Since I started really paying attention to the anime space again in 2019, I’ve noticed, in general, people don’t like it when gaming websites blunder their way into talking about anime.
And don’t get me wrong, they most certainly blunder their way around. Even as a mildly invested fan, I can see the inherent flaws of a top 25 anime of all-time list that stops at 1986. Or a column that criticizes tropes as if they were some sort of conscious art direction.
They come off like children stepping into a room filled with all of the toys they could ever want. They have no appreciation for the history that it took to get them there. They’re just too excited to have the latest thing right now.
Yes, nothing that I mentioned is really a significant problem in any sense of the word. Enthusiasm is healthy for any fandom. We can’t expect every fan to be 100 percent committed to knowing everything about anime. Down that road lies gatekeeping.
The real issue is how much reach these information sources get. An anime-focused website like Anime News Network occupies a much smaller amount of the Internet bandwidth than it used to. I often have to add “ANN” to any search that I want to pull up results from the site.
This is a drastic shift from the late 2000s and the early 2010s when if you searched for an anime name, the ANN encyclopedia would be in the first five results and would often be the first result.
Many of the people fans used to scoff at for their Hot Topic anime purchases are literally writing the headlines. I’m concerned that it will become harder to get genuine researched information.
My concern is that the harder it becomes to find decent information, the more likely American businesses will lean into what people think anime is. The less likely we’re going to see innovative projects.
So doing nothing isn’t really an option for many people. But the scorched earth approach that Magical Girl Twitter took in reaction to the Polygon column is not the answer either. It punishes the wrong person, and it doesn’t incentivize people to do a better job. It just incentivizes them to not touch the genre again.
What is the healthy way to bridge this gap? We have to start with understanding the current media landscape and our reaction to it.
information media’s New Normal
Media is a broad term. When people use it, they rarely understand just how inclusive it is.
What I am going to lay down here are the issues that are facing information media. This can range anywhere from blogs to entertainment magazines to YouTube channels to the nightly news. Some of these affect entertainment media, but I’m just talking about information sources.
People often have difficulty understanding how different the media landscape is now when you compare it to 20 years ago. In the early 2000s, people had access to the Internet, but it was not nearly as pervasive as it is now. If people wanted information, they had to seek it out.
While media sources competed for readers and viewers, but there were really only a few options. And especially in the case of print, if you already bought the magazine or newspaper, the company didn’t care if you read the articles.
Sure. Editors wanted to keep people invested as long as possible. It would make it more likely that they would buy another issue, but not every article/column had to be a showstopper. Some could just fill space, and you could have a dull or overly clever headline.
The Internet has fundamentally altered the fight. Now every source is fighting for your eyeballs on every story. Anytime anything is put online, there is a cost-benefit analysis that goes on. Will this attract enough eyeballs to be worth the amount of time and effort? Nothing just fills space anymore.
So how do media outlets make that happen? The first is through search engine optimization. That is because Google and, to a lesser extent, other web searches have replaced the front page of the newspaper or magazine covers. Information media companies rely on Google to get you the information they want.
SEO plays such a prominent role in how news is delivered that it has become its own career field. That’s right, monitoring how Google picks its favorites is now a full-time job. That is how important it is to the larger media landscape.
Those same search engines use the information they’ve gleaned from you to filter back the news they think you want. The various websites are all competing for that space. They all want to be the first result that pops up on the search. They all want the one or two spots dedicated to “anime” that show up on your smartphone.
The second source media outlets rely on is social media. Again, media sources hope the feedback loop created on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other places will make it more likely that their article/columns will show up.
Both search engines and social media use what you click on to determine what kind of content you want. And the more people who like a piece of content, the more likely it will show up in your feed.
This is why headlines are so important. While people complain about “clickbait,” companies need to get consumers’ eyes on their work. So you’re not going to see “25 anime IGN thinks are really good,” you’re going to get “The IGN top 25 anime of all time.”
First, because people aren’t going to search for “25 anime IGN thinks are really good”, and second, no one will click on that.
Wonder Egg Priority can’t just be a good show. It has to be “re-imagining magical girl empowerment.” Because no one cares if it’s just good. Social media and search engines aren’t going to pick that up.
Now, I don’t think these are circumstances that we can change. This is just the reality of the media landscape for the foreseeable future.
After the Polygon article blew up, I wrote a post trying to explain the market pressures surrounding the column. It was long, and if you want to read it, here is a link.
But the short of it is that gaming enthusiast websites are not in the business of covering anime. They in the business of covering gaming; anime just happens to be a sideline. The people who are hired to do it are generalists. They probably know more about anime than the average Joe on the street, but Helen McCarthy or Fred Schodt they are not.
The problem is they are surrounded by people who understand even less about anime. The editors may be adept at correcting writing mistakes, but they seemingly fail at providing the backstop their writers really need. If someone presented them with a feature about how Immortals Fenyx Rising redefined open-world games, they would pause for a second. Because they have the knowledge to do that.
When a writer does the same thing with Wonder Egg Priority, well, they simply find themselves unprepared for that.
Like I said in the last section, they are incentivized to do the opposite. They don’t want to run a feature that says, “Wonder Egg Priority is good.” No, it has to be THE BEST. Otherwise, why would they waste time on it? Why pay a freelancer a few hundred dollars for something that isn’t likely to make its money back in eyeballs? Especially for something that is off mission.
We need to understand in this equation that the writer and or writers are actually anime fans. I’ve personally seen Miranda Sanchez at IGN start two different anime-related initiatives there. They’ve all failed for some reason.
If I was a guessing man, I would say they likely lost out to the gaming-related work that needed to be done.
My guess would be similar concerning Kambole Campbell. He knew enough about anime to know that Sakuga Blog existed. While they might not be small, I hadn’t heard of them until I got back into blogging. And I wouldn’t have heard of them if I hadn’t asked.
The writers aren’t really the issue here. They likely pitched something they knew that would pass muster with their bosses. They probably wrote it with the best intentions and wrote it for an audience that may have never heard of Wonder Egg Priority.
Not only should we assume good intent, I think any other assumption is just another form of gatekeeping. If we presume ill-intent, we are deciding who has the right to express themselves by measuring their level of “commitment.” It’s not a healthy stance and only further isolates both sides.
Having more presence of anime in the mainstream can be a good thing. Even with the clumsy and inexpert ways expressed, there is something to be said for having people talk about anime like it’s something they saw.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical, but we should levy our criticisms where they’re deserved. In the end, it’s the editor who failed to ask the questions. It’s the editor that hung their freelancer out to dry. That is really where the problem rests.
What to do?
Of all of the questions that I’ve been thinking about, this is the hardest to answer. The media landscape, as it exists right now, isn’t going to change.
We also can’t expect people to change. When they get angry at a piece of media, they will share it. They will comment on it. They will drive traffic to it. No matter how many people promise to not be “part of the problem,” they inevitably will still fall into the trap of giving these posts the kind of traffic they want. There is a reason for the saying, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
I’m not saying that I’m above this because I’m not.
And directing our anger at the writers may feel good but is often counterproductive. We want to keep them invested in anime. We want more people and more diverse voices talking about this stuff. Even if they’re just the people who bought Naruto headbands from Hot Topic all grown up now.
No. We need to demand better from the editors of these sites when an article like this comes out. That doesn’t mean sending death threats or profanity-laced tirades. No. It means sending reasonable, and maybe strongly-worded, letters asking why they let something like this run? Why did they not check? Do they not have sources they could check with?
Offer help along with the critique. Editors are busy, and it’s just as easy to tune you out as it is to listen. Share resources with them. Point out the flaws, but be honest about why you think they’re flaws. This isn’t the outrage machine of Twitter.
And the most essential piece is to stop for a second before your bash out that email. Consider what you want to say. Consider how you would react if you got that email in your inbox. A little empathy can go a long way in getting your point across.
I don’t know if this will solve the problem. I’m not even confident that the problem can be solved, but it’s far more likely to get a positive result than just chasing some writer off Twitter for their impertinence.
As always, thanks for reading.