Let’s Get this Roadshow on the Road: SHIROBAKO the Movie

When SHIROBAKO The Movie was first announced, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. The original TV series is one of my favorite anime from P.A. Works, as its romanticized look at the Japanese animation industry through the P.A. Works formula (cute girls doing X in a town) delivers some pretty deep-cut in-jokes while working to encourage viewers to consider joining the anime industry. I looked forward to reuniting with a fantastic cast of characters and seeing how their careers in anime would continue. 

A few pandemic-induced delays on both sides of the ocean later, and I finally got my chance to attend a one-night-only screening through Fathom Events.

The Story

SHIROBAKO is about five girls who make a promise to join the anime industry and turn their club project into a full-fledged anime, and enter the field by specializing in different aspects of anime production. The movie takes place four years after the TV series, and sees them still working in the industry but suffering from stagnating careers. In particular, protagonist Miyamori Aoi is dealing with the decline of her studio, Musashino Animation Productions (aka Musani), after a disastrous show cancellation. As Aoi wonders if there’s any way to bring it back to its old glory, a proposal comes her way: take a risk and start production on an anime film. 

A Theatrical Feel

In many ways, the film feels like it’s trying as hard as possible to indeed be SHIROBAKOTHE MOVIE. Just as the TV series is about making shows, this involves the characters working on a feature-film. And because one of the biggest appeals of SHIROBAKO is its cast of characters, a lot of the movie is about bringing the old team back together and rediscovering the energy and inspiration they’ve lost. A couple of musical numbers—a feature absent from the TV series—also get thrown in, as if the staff is saying, “We’re doing this because we can.” It’s definitely the experience I was looking for, from reuniting with the cast (writer Imai “Diesel-san” Midori being my favorite) and it ends in a satisfying and uplifting way, though ironically, I wish I could have spent more time with them. 

Rosy, Yet Not without Criticisms

SHIROBAKO can be thought of as a story about people within an industry, as opposed to the industry itself. It peels back the curtain enough to show the strain of deadlines, creative clashes, the perils of overwork, and many other things that can go wrong during an anime production. However, it doesn’t point any fingers at the systemic issues that cause these to be common problems, notably chronic underpayment of staff. SHIROBAKO is willing to deliver a few lumps, but holds back the ugliest parts. Though, given that it’s not meant to be a hard-hitting work, I don’t really mind. At the very least, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in SHIROBAKO.

This approach extends into the movie, but this time, it’s willing to show a bit more about how precarious everything can be within anime production. Part of the reason Musani fell from grace is because the studio’s owner (who, as a reminder, is a parody of legendary industry figure Maruyama Masao) tried to get ahead of schedule by starting production before the ink had dried on the contract, and got burned for doing so. In other words, trying to be more responsible came with an inherent risk, which on some level indicates an unforgiving industry. This also ties into the direction the movie goes, as well as Aoi’s role in the process. Like Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!’s Kanamori, Aoi is a producer, and the dramatically reduced time span to finish the film seems like a recipe for disaster. Aoi has to know how to best use previous resources and experience to allow for some shortcuts, and when to put your foot down to keep on schedule vs. when to encourage and allow for greater creative flexibility. 

Overall

SHIROBAKO The Movie is more or less what I wanted and expected out of it, and the challenges it presents its characters—trying to get out of their respective ruts and reignite their passion for anime—helps to paint an image of the anime industry as complicated and full of ups and downs. Though this is clearly a film from before COVID-19 was an issue, 

I have to wonder if it was meant to be P.A. Works‘ giving a pep talk to itself, trying to provide some hope when things feel hopeless.

God Mars and the Legacy of BL Fan Shipping

There are two success stories to tell about the 1981 giant robot anime Six God Combination God Mars. The first is about a combining giant robot that was better as a toy than as an animated figure in motion: toy sales were strong enough to extend the series beyond its first year, but the awkward stiffness of the titular God Mars itself is something of a running gag (as seen in the YouTube comments here). The second, and I think the one that should get more attention among English-speaking anime fans, is about the tremendous influence of God Mars on Japan’s female anime fandom and doujinshi scene. In a time when pairing same-sex characters from your favorite series was not yet the full-on cottage industry it is today, God Mars was a cornerstone title alongside Captain Tsubasa.

I personally came to know about God Mars twenty years ago, although knowledge about the two aspects of the series came at different times. It was a collection of giant robot anime openings around 2001 that introduced me to the show and its impressive-looking mecha, but it was actually 2004’s Genshiken Official Data Book (of all things) that first brought to my attention God Mars’s popularity with women. Years later at Otakon 2010, voice actor Mitsuya Yuji mentioned among his most popular roles a character from God Mars named Marg. Now, I have the entire series on physical media thanks to Discotek (with 25 episodes up for free on TMS’s Youtube channel), and I’ve finally come to understand what made God Mars one of the granddaddies of fandom pairing in Japan.

Simply put, it’s Marg. Once you know about him, it becomes crystal clear why a female fandom around God Mars developed.

Marg is not the main character. That honor goes to Myoujin Takeru, a guy with psychic powers who discovers that he is actually an alien named Mars sent from the planet Gishin to destroy Earth. However, Takeru manages to defy the evil Emperor Zul and use the very weapon originally meant to eliminate Earth to instead form God Mars and beat back the Gishin Empire. Along the way, he discovers many truths about his original home world, including that he has a long lost brother—Marg—in Zul’s clutches. The dramas that emerge from their familial relationship include attempts to reunite, the pain of separation, and even the crossing of swords due to various plot contrivances. 

Marg is ridiculously beautiful both inside and out. He has lush locks of long green hair, and eyes that can express the deepest kindness but also the most fervent passion. His voice is gentle yet powerful, and his forlorn communications with Takeru express a longing and desire to see Takeru—unless he’s being brainwashed into being the enemy, of course, at which point his anger is spine-tingling. Whenever Marg shows up, he becomes the most captivating figure on screen.

Given that we’re talking about shipping and coupling, it’s not entirely accurate to pin it all on Marg. The popularity of a series among female fans traditionally hinges on the relationships between characters rather than singular personalities, and Takeru himself is no slouch. Not only does he look like a more handsome version of many a 70s robot protagonist, but he is perhaps the angstiest hero ever to grace a giant robot anime. Sure, Shinji from Evangelion is traumatized and depressed, and Heero Yuy from Gundam W is dark and brooding, but they don’t angst the way Takeru does. Naturally, more often than not, that anguish has something to do with Marg. And yes, they’re brothers by blood. Whether that was an additional awakening for fans in 1981, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Even before God Mars, there were plenty of good-looking and charismatic secondary characters in mecha anime. Between directors Tomino Yoshiyuki and Nagahama Tadao, they all but cornered the market: Prince Sharkin (Reideen), Garuda (Combattler V), Prince Heinel (Voltes V), Richter (Daimos), and both Char Aznable and Garma Zabi (Gundam). The key difference between these major rivals and Marg is that the latter is so many things in one. He’s an adversary at some times, but at other times he’s basically a damsel in distress.

There is something I need to make clear: Unlike so many later anime, which could be constructed from head to toe with a female audience in mind (or at least pay regular lip service to that side of fandom), God Mars is still built on the foundation of a toy-shilling kids’ anime. It is 65 episodes long, and not every episode is exactly compelling. There’s an unsurprising inconsistency in terms of the show’s quality with respect to storytelling and animation quality. In addition to the notorious stiffness of God Mars the robot, the anime is rife with fights between characters with psychic powers that revolve around dramatic poses in still shots in lieu of actual movement—a style of action scene the book Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga mocks for its laziness. And dashing canon hopes of brotherly love, the series pairs Takeru with a female character, albeit one with a connection to Marg. In other words, back in 1981, fujoshi had to walk uphill both ways to get their BL shipping fix. 

Even so, a girls’ fandom emerged out of God Mars, and plenty of evidence exists that the creators became aware of this audience eventually. The TV series keeps finding ways to bring him back in different forms. A 1982 movie recap of the first 26 or so episodes reduces the screen time of other supporting characters in favor of more Marg, and the poster advertising the film even features him prominently (see above). A later OVA released in 1988—well after God Mars’s heyday—centers around Marg entirely. A look at God Mars merchandise reveals both official and unofficial works where Marg takes up a lot of real estate.

When I was going over my own prior history with God Mars, I omitted one thing: the game Super Robot Wars D for the Gameboy Advance. God Mars is one of the titles included, and in the game, you can manage to not only recruit Marg to your side but also have him pilot an alternate God Mars from that 1988 OVA in which he’s the star. Once together, Takeru and Marg can perform combination attacks like the “Double Final God Mars.” I can’t help but wonder if there were both kinds of God Mars fans working on this game, bringing together the hopes and dreams of those whose lives were changed in some part by God Mars and its two successes.

Otakon Needs Our Help

Otakon, the largest American anime convention on the east coast, is in trouble. Due to the ongoing pandemic stifling last year’s event and the nonprofit nature of its parent organization, Otakon is at risk of shutting down for good. In order to fight off this unfortunate possibility, Otakorp is now, for the first time ever, accepting donations online.

I make no effort to hide the fact that Otakon is by far my favorite anime convention. I’ve been an attendee since before I started Ogiue Maniax all the way back in 2007, and I’ve gone as press (and occasionally even a panelist) every year since. Writing con reports and conducting interviews with great Otakon guests have become staples of this blog and my experience as an anime fan. Donating to Otakon has been one of the easiest decisions I ever made.

What I love so much about Otakon is that it never feels as commercialized compared to some of the professionally run anime conventions that are so common these days. I can expect interesting guests from Japan, including those who might not be as well known to the mainstream anime fan, and it’s always a pleasure to pick their brains for industry insight. I also love the fan panel culture that has grown out of Otakon, where every year is full of genuinely enthusiastic presenters, both new and seasoned, who encourage their audience to explore a little further and think a little deeper about anime, manga, and fandom. And it’s also been a great place to connect to many of the fellow fans I’ve met online.

In honor of Otakon and in hopes of it continuing on, I’ve decided to list some of the great interviews I’ve done at the convention over the years. I hope they can at least show you why it’s a cultural touchstone worth saving.

Furuya Toru, the voice of Amuro Ray and Tuxedo Mask (Otakon 2019)

Inoue Kikuko, the voice of Belldandy and Aina Sahalin (Otakon 2019)

Kawamori Shoji, creator of Macross (Otakon 2018)

Furukawa Toshio (Piccolo, Kai Shiden) and Kakinuma Ai (Naru in Sailor Moon) (Otakon 2017)

P.A. Works, the studio behind Shirobako (Otakon 2016)

LeSean Thomas, co-director of The Boondocks and creator of Cannon Buster (Otakon 2016)

Takamatsu Shinji, director of Gundam X and J-Decker (Otakon 2015)

Park Romi (Edward Elric, Loran Cehack) press conference (Otakon 2015)

Seki Tomokazu, the voice of Domon Kasshu (Otakon 2013)

The “Blocker Corps IV Machine Blaster” Crowdfund: Help Preserve a 45-Year-Old Giant Robot Anime!

Blocker Gundan IV Machine Blaster is a 1976 super robot anime that most people have probably never heard of. It doesn’t have a long and storied legacy, and its international presence is limited to the Philippines and Italy, where it was known as Striker Force and Astrorobot, respectively. But it’s also a part of the grand history of giant robots in Japanese animation, and now one of the studios that produced the show, Nippon Animation, has started a crowdfund project to convert the Machine Blaster film reels into a digital archive through the site readyfor.jp. The goal is 3 million yen, or approximately $29,000 USD, by February 26 Japan Time.

While Machine Blaster is in many ways a footnote of anime history, that’s all the more reason why I want to see it preserved. I think it’s easy to assume that the art and entertainment we as humans create will always be around in some form, but film wears down, or it can get lost and buried. For many years, the sole copy of the Korean giant robot animated movie Robot Taekwon V was a badly damaged reel, and it was only by luck that a near-complete duplicate film reel was discovered. Machine Blaster is no Gundam or Mazinger Z, but I love giant robots and I would hate to see even this obscure series not have a proper archived version beyond its DVD releases.

Also, while Machine Blaster is indeed not Gundam, it actually shares a mecha designer! Ookawara Kunio, the man responsible for the mobile suits of the original TV series (as well as shows like Reideen, Zambot 3, and Daitarn 3), is also behind the robots of Machine Blaster. He even has a written message on the crowdfunding page talking about his time with the series as one of the many 20-somethings there being thrown into a full-on project without much experience. 

If you’re like me and want to donate to saving Machine Blaster, I’ve provided a guide below, as the site is entirely in Japanese. Also, I should note that this is not a crowdfund to get a copy of the series; it’s just to help archive it. That being said, there are bonus goods for those who contribute more (though it’s not clear if they’ll send them abroad).

First, you’ll have to make an account on the site. At the top-right corner is a red button for logging in and creating an account. From there, you can either choose to register directly with readyfor.jp by clicking the red button on the right, or via Facebook using the button below it.

The blank spaces above, from top to bottom, are “user name,” “email address,” “password,” and “password again.” Then you’ll get a confirmation email, in which you’ll have to click a link to confirm your registration.

From there, if you go back to the Machine Blaster project, you’ll see another red button to the right of the main image. That’s the donate button, and it’ll take you to a page where you can choose how much you want to put in. Unlike other crowdfunding sites, you can only select along preset amounts, so the minimum is 3,000 yen, which gets you a thank-you message and updates via email. The most expensive one, seen below, is actually preview film reels of random episodes of Machine Blaster for 100,000 yen. The middle range has a bunch of merchandise you can get, like buttons and even a beach blanket. Choose which one you want, and note that you can actually select more than one at the same time. At the bottom, you’ll have the choice to pay via credit card or bank account. For payments outside of Japan, it’s probably better to use a credit card just because bank info in Japan can be very specific and have aspects that other countries don’t.

This is where it gets tricky. After putting in your credit card info, you’ll have to add your address as well. However, the form is not formatted for non-Japanese addresses, so you’ll have to work around it. Thankfully, if you just kind of fill it in as you would a normal address (and ignore the actual meanings of each form space, in case you can read Japanese), then it works out. Another crowdfund on readyfor.jp has provided a helpful screenshot, which I’ve also provided here. Note how the postal code in Japanese is just filled out as 111-1111. The only blank spaces this image isn’t showing are for your name.

From there, you hit the last button at the bottom and confirm your contribution! You can also write a message in the space provided.

Not every giant robot anime is going to be of legendary status, but I want to make sure we can keep and preserve as many as possible for both the fans who grew up with them and those who look back on anime’s history with curiosity. Blocker Corps IV Machine Blaster at least deserves that much.

PS: Like so many 70s giant robot anime, it got its own Italian theme song for the Italian dub. It is glorious, and worth comparing to the Japanese songs and their pleasant cheesiness.

The Kickstarter that Seeks Better Pay for Japanese Animators

A common question among anime and manga fans is “How do I support the creators in these industries?” The simplest answer is to subscribe to legitimate anime streaming sites and purchase manga from publishers (whether they’re the Japanese companies or licensors in your country), but it’s undeniable that there are still issues with people in these fields not getting paid enough. 

Back in August, I wrote about different ways I found to support creators more directly, and the most ambitious idea was Sugawara Jun’s New Anime Making System Project—a method of production that involves having animators work directly with musicians to create music videos. Recently, they launched their new Kickstarter, and it runs until November 22, 2020. They’ve gotten a number of musicians to provide music for them already, including Donna Burke, the voice of Raising Heart from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

As of this post, they’ve actually hit their target goal of 5 million yen (about $48,000 USD). Actually, I’d been planning this blog post for a while, but by the time I got around to it, they’d already been funded! That being said, it’s still possible to contribute and make the project even bigger. As for myself, I’ve already supported them through their gogetfunding page, which still hasn’t reached its goal, but unlike Kickstarter, is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

I’m not savvy enough to predict how successful this whole endeavor will be, but I like that Sugawara is trying to innovate. I’ve also been a long-time supporter of his other project—the Animator Dormitory—and the fact that they’re trying to tackle the problem from both ends (housing and salary) gives me hope. Maybe something can truly change.

Success and Failure in the Ongoing Attempt to Bring Kids Back to Giant Robots

Giant robot anime began very squarely in the domain of children. Loud, boldly colored robots appeared on TV (at least, once color TV became common), and the toys based on them came full of fun gimmicks and gizmos. Over time, there was a maturing of the genre in many ways, both in terms of themes presented and the aging of fans, so by the time we got into the 2000s, things changed. Between Pokemon, card games, and more, giant robots have just not been the ticket to big toy sales among kids. Thus, most giant robot anime of the last fifteen years rely more on adult tastes and nostalgia, or at the very least have been aimed at young adults. However, every so often, you’ll see moves to try to reclaim giant robots for kids, and they communicate a reality that mecha alone tend not to capture kids’ hearts in this day and age.

Gundam AGE

One of the more significant attempts to capture that younger audience was 2011’s Gundam AGE, because of how Gundam is what arguably kicked off the move toward mature audiences all those years ago and because it’s traditionally been such a sales juggernaut. Although keeping the traditional “robots in war” staples, Gundam AGE was a concerted effort to target kids, right down to more toyetic robot and weapon designs. Unfortunately, the series pleased pretty much no one, including me, despite my initially high hopes. The story was a mess, and the model kits failed to attract older and younger customers alike, to the extent that a kitbash of Madoka from Madoka Magica with beefy Gundam arms became more of a sales point than the actual merch. Later Gundam overtures towards kid audiences were more successful via the Gundam Build Fighters and Gundam Build Divers spin-offs, but both treat the mecha as collectible items utilized in virtual environments—closer to the popular style of Japanese kids’ shows.

Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter

Another instance is 2012’s Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, though this one is odd in that what it ultimately tried to promote was not toys or model kits, though some did come out. Rather, like Aikatsu! and Pripara, the bread and butter of Gyrozetter was the card-based arcade game. Ultimately, it was called a major mistake on the part of Square-Enix. Personally, I think the show is very enjoyable, but it’s also arguably better known for its attractive older characters than anything else—so not exactly kid’s stuff. 

While hitting the mark seems difficult, there is one company that seems intent on making giant robot anime work for kids: toy maker Takara Tomy, the originator of Transformers. In addition to that long-standing international cultural staple (whose success has so many external factors that it’s hard to gauge in terms of success as “anime”), it’s Takara Tomy that keeps taking swings, down to even pushing the ZOIDS franchise as their “third pillar” along with Transformers and Beyblade. 

2018’s ZOIDS Wild anime is a continuation of the ZOIDS franchise, which has been receiving animated adaptations since 1999’s ZOIDS: Chaotic Century. Given its longevity, it would be easy to assume that they’re doing something right with their use and portrayal of giant robots, but I think there’s a key factor that keeps ZOIDS relatively popular: the use of animal-shaped robots as opposed to humanoid ones. The more universal appeal of dinosaurs and cool beasts does a lot of the heavy lifting. 

Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner

Along this vein, Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head (2017) and Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner (2020) both involve motor vehicles that can transform into robots—and, unlike Gyrozetter, have the many toys to show. The Tomica line is primarily more about cars than mechs, and the toys have enormous success in Asia. Again, the robots are not the main popularity factor, acting instead as an additional flourish to push it over the edge. Transformers, in a sense, combines both ZOIDS and Tomica’s appeals together, while also banking on brand recognition. Moreover, while giant robots are still a staple of tokusatsu, they’re more a secondary component to the color-coded-hero fantasy that defines these live-action series. The previous Tomica tokusatsu series use cars in a similar manner. 

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion

The strangest case might very well be 2018’s Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion THE ANIMATION is a series about bullet train (“Shinkansen”) robots sponsored by the East Japan Railway Company. Somewhat like Gyrozetter, there’s an unconventional ultimate goal—promoting Japan’s high-speed rail system—but unlike Gyrozetter, the toy and merchandise line is definitely there. In addition, while ZOIDS Wild, Drive Head, and Earth Granner all target boys ages 10-12, I can’t help but notice how aggressively kid-friendly Shinkalion’s aesthetics are, from the character designs to the story. What really makes Shinkalion an oddity, however, is that its success isn’t measured solely in toy sales, but also the degree to which it creates good PR for Japan’s public transportation.

It does sadden me that mecha don’t appear to carry an inherent appeal for kids these days, but I do think that sprinkling in robots can potentially push these franchises into becoming more memorable and enjoyable. Also, I’d like to think that Takara Tomy is laying down a foundation for it to happen in the future, and much like how adults who grew up with super robots in the 1970s grew attached to them, perhaps in a couple of decades we’ll see nostalgia for the Shinkalions and Earth Granners of the world.

Want to “Support the Creators?” Here Are Actual Ways to Do It

Among online anime and manga fandom, there’s been an ongoing narrative about “supporting creators, not companies.” Often presented as a noble justification for piracy, where the companies that own the rights to either creating or translating the works are greedy exploiters of the artists, authors, and other contributors, the idea is that it’s better to buy merchandise instead. This is, in short, a very faulty understanding of how the anime and manga industries work. 

However, if we’re to take at least some of these sentiments as genuine and merely misguided, there are actually outlets to support anime and manga creators more directly.

One cause worth contributing to is the Animator Dormitory Project, which began in 2014 and aims to provide affordable housing to young animators for the first three years of their careers. Animation is grueling work, and a lot of young animators fall out of the industry after three years because the salaries are abysmal—sometimes less than $300 USD a month.

Related to the Animator Dormitory Project is founder Sugawara Jun’s other idea: the New Anime Making System Project. The basic gist is that it’s hard for animators to unionize both because of historical reasons, and that the animation studios themselves often don’t have enough money to sustain unions even if they wanted to do so. Sugawara’s idea is to have animators work on short music video projects for musicians from all around the world, and pay them more—eventually two to four times what they’d make otherwise, if all goes well. Compared to the Dormitory Project, I believe this one could be even more attractive fans who are skeptical of the production committees and companies who oversee anime production. It holds the potential to transform the industry as a whole for the better.

But maybe someone is really in love with the idea of supporting a creator directly. In that case, it’s not wholly out of the question. Some artists, both professional and amateur, have turned to Patreon-esque sites such as Pixiv fanbox and Fantia, which allow fans to directly donate to the authors either in general or for specific projects. You might just be able to find one of your favorite creators on those sites.

For example, I discovered that manga artist Matsui Katsunori (artist on La Sommelière) is currently trying to restart his Mixed Martial Arts-themed fighting manga, Hana Kaku: The Last Girl Standing. I learned a couple years ago that the manga had ended rather abruptly, so I’m glad to see him try to continue this series. I really love what I’ve read of it, and I think sites like fanbox and Fantia give a platform for passion projects that might not have been deemed as mainstream-viable.

Buying manga and anime legally and signing up for legitimate digital services will still, of course help creators out and contribute to their financial success, even as structural issues in these industries still exist. That said, if anyone feels sincerely passionate about “wanting to support the creators,” in a more direct fashion, I hope you’ll take one of the options listed above, or perhaps even try to find other possibilities.

A Farewell to Arms, the Studio Behind Genshiken 2

Last week, the Japanese animation studio Arms declared bankruptcy. Their legacy is primarily that of sex and fanservice, with titles like Mezzo Forte, Queen’s Blade, Another Lady Innocent, and Ikkitousen from Dragon Destiny on under their belts. But for me, Arms is first and foremost the studio behind the anime Genshiken 2. 

Ogiue Maniax started right around when Genshiken 2 first began airing in 2007, and its DVDs were the second anime I ever imported from Japan. In the photo above, there’s also a CD of Genchoken, a Genshiken 2-related radio show starring voice actors Mizuhashi Kaori (Ogiue) and Hiyama Nobuyuki (Madarame). 

One unique feature of Genshiken 2 compared to all other adaptations of the manga is that Arms treated it like the other works in their library and brought their, er, considerable talents to fore. Not only was artist Urushihara Satoshi (of Langrisser, Plastic Little, and Another Lady Innocent fame) the animation director on the opening, but there were more than a few scenes depicting extremely vivid nerd fantasies. The most famous might just be Ogiue’s fully animated fujoshi imagination regarding Sasahara and Madarame.

In that sense, Arms’s approach felt like an attempt to give Genshiken a more late-night anime appeal, for better or worse, and the DVDs did indeed uncensor the really racy stuff. However, while Arms certainly went places the manga never did (and thus potentially could have turned away fans of the original), I think that their execution of Genshiken 2 in some ways anticipates the sexually charged alternate Genshiken that is Spotted Flower. In fact, Arms probably would have been the right studio to animate that series if it were possible.

So thanks, Arms. Very rarely do my favorite characters get this much love, and you gave fans of the Genshiken boys and girls something unforgettable.

That all said, bankruptcy isn’t always the end. Who knows? Maybe that Spotted Flower adaptation isn’t completely out of the question.

Kyoto Animation One-Year Memorial

The coronavirus has made days feel like weeks and weeks like months. It’s been one year since the Kyoto Animation arson tragedy, and yet I could swear it was eternity ago. While COVID-19’s effects are far greater in scope, the tragedy of what happened to KyoAni still hits hard. It was a shining beacon of the anime industry in so many ways, from the quality of its output to the way it treated its workers. 

Those who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that my icon since last summer has been Hazuki from Sound! Euphonium. She’s my favorite character in that series, to be sure, but the other reason I’ve left it unchanged is as a quiet memorial to Kyoto Animation. “Twitter identifier” is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but regardless of what anyone else thought or how they’d interpret my icon, I wanted to remember what happened.

There is going to be a memorial livestreamed on YouTube by Kyoto Animation on 7/18 at 10:30am JST. That would be 7/17 9:30pm EST/6:30pm PST, which you can find below.

2010–2019 Part 1: Prediction Results

Ten years ago, I made a blog post titled 2000-2009 Part 2: Looking Forward, where I tried to foresee where anime would go over the next ten-plus years. Now that we’re in 2019, it’s time to see how it turned out!

The First Digital Generation

In about 20 years or so we are going to see an entire generation of adults in Japan (and around the world) who have grown up primarily on digital animation…. Over time, I think that the peculiarities of digital animation, such as the computer-based shortcuts, will become part of the style itself, but less direct about it than, say, Studio SHAFT’s current output…. But if there are any, they will be making in-jokes and references about the early, nostalgic days of digital animation and not light boxes and such.

For better or worse, as a new range of ideas and techniques emerge, parts of animation technique and philosophy born out of cel-based anime will fade away, perhaps forever. After all, Miyazaki can’t live forever.

Digital animation has been embraced in full, with the last cel-based series, Sazae-san, switching over to digital in 2013. The style of early-2000s anime is understood, but the nostalgia for anime is still somewhere in the 1990s, so we haven’t reached the point where those early digital animation works and their aesthetic are a part of the cultural lexicon.

While digital animation is the industry default now, it’s not as if the more daring uses of digital animation have become standard. At the same time, I would argue that integrating 2D and 3D animation has been much more successful—something that is made easier by the transition to digital. Two works that stand out to me in this regard are Girls und Panzer and Kids on the Slope.

As for Miyazaki, he’s still around, and he’s coming out of retirement for what may be the 500th time. He also used this decade to make one of his most daring films ever, The Wind Rises.

Flash Animation

In light of the anime industry’s history of low budgets, I think that more companies, be they animation studios, broadcasters, or otherwise, will start to look at Flash as a viable method to keep things low-cost and at-home. Now I don’t think it will eliminate today’s more “traditional” animation, especially when it comes to bigger-name, bigger-budget works, but it will be an appealing tool for those middle-of-the-road shows, and shows for kids.

Nothing dates a prediction post quite like hyping up outdated technology and programs, huh! The world, including the anime industry, has moved away from Flash animation, but the simple, flat style can still be seen in the many short anime (as in 13 minutes or less) that have come out since, such as Inferno Cop and Ai-Mai-Mi.

Looking away from Flash specifically, many tools have emerged that facilitate creating anime with limited resources. Most notable among these is the 3D animation program Miku Miku Dance—itself an extension of Vocaloid as an artistic tool for creators both professional and amateur—and the bizarre yet endearing shows that have been made using MMD. Most of the time, that meant oddities like gdgd Fairies and Tesagure Bukatsumono, but also the surprise smash hit that was Kemono Friends.

Changing Views on Hikikomori and NEETs

The chronic shut-in known as the “hikikomori” is a topic that Japan for the past decade has been in debate over….

But the reality of the economy is such that not having a good job (or a job at all), living at home, and having your parents’ support will be an increasingly common sight. Some will become hikikomori and try to close themselves off from the world, but there may be a sizable group that is only partially hikikomori, who will not completely lose their ability to interact with others or to engage in meaningful activity, and they will have a cultural and social “pulling” effect on the full-blown hikikomori….

The result may be that Japan’s view on the hikikomori and the NEET, especially in the face of having these groups increase in size, will be a mixture of greater panic and greater relief as they will fret once again that this is potentially very dangerous for Japan, while the internet will provide this larger hikikomori population with the group setting in line with Japanese ideas of “group….”

In many ways, the image of hikikomori and NEETs hasn’t changed that much, with the same criticisms about them being a drain on society still persisting. I think one thing that is becoming clearer and clearer to the younger generations both in Japan and around the world is that the blame cannot be laid squarely at the feet of the shut-ins. The adults of the world have failed the youth on some level, and the kids are only starting to fight their parents in the street to find out who’s right and who’s wrong.

There’s also been a rise in a kind of “NEET pride” that permeates anime, most notably in the ascendancy of light novel isekai—series that often have hikikomori heroes who possess powers tied to their previously less than stellar lives. In a good work (e.g. My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected), these characters, and their struggles and growth, tell stories about being human.

Perhaps no example is bigger than the transformation seen in No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Unpopular, aka Watamote, started off in the early 2010s as the story of an utterly hopeless otaku girl whose personal vices made her a relatable character to the self-proclaimed losers of 4chan. Despite Tomoko’s seeming fate as a perennial failure of a human being, even she has begun to change in the series.

Thematic Responses to the Economy

In about three to five years, I predict that we will begin to see both anime and manga which address the idea of global recession itself and incorporate it into the themes and settings in these works, to have it become a concept that is to be explored, whether directly or indirectly. Evangelion and other shows were responses to the recession that befell Japan starting in the early 90s, and I don’t think it would be unusual for an international economic downturn to have a similar effect.

With the global recession on everyone’s minds 10 years ago, it’s no wonder that I thought it would become a bigger subject. There have been anime that touch upon money and politics, but it’s not as if there was a huge influx. Back in 2009, Japan was already in the middle of a decades-long recession, so it didn’t affect them quite in the same way it did the United States. Instead, it would be tragedies like the Fukishima Triple Disaster that would highlight the real cost of greed and neglect.

While there were few anime made in response to the global recession, there were series that tried to highlight the challenges of political participation and governance ethics in the second decade of the 21st century, such as Psycho-Pass and Gatchaman Crowds.

The New Escapes

There are two basic forms to “escapism.” The first is a type of introverted escapism, that is, to become increasingly insular. The second is an extroverted escapism, where you want to project outwards, to go beyond yourself….

In that sense, I think that in the near future the escapism for anime and manga will be increasingly introverted, but will soon give way to a more extroverted form as a response to the desires of more and more fans who want to be released into other worlds…. I think we will see a lot of stories about worlds with wide scope focused through the lens of personal characterization, and in a way in which the former affects the latter significantly and vice versa.

One of the big genres of the 2010s has been isekai, i.e. being transported or reborn in a different world, and I think that it is a prime example of mixing both internal and external escapism. There is literally another world to explore, and the protagonist is often simultaneously special and unspecial, allowing readers to indulge in both dominant power fantasy and being the underdog. But there is often a lingering awareness of who the protagonist was in their previous life, and in a sense, their fears and doubts are still akin to the more introspective and flawed heroes of the past.

It’s also this decade that Madoka Magica took fandom by storm, and while that series isn’t exactly lighthearted, it too feels like a work responding to the desire for stories to be both more internal and more external. And when it comes to looking inward but going beyond, My Hero Academia is a series where that’s a central theme. You can even extend this to series such as A Place Further Than the Universe, where instead of going to another world, the characters find themselves through a journey to Antarctica.

Increased International Integration in Collaborative Efforts

…I predict that over the next decade and beyond, we will be seeing collaborations on animation and comics where the staff producing these works will be much more closely integrated. International collaboration isn’t new to manga and especially not to anime, but the work is usually cleanly divided between the countries involved. So it’ll be less Gurihiru drawing for Marvel’s Power Pack and more Oban Star Racers.

This decade saw more and more international artists working in anime and manga. Thomas Romain, who worked on Oban Star Racers, is a staple of Studio Satelight shows. Animators such as Bahi JD from France contribute the world over, whether that’s Toei Animation’s Philippines division, or freelance animators outside of Japan working on key frames/genga on a variety of shows.

But one other big development has been foreign funding for anime, especially through Netflix, which solidified itself as perhaps the go-to streaming services and has been expanding into anime ever since. In some cases, such as with Devilman Crybaby, the production team and creative is still mainly Japanese. In others, such as LeSean’s Cannon Busters, they’re developed cooperatively with artists and creators abroad.

Another important note is the success of Studio Trigger (Little Witch Academia, Kill la Kill, Promare) in their desire to appeal internationally. Many studios attempt this, but I think it’s Trigger that has best understood the international market, especially the Western market.

Age Demographics in Japan vs Age Demographics Abroad

…I believe that in time the manga audience in the US will slowly mature and eventually reach a point where they want something that is more in-line with how they feel about entertainment, their lives, and the world at large.

The key however will be whether or not Japan realizes that age demographics do not map one-to-one between Japan and the US … and they will have to somehow find a way to understand just what this slightly more matured manga-seeking audience is looking for, possibly through the greater international collaboration.

I think the overall maturing of the anime fandom abroad has happened in a big way, and it’s clear from the kinds of series that have found better success over the past ten years, and it’s not just because people got older. While shounen fighting and other popular genres stay evergreen, I believe that stranger-looking series such as Land of the Lustrous and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure needed the non-Japanese fandom to develop to the point that they could be better appreciated. There’s also the increasing popularity of sports series, which were once a death sentence in the United States.

As for Japan understanding that age demographics don’t line up, I think it’s happening because they themselves are aware of it happening in Japan.

Multimedia Customization

I think that starting in the next few years this is all going to start changing until we reach a point of personal customization in our anime and manga: You will be able to make exactly the purchase you want with exactly the things that you want, on-demand.

This definitely did not happen. In fact, we’ve seen some companies release even more deluxe editions that only hardcore fans willing to shell out $400 or more can ever obtain. At the very least, many of these expensive series are available streaming, thus giving access to those who can’t afford to own them.

New Paths for New Talent to Appear

I think anime is heading in a direction where people won’t have to be skilled at every aspect of animation production to be considered a Big Deal. One possibility I’ve thought of is “anime festivals” for amateur creators, be they industry-sponsored or independent, with competitions and awards for categories such as storyboarding and writing in addition to full-on animations. More importantly however, these anime festivals could take place entirely online.

Manga too will start to have online festivals…. It’s not so much specialization as it is realizing again that not everyone talented is multi-talented.

While there’s nothing quite like an online-only Comic Market, there have been projects to encourage new artists.

On the anime side, three main examples have emerged as opportunities for young animators to show their skills. First is the Young Animators Training Project, which has less experienced Animators animators work with established studios to create anime shorts. Little Witch Academia is probably the most famous work to result from this. Second is the Japan Animator Expo started by Evangelion director Anno Hideaki, which encourages more experimental work. Third is the more practical Animator Dormitory Project, a crowd-funded way of giving young and old artists a place to blunt the cost of living in Tokyo on a meager animator’s salary.

On the manga side, I look less at the competitions which exist and more at the fact that sites like Pixiv have brought about a number of success stories. Among the series that began as amateur webcomics on Pixiv are Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san and Wotakoi. Seeing them go from creator pages to Pixiv Comics to physical releases to full-on anime adaptations has given me joy.

Overall

I’d say I was about 50/50 in terms of predictions. Nothing hit the target dead-on, but I think I was able to see at least in part the various trends and where they were headed. In some cases, I was maybe too ambitious or naive. Let’s see how I do in the next ten years, but before that, next time will be a more thorough look back at 2010–2019.