The anime community in general has a set list of things each of the people who subject themselves to it come to expect as a natural debate or conversation topic. Whether it be an argument over which is better between anime with English voices dubbed over the original or the original Japanese audio with subtitles, whether or not seasonal anime is worth watching at all, or whether or not the anime adaptation of a story is as good (or god forbid, better) than the source material. These are just topics that have become staples in our discussions and ones the community has been known for having since I joined it. I still remember asking of the “Dubs vs Subs” argument was still relevant or worth talking about for my first proper editorial and one of the answers to my question was “It will never stop being relevant.” But, for today we’re going to discuss another one of those almighty topics: Is anime becoming mainstream? If so, what does that mean?
Undoubtedly, I can say that my answer to the first question is yes. Since I started watching anime years ago, the atmosphere surrounding anime has definitely changed. Similarly to how Hollywood has taken comic book heroes under their wing and turned them into topics no longer exclusively for nerds, and are now topics anyone can discuss just out of joy for enjoying the art form, I feel the same has slowly been happening to anime in the west. The number of people who can just regularly enjoy this medium has undoubtedly grown.
For my senior year in high school I moved to a new town with my family, and one of the things I decided to decorate my backpack with was a GUMI pin from Kairiki Bear’s Imitation Gallery album. I, due to past experiences, expected for people to be put off or at least try to ignore that pin. Instead, more people were interested than anything else. I got a handful of people asking who GUMI was, a few people asking what show she was from, and got closer to who would later be my prom date (side note, after the dance the two of us and another two friends went back to her house and watched Ouran Koukou Host Club for a bit) because of a mutual interest, without her even being a fanatic, in anime.
Perhaps this was an outlier and this school in particular was just okay with the idea of anime existing and accepted that the medium was a respectable one at least on some level. But even with that excuse, I had friends who hated anime and thought the medium in general wasn’t for them in the slightest, but still enjoyed at least one show. Even if this is an outlier case, the fact that it shifted from me being ashamed to have Koyuki Azumaya from Keroro Gunso as my iPod wallpaper back in freshman year into me being able to have a GUMI pin front and centre on my backpack and it spark positive conversation from everyone, something is clearly changing.
Mainstream isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, I’d argue that if anything, something becoming more mainstream is good. With Japanese animation becoming more mainstream, people will become more educated on it in general instead of blanket stereotypes like that only perverts watch the medium or that all anime is tentacle porn. With the mainstream being more informed about anime, less ignorant generalisations will come from people and there would easily be a greater chance for more people to become more interested in these shows and this medium in general. Growth of a medium is important and the more fans of the industry come in, the better chance we’d have in the west being a bigger contributor to the industry.
The best example of this sift to mainstream is easily the extreme success of Wit Studio’s Shingeki no Kyoujin. For the first time I had ever witnessed, people who had previously never thought about subjecting themselves to anime were not only brought into our medium, but enjoyed it. This story was something the west could adore. The unique and attention-grabbing art style, the simple action premise with dark undertones, a lovable cast that only gets slaughtered with absolutely no mercy; every single piece of it was a magnet for western fans. Whether or not the series was genuinely written well, whether or not the entire production was an overly edgy child fantasy, no one can say that Shingeki no Kyoujin didn’t make the western fanbase spike in population and put us on the map for a medium that is maybe worth taking seriously.
But what does this mean? If anime is becoming normalised, what’s going to happen to our community and the medium we enjoy? Let’s start with the former, as it’s a lot longer of an answer and a lot more interesting and speculative. If anime becomes normalised, the people who casually consume productions from this medium will increase and as a result, people who don’t care about the medium nearly as much as us will begin to have the ability to voice opinions that may or may not paint our medium in an accurate or positive way. If what happened when comic book heroes or video games became much more mainstream is anything to show, this isn’t always the best for the dare I say “die hards” of our community and isn’t always the best for our community in general.
This is where the “normies” or “casuals” would come into our community and where we would hit a bit of a divide in some senses. There would be a clear distinction within the community of who is a die hard fan who’s seen at least a hundred shows or cares about the medium in a deep way, and the people who just occasionally dabble in a seasonal show that just so happens to be on Netflix and it’s caught their attention twelve weeks after the rest of us have already finished it. However, there would be no distinction between these two separate groups to people who didn’t take part in the medium at all. What this means is that someone heavily uninvested and just likes a handful of shows that they might not have even finished will have the same weight in their statements compared to someone like you or me. At first, this will cause an outrage and people will claim “The anime community isn’t the same anymore,” but eventually a majority of us will get over it and we’ll just separate ourselves very firmly from those who don’t care as much as we do even in the slightest.
While I still think this is a positive thing for a reason I mentioned earlier, what exactly does this mean for the anime itself if the west has some sort of influence over sales numbers? Well… Nothing. Anime doesn’t work in the same way AAA games and films work. Japan isn’t going to suddenly change the way they create their shows because someone else is watching them. While anyone can just say that, Arin Hanson (otherwise known as Egoraptor) did an interview with Yoh Yoshinari and Hiroyuki Imaishi of Studio Trigger and pretty much confirmed something I believed about their studio for a long time. Not only is it that Studio Trigger has, obviously, western inspired productions, but that they do what they do for Japan and for themselves. They don’t want to fit into a western appeal mould, and while this isn’t to say that they don’t care about western fans, this is definitely saying that the west will never have a direct relationship with the end result of a production when it comes to anime.
What a growth in our community and a normalisation of our medium means is that we will eventually have to be considered in the numbers for sales and how well a production performed. Of course it means that normal people who will binge watch Death Note and then call themselves anime nerd afterwords will show up, but I think that’s a small price to pay for showing that anime is a respectable medium. As much as I (sarcastically) painted this topic up as normal people stealing anime from us on Twitter, I genuinely hope a normalisation of this medium happens. I feel like great things will happen if more people come to enjoy these shows.
Thank you so much for reading today’s editorial! I’m really glad I got this one out on time, I wasn’t too sure if I’d have the opportunity to schedule the post like I usually do, so it’s kind of a relief for me to click that “Schedule” button here at 3:12 in the morning. I hope you liked it and if you have anything to add, either in agreement or disagreement, feel free to comment it and I promise I’ll read every one! If you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog, as always you can follow me on Twitter. I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by pixiv artist やすも.