Anime fans in the west have had a long history of actively seeking out their anime. Be it trading tapes, taking time out of your day specifically to go to anime clubs, figuring out the arcane secrets required to get shows off of irc, learning how to use bittorrent, or even searching on Youtube, there has always been the push to find more anime. There is a sort of mental devotion, however small, to finding new shows or finding more of a particular show, and I believe that just as much as it is a reflection of the hardcore fan’s mindset, it can also influence that mindset as well. It is both cause and effect.
When one downloads or otherwise looks for episodes of Pretty Cure, there’s some sort of labor involved, and from that labor it makes sense to want sufficient value in return, to (misappropriately) use some of Karl Marx’s terminology. Thus, when that episode of Pretty Cure has no progress, when it feels like the last episode, disappointment occurs. Then you might think, “This show isn’t worth my time.” And it might not be. However, keep in mind that most anime in Japan is shown on TV, and the TV acts as a passive medium for most mainstream shows. Anime like Pretty Cure air on weekend mornings, so there’s no need for staying up late or setting a VCR or Tivo. It, like so many other shows, becomes simply a part of a weekly routine, something that can be enjoyed in addition to other activities by the viewer, such as eating breakfast.
It becomes a custom, like saying hi to your neighbor every morning (feel free to substitute neighbor with anyone else). Anyone who woke up for Saturday Morning Cartoons is probably familiar with this feeling. Sure, there are shows you like more than others, or would have to sacrifice one for the other if they aired at the same time on different channels, but the familiarity makes it less of a new shirt and more of a warm blanket.
Having started to watch Eureka Seven in Japan, I originally thought it was going to be a warm blanket, that Eureka Seven would be mostly episodic and carried on the characters’ strong personalities and their interactions. When I noticed those interactions causing permanent changes in those characters, I became more involved, and before long it started to become an active pursuit, where I would purposely go to sleep early on Saturdays to catch Eureka Seven early Sunday morning. I think this gradual shift from blanket to shirt is part of what made me so fond of the show.
I think some of the success (or lack thereof) of anime aired on TV in the US has very much to do with being situated in a way that makes them accessible to passive viewers. Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing aired at convenient, after-school time slots. Cowboy Bebop was on around midnight, when it’s late but not too late. Gundam SEED was saddled by a poor time slot that got progressively worse. Adult Swim seems to be pushing Code Geass off a cliff with a 5am time slot, and I think they are well aware of the active/passive fandom dichotomy that occurs. I mean, you could say that viewers should just set their vcr’s to record, but then that involves labor, and the viewer then pretty much has to be a fan.
And while it’s great to be an anime fan, not everyone who is a potential viewer or a potential fan starts off this way.