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.
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.
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….