Whenever I see an article or post about how anime is declining because of a focus on an increasingly niche, otaku audience, I’m a little taken aback. This is not only because the most commonly given solution, i.e. “make things with broader appeal” is easier said than done, but that the very idea itself doesn’t actually seem to be what its most adamant proponents truly mean or want.
Take Redline for instance, which is touted by a number of people as a sort of magic bullet that has the potential to blast away years of anime-related stigma. Certainly it’s a fantastic film on a number of different levels, but I have a hard time believing that it qualifies as “broadly appealing,” unless your definition of “broadly appealing” is limited to geeks with a penchant for thrills and visual spectacle, or alternately, anime fans from previous decades, especially from when “anime” was closely tied to “science fiction” in their eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to argue that the storytelling in Redline is excellent, and that it’s far more than just pretty explosions, but something like Redline will be not judged by a more general audience unfamiliar with anime based on the subtle nuance that exists in its otherwise extreme characters. It’s full of violence and has a sprinkling of nudity, and while that sells for some, it’s also an instant turn-off for others.
“Anime with broader appeal.”
“Anime that the average person will enjoy.”
I believe these to be obtainable goals, but I find that when people talk like this, they don’t necessarily want something for a wider audience, they want anime that is closer to what they enjoy most, that possess the qualities they think are most essential to great anime, or at least acceptable anime. Certainly, wanting more of what you enjoy only makes sense, but it results in conflating “broad appeal” with the tastes of the individual. Rather than something like Redline or Cowboy Bebop, maybe the answer will be the anime equivalent of The Big Bang Theory or Hannah Montana or something else far-removed from the aforementioned anime titles. Which is to say, if anime in whole or in part transformed itself to really aim for that bigger audience around the world, the result may not be what we might be expecting.
This somewhat reminds me of all of the manga creators that have been revisiting their older work. Even putting my beloved Genshiken aside, you have GTO: Shonan 14 Days and Rurouni Kenshin, among others. All of them have certain expectations associated with them because you have the original creators working on them, but when you think about it there’s no guarantee that the work will actually be all that similar. After all, artists can change given time and experience. Macross: The First is a retelling of the first series by the original character designer Mikimoto Haruhiko, who is praised especially by a certain generation of anime fans as being one of the best character designers ever. They might point to his work and say, “There, why can’t anime characters look more like that, instead of what we’re getting today?”
The only problem is, Mikimoto’s own artwork today doesn’t look like his work from the 1980s. For that matter, if you look at his stuff from between the original Macross and now, it also looks quite different.