Anime And The Mainstream: Closer Together Or World’s Apart?

Saber TV

Artist: usatsuka eiji                                                                                                                                    Source:

Looking back over the past twenty-something years and coming face-to-face with the reality of today, the world really has changed thanks to the presence of technology. With the internet playing its role in the process of globalization and bringing people closer together (or separating them even more) – the transference of new ideas, means of communication, and even practices have never been more varied and as a result, seen a Renaissances in everything from commerce to user-generated content like blogs and even social platforms like Twitter coming into existence. For the hobbyist in me that enjoys anime, manga, and video games, being able to discover new and unusual titles has also never been easier, but also having the ability to find others carrying the same interest all over the world and interact with them if I so choose is also a cool perk. However, as the world does become closer and even personal taste align to a certain degree, the once obscure subcultures and niches are now presented with a wider audience, an opportunity that either leads to growth or relegated to be nothing more than a passing mention. For it is the majority – the mainstream that I speak of: a group with greatest untapped potential, yet also the one that is the most difficult to break into. What does it mean for anime to cross into the mainstream?

Granted that every subculture has its most widely recognized signatures and notorious hallmarks, they usually fall into myopic – bordering on stereotypical territory and sometimes not a true representation of the group. And while most people here in the U.S probably know what Dragonball Z is, heard of Sailor Moon, and even familiar with Gundam – these are series that either got grandfathered in when the material was still virgin enough to cable networks or serendipitously hailed since very few shows existed at the time of similar caliber. Getting most of the aforementioned series back during the early to tail end of the 90’s when the medium was still coming into Western view, it was more of a curiosity than cherished good. Today, with people getting more acclimated to the internet and cord cutting in favor of services like Netflix and Hulu, not mention have the option to use a combination of methods to find entrainment, potential viewers  and material are in the same playground – they just happen to miss each other with the viewers usually gravitating toward better entertainment options. It’s great that the aforementioned services offer anime and there places like Funimation and Daisuki that will simulcast whatever they have the rights to at little to no charge, but with the material decentralized all over the place due to legal constraints as well as trying to be where the audience might, things aren’t easy as they were years ago when a central platform was good enough. Add to that fact that there are more series available to the general public than ever before and it can be a prospect most viewers glaze over, especially without word of mouth from trusted sources/friends to persuade them otherwise.

Of course, finding viewers and stable viewership is a problem that tends to sort itself out with the genuinely interested making an effort to find out more by asking around and sometimes joining various communities. However, for those that remain and not easily swayed, perception does also play a sizable role in obtaining reluctant eyes. Sporting a different visual presentation, content, and means storytelling than western animation, the perception still stands that animation is relegated toward children and preteens. That sentiment holds some truth, but also couldn’t be any further from it with a majority of titles aimed toward older teens and adults as well as having a few adult centric titles that do differ in content from most western offerings. An easy enough idea to communicate, it does become somewhat difficulty when presented with actual titles – many too culturally ingrained or sensitive for western eyes. As interesting as it would be to see stuff like MM! or Highschool DxD air on TV, they would have to be severely neutered (no pun intended) to even be considered. Then again, considering the reception for most Japanese media like video games are on the negative side – panned and receiving a serious dressing down (sometimes deserving it) for objectionable content that would otherwise be acceptable in its own country of origin…those series are best suited to home (DVD/BD) or digital releases.

School Days anime for kids meme

While other factors do play variable roles such as: lack of time, information, and individuals just being plain not interested, in its own way, anime has sort of made considerable headway outside of Japan – nowhere near close to being mainstream, but also not far from it either. With numerous conventions being held year around, a modest selection of merchandise available in some stores and online, theatrical releases receiving accolades from various institutions, and a diverse crowd of fans and critics that cover the medium – there is definitely a presence and one that is not as subdued as many believe. After all, niches don’t exist, they are created when the demographic feel that their needs and wants aren’t being entertained. I don’t believe I can say they aren’t with what most companies are doing for their consumer base. However, knowing that my words sound like hyperbole to some, where the state of anime is today with regards to exposure – even enough for Hollywood wanting to getting into action with movie tie-ins, that in itself is also an interesting sign. Yes, the movies might not be made for fans and nearly guaranteed to be awful as they are dumb down for the general populace and nowhere true to the source, it also has to the chance to direct people unfamiliar with the source to check it out and by extension, might get them into other series. A hopeful notation I know, yet considering how anime has been around as early as 1930’s in Japan and only became commonplace in the 1970’s  – the same time when many series started to make their way Westward, bad movies people probably wouldn’t guess spawned from cartoons wouldn’t be a terrible start. Like how it took time for the internet to reach Web 2.0 capabilities to enjoy some of the things we can today, it will probably take a bit more time for anime to become a little more rooted. The cornucopia of bad adaptations from light novels and manga (heck, even original works) might be something that increases the negative perception, but every once in a while, we do manage get something that defies conventions to be great and sure other people might think the same if given the works a chance to pull them away from their usual outlook.

Watamote quote

Can’t even fathom how to explain the “incorrigible cute” genre as I like to call it to non-fans. Of course, most fans don’t like it themselves.

Where things stand today, it is impossible to say what it will take for the medium to capture a larger portion of the market and in many ways up to the consumers themselves to decide. With all the proper channels for access open (considering your not in an area where regional restrictions are a thing) and plenty of titles waiting to be discovered – a lot great ones and some not so hot, there is very little standing in the way. Of course, that just my own thoughts on the matter. So what do you think: What will it take for anime to become more mainstream? Should it be or exactly fine how it is now? A bunch of loaded questions I know, but something interesting pondering….



21 thoughts on “Anime And The Mainstream: Closer Together Or World’s Apart?

  1. Anime is something that might not fare as well if it went fully mainstream here from a financial perspective: most viewers here in North America consume entertainment designed for cultural/social values we’re familiar with. Because anime is intrinsically for Japanese consumers, there are always subtleties that we, as Western viewers, are bound to miss out on. This could present a perceived barrier-of-entry for viewers. In turn, the telecommunications companies would see this is a high risk-low reward approach that might not yield the same profit margins as home-grown media: it would cost more to acquire the rights than they would earn back from the consumers.

    • You bring up some good points, especially the cultural value aspect, since most of the titles are still and do speak toward Eastern values many of Westerns – myself included aren’t familiar with. However, that being said, most titles can enjoyed on a surface level even if you don’t understand the deeper concept behind it, but guess that alone isn’t a vaild reason to take a financial risk. The all-mighty dollar (money in general) will always be factor no what you do, yet in that case, I guess it is better to cater to the audience you know instead of trying to satisfy the fringes when the return might not be sizable enough.

      • As much as I’d love to be able to tune in to a channel and watch Non Non Biyori the day it airs, the telecommunications companies feel that things like Game of Thrones is more profitable. I can’t blame them (they have to eat, too!).

        Quite honestly, I’m perfectly okay with anime not being mainstream, so as long as there are ways to continue watching it and support the industry 🙂

        • True. Game of Thrones is a much better bussiness proposition than some anime no one has heard of. I wont aruge against it. So yeah, can’t fault the executives for that. Just wish the medium gets more appreciation since most of the talent gets paid so little despite purchasing the media.

  2. Knowing anime is not entirely mainstream yet doesn’t sadden me. I enjoy the air of exclusivity anime, manga, and light novels afford me. I actually pity individuals who cannot appreciate anime since there is so much rich Entertainment to be found in anime.

    • Guess that is a good way to look at it and their lost if they don’t want to engage with the material. However, do think some people would like the artistry behind the style if they give it a chance. More for the rest of us I guess 🙂

  3. If anime becomes mainstream, it might lose its Japanese atmosphere. Today, it seems that mainstream means to be “Western”. Look what happened to anime that are “Westernized” by turning then into horrendous live action movies. But what do I knew? Perhaps the world will be a better place if anime becomes mainstream. Or it might not.

    For now, I’m happy with how things are. Not 100% satisfied, especially when you hear about the unfortunate working conditions in the anime industry, but quality-wise, I’m happy.

    • Ah, excuse my previous comment filled with typos. The horrible grammar makes me cringe. I know I shouldn’t use my phone to comment on blogs. Anyway, great post.

    • That actually is very true. I kinda hate it that most productions are trying to be more “Western” to appeal to a larger audience and like it more when creators do use their own cultural backdrop and personal style to forge their work. Everyone is too similar nowadays it is almost a sin trying to do something slightly outside the norm, so I do agree with you, just wish more people would be open-minded. Then again, as Infinitezenith mentioned, money plays a role too.

      The plight of the animators should be something to worry about, since they subsist almost off of nothing, work long hours, and see nearly none of pay. Even it is due to passion, you still need to live. So even if no one else appreciates their work outside of the consumer base, people like yourself and me do. But do wish I could show my thanks a little more than buying the product, since the most staff that need the pay don’t get much. Actually glad that Shirobako didn’t shy away from that particular aspect of the industry and sort of brought back up.

      And no problem about the typos. I’m currently on vacation away from my PC and also responsing through my phone when possible. Thanks for the compliment and viewpoint and sorry for it being so long.

      • Well said. Indeed, money plays HUGE role when it comes to the anime industry. How many anime ended with only one season when the manga was still ongoing because of lack of financial support? Too many to count. Even if fans like us create petitions, these anime won’t be created for free. And I agree with you that although many animators work for passion, they still need money to live. Indeed, “Shirobako” is an illuminating anime that shows the struggles of people working in the anime industry. I don’t think this problem will change soon, but I want to be optimistic, especially since the dawn of globalization. If more anime fans are made aware of this disparity within the anime industry, perhaps a positive change will happen. Let’s hope that will be the case.

        Anyway, don’t worry about it too much. I didn’t think that you replied late at all. On the contrary, I’m impressed that you replied to my comment within a day. Thank you. I appreciate it. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. Have fun on your vacation. Cheers!

        • Money and probably to a lesser extent, the popularity of a series. I remember that the director for Aria of the Scarlet Ammo said it would get another season if sells were good, but probably never reached its goal due to reception. But yeah, financial backing still takes precedents over all other factors. Hoping change comes a bit sooner for the animators sake. Seen a lot of great series from a talented crew and would hate for financial stability to be a reason why they voluntarily bow out from a project. Probably a bit selfish on my end, but still care for their well-being like anyone else.

          Since people take time to comment I at least try to do the same in kind when possible. Hate to make people wait and like hearing their thoughts. Really enjoyed speaking with you and can’t wait to read some of your work. Preferably, when I get to a PC to response instead of my phone :3

          • Exactly. But when you think about it, I don’t think that this kind of problem is exclusive to the anime industry. You see it everywhere, but as an anime fan, I would like to see some improvements in the working environment of the anime industry, so that they can pump more anime for us to enjoy without literally putting their lives on the line.

            That’s a lovely thing to say. Kudos to you. I really appreciate it. Well, enjoy your vacation. And keep on blogging. Cheers!

  4. Sure, Anime got popular thanks to fansubs being more accessible, especially with streaming becoming widespread for the most part, regional restrictions aside. Still, I don’t see Anime becoming mainstream anytime soon for the fact that these shows are made for a Japanese audience in mind. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Not only that, catering to a western audience will probably take away most of the aspects that makes the medium unique.

    • Yeah, it probaby shouldn’t go to far for being tailored to the Japanese audience, but would nice for some of the more worthy productions to get more eyeballs. But yeah, I can agree it will lose some of the novelty trying to capture a larger audience. Can’t please everyone after all.

  5. I’m think I’m perfect fine with the state of the anime industry as it is, I do hope anime to be just a bit more mainstream, and not just the usual same titles which keep being repetitively mentioned. At the same time, I also agree with the point that in the process of being “mainstream”, it might lose the unique Japanese cultural taste of the medium. At the same time, anime at this point in time, is a noticed medium. Like you said, numerous conventions had been carried out outside of Japan, figures and merchandises are sold worldwide and theatrical releases are held throughout the globe (although my country usually still gets the shorter end of the stick, lol). But like I said, anime as a whole isn’t exactly mainstream yet, but I’m perfectly fine with it for the moment.

    • Yeah, it something of an annoyance to hear the same titles mentioned as if there the end all and be all, but guess being noticed is goood enough rather than trying to appeal to every single person. Guess I should count myself lucky since the nearest convention or trying to catch any promotional theatrical release is only 3 hours away, lol.

  6. Pingback: The Lifelong Question: Will Anime Become Mainstream Outside of Japan? - Chikorita157's Anime Blog

  7. I don’t think anime being mainstream would remove much of its Japanese quality so to speak, but it depends on how you define ‘mainstream’ to be. If it were to be merely defined as more widely distributed on an international scale such that major cable networks are incentivised by the prospects of business returns to pick it up, then unless the Japanese animators see this as an opportunity to dive in and take the tastes and preferences of a larger international audience into account in developing and producing media that align more closely with theirs, this shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, that would be pretty unlikely given their pride in their cultural heritage and their insistence in catering to their local market first and foremost, regardless of how international audiences view them.

    Besides, if non-Japanese audiences are drawn to their entertainment in the first place precisely because of the cultural factor, does it not make economic sense to continue what they have been doing for a long time?

    I feel that the cultural qualities that are intrinsic to anime are unique and so fundamental to the medium that it is not easy to derogate from that foundation even if the Japanese suddenly take a 180 degree turn in mindsets and start seeing their soft culture as a source of economic revenue.

    Just my two cents worth :> Excellent post, by the way! 🙂

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