I’ve been an anime fan off-and-on for 23 years, but I’m usually on the peripheries of the fandom. I know enough to feel slightly superior to the casuals, but I certainly don’t know as much as the people who live and breathe anime and manga.
That is my roundabout way of saying, I’m planning on using these Reflections posts as my way of putting something I’ve noticed out there, but I don’t have the background to know if it’s 100 percent accurate. I am just an 40-something year old anime fan on my porch shaking my cane at the youngsters passing by. So if I’m wrong let me know.
So back in the before time. When Crunchyroll posted other people’s fansubs, and anime series were still sold one disc at a time over the course of a year. The U.S. anime industry was falling apart.
A combination of things came together all at the same time to put it in peril. I think most people are familiar with this history, but I think it bears going over again.
First, anime exploded in popularity in the United States in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A series of hits made it to cable television. First it was Gundam Wing, Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. That was shortly followed by Cowboy Beebop, Trigun and some others. Suddenly, what had been a cottage industry that was largely run by small outfits, turned into a much larger cottage industry where people were making tens of hundreds of dollars.
The problem is that Japan seemed to see that meteoric rise and overvalued their product. There are stories of anime distributors paying thousands of dollars per episode for shows that really weren’t worth it. But as long more people were buying DVDs each year everything was OK. The companies could afford to continue throwing good money after bad to buy licenses.
The second factor started on college campuses, and by the time 2004 rolled around became fairly ubiquitous — high speed cable. It’s hard to understate how much high speed internet changed how we consume media.
People were no longer willing to spend $14 on an album where they only wanted one song. Now they had the option to just take it, because no one was selling them that song. People weren’t willing to wait two years for an anime to finally be released in the United States, so they formed international groups and fansubbed them.
This directly impacting the profits of companies that were already operating on a shoestring budget.
So for a good three years, between 2006 and 2009, there was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth, as first Geneon fell, then Bandai Enterntainment and then ADV Films reorganized.
But in the end, we can see what happened. We are living in the streaming future that I believed was coming for anime.
The fansub groups seem to be largely gone. There is a graveyard of torrents scattered throughout the interwebs, and the industry seems reasonably healthy. If we can be talking about working conditions in the industry, and not whether there is going to be an industry, we must be doing better.
That said, I’m not sure I’m in love with this future.
There were some shows that were popular in that period of time between the end of the collapse and the beginning of the streaming present. There were shows like Kaiba, Ghost Hound and Dennou Coil.
I didn’t love all of them, but they were trying interesting things.
Now I am subscribed to Amazon, VRV, Hulu and Netflix, which covers everything except for the Funimation stuff that isn’t on Hulu or VRV. I’ve been scrolling through stuff, and what I don’t see, is anything that’s really taking a risk.
In fact, I see a lot of stuff that is probably good, and uses really traditional ways to tell a tale. I mean I don’t love Serial Experiments Lain of Gankutsuou, but I respect the hell out of them. I feel like anime is less willing to take risks then it used to be.
What I don’t know is if this is because the shows aren’t there, or if they aren’t reaching me. Has the disappearance of the fansub groups meant the really daring visions are languishing in obscurity, or is the big money backing most anime distribution mean we only get stuff that pushes the boundary so much?
I don’t know, and I wish I did. What am I missing? And who is pushing the boundaries?
Thanks for reading.