This week’s column is an obituary. Please, hold back your tears.
Today, we mourn the death of a once-great genre of nerd-dom. The geek community was overcome with grief when, early this morning, Japanese animation was pronounced dead. Anime, as it calls itself, was found in its home with a bullet through its head.
It was about 10 years ago when Americans first really caught on to anime. The Cartoon Network had put anime on its weekday “Toonami” line-up, and it proved a ratings success for the cable channel. Kids and teens everywhere suddenly got the bug for franchises that their Asian counterparts had known about for years — “Gundam,” “Dragonball” and “Sailor Moon.” Comic book stores began hosting weekly gatherings of anime customers so that fans could trade tapes of “Ranma 1⁄2” and “Cowboy Bebop.”
Brands like VIZ, AD Vision, FUNimation and Pioneer (later renamed Geneon) quickly went from tiny businesses that localized anime to large companies that distributed DVDs, comics and merchandise related to their now-hot product.
But it couldn’t last forever. From an observer’s perspective, the anime industry has been on the decline for the past few years. The thing that drew many fans to the genre was that many series had the ability to be serious, silly, action-packed and realistic and still have a lot of heart. And the thing that kept anime companies afloat was those fans’ devotion to the genre, which saw them come out in droves to buy DVDs and comic books related to their passion.
However, Internet downloading greatly changed the companies. Anime fans tend to be very adept with a computer and the various ways to download television. Japanese fans just watch on the Internet now. And the average American anime fan does not wait months to watch translated anime on TV anymore; they watch it a few days after it airs in Japan with subtitles created by fan translators. And these fans usually don’t bother buying the DVDs after they’ve already seen the episodes.
The problem this created was not only about money; it affected creativity. That’s because the only people that really bothered to buy the DVDs anymore were the hardcore fans, and hardcore fans have different interests than the regular, everyday fan. Hardcore, maniac fans tend to like their series peppered with the geeky stereotypes of anime: over-the-top violence, excessive use of Japanese cultural references, weird characters and big-busted, scantily-clad animated women (or even worse, overly cute, underage-looking animated girls). So, the animators began adding more of these things into their series to satisfy the only fans that were bringing them real business. While it saves their companies from going under, it kills the final product. Shows became stupid and lost the things that attracted fans in the first place; mostly, all of the heart was gone.
One company, Geneon, has already gone under. This September, the programming block that made anime in America big, “Toonami,” was officially taken off the air. While “Naruto” comic books still sell lots of copies and “Pokemon” still sells video games, the great series and movies of the past are all but gone. Once dominant franchises like “Macross” and “Gundam” went from high points in the ’90s to all-time low points in recent years.
As a youngster, I was an anime fan myself. I remember the eighth grade, sitting around the science lab table and talking “Gundam Wing” with the other kids. It is sad for me to see something tied to my childhood memories be stolen by the desires of some hardcore shut-ins who are 30 years old, live with their parents and like watching those underage animated girls a little too much.
So I, your fearless entertainment editor, woke up early this morning, put on a ski mask and gloves and drove to the place where anime lives. And I put it out of its misery.
Anime popularity dies as fans
Published: Mon Nov 10, 2008