifically talking about the US market, because that’ the market I know the most about. And Cowboy Beebop was the “big” hit over here. I mean it’s gotten three different releases. And GITS was a lesser hit, but still big enough. Generally what I’m talking about there is that I can go to some joe hipster and ask if he’s seen any anime and he’ll say, “Sure I’ve seen Beebop.” or “Sure I’ve seen Miyazaki.” The thing is that they’re more successful outside of the confines of anime fandom than other shows.

    @drmchsr0 – See I really wasn’t too surprised by DMC. I was surprised about Witchblade. Mostly because it’s never been a big franchise. I mean it had a bad TV adaptation, but beyond that not muich. But you’re right, they do have name recognition. Which is part of what I think the anime industry needs to work on. I mean unless you go hunting for info you’re not likely to stumble into anime anymore.

    @tj han – Agreed. I did touch on it in my speculation. But it’s just speculation.


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