“Broad Appeal?”

Whenever I see an article or post about how anime is declining because of a focus on an increasingly niche, otaku audience, I’m a little taken aback. This is not only because the most commonly given solution, i.e. “make things with broader appeal” is easier said than done, but that the very idea itself doesn’t actually seem to be what its most adamant proponents truly mean or want.

Take Redline for instance, which is touted by a number of people as a sort of magic bullet that has the potential to blast away years of anime-related stigma. Certainly it’s a fantastic film on a number of different levels, but I have a hard time believing that it qualifies as “broadly appealing,” unless your definition of “broadly appealing” is limited to geeks with a penchant for thrills and visual spectacle, or alternately, anime fans from previous decades, especially from when “anime” was closely tied to “science fiction” in their eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to argue that the storytelling in Redline is excellent, and that it’s far more than just pretty explosions, but something like Redline will be not judged by a more general audience unfamiliar with anime based on the subtle nuance that exists in its otherwise extreme characters. It’s full of violence and has a sprinkling of nudity, and while that sells for some, it’s also an instant turn-off for others.

“Anime with broader appeal.”

“Anime that the average person will enjoy.”

I believe these to be obtainable goals, but I find that when people talk like this, they don’t necessarily want something for a wider audience, they want anime that is closer to what they enjoy most, that possess the qualities they think are most essential to great anime, or at least acceptable anime. Certainly, wanting more of what you enjoy only makes sense, but it results in conflating “broad appeal” with the tastes of the individual. Rather than something like Redline or Cowboy Bebop, maybe the answer will be the anime equivalent of The Big Bang Theory or Hannah Montana or something else far-removed from the aforementioned anime titles. Which is to say, if anime in whole or in part transformed itself to really aim for that bigger audience around the world, the result may not be what we might be expecting.

This somewhat reminds me of all of the manga creators that have been revisiting their older work. Even putting my beloved Genshiken aside, you have GTO: Shonan 14 Days and Rurouni Kenshin, among others. All of them have certain expectations associated with them because you have the original creators working on them, but when you think about it there’s no guarantee that the work will actually be all that similar. After all, artists can change given time and experience. Macross: The First is a retelling of the first series by the original character designer Mikimoto Haruhiko, who is praised especially by a certain generation of anime fans as being one of the best character designers ever. They might point to his work and say, “There, why can’t anime characters look more like that, instead of what we’re getting today?”

The only problem is, Mikimoto’s own artwork today doesn’t look like his work from the 1980s. For that matter, if you look at his stuff from between the original Macross and now, it also looks quite different.

Expectations shattered?

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TSUZUKU

I don’t know if it’s just from the media I’ve watched, but over the past four years or so I feel like there’s been this steady increase in a certain kind of nostalgic sequel/remake. These are different from your A-Teams and your Transformers movies and such, where the works are designed to tap into fond childhood memories and bring them screaming into the modern age; they’re more about addressing the previous work more directly, whether as a sequel or as a remake or in some hybrid form.

The first example that pops into my mind is Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the classic series about an underdog boxer, while more recently Toy Story 3 gives off a similar vibe. Anime is no exception, either. The Rebuild of Evangelion movies, while acting as a story reboot, also feel like direct responses to what came before them.

In all of these cases, it is as if there was some unfinished business left by the previous work which the original creators felt needed addressing, something simply beyond “the last thing made some mistakes.” For Rocky Balboa, it was a combination of Rocky V being a terrible way to end the saga of the Italian Stallion and Stallone himself realizing how old he was getting. With Toy Story 3, it seems like Pixar realized just how many years it’s been since the original Toy Story came out and wanted to bring it back one more time and use it to address both the people who grew up on those movies and Pixar itself and talk about growth and change and passing things on to a new generation. And the new Evangelion movies take the raw material of the original series, puts it through the lens of a decade and a half of anime post-Evangelion, and uses it to try to more deeply explore  the relationships between the characters, to talk about all of the new concerns that have cropped up in Japanese society since then.

Again, I don’t know if it’s just that I’m at the age to really notice this sort of thing, or if it’s that this generation of adults is especially keen on discussing the topic of change and resolution, but I can’t help but feel that it could be a defining feature of this time period in creative entertainment.