2010–2019 Part 3: Looking Forward

Having reviewed my predictions for the 2010s and looked back on the decade as a whole, it’s time to try and peer into the future of anime and manga in the 2020s!

Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has already affected Japan in different ways, from the moving of the historic Tsukiji Market to the heavier policing of manga content. Like with any Olympics, there’s a desire to put forward the best possible appearance to the world. In the short term, there is most definitely going to be an effect on anime and manga production, as studios and artists are either hired to hype up the Olympics or do it of their own volition. It’s sad that Kyoto Animation, originally poised to contribute with a new Free! movie to highlight competitive swimming, won’t be making it short of a miracle. I predict there’s going to be some Olympics-mania fatigue, but not enough to make a big dent in the overall attitude at first.

I do have a long-shot prediction, though: Japan is going to do surprisingly well in some unexpected event, and it’s going to kick off a mini-boom in anime and manga. Whenever Japan achieves in a sport, there’s a strong chance that manga and anime are either pushing for the sport or are a response to succeed—volleyball in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Japan’s recent success in rugby are two examples. I’m not going to try to guess what event will trigger this trend, but I’m cheering for Greco-Roman wrestling.

Fighting Climate Change as a Core Theme

The Earth is not in a great place. Scientists are warning that if nothing is done in the next few years, climate change will send us toward long-term and lasting changes that will affect everything. While not perfect, Japan is very environmentally conscious in many respects, and is a major player in the Paris Climate Accord. There are even little things like “Cool Biz,” a public awareness campaign for companies to encourage better energy efficiency by reducing air conditioner usage and having its employees dress in more heat-friendly suits.

To that end, I think there are going to be more and more anime and manga centered around environmentalism. Also, they will primarily exist in two areas: super mainstream-popular anime films and kids’ shows. So someone like Shinkai Makoto is going to hit the subject of saving the environment full steam, and I feel pretty confident that there’s going to be an environmentalist Precure at some point in the next ten years. I don’t know what effect this will have, but if anime tourism can merge with saving our planet in some way, then maybe there’s hope.

Hardening of Shounen Protagonists

There’s a certain kind of shounen protagonist that’s been popular lately: the “good boy.” These heroes are gentle and kind-hearted, though never lacking in bravery or perseverance—think Sei from Gundam Build Fighters, Tanjiro from Demon Slayer, or Sakamichi from Yowamushi Pedal. But as positive an effect as I think this is having, I feel like there’s going to be a backlash at some point. At some point, hard and angry heroes will come into the limelight (albeit temporarily) as a kind of reaction to the softer heroes we’ve been seeing in the 2010s.

It’s not just that angry rival characters have their own dedicated fanbases (and thus would probably enjoy a story centered around them), or that Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan is a walking rage factory, but that their attitudes and focus on power have a primal appeal that’s hard to deny. While I don’t think we’ll ever quite get back to the ultimate convergence point between compassion and violence—Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star—I predict we’re going to see the soft hero and the hard hero archetypes flip back and forth from one series to the next. In other words, in the future, there will be a time when the “Bakugos” of the world take center stage and the “Dekus” will be the rivals.

More Diverse Body Expression

In the past ten years, I think we’ve seen a greater range of body types, especially with female characters. It’s true that a good deal of it veers hard into fetish territory, but even so, there have been many moves towards broadening notions of beauty. Attack on Titan both showed the world an anime heroine with a six pack in Mikasa Ackerman and pushed a gender nonbinary character in Hange Zoe. Pochamani centered on a bigger girl as a shoujo heroine. Even something as simple as big butts being attractive in Japan is a relatively recent phenomenon.

I think this diversity will only continue to increase because more and more, people will start to assert that their standards for attractiveness and self-identity don’t have to be beholden to what society traditionally says is okay. More and more artists and creators will be inspired to make works of their own, and enough of them will achieve success that it’ll encourage the producers and publishers themselves to go even further. The only caveat is that I think both the normalizing and the fetishizing will ramp up, and this may cause some conflict as a result.

The New Power Fantasy

Power fantasies are practically part and parcel with media as a whole, and anime and manga are most certainly included. However, I think we may be seeing a trend towards power fantasies that are less about escapism and more about fighting the feeling of powerlessness. The new power fantasy won’t just be about getting the girl and living in another world where your knack for video games gives you the edge, but rather about being able to exert lasting change on a world that seems immovable. To this end, I think we’re going to be seeing a heavier mingling of the power fantasy genres that permeate anime and manga today: harem, isekai, American-style superheroes, Japanese-style superheroes, and more. People will want to be inspired and not just placated—especially when it comes to the younger generations.

Greater Acknowledgement of Production Conditions and Gender Inequality

Through projects like the Animator Dormitories and news articles on animator wages, the 2010s end with at least some awareness that the people who make our beloved anime often don’t even have enough to put food on the table. It’s a decades-long problem—Miyazaki blames Tezuka for the current status quo—but I think the next decade might just be a turning point. I don’t know if it’ll ever reach mainstream awareness given that lots of people prefer not to know how their hot dogs are made, but I think that new sources of funding may create greater vocal desire to see wages change, especially if all that profit isn’t going to the workers themselves.

Similarly, we’ve seen more and more women this decade in prominent positions—writer Okada Mari and director Yamamoto Sayo are a couple of prominent examples. There’s still a ways to go before women directors and such will be commonplace, but I think that the women of today will be role models for the next generation. The Kyoto Animation tragedy is an unfortunate setback given their dedication to paying workers fairer wages, but I am somewhat optimistic that things will get better regardless overall.

Let’s See What the Future Holds

In some ways, I feel these predictions (and how they differ from the predictions of ten years ago) reflect not just where the anime and manga industries are in 2019 but also where I personally am at this point in life. If somehow Ogiue Maniax reaches 2029, I’ll be glad to reflect on where everything will be. Hopefully we’ll all be in a better place.

There’s actually one more 2010–2019 post left, so I hope you’re looking forward to Part 4!

 

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Otaku Culture, and the Specter of Censorship

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.

As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.

Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradiction. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.

I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.

Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.

However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.

Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.

While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.

In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.