[Editorial Tuesday] Is Anime in Decline?

Is anime in decline? It’s a puzzling question that’s difficult to come down on one side or the other while feeling completely confident in the answer. Every industry goes through ups and downs and every industry changes over time. Moreover, to say something is ‘in decline’ or ‘dying out’ is something which generally causes a lot of attention. (I’m looking at you, Hideaki Anno).

It’s easy to grab headlines, or even just attract attention on a social media account, a YouTube video or a forum post. Moreover, many of these viewpoints are laden in Nostalgia, a much more forgiving lens which is simultaneously much more damning when the present is viewed in comparison.

Overall, I think the perception that anime is in decline has a lot to do with how more widely available anime has become, and the more forgettable series often crowding out the exceptional ones.

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Looking at the releases of the last 5 years, it’s clear there are no shortages of standout series. Show’s like Madoka Magica, Musishi, The Bakemonogatari sequels, Steins;Gate, Hunter x Hunter have achieved widespread acclaim and popularity, and, in their time period, certainly aren’t the only anime series you can say that about.

There are also some recent cult hits, take a look at Ping Pong: The Animation, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, and Sora no Woto. Again, these are just a few series, the list could just as easily go on and on. There’s even a good number of directors who have directed hugely popular works in the past who have helmed some pretty great, recent series.

Take Shinichiro Watanabe, who will always be remembered for Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo but his recent Sakamichi no Apollon is just as good as his other works. Kenji Kamiyama, who directed Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, who also directed the popular and acclaimed Higashi no Eden series and movie, is another example.

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More Anime, More of the time

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What’s also true is that people are becoming more aware of the more mundane anime the world has to offer. I think this adds largely to the perception of anime being ‘In decline’, but it’s more so that we’re seeing something which has been a trend for quite some time.

Streaming services like Crunchyroll, Daisuki and FUNimation, just to name a few, have broadened the availability of anime series to a state we’ve never seen before in western markets. MyAnimeList has in fact just recently joined the anime streaming services this past month, so now the available of anime is simply getting bigger.

Often, you’ll see the vast majority of what’s being aired in Japan, is also subbed and released in other markets the same day as an episode airs in Japan. I remember waiting on hands and knees for fansubs of great series like Gurren Lagaan and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Often it would take over a week for a fansub group to do an episode, and watching it was still considered piracy, but this was the only method available except for waiting years for a US domestic release.

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Now, everything is out there. It’s not just fansubbers going after some of the most prominent series, almost every show in a seasonal lineup, good or bad, is more readily available than the best of the best 5 years ago. We’ve also seen a rise in the number of series that are being aired in Japan, even dozens of shows in a season.

So, more anime is being made, and more of it is available in overseas markets than we’ve ever seen before. We’re not seeing so much of the decline of anime, rather we’re seeing a burgeoning of average, run of the mill series being widely available.

But looking back, this model may have been going on for longer than we’ve noticed. Let’s take a look at what could be seen as the best season in a decade, the spring series of 2007. This season had Gurren Lagaan, Darker than Black, Lucky Star, Moribito, Claymore, and also the less widely popular but also acclaimed, Terra E… and Bokurano.

I can’t think of a season with more quality in the last 10 years. However, there’s a lot of stuff that’s been completely forgotten about. Do you remember Wellber no Monogatari: Sisters of Wellber? Or do you remember Koutetsu Sangokushi? Unless your knowledge of anime is encyclopedic, I don’t think these will ring a bell for most people.

Taking the Bad with the Good, and Not the Bad Over the Good.

The point being, is that so many series will be just plain forgettable and won’t stand the test of time. A staff can count itself fortunate if a show that it’s created achieves acclaim and popularity, even just for a year or so, before we move on to thinking about new series that have come along. Even a show which was widely talked about when it was aired can fall by the wayside, pretty quickly, the recent series Death Parade, being a perfect example.

Despite this, this model isn’t a bad one for any medium of entertainment. We should be always be looking for new series coming out which are fun to watch, and this gives studio’s a market where they can try their hand at producing a new, stand-out series every season or so.

For the last few seasons of anime, I’ve watched around 10 or so of the newly airing series each season, and always find something I’ve really enjoyed that I still remember. I’ve also watched a number of shows that were nothing really special at all, average or worse, and stuck with them for various reasons. But if there are even 3 series a season which I found to be very good, and more memorable than most, that would still amount to 12 show’s a year which really resonated with me, and those are odd’s that I’d take any day.

Overall, I really don’t see anime as having taken a decline in quality in recent years. While there are a great number of series being put out that are as bland as buttered toast, many of them are being noticed simply because they’re more widely available than before, thanks to streaming services.

Moreover, there are still a number of exceptional series being aired. Even this year, series like Shirobako and Hibike! Euphonium are total stand-outs in terms of quality, ones that I’ll remember and re-watch over the years. It’d be easy to point out that these series don’t compare with some of the all-time greats.

While it’s true that these show’s don’t match up to something like Ghost in the Shell, there isn’t much that does in the first-place and the people that swear off some newer series because they don’t match some standard of excellence that previous shows have, I think are people who cut their nose to spite their face, from an entertainment perspective. It’s like not seeing Mad Max because it’s not Citizen Kane.

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Industry Malaise

While I wouldn’t say that quality has declined, it is no secret that the anime industry has changed significantly over the years. Specifically, there are two important things to note in terms of how anime has shifted as a medium.

The first, is the era where Japanese animation had an international reputation as groundbreaking, because it was really the only form of animation that had mature themes for mature audiences and not solely marketed towards children, is over now. The second, a host of market factors have made anime more difficult to produce and also, sell and make a profit out of.

It’s troubling to see so many studio’s barely treading water and Key Animators being paid meagre wages. But this has been an industry standard for longer than many have realized. A studio’s business model, methods of distribution, and the amount of money fans are willing to spend on content are all things that can be discussed at length when we talk about anime possibly being in decline or the industry going through changes.

However, while the anime market tries to pull itself out of it’s own stagnate period, I think it’s important to remember all the quality series that have come out of this admittedly tough market for the industry.

Be sure to comment below and let your thoughts be known on whether or not you think anime is in decline. Let’s get a conversation going. What anime that has aired since 2010 will stand the test of time and remembered in the top-tier of series? Is anime entering a decline, or do you see it declining in the future? If so, how do we save it? Let us know in the comments below and thank you for reading!

CJL

Writer

Author: CJL

Long Islander who loves anime. Interested in politics, philosophy and also a huge fan of sports and video games. Just about any series can get me going if it’s done well. From cute girls doing cute things shows, to gritty-action or space-opera or mecha series. Comment on my articles, let’s get a conversation going.

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