2000-2009 Part 2: Looking Forward


Make Way for the New Generations

Introduction

Anime and manga continue to change and develop, becoming at times almost unrecognizable from what they once were in the past. Having first taken a broad (but also detailed) look at the significant parts of the decade of anime and manga from 2000-2009, I think it is only appropriate that we also look ahead. As such, I have written out a number of topics pertaining to where I think anime and manga will go in the coming years. They’re half-predictions, half-observations, and all things that I think people should watch out for.

The First Digital Generation

In the previous part, I discussed how the advent of digital animation is one of the biggest markers of the current decade of anime and that anime is affected by this switch. One vital point to consider is the likelihood of a generational shift. 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. When you consider the level to which nearly all people in and out of the industry still look fondly back towards the anime of their youth (or from the time they discovered anime), the style that has begun to grow out of digital animation is likely going to have a profound impact on where anime goes, especially as that first digital generation grows older and the cel generations die off.

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, and not necessarily influenced by Shinbo’s work either. 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.


SHAFT’s Bakemonogatari is a hint of where anime may go in 20 years.

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.

Flash Animation

In this decade the US animation industry has embraced Flash Animation as a way to reduce cost, particularly by eliminating the need for animation teams in South Korea and other places to do everything for you, as well as being able to create works domestically without incurring the exorbitant costs required to animate things traditionally in the US. The results have been mixed, as Flash as a program lends itself to “flat” 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. We’re already kind of seeing it with something like Shugo Chara Party!, where one of the segments feels very much like a flash animation.

There are two key points here. First, is that I do not think, if Japan starts to use Flash more regularly, that they will utilize the same methods the US does, particularly because US animation is generally characterized by lots of movement and Japanese animation is not. Also, I think that animators will be trying to apply their existing principles to flash, rather than trying to master the “science” of it. Second, this will create another bridge between the industry and the internet, where flash animations come out of 2channel periodically and some achieve terrific success. The main challenge from there will be pushing the limits of flash animation in terms of how successfully the visuals can be used to convey a story, as well as the breadth and depth of the subjects explored.

“How effectively can stories be told in this format?”

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, and as with the “NEETs” and the “Freeters” and so on, the focus has been on the future and fate of Japan, especially when factoring in the shrinking Japanese population and the fear that arises from that scenario. “Why aren’t these people going out and making something of themselves? Why aren’t they growing up?” Essays and news reports and even anime, manga, and light novels have been made of the topic, with Welcome to the NHK providing prominent examples of the last three.

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. In turn, those “full hikikomori” may drag some down with them.


Writings on hikikomori will evolve.

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,” where the interactions between partial hikikomori and full hikikomori will take place.

Thematic Responses to the Economy

The anime industry, much like every other industry, is feeling the sting of the poor economy but also has the sting of disappointment and high expectations from the US and other markets. The result is that production of anime is feeling the squeeze, with reduced budget and staff and less wiggle room for creativity. All in all, anime is being affected on a technical level by the world economy. In a certain sense however, this is only the beginning.

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.

Money will matter on more than a practical level.

Some works will be more explicit about the topic, and probably mention governments and businessmen who played roulette with the world’s economy, or businesses which had too much hubris, while others will be Silent Service-style “what ifs” but for the economy. There will also be shows which are more subtle about these elements or will have them as part of the background.

The New Escapes

Fiction, even realistic fiction, is often an escape, and over the course of anime and manga’s histories we have seen the idea of the “escape” take on many forms. More recently, escape has been manifested through the idea of “moe” and all that it entails. Moe however, like every other genre of anime, cannot last at the forefront forever, and in time new escapes will appear. Some of them may resemble older trends, but they will all ultimately still be ways to not approach reality head-on.

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. Almost all genres have both to some extent in different ratios. Moe for example is very insular in the sense that it seems to want to keep characters and emotions isolated in time, but is also somewhat extroverted in that these shows are generally trying to portray the strong emotions of other characters and the ideal of being able to see these qualities at the forefront.

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. Though I don’t think that anime and manga will be reaching that early period where stories tended to feel very “epic,” 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.


Many series will try to balance daily life with a greater world.

Increased International Integration in Collaborative Efforts

Like all companies, manga publishers want to increase profit every year, and at some point a decade or three ago, Japan began to realize that one direction they had not gone was to appeal to people outside of their fanbase and readership. The classic example at this point is Shounen Jump, which noticed that it had developed a sizable female audience, and so made the move to start releasing series that are designed for female readers (without driving the boys away, of course). The result is Jump‘s approximately 50% female readership.

But then I recalled something Ed Chavez, currently of Vertical Inc. and formally of Kodansha, has said on multiple occasions: The “problem” with the Japanese manga industry today is that it has no room to grow in the nation itself. For all intents and purposes, the Japanese market has been saturated, as manga selling a million copies is completely normal and the fact that there’s pretty much something for everyone.

The only way to go then is outside of Japan, but the problem facing the industry there is that it’s difficult to pinpoint the manga-reading audience for different cultures and nationalities around the world. The same thing applies to the anime industry, which has been trying to really grow outwards for a while but lost its footing along the way. The tricky part in all this is that anime and manga have to achieve a certain level of distinctness, but still have to be familiar enough that people are comfortable with the material, and this is something that is even more of a challenge to achieve when the people making the work are unfamiliar with the culture they’re trying to attract. Naruto, Bleach, and Dragon Ball Z are pretty much the most popular things out there for boys in the US, and when you think about it they’re not that different from American superheroes.

This is why 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 way they have a better chance of hitting that cultural sweet spot, though nothing is guaranteed and there’s going to be some serious misses as a result of trying to mix two cultures together at the base level of production.


French and Japanese Collaboration Oban Star Racers

Incidentally, by necessity translators will have to be more closely involved in the process as well.

Age Demographics in Japan vs Age Demographics Abroad

Anime and manga in the US has had a contradictory reputation for the longest time, being viewed both as “cartoons for children” and “raunchy pornography.” These days however, if we were to look at the fandom we would know the truth: In the US, anime and manga are primarily for teenagers with both childish and adult elements in different proportions, and it’s been this way for a number of years now. One concern I’ve seen from people is that they fear that a lot of these works, particularly in manga, will never get brought over here because they will simply never have an audience. And to an extent they’re right, but 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. Not all “seinen” works will appeal to an older audience, 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 mentioned earlier.


Seinen may become more “shounen-friendly.”

Josei in Japan went through a similar growing pain in that it tried to be more “adult” in certain ways until creators and editors realized that older women still want the shoujo series trappings of their youth, but with more mature concerns and characterizations. In time, I think Japan and the US will get a better handle on it, but it won’t come without some serious bumps in the road capable of taking a company or three under.

Multimedia Customization

When it comes to streaming anime, you can’t please everyone, and methods of distribution and how to turn those view counts into sales is a mystery which eludes even big sites like Hulu, let alone smaller players like Funimation or Crunchyroll. While streaming anime is a step in the right direction, anime finds itself to some extent in the same bind as scanlations: sometimes people want to actually own a hard copy for themselves. However, the cost of printing DVDs for a series that won’t sell can be prohibitively expensive, meaning even if you really like Saki, unless someone decides to pick up the license to produce a box set you’re not going to have it sitting pretty on your bookshelf.


People outside of Japan will be able to own Saki however they want.

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. As an example, let’s say it’s 2015 and you’re watching a streaming video of the latest series New Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Second Generation. Sadly the show has no box set you can buy in stores, but you still really want to own it. What you’ll be able to do is specify just how you want to have it in your possession, and you will get that package. Do you want it on blu-ray or DVD? Do you want to shove all the episodes onto fewer discs, cutting out the extras and possibility some of the quality? Do you want to just download the episodes so you can watch them without relying on internet access? Do you want to also purchase merchandise for Neo-Japan’s “Typhoon Gundam?” You will be able to get what you want, weighing cost versus extras, and in a way that doesn’t just limit you to “Normal,” “Super Deluxe,” and “Bare Bones” packs.

Choice is the future.

New Paths for New Talent to Appear

Shinkai Makoto made a big splash on the anime industry when he released Voices of a Distant Star, a science fiction-themed OVA which he wrote, directed, and animated all by himself on his Macintosh back in 2002. More recently, Aniplex has introduced the world to Cencoroll, by another independent writer/director/animator named Uki Atsuya. The idea of the Anime Renaissance Man is appealing, but it’s something that people cannot expect all the time. Skilled creators can be born independently, but it’s clear from Shinkai’s example that, given proper resources and experience, even a genius has room to improve.

Works like Cencoroll will continue to be rare, but lessons can be learned.

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 possibiliy 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.

The primary advantage of having festivals be online would be low overhead costs, and in this age of streaming video (which will only get more efficient over time) people will be able to see each others’ works and comment on them, possibly through chat rooms or Nico-style scrolling text. This will also encourage people to send in works from abroad, as they would be on an equal footing of sorts with those living in Japan, and would be able to enjoy seeing the results all the same. Of course this is not to say that online animation festivals would replace actual ones, but the ease of setting one up would make it an attractive prospect, and it would give amateurs opportunities to be noticed.

Manga too will start to have online festivals. There is already the International Manga Competition, but these will be a little more like Comic Market on the Internet, and will have a lot less pornography. The same idea applies however, in that people will be able to enter in a variety of categories and not just “Overall Excellent Manga Creator.” It’s not so much specialization as it is realizing again that not everyone talented is multi-talented.

Conclusion

Although I have written all of these ideas of the future of anime and manga, I of course do not pretend to be a soothsayer and cannot guarantee that any of my predictions will come true. I’ve always been better at observing the past than predicting the future, and I know my views on anime and manga are tinged by a certain degree of optimism, so in time we will all see  just what I was able to sense correctly and what was just my wishful thinking.

Still, I think that even if I get everything concrete wrong, every single item I’ve written about is something to consider and analyze further as anime and manga reach into the next decade.The main themes I’ve discussed are the ways in which the industry and the fans will handle the significant changes to the economy that have occurred, shifts in philosophy on the creation of anime itself, and new steps towards customizing and tailoring for audiences. Taken all together along with the advancement of technology in society, and even if I’m wrong I think that my ideas all have more than a few kernels of relevance to them.

So let’s approach 2010 with open arms, not so much to simply accept whatever anime and manga may come, but to give the same consideration of the past that we do the future, and to know that no matter how it might change they are still capable of inspiring.

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2000-2009 Part 1: Looking Back


Ogiue Chika, Goddess of the 2000s

Introduction

We are on the cusp of a new decade, and with such a benchmark on the way it’s only natural for people to reflect on the past, to review what has happened to them and everything they care for. Anime and manga fans are no exception. After all, it’s normal for us to assign certain traits to specific periods of anime and manga, whether it’s nostalgically remembering the “time when anime was GOOD” (which depending on your mileage can be pretty much any period) or analyzing the trends and developments in anime from decades prior, and to really be compelled to fight for the medium we love. Anime and manga thrive on emotion and reflection, and we love it for that reason. With all that in mind, I asked myself a question.

“How will this decade be remembered in the eyes of future anime fans and scholars?”

After much thought, I decided on nine ideas in total which I feel are significantly representative of the 2000s.

The Dawn of Digital Animation and the Proliferation of CG

For about as long as there has been an animation “industry” to speak of, cartoons were done on cels, painted and layered by hand, resulting in a cost-intensive and laborious process. When graphic technology progressed far enough that it became possible to animate shows “digitally,” it’s no surprise that the Japanese Animation industry, known for its significantly lower production costs compared to western counterparts, would by the early 2000s embrace this change. As of today, about the only cel animation holdovers that still exist are Sazae-san and Ponyo. Going hand in hand with the switch to digital is the increasing usage of cg and 3D graphics in anime, again generally as a cost-saving measure. Though 3D graphics in anime have been around since the late 80s (see Char’s Counterattack for example), it was the 2000s where it became a common sight.


Athrun Zala from Gundam SEED (left) and Gundam SEED Destiny (right)

The unique properties of the digital format influenced every aspect of animation production and aesthetics. Looking at character design for one example, characters are made to be colored digitally now and their features are drawn in ways which facilitate digital animation. As such, the impact the switch to digital has had on anime cannot be underestimated.

Digital Anime is a little over 10 years old now, which is a lot of time and yet not very much at all, and this decade has seen it go through some serious growing pains. In particular, it’s gone under scrutiny as critics from every level of anime, from the highest industry intellectuals to the fans, have pointed out how much it isn’t cel animation. Personally speaking, the classic example of awkward digital animation for me is Gundam SEED, where characters in zero-gravity environments looked like cut-outs awkwardly motion-tweened against a background, something which improved with SEED Destiny. Over time, animators have become more adept at using these “digital shortcuts” more effectively, and now just as you have people championing the days of cels, you also have people who think that digital animation is inherently superior.

The real answer of course is that each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and that it’s best to understand that, but that’s another talk for another day.

Character Over Story

Though there are still plenty of series which try to tell stories and have greater themes, the overall trend over the past few decades has been an increasing focus on the characters in those stories and to view them on a very personal level. While Evangelion is often marked as one of the major points where character emphasis began to supercede story emphasis, it is after 2000 where story truly begins to fall by the wayside. Taken to the extreme, these shows focus everything on intimate character portrayals with little to no narrative progress, eschewing narrative entirely, effectively creating a time capsule where characters are defined more by their static qualities than their active ones. Putting aside slice of life shows such as Hidamari Sketch and Azumanga Daioh, even series such as Haibane Renmei and Eureka Seven which place great emphasis on the grand scope of the world tend more towards the personal. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi in particular is a show whose story and events are more backdrops to display the characters and their workings.


Suzumiya Haruhi and the SOS-Dan

Essentially, this decade of anime and manga has been very much about “getting to know the characters” and treating them as “real.” Sometimes you’re a voyeur, peering into their most private moments. Sometimes you’re a close friend who gets to see them as they really are. In every case, it’s as if the goal is to have an anime viewer see a character and say, “I know what you’re really like.”

Moe

I could discuss moe all day long, but that’s not as important here as the fact that it became such a publicized word in anime fandom around the world. Whatever moe “is” or “is not,” in this decade it was clear that fans wanted it and that companies were eager to sell it.

While the word had been used prior to 2000 (such as in the 1999 visual novel Comic Party), it was after 2000 that the concept exploded and transformed into the beast that everyone knows and loves (or loves to hate). Moe became a buzzword, a rallying cry, and a point of contention as people inside and outside of the industry, as well as fans new and old, debated the effects that the popularization and push of “moe” had on the industry, the art form, and the people. The best example of how far the idea has reached would probably be the fact that Pokemon of all things featured a cute, spunky female character named “Moe” who had a crush on Satoshi/Ash.


Moe‘s name is also a pun on her usage of Fire-type Pokemon

At this point, it seems that moe has reached the height of its popularity and will become a genre that can be utilized in part or in whole. I suspect it will still be revisited in the future, but never again will we have this “moe mania,” perceived or otherwise.

“Softened” Character Designs

Chalk it up to “kawaii” or “moe” or “digital animation” or “influence from visual novels” or anything else, but character designs became softer in the period of 2000-2009. What does “softer” mean? It means rounder facial features, it means smoother curves on characters, it means subtle changes to color palettes that give off a sense of warmth, even in shows where you might not consider that appropriate. That’s not to say of course that “soft” character designs never existed in prior decades, but it was never to the same degree, and it did not seep into nearly every level and genre of anime in existence as it has here. It’s not just the Dengeki Daioh shows which went through this transformation.

It would be very easy to show you a picture of some gruff, manly shounen anime from the 80s and then put it next to something more modern and have people go, “Wow! That’s so different!” but there would be too many variables there, such as the inherent styles of the artists. Instead, I’m going to use a more subtle example.

Suzuki Mikura, Mezzo Forte (left), Mezzo Danger Service Agency (right)

Mezzo Forte is from 1998. Mezzo Danger Service Agency is from 2003. Both character designs are by the same person, Umetsu Yasuomi (who also directed both shows), and both of them are supposed to be the same character as well. Now Umetsu was always known as a skilled animator and character designer whose style leaned a little more towards the realistic side of things. And yet, look at what a difference five years make! If someone like Umetsu felt the winds of change to this extent, I think you can see what happened to character designs in anime as a whole.

Otaku in Fiction

Like many things on this list, the idea of otaku appearing in anime and manga isn’t new or unique to this decade, but the 2000s were when the concept exploded. While you had a handful of works in the previous decade, most notably Gainax’s Otaku no Video, the period from 2000-2009 saw such a growth of stories centered around otaku that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. Genshiken, Welcome to the NHK!, Lucky Star, Fujoshi Kanojo, Otaku no Musume-san, Rabuyan, Mousou Shoujo Otakukei, Tonari no 801-chan, Akibakei Kanojo, and of course Densha Otoko are among the many works which have thrown anime and manga fans into the fictional spotlight. Densha Otoko requires special mention, as its supposedly true story was partly responsible for Akihabara receiving much more mainstream media attention than in the past.

Not only are there stories about otaku now, but the “otaku” and the “fujoshi” have themselves become archetypes used in anime and manga. Go back to previous decades and only rarely will you find an otaku character who’s called an “otaku character.” Rarer still will you find them as main characters. The establishment of the otaku and fujoshi as character types in the world of anime, manga, and beyond is arguably a bigger impact than simply having works centered around otaku. Sanzenin Nagi would most assuredly have found a difficult time existing prior to this decade.


Sanzenin Nagi from Hayate the Combat Butler, Otaku Heroine

The arrival of the “otaku hero” is itself indicative of the increasing desire to appeal towards otaku. Just like how many shounen heroes are designed to appeal to kids by being more like them, otaku heroes are created to market towards anime and manga fans, to make it easier for them to relate to the characters and world of the story. At least, that’s the intention. Actual results have varied.

Greater Reverence for the Past in Remakes

Every decade has its remakes of famous and beloved works from the past, but there was something different about the way the 2000s went about it. In order to show just exactly what that difference is, we’re going to take a trip back over 40 years and start at the beginning.

In the 1960s a black and white cartoon called Tetsujin 28 appeared on Japanese television. Taking place in that era (or in “2001” if you follow the Gigantor version), the show followed a boy detective named Kaneda Shoutarou and his remote-controlled giant robot “Tetsujin 28.” He would traipse about the world in his plaid suit and short shorts, righting wrongs and fighting crime, and the show was very popular among kids.

In 1980 someone decided to revive the franchise and Tetsujin 28 underwent “modernization.” Referred to either as New Tetsujin 28 or Emissary of the Sun Tetsujin 28, the new anime sported updated redesigns for both Shoutarou and his trusty metal companion, with Shoutarou ditching his semi-formal wear for an open button-down shirt over a striped t-shirt and Tetsujin 28 slimming down and gaining more “realistic” human proportions. The art was less like its predecessor and more like the other anime coming out at the time.

The series was remade again in 1992 under the title Super Electric Robo Tetsujin 28 FX. Taking place many years into the future, the main character this time around was the son of the Kaneda Shoutarou. Kaneda Masato looked completely like a 90s anime character, sporting wild spiked hair and trading in the old remote control for a remote control gun. The new Tetsujin 28 meanwhile was the biggest departure yet, with its massive armored frame, oversized shoulder pads, and angular features. One look at this show and its designs, and you would be able to determine its time frame almost instantly.

Then in 2004 another Tetsujin 28 was announced. Would the story this time be about Tetsujin 28 fighting terrorists in the 21st century? Would Shoutarou’s be changed into a bishounen? Just how would this Tetsujin 28 update itself? The answer, it turns out, is by revisiting post-war setting of the original anime and manga, putting Kaneda Shoutarou back in his suit and short shorts, and returning the titular robot to its round and cumbersome-looking original design. The main difference was, this time around they could tell an on-going story that wasn’t possible with the episodic nature of the first anime.


Tetsujin 28, 60s (top-left), 80s (top-right), 90s (lower-left), and 00s (lower-right)

 

Here we see the level of reverence that animated remakes in the 2000s have for their source material. As cool as Sugino Akio’s Black Jack from the OVAs looks, it’s more a Sugino design that it is an adaptation of the Tezuka version. Whether it’s the new Black Jack, the new Towards the Terra, or the new Glass Mask, these remakes over the past ten years have all derived their aesthetics from the originals and tried even in their updated redesigns to capture their visual essence, as opposed to re-envisioning the characters almost entirely to fit in with the current trends of animation. Re: Cutie Honey in particular is a prime example, when comparing its opening to the original’s. Even adaptation of 90s series such as Itazura na Kiss and Slayers Revolution went about trying to capture that 90s anime “feel.”

Overall, this decade has done a much better job at looking back then the decades previous, but that might just be because anime is old enough at this point for that to happen in a proper fashion.

The Kids’ Manga of Yesterday is the Adult Manga of Today

Tying directly into the remake reverence, nostalgia for anime and manga has become a greater factor in the industry than it ever has in the past, and it has everything to do with appealing to the adults of today who were once kids. As with the example of Tetsujin 28, the revivals of today differ from the revivals of yesteryear in that while the previous ones tried to update the series for the kids of that era, more current series tap directly into the adult market who have a longing for the anime and manga of their childhood. Whereas Kinnikuman and Hokuto no Ken ran in Shounen Jump (the current home of One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach), Kinnikuman II (1998) and Souten no Ken (2001) run in adult magazines high on nostalgia.


Hokuto no Ken’s Kenshiro (left), Souten no Ken’s Kasumi Kenshiro (right)

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the super robot genre has been approached over the past ten years. Arguably starting with 1997’s Gaogaigar and its realization that adults are watching this kids’ show, super robots have tried to tap into the childhood of those 18 and up. One only has to look at Gurren-Lagann, Godannar!!, Koutetsushin Jeeg, New Getter Robo, Shin Mazinger, Aim for the Top 2 and others to see this trend. While not all of these shows go out of their way to alienate new viewers (and shows such as Gaiking: Legend of Daikumaryu try harder to focus on a younger audience), they are still homages to the themes and tropes of decades past, trying to attract yesterday’s fan today.

 

Accelerated Access to Anime

Looking at the way we watch anime and read manga now, with our streaming videos, official online comics, torrents, rapidshares, and just ease of access to the product, it can be easy to remember that there was a time when getting any anime at all was a diffcult feat, and any show we saw was many years old at that point. But let’s not step back too far, and just consider the fact that there was a time before stores had “anime” or “manga” sections where you could easily buy the latest volume of your favorite series (or not buy, as the case may be).

Speed of information. Speed of communication. Speed has defined this decade as a whole, let alone in the realm of anime and manga, but it’s in the easy access to large amounts of media that anime began to feel like a juggernaut. On the up-and-up, you could buy anime DVDs and manga in mainstream stores and chains, or watch anime about fighting with monsters on Saturday Morning cartoons, or catch Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Adult Swim. On the illegitimate side of things, people began to produce “digisubs,” obviating the need for VHS fansubs and tape-trading. IRC downloads gave way to Direct Connect, which was succeeded by the Bittorrent, which in turn was overtaken in popularity by a new website called YouTube, which ushered in an age of streaming video.


The ease with which we could find anime made the world feel a little smaller

At anime cons, industry representatives have talked about how Bittorrent, while significant, didn’t cut into their revenues nearly as much as streaming video had. Streaming anime was fast, easy to understand (no “What’s a Torrent?”), and of course it was free. That’s why so many companies are trying streaming video right now; they know that this is where people are turning and they want to get something out of it rather than trying to squash it entirely. Even the Japan side is getting more savvy about this, with Bandai Channel getting into the mix and the rise of Nico Nico Douga. Now we actually have shows which are accessible to international audiences at nearly the exact same minute as a broadcast in Japan. And ironically, some people have shown that it’s still not fast enough.

The Ups and Downs of Internationalization

Back in 2000 I saw the second Pokemon movie on opening day, as I had with the first movie. I distinctly remember it being the summer of 2000, seeing as how the English title for the movie was Pokemon 2000 and all. But as I sat in the theater with friends that morning, I looked at the entrances for a moment and then…they came. Children flooded the theater, seeping into every row and every seat that they could like a single Pikachu-loving blob. In a couple of minutes the theater was packed. This was Pokemon. This was where anime had gone.

Then years later I went to see the 5th movie, starring Latios and Latias in theaters. Once again it was opening day, but this time I was the only person in the theater. Looking back, this should have told me everything I needed to know about the life of anime and manga in this decade.


The Pokemon movies from 2000 and 2003

The anime and manga industries of today struggle as their peers and rivals fall victim to a mix of overzealousness, bad decisions, and a market that just isn’t there even though they wanted it to be. But whether there was ever any actual success, or whether it was built purely on kindle and gumdrops from the beginning, the fact that these companies were even around to be eliminated, the fact that someone could actually think an “Anime Network” would succeed, the fact that another person would think, “We have to make our cartoons more like that anime stuff,” the fact that Anime and Manga could even give the impression of “Making It Big” is amazing in itself.

Conclusion

Anime and manga in the period from 2000-2009 has undergone changes in almost every area imaginable, from the way it’s watched to the way it’s created, from storytelling styles and character aesthetics, to perceptions of the past and the future. Whether it’s for the better or worse, I think ultimately history will have a neutral opinion on this era as the good inevitably came with the bad.

While these changes have been quite major, they do not exist in a bubble separate from history, and if you look closely you’ll find strong connections going back to the earliest days of anime and manga that continuously resonate from past to present. And in a way, this decade was not so different from the ones previous to it in the sense that every decade has brought with it changes to how anime is perceived, received, and produced. What’s different this time though, is that everyone around the world can see them more clearly and talk about them with ease, as we are doing right now.

So that’s 2000-2009 and the look back. Get ready for Part 2, where I talk about where I think anime and manga will be going in the coming years.