Are We Really Seeing The Death Of Anime And Manga?
Not too long ago, someone I knew remarked on Facebook, “The recent clamp down on manga scanlations will cause a drastic plummet in manga and anime product sales.” It’s a disturbing thought for a fan to be espousing, all things considered.
This dovetailed nicely with Dai Sato’s interview regarding the lack of appreciation of the animated medium to be able to tell a story, and the apparent lack of the viewers’ ability to read the stories and the meanings in shows like, in his words, “Eureka 7” and “Ergo Proxy”. (To be honest here, while I’ve heard great things about both, Ergo Proxy turned me off by how obviously pretentious it was.)
This would of course seem very, very shocking to the average fan, and even for older fans, who seem to be unable to come to terms with the changes anime has made over the years. Shows that had a great story to tell and were entertaining made way for light and fluffy slice-of-life shows that involve young, nubile, doe-eyed women doing nothing at all.
And to the older fan, it’s not just scary, it flies in their faces. This isn’t anime they came to love as a child! (Then again, most of the probably never saw “Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko”, which involved nubile young girls… … … ride in advanced starships blasting the crap out of other people. Same difference. I don’t think there was any immediate discernable plot.)
So how did the industry dig itself into a hole they seemingly could not get out of? Why the need to clamp down on online manga sites? What’s with the “moe” phenomenon?
It’s the Economy, stupid!
One giant elephant in the room supporters and detractors have not even deigned to notice or even mention is the state of the economy in Japan.
If you haven’t noticed, “Cool Japan” is being crushed by being 20-odd years in RECESSION. That’s right, Japan’s economy has been tanking like Gonzo’s bloody stock price! Japan’s economy shat bricks, had an aneurysm, and died! And then became a rotting zombie as far as I’m concerned! It didn’t recover save for a few false starts! And it’s still rotting away, it seems! The otaku industry is THE anomaly in the whole mess! Growing at unbelievable speeds, it laughed at the recession as if it was a bad dream! Well, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and Dick Cheney took care of THAT by almost causing the global economy to DIE from toxic assets!
But why then did the industry laugh off “The lost decade”? Well, it’s because of…
FUCKING FANSUBS, FUCKING FUNI AND YOU!
Hands up, those of you who have downloaded at least one series a year. So many hands? Wow, I never would have guessed.
The industry (and fansub/scanlation detractors) love to lampoon the Internet, high-speed broadband, powerful computers and the “entitlement generation” for causing the steady decline of anime in general (and I suspect manga), but of course, like most things, there’s ANOTHER giant elephant in the room both sides do not want to even look at, much less talk about.
Their insatiable appetite for all thing otaku and probably Japan. Back in 2000 and probably earlier, when Japan was only beginning to realize the untapped economic potential of licensing shows to the West, shows weren’t been churned out like, let’s say, canned meat. Shinbo could go out there and actually BE crazy, putting nubile girls in advanced spaceships blowing the crap out of other people in similarly-advanced spaceships (and get away with the violent equivalent of K-On, so to speak.) A time where if you had the numbers to back you up, you got a show lovingly crafted (Well, it seemed to me). A time where you had enough money to actually make 40-odd episodes and still have a bit left over. A time where Monster could have been extremely popular, so to speak. Where Tomino and Kawamori could dick around and make fun shows. Where even Hideaki Anno could get away with using anime as a wagon to scream how much he hated the world, the industry and himself. (What? It’s all true, I swear!) A time where the mangaka of HunterXHunter could get away with not drawing for months at an end.
And then technology brought anime and manga kicking and screaming to the global audience. High speed Internet connections, faster and cheaper computers, the invention of Bittorrent and a seeming lack of copyright enforcement created a movement to promote anime (albeit illegally) to the world at large. So pouplar was this movement, some of the criminals formed the companies we know today to bring in the shows the people wanted. And Japan saw the big money to be made, and responded in kind. It didn’t stop there, though. Faster connections also meant more people wanted to see this newfangled thing better than Disney, and those that had seen it wanted MORE. And this little monster called Greed grew bigger and bigger until we have our sad situation today.
While I’d love to point the loaded gun at me, blow myself away and be done with it, I’m not squarely to blame for the sad turn of events. There’s also been a…
Massive Demographic Shift
We tend to, or rather, we choose to, forget that the market for anime and manga has always been Japan-oriented. The Japanese, if they could so choose, have the ability to simply stop licensing shows to the world (but they would not get the money to prop up their flawed industry!) and simply survive on the domestic market.
And to be honest, there’s been a big change in what the Japanese want for, let’s say, at least a decade. Barring a few big names, people don’t want to see giant robots battling for courage, hope and peace anymore. The world has become a much scarier place, especially for Japan and the otaku, and most of them are probably in their late 20s or early 30s by now. At this point, they don’t want to see any more shows that feature men screaming attack names out in their steel golem rides and overcome overwhelming odds, REALITY DOESN’T FUCKING WORK LIKE THAT. Remember that not even the combined efforts of Guy Shishioh, Domon Kasshu and Nekki Basara could ever hope to set the Japanese economy right again.
What does Japan do when faced with overwhelming odds she can’t even handle? That’s right, she WITHDRAWS. And the otaku are sterling examples of that. And what’s the tool for enticing them to stay in their shells, never to come out again? (And make a lot of money at the same time?) That’s right, the girls of K-On. (And Nayuki. And Mai. And Misuzu. And Tomoyo. And Kudo, And pretty much every “moe” girl out there.)
It may not be apparent to the entitlement generation, the older fans, and pretty much everyone I know in general, but the prevalent attitude in Japan has changed, and it’s not a very nice change.
While we’re all wailing on one another, determined to see one side die a most horrible death (probably fueled with atomics, I presume), we refuse to see the sad reality in Japan. Japan is in RECESSION. It’s people are DESPONDENT. Getting a JOB is almost downright IMPOSSIBLE. They don’t TRUST their GOVERNMENT to FIX THINGS, and most of them probably believe that THEY were the ones who CAUSED the PROBLEMS in the first place. And Western sentiments are not exactly positive, considering Rapelay, Kodomo no Jikan and Chris Handley are how Japan perceives the reaction of their exported goods.
If you ask me, the rise of maid cafes, rent-a-cat places, the apparent popularity of visual novels in Japan, and the ever-growing shut-in problem are not just mere coincidences. They are symptoms of a much larger problem. One that, unless we actually put aside our differences and actually SEE how serious the whole thing is, would actually lead to a real death of anime, manga, and even otaku culture worldwide, and I don’t mean MOGRA shutting down it’s live stream!
So What Can We Do?
First of all, industry and community has got to stop fighting! Fucking hell, we’re on the same team! Why are we tearing ourselves to pieces when we can actually HELP. Read up on Japan’s woes, listen to Patrick Macias talk about otaku culture, heck, let’s get Chris Handley off the fucking child sex offenders list (HE’S NOT EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE CHARGED, LET ALONE BE THERE) and shut down Sankaku Complex FOR GOOD. Information and action are our two best weapons against the threat of anime and manga dying a slow, horrible death, and there’s no thick steel body armor protecting it from the acids of the Sarlacc it’s in!
Secondly, campaign for a change of the Berne Convention! It’s more than just anime and manga at stake here! It’s the entire creative industry, and that includes what we love! Promote Steam, OpenManga and positive initiatives that serve the interests of the creator, not the companies exploiting the creators! [citation necessary] Campaign for a change in working conditions for animators as well, while we’re at it!
Thirdly, when all else fails, actually try to buy at least 10% of what you downloaded! As much as this is alien and probably loathsome to the entitlement generation, this is still your basic means to say something. Your wallet determines the next license they want to get. Don’t waste your economic power. Unless you happen to like K-On and it’s ilk, then… … … I don’t know what to say.
So what happens after this?
I dunno, man. The industry has been hurtling to it’s eventual doom for quite a while already. I’ll admit it’s going to be a tough fight to get the train to switch gears, but if we don’t do something, we might as well plead guilty and hope not to drop the soap. Or find something new to do.
Otherwise, we gotta do something, or risk seeing our favorite form of entertainment die that slow, horrible death it probably deserved. No one ever said this was easy, mind.