Is Anime Doomed?

Editorial Comment

Could we be living in the last days of anime? One industry insider seems to think so.

This article featured on ANN is from an interview with writer Dai Sato, credited with writing episodes for Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell. He paints a rather grim picture picture of the decline and death of anime within the next few decades.

Sato dismissed the idea of “Cool Japan” and complained that much of the in-between animation work in anime is outsourced to people in other countries, who may not be aware of or invested in the work itself. Similar to director Hayao Miyazaki, Sato criticized politicians and other who promoted the image of Cool Japan for their own purposes. Sato also decried series that were more about escape than about confronting real problems, and proclaimed that the anime industry in Japan is a “super establishment system” rather than a creative force, focused more on characters and on merchandise. He suggested that manga was “the last hold out,” and that if manga was lost then anime would not last without it.

While this reflects one person’s opinion, there are others who think the industry is growing. However given the subpar offerings for the summer 2010 season I can understand the reasoning behind Dai Sato’s statements.

Read my own opinion on this after the break.

Summer 2010 seems to be a dismal rehash of the same cliche plot lines and pandering fan service that we’ve all seen before, and it’s getting tiresome. One wonders what the anime studios are thinking when creating a new anime series. Do they look at it for its entertainment value, or as a platform for marketing spin-off goods? It is my opinion the latter may be the truth. It seems as if every new anime these days comes with a slew of merchandise. An excellent example is K-ON!!‘s bewildering blizzard of products, including good luck charms, beach towels, sweat pants and beach shorts, all emblazoned with the characters from the series. These items make tons of money, while the series itself is stuck in an endlessly looping plotline which leaves some viewers cold.

Kinda like this.

So is this growth? Instead of anime with quality production values or writing, we get shows calculated to sell as much merchandise as possible. Could this be the beginning of the end for the ‘good anime series’? I can see a time when we are bombarded with nothing but moe, fanservice and other fluff of little or no substance.

“Wow did you see those figurines for blah blah blah? The series kind of stunk but those characters were so ……..”

If that’s the way the industry wants to go, it’s wrong on so many levels, I watch anime for engaging storylines and interesting characters. If I wanted mindless fluff and such there is always reality TV.

When was the last time you saw a really interesting series that had substantial content and storyline driven by meaningful character development? For myself it’s been almost ten years; an obscure sci-fi series called Crest of the Stars that was never completed because the industry passed it by in favor of moe fluff and other pointlessness. I’m not saying all anime these days is bad, but the good series are becoming few and far between.

What can we, as the consuming public, do to alter this trend? Maybe it’s hopeless, but we can each influence the industry in our own small way. If you don’t like something whether it be food, clothing, furniture or whatever, you take your money elsewhere. Why should it be any different for anime? If it’s substance-less moe fluff, do not support it. If enough of us vote with our wallets, then maybe the studios will take notice. However if we all behave like mindless zombies and consume whatever anime is presented to us without question, then the problems we see now will only get worse. It’s easy to produce a fluff series, with no complex drawings, expensive writers, or well-done  CG work. After all, why put any effort into the show itself when the figures and body pillows are what bring in the cash?

In closing, the future of anime lays in the decisions we as consumers make. If we accept this mindless fluff, then that’s what we’ll get. But if we start looking for substance and story, then maybe the studios will listen. With a little luck, we might start seeing quality shows like Cowboy Bebop again.