Maybe you’re the reason anime is dying

21 August 2013 | 28 comments

How do I know that anime fandom is still alive? Because people are always lamenting the untimely death of anime.

If you’re on Tumblr as often as I am, perhaps you’ve noticed the two viral posts I’d like to talk about today. First, there’s this chart that’s got 12,000+ notes. It depicts one fan’s perspective on what anime looked like before the moe genre was popularized, and after:

moe

Remember in the ‘00s when studios collectively chose to produce nothing except moe anime ever again? Yeah, me neither. Or, as another fan pointed out: studios have produced pandering shows since forever. And they continue to produce shows we all love, too.

Then, there’s a quote from a blog I highlighted in Otaku Links a while back, Man Tears Flowing Free, basically “men getting mad about an anime targeted toward women.” The author wrote a great response to a man complaining about Free! being the death of anime. I didn’t reblog it myself because I think much of the brony hate is undeserved, but here’s the clincher:

“But if a girl ‘trespasses’ into a male space, what happens? (Even when it isnt ‘trespassing’, in the case of Free!, in which a space was actually made for us ) We can expect such timeless classics as: degradation, ‘you’re not even a REAL fan!’ ‘I bet you dont even know ______’, all kinds of threats, and, of course, the posts you see on this blog.”

Gone are the good old days of anime. Anime is dead and moe killed it. Or if you like, anime is dead and anime, like Free!, that panders to women killed it*. (Seriously, where were these guys when Black Butler was airing?)

*EDIT: Massaging the wording here since I’m getting a lot of people thinking I meant that moe is targeted at women. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. 

And to the people who make this argument, I say, maybe you’re the reason anime is dying.

In my Otakon review for Otaku USA, I referenced Evan Minto’s fantastic feature on how Homestuck fandom growth is prompted by an almost evangelical recruiting strategy, it’s “Let me tell you about Homestuck!” “[I]t inspires me to fire back with my own, equally welcoming reply,” says Minto. “Let me tell you about anime.”

If anime is dying it’s because fans feel a need to be gatekeepers. To say certain kinds of anime or anime fans aren’t legitimate. To use words like “Narutard” or “Fake geek” to keep people out of our cliques. So much has been written about geek policing, but here’s an academic explanation of just how petty and predictable we can be.

If anime is dying, it’s our fault. It’s certainly not the fault of content creators, who are churning out future classics all the time. It’s our inability to acknowledge anything created after 2005 as anything other than moe pandering. It’s our inability to believe that [insert group here] are part of the anime fanbase. It’s our inability to be welcoming recruiters to anybody who expresses interest.

You may say that I’m making a straw man argument toward a vocal minority. That’s probably true; plenty of people reblogged the moe chart to refute it. However, I’d retort that the very argument that “anime is dying” is a straw man argument itself. Through various streaming sites, anime is more accessible than it’s ever been. There are conventions everywhere, and they’re all growing. I know from firsthand experience that Otakon gained a good 5,000 additional visitors this year.

Anime fandom is only going to get bigger from here. I’ll only suspect that it’s dead when people STOP talking about why it’s dead or dying.

Chart by bewareofmpreg

  • http://www.genjipress.com Serdar

    This is a tough one to talk about, in big part because no one likes to think they themselves are the source of a problem when there are plenty of other scapegoats.

    At Otakon I had a sit-down talk with Roland Kelts wherein I touched on this problem, and he noted that a big part of the anime-is-dying issue seems to be driven by the prevalence in Japan of the “oyaji otaku” — the older, late-thirties and early-forties types who keep the industry alive but are also responsible for its regressive and unadventurous product.

    There’s still not much of a sense in Japan that anime can be kept alive, let alone diversified, by appealing to non-Japanese audiences. What’s more *how* you go about doing that is also important. If you do it by giving them clones of things they already have (“Heroman”), that’s not really working. But if you do it by investing a little more in the kinds of shows that represent anime at its most diverse and exoteric best, you may not get as big a payout at first but in the long run you’ll cultivate better habits for reaching an audience.

    • http://omonomono.com omo

      The perception of anime is dying is probably a true thing looking at it outside the context of tumblr or most of the things covered by this blog post, but of course that perception comes from a lot of different factors and events, many of them might not have contributed to any actual decline in terms of the quality of works produced today or how much more accessible anime is today for both consumers and creators. For example, animator wages or the late night anime boom (# of titles between 1997-2003 increased by more than 5 fold), or that studios are adopting to digital ink during the turn of the century and are now perfecting digital composition only in recent years at affordable scales.

      So in the end it’s at most still just a perception.

  • http://www.mangatherapy.com Manga Therapy

    One thing to worry about is that there are people who still won’t listen to you, even if you convince them that anime is still ok. Stereotypes do persist about anime/manga outside of Japan. I do think the anime industry is in a state of flux right now.

    Also, as Serdar pointed out, anime is being catered to those types of otaku. The manga industry is going through this. Shonen Jump is thinking about catering more to the young Japanese male, which happens to have titles that are more “romantic comedy”-based with fanservice.

    Daryl Surat even pointed out that the disconnect between Japan and USA is alarming. http://storify.com/DarylSurat/perception-of-cool-japan-in-japan-vs-usa

    I’ve tried to get people into certain anime series and sometimes they don’t listen. I preach about Gintama all the time to people and how it’s relatable to real life situations. Yet I’ve had little success in converting people to watch or read it. Why? Maybe because I’m targeting non-otaku or fans who just can’t stand episodic types of anime, especially a series that’s 250+ episodes long.

    Thank god for “Attack on Titan” for saving the day, huh?

    Also, regarding the whole FREE mess, it’s apparent that there’s somewhat of a battle between otaku and fujoshi. I know some otaku are displeased at Comiket for having them.

    • http://www.otakujournalist.com Lauren Orsini

      It’s interesting that you reference otaku and fujoshi as two different groups, when I always assumed there was a lot of overlap. I think of myself as an otaku, but I do watch Free!, so does that make me a fujoshi?

      Thanks for linking Daryl Surat’s Storify. Reading through it now.

      • http://www.mangatherapy.com Manga Therapy

        That’s a good question. A common stereotype is that female otaku are fujoshi, when that is not actually true. However, a fujoshi is DEFINITELY a female otaku.

        There is overlap between the two. It’s just that otaku don’t and/or refuse to acknowledge it. Sexism and gender norms come into play here.

        Japan has almost always been about themselves first. If anything hits big in the West, it’s a coincidence. There are many fans who really don’t understand how the business works. Plus, people seem to hate research that contradicts their beliefs, so they don’t do it.

        • http://www.digitalflowerstorm.com Kat

          I’m not sure if this holds up, so I’m going from what I’ve gathered (language and usage wise) – but ‘fujoshi’ seems to indicate more the fangirls with slash/yaoi goggles, who not only like fanservice but write fanfiction, go to butler cafes, love it when guys say “ojousama”, etc. So… yes, fujoshi are female otaku, but not all female otaku are fujoshi?

          • http://www.mangatherapy.com Manga Therapy

            Yes, that’s what I’m trying to say. I know fellow fujoshi who agree with that statement. Not all women who watch anime are into yaoi/homoeroticism.

  • http://www.maverynthia.com Maverynthia

    Actually, yes it’s the fans killing anime, BUT the anime itself helps. When 10 different anime comes out a month and MAAAYBE just MAAAAYBE one of them is targeted at women, it says “Hey women, yeah GTFO because you only deserve 1/10th the anime. The other 9 anime are usually an ecchi/harem and/or moe mix based off of a dating sim which also tells women “Hey women, we only think of you in terms of being infantile and or sex objects.”

    The rest of the people on the outside see:
    “Wow, anime is stall those porn cartoons huh?” You can’t really defend anime when pretty much every shounen series/seinen series out there is adopting ecchi into the anime, even when it’s not specifically an ecchi anime like the dance sequence from Gargantia, or Majectic Prince’s butt shots.

    THEN you wade into the anime forums with the harem threads and people commenting “I’d ra** that bi***” on a picture of an anime girl in a middle school uniform sitting in that slumped on knees legs to the side pose that’s supposedly “cute”.

    So yeah, both anime AND it’s fans are to blame for scaring people away. I’ve been comparing stuff from the 80s/90s to the stuff we have today and it was a LOT less terrible in various ways.

    • http://kvclements.com Kat

      Part of that might also be nostalgia. When some of us started watching anime, we were pretty young and were just like, “WOW What is this awesome stuff that is so unlike anything on American TV?! Give me more!” Now that we’re older and have (hopefully) developed in maturity and experience, we’re looking at newer anime and seeing many more flaws. Our older shows, even if they share flaws, are protected by the sheen of nostalgia, a protection new anime does not have.

      Although I must admit…I haven’t seen nearly as many new anime that I really enjoy, but I can’t always tell if that’s just because my taste has changed or if it truly is just bad. ^_^;;

  • http://kvclements.com Kat

    I think part of the whole “anime is dying” thing is an almost pathetic cry for attention. Despite the fact that anime has become pretty much mainstream, there are people out there who try to pretend that it’s still this super-special underground clique that only the sacrosanct can enter. And of course having something that used to be special and secret become mainstream change to appeal to other groups also results in the cry of “Stop ruining what I love with your evil popular ways!” At least, that’s how it looks to me. Anime isn’t dying in and of itself. It’s people’s reactions to it that will make it “live” or “die” in their eyes.

    And I sympathize with your frustration with Tumblr. (I actually had to leave Tumblr because it was raising my blood pressure too much. It seems like people can do nothing but complain there!) it is a perfect example of a place that claims to be inclusive, but is really just as hierarchy-minded as many other geek gathering places.

    • Guest

      It’s not overly difficult to go and find some sales numbers on the internet. Anime sales have dropped around 40%-50%, why would there be so much talk about anime dying if it’s popularity wasn’t diminishing, someone would just drop a sales chart reply to you every single time.

  • GundamGuy

    Lauren and I have this running conversation every time we turn on the radio in the car.

    I say “Why is music from the 80′s so much better then music today.” and Lauren always points out to me that we are only hearing the best of the best on the 80′s channel. Music that stood the test of time… and wasn’t just a flash In the pan.

    I think that’s applicable to Anime too. At first companies would reach back many years to “catch us up” on something that we might have missed, we also likely sought out the best of the best via word of mouth from fans who saw it months or years ago. Overall we were watching only the best of the best… the Anime’s that stood the test of time… and not getting everything.

    Now we that we are much more current with Japan, we see everything not just the best of the best… perhaps that is why we feel like it was so much better before…

    • Zoe Le Loir

      That’s a great point, Gundam Guy.

      I was around in the 80′s and lots and lots of the music simply sucked. What did I listen to in those days? Late 60′s and 70′s rock like Zeppelin, The Doors, The Beatles, RUSH, Hendrix, Heart, Fleetwood Mac and so on. But I and others were getting on the “classic” rock channels was the best of what came out in those years. I later discovered that there was plenty of music from those years that I could not stand.

      I think you are correct in stating the same thing exists with older vs. newer anime. We’ve seen some of the best.

      I also remember that in the US were shown horribly edited versions of Spaceship Yamamoto (Star Blazers in the US) and Sailor Moon. Both of those shows were very different compared to the “uncut” versions.

  • Charles

    Based on all the conversations I’ve been following since Otakon, I think that the entire argument might boil down to something simple, but also easily overlooked:

    Anime is “dying.”
    Anime is “evolving.”
    The scope/depth is based around how the individual perceives it.

    Look at the Otakon boards and you will see plenty of folks who feel that anime is alive and well. And in many cases, it is. If anime shares the spotlight with other ideas, then so be it, that’s how the fans choose to embrace and practice it.

    It all comes down to the idea of practice, at least where the fandom is concerned. And the fandom is experiencing a massive divide between fandom “generations.” The “older fans” have one perception of anime/anime fandom, and the “younger” fans have another. The disconnect forms because aspects of both groups do not talk to one another for whatever reason. And the larger, younger fans come to their own conclusions.

    That’s not death, that’s evolution on a cultural level.

    Anime is not dying. Or maybe, it’s dying the same way “punk” is “dying.” One generation sees the disappearance of what they once knew and were familiar with. The other one practices the only way they know how.

    • http://www.mangatherapy.com Manga Therapy

      I’m one of the old school people, but I keep track of new stuff in anime/manga. Though I was never super-hardcore and never really watched much of the old-school stuff.

  • http://www.starhavenstudios.com Anikiki

    Sounds like hipster complaints if you ask me.

    When an underground subculture becomes more mainstream, there’s always going to be some complaint about how said subculture was cool back in the day and somehow got worse by people who jumped in the bandwagon and “ruin its reputation”.

    Anime and the otaku subculture haven’t changed; they just became more popular and more accessible. The only thing that’s growing are the people that watch the anime.

  • http://gargarstegosaurus.wordpress.com A Day Without Me

    I’m terribly amused by the Madhouse comparison in particular because one could just as easily put CardCaptor Sakura in the first box with Shigurui in the second, and Sakura was hugely popular with the lolicon set before anyone was really using the term ‘moe’.

    • GundamGuy

      It’s absolutely true that shows existed that catered to the “Moe” crowd forever, a lot long then there was a term for it.

      I suppose the art style has changed some but nevertheless I would argue that there are plenty of shows historically which were shameless in there attempt to rope in this demographic.

      So is the complaint that it’s front and center now? Because that might have some merit…

  • Kregano

    I think anime is dying, for a few reasons (not in any particular order):
    1) An unhelpful and exclusionary fanbase on/in anime centric communities. /a/ is a great example of this – asking for recommendations based on one’s like of a certain anime or for the sources of quotes, screencaps, or manga excerpts is derided as “spoonfeeding” and alienates potential new fans from engaging the fan community.
    2) The mainstream culture’s anime aversion, which rubs off on most people. This was established back in anime’s heyday in the US, partly because US and Japanese anime companies seemed insistent on getting a lot of hentai and over the top violent material to US shores. That gave opponents of anime a lot of ammunition for their arguments denouncing anime and because the bad stuff was so memorable (and there was no real pro-anime spokespeople dealing with the mainstream media IIRC), everyone remembered that anime was Japanese cartoons where people have sex with little girls instead of the medium that got us Ghost in the Shell, etc…
    3) A lot of anime regurgitating tired tropes verbatim, combined with fanservice, lolicon, high school focus, and other alienating material. These things tend to reinforce the negative perception of anime and make fans look immature, because to the outsider, the viewer appears unable to move past high school. This feeds into the fandom’s “us vs them” mentality and cyncism towards the medium, which is part of why we hear “anime is dying” a lot. But the bigger problem is that lots of trope driven anime means less desired material available in the future for that new or old fan who doesn’t like the generic stuff. Sure, there are huge back catalogs of every anime genre, but if you don’t have much to look forward to in the future, how long are you going to stick with something?
    4) Japan seems to be totally incompetent at handling the anime business. Just check out any of the ANNCasts involving ex-Bandai Entertainment folks or the episode titled OveraChivers. The biggest sign of this is the fact that it has taken Namco Bandai until now to realize that you can just localize the text of a game and release it in the US. Games are a pretty good way to maintain brand awareness (because you can replay them over and over, expand them, etc…), but after the initial wave of anime tie-in games, US fans got nothing except the occasional bone thrown at us to keep us less vocally angry.

    I’m going to be brutally honest: unless anime gets way better on the business and creative end, I doubt it will be financially viable in the next few decades and may not be able to recover if it collapses.

    • http://animeherald.com Anthony (@OtakuAnthony)

      I don’t think anime is dying it is just a buzz words for those who don’t like where it is going but I’m going to respond to the four points you made.

      1) Who takes /a/ seriously? I don’t think they buy anime.

      2) Well I don’t have an answer for that one.

      3) All mediums of entertainment use tropes tired or not. It’s only alienating if people are not open minded about it.

      4) Japan was incompetent over in R1 world, but they are doing well over there. AoA seems to know what they are doing and they are still around at the moment but their business model works.

      I don’t think anime is dying because we have so many shows being made each season. To me if it was dying we get less and less shows each season, but we are not. There are still many good shows being made each season so to say each season there is nothing but crap is such BS.

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  • Gonzo

    As others noted, there is a “hipster” aspect to the issue. “It was good before it went mainstream.” is more accurate to the sentiment than “anime is dying”.

    I do think the excessive Moe is saturating the anime market problematically. Just as happened to American TV, artist who may have put their effort towards great future classics are instead paying the bills by making a lowest-common-denominator product instead. Also like American TV, there will continue to be great things, but they are becoming harder to find among the growing piles of lowest-common-denominator flotsam.

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  • TheUnpopularTruth

    I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, between the nostalgia filter, the crap fans, and the crap product.

    I will be honest, I acknowledge that a lot of my enjoyment of older anime, is because I was a teenager when I first saw it. Such titles as Project A-Ko, Venus Wars, Orguss, and others, resonated because I was in the target age range for the product, and to be frank, I was a lot less cynical back then. It was really easy to empathize with young, hopeful protagonists facing daunting odds because I was young and hopeful. The idea of the young, brash, untested teen, full of piss and vinegar, taking on an entire army with just a magic switchblade and dogged determination, and winning, was a fantasy I could relate to, because I was a young, brash, untested teen. Today, in 2013, not so much. This isn’t to say that I enjoy no anime whatsoever, but honestly, I have just aged out of the target audience. You get tired of watching anime the same way you get tired of watching Sesame Street. Is moe, or school drama, or harem anime, or any of that killing anime? I dunno, but I think it’s worth noting that a large amount of anime anymore is moe, or school drama, or harem, or something similar based around the exploits of 15-20 yr olds, and believe it or not, there will come a time when you stop giving a crap what 15-20 yr olds do, simply because you aren’t in that age range.

    Another issue, which has been brought up already here, is that we’re just now seeing the full range of what anime has to offer here in the US, and the fact is, like most genres, most of it is crap. Most people would probably say that the US film market is garbage, and it churns out at least several dozen major retreaded blockbusters a year. Thing is, if the only thing that foreign audiences saw was stuff like Titanic, Avatar, The Dark Knight, they’d probably think that every single movie we had over here was an instant classic. Whoever said that originally, only the grade A stuff was getting over, and now we don’t have that problem was 100% right. It doesn’t surprise me that most anime isn’t worth watching: most of everything isn’t worth watching.

    I do think that the fans make a bad situation worse though. I know a guy who swears by banning 3 people from his forum: anyone with a Ryu avatar, anyone with a Sonic avatar, and anyone with a Naruto avatar, the reasoning being that he has never seen any of these three people come in and NOT start a flame war with the entire board he runs. I can’t say I disagree – of all the flame wars I have seen and participated in, I can’t think of many who were started by guys pimping Don Corelone or Atticus Finch avatars. I could fill a small college ruled notebook with names of perpetrators like Legato, Gogeta, Batou, etc, spouting psuedo pop-psychological nonsense about the virtues of being a troll, and how it worked so well for the fictional character in the fictional universe they took their name from. Anime fans have a well deserved stigma attached to them, much like comic book fans. The problem is, this stigma extends to the product – Anime doesn’t make people dicks, but when 7 out of 10 people you have to ban have an avatar of Naruto screaming at the top of their lungs, and the other 3 have Super Sonic, it’s real easy to forget that, especially if you have never been exposed to anime before.

    Does all of this mean that anime is going to go away today? Probably not. More than likely the market has many years left for it. However, I don’t think that this will reverse the trend of most of what is in the market being garbage. Rather than saying that anime is dying, it would be more accurate to say that anime is going to continue on as it (and everything else) has been for the past decade, that is, mostly badly, with some gems every now and then.

  • e pluribus unknown

    Moe became cancer. An epidemic which undermined the creativity of Japanese animation. Limited the range and turned a better age away. It struggles to make profit when few productions are worth even our time and can be stolen in a shorter time than waiting for often badly adapted copies through distribution companies.

    I’d not say anime is dead, but more like laying alone in a hospital bed with a very hard disease to treat. The creators mostly can’t make what they want anymore, so the limitations make anime a tough sell to a broader audience. Maybe it will change one day. Until then, I do thorough sifting for a few titles I like at all despite the moe insanity dragging everything into a cesspit.

    Thanks for listening.

  • http://ogmansblog.wordpress.com/ Overlord-G

    Whenever I come across someone online or offline who says “anime is dead”, I walk away and continue life enjoying anime till my last breath.
    “Anime is dead”. Most seasons make shows that cater to 75% of fanatics. The so called “old school diehards” aren’t looking hard enough.
    “Pro-wrestling is dead”. this was said in 2007, though I do admit it is slowly decaying.
    “hardcore videogames are dead”. People aren’t looking hard enough,

    A lot of “mainstream sweethearts” cater to these people while still being serious. It’s just that some of them need to make money and expose some feminine (and sometimes masculine) flesh to make a quick buck with certain viewers. The same goes for cuteness.

  • Bloodshots

    That post was why I quit tumblr. I used to run a pretty active anime rants blog, I like anime from most periods of time. I like mo~e, I like ecchi, I like suspense and action. I love anime like Evangelion yet I also love shows like Kiniro Mosaic or Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka? I love anime, and I do not think it is dying.
    The notion of anime dying is a really stupid one people who are not actually fans of anime say. They should either watch the old stuff they like, get out of the medium altogether and find a different hobby or shut up and stop talking about modern anime as if they still like it.
    Anime is not dying, there are still great and entertaining shows coming out… EVERY SEASON. Where else do you have a medium which churns out new stuff every season without fail? It amazes me how people have the gall to complain especially now when we have had a resurgence of anime that break the average mold. Shingeki no Kyojin, Kill la Kill, Space Dandy to name only 3. Sailor Moon is coming back and remastered DBZ is airing, Sailor Moon and DBZ will be airing at the same time again.
    Anime does have it’s thematic stagnant periods, but it is entering a giant blast of new stuff. You’ve got upcoming shows like Terra Formars and Akame ga Kill, crazy stuff. Anime is alive and well, very much alive and well. If one feels as though it is not, THEY are the problem indeed.

    As far as the “weeaboo” and “fake geek” thing goes, I’ve got a ton of them at my college. I do not hang out with them, but it is cool that they are having fun doing what they do. I would not call them anime fans on the same level as someone who genuinely loves the medium enough to look into more shows than simply shounen jump stuff, but yeah they’re fans of something or another, just not the kind of people I can relate to.

    TL;DR: Anime is not dead, it’s your fault if you do not like it and that’s cool, stay off forums though please.
    Weebs are annoying people but its cool that they are open about what they like. Then again the whole desu, chan chan kawaiifat thing isnt exactly making them appear to be fun to be around, especially for anime fans.

    • Ultima-X

      Only two all of all the anime nowadays are good then.