Thanks to all the new friends and comrades I’ve met last year, both via the otaku-hub of twitter and in real life, this has been a great 12 months to be an anime fan! From a personal angle, I’ll look back on 2010 as an important year which fundamentally changed the way I look at anime. My interest in the technical and creative work that goes into making anime has exploded thanks to the informative writings of people like @raito_kun and @kyouray, to the point now where I can dissect animation and other production qualities. I’ve become a vigilant follower of particular up-and-coming animators, such as Hironori Tanaka, Seiya Numata, and Ryo-chimo and have journeyed back to the founding influences that made the anime industry what it is by looking at Yoshinori Kanada. The lesson of the year: Anime isn’t just a medium for strange and exotic storytelling, it’s fueled by a resilient swell of animators and creators who strive to express themselves.
2010 was really the year my approach to anime changed significantly. At the same time, I’ve become less fond of people who treat anime as some academic species struggling against a corrupting wave of ‘moe’ and such. It’s about time people realised that anime is just entertainment and always has been. Many people need to stop clinging to their warped view of anime’s earlier decades. I love a deep and complex story as much as the next guy (or maybe more), but I also enjoy the simple fun moe or ecchi anime have to offer. And I don’t think this is just a personal note either, the divide between the foreign anime fandom seems to have become much more vivid this last year. I think this came to a head recently with the airing of Ore no Imouto. You had the camp that criticised it for giving in to cliches and fanservice (and who obviously had no understanding of the original work), and the other side which appreciated it for what it was: an otaku-themed moe love-comedy! This divide was even highlighted within the show itself, by the argument between Kirino (moefag) and Kuroneko (deepfag). In that argument, I guess I’m on Saori’s side! Now I think less people are blindly following the opinionated outlook of ANN and are broadening their horizons, and I hope we’re getting a healthier foreign anime fandom as a result.
But enough about that! Most importantly, 2010 was a great year for anime! That is, despite the screams and pleas from certain sectors of the anime fandom and even from people in the anime industry. Anime writer, Dai Satou (Eureka 7, Cowboy Bebop) commented on the stifled creativity in the anime medium and that originality is now a risky business; Yamakan commented on the fact that, despite the vocal sakuga fandom, anime with good animation don’t sell (citing Birdy the Mighty Decode and Denno Coil), and even went as far as to forecast the end of home video sales; and only very recently, Koji Matsumoto, noitaminA producer, mused that the business model of selling expensive DVDs to a niche otaku crowd may lead to a death by moe. Then there’s been stark descriptions of an industry desperate for new animators. But, despite these claims, anime has being going strong, at least on the surface. Ever a risky market, the year saw its winners and losers, but the winners basked in triumphant domestic DVD/BD sales. The best example being Keion, which has now sold over half a million discs. Keep in mind that domestic DVD/BD sales remain the largest source of revenue for an anime (online streaming is increasingly popular but not yet very profitable). Underneath the surface though, the anime industry has a few problems that still need to be corrected. One problem is the underpaid animators, which got quite a bit of coverage last year. It was commented on that, because of the flawed way funds are allocated, staff like sound directors are much better paid than animators. This has to change if anime is to survive in the long-term.
One way around this is for other distribution methods than TV broadcast. TV-anime are favored for their increased exposure, but the need to pay fees to the TV-stations cuts away a significant portion of the budget that could otherwise go to studios. This is probably why we’re seeing a trend in favour of the OVA (or OAD) format. OVAs were, for quite a while during the 80s and 90s, the real heart of the anime otaku fandom, renowned for their ambitious content and strong production values. There are still a few OVAs keeping that spectacle alive, such as Black Rock Shooter and Gundam Unicorn, but what we’re seeing now is largely a different breed of OVAs, rather than a return to that era: OVAs being bundled with limited edition manga volumes is the new big thing! The lack of broadcast fees might grant slightly better budgets, and schedule headaches are taken out of the equation with a slow rate of release. Someone worked out it was an effective business model, and now we’re seeing an almost constant stream of OVAs of this kind, such as Koe de Oshigoto, Kurenai, Negima, Yuri Seijin Naokosan, and many, many more.
But probably the most interesting new trend comes from the spate of anime movie announcements that 2010 has delivered. We’ve already enjoyed a Haruhi movie, a Macross F movie, a Fate Stay Night movie, and a Nanoha movie last year (among others), and there are many more coming, such as Strike Witches, Sora no Otoshimono, Negima, and even Hayate no Gotoku! Studios are starting to realise that the cost of producing an anime movie doesn’t have to be phenomenal, and can be comparable to doing a TV-anime. Just looking at the Macross F and Nanoha movie DVD/BD sales, you can see why it’s looking like an attractive format! Evangelion is at the pinnacle of anime movie stories, with the release of Evangelion 2.22 selling over 350,000 Blu-rays in its first week, making it the best selling Blu-ray in Japan ever! For us fans, movies mean lots of anxious waiting for the release dates, but a great pay-out of seeing our favourite anime rendered with a much higher standard of production. If anyone out there is looking at the shrinking number of TV-anime airing each season and worrying, just remember the anime industry is going through a process of evolution! Plus, we’re still getting more anime with a much higher standard of production than we did prior to ~2000.
The offerings in the way of original anime were slim, bolstered only by the much-hyped, Anime no Chikara project (a TV Tokyo initiative to help sponsor original anime by ‘spirit creators’. Anime no Chikara means ‘the power of anime’, but what resulted from the project fell far short of this claim. So-ra-no-wo-to was the first and most successful of the three Anime no Chikara works, but found itself in an awkward compromise between marketing and creative ambitions resulting in anime with a fascinating setting with great potential and an ill-fitted cast of moe-blob characters. Then came the disastrous Senkou no Night Raid in the spring season, which cemented my dislike for director, Jun Matsumoto, and died an ignoble death by poor DVD sales. The third, and perhaps final, Anime no Chikara work was Seikimatsu Occult Academy, which hit a redeeming note with its unique flavour and strong production values. Its DVD sales were better, but still somewhat disappointing.
It seems all this confirms the view of naysayers: that original anime is a struggling breed. However, looking into the future, certain producers and directors are stepping up on their own two feet to meet the challenge of creating successful original anime. Next season alone, we have two high-profile original anime, one by Yamakan (Fractale), and the other by Akiyuki Shinbo (Madoka Magica). These two anime already have an intriguing creative vibe to them, and Madoka Magica appears to be the most anticipated anime of Winter 2011. Meanwhile, upstart studio P.A Works is brewing a promising original anime in Hana Saku Iroha, which is joined by a plethora of new original anime announcements set to air next year, including ANOHANA, C, and Phi Brain – Kami no Puzzle. If original anime is dying, I guess it’s going out with a bang!
Last year saw its fair share of controversy for us anime fans/otaku, from political corners and from rogue players in the industry itself. Yamakan stirred up trouble by ripping the head off a Ui (K-ON!!) figure on television in a derogatory fashion, which naturally attracted rage from Kyoto Animation’s supporters (just another clash in the ongoing Yamakan vs KyoAni debacle!). Hirano Aya did her best to stay in the news, with a string of slips and announcements following her newfound focus on television appearances over work as a seiyuu, including the sad story of her tumor. But, and I’m sure many people will agree with this, the saddest occurrence of 2010 was the death of masterful director, Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millenium Actress), whose polished and creative works will be appreciated for an eternity to come.
Politicians have also reached out to anime fans last year, with the hand of censorship! While the anti-loli crusade of arch-villain, Agnes-chan and her mentally deformed chronies has quieted down a new threat has arisen in the dangerously senile governor of Tokyo, Shintarou Ishihara, who has wooed Japanese PTA groups and Christian meddlers with his Bill 156, which opens up a new area for regulation by Tokyo authorities. The Bill was met with fierce opposition in Japan, as well as abroad amongst the 50 or so of us who actually knew what was going on. The industry responded by bailing on next year’s Tokyo Anime Fair, to send a personal message to Ishihara, and the anime fanbase are scrambling to release doujinshi parodying and lambasting the Bill. While the anime/manga industry has its freedom of expression chipped away at, the Japanese government announces a goal to quadrible anime exports. The dichotomy continues! And on the righteous side of this battle, @dankanemitsu should be celebrated for his valiant efforts in protest of Bill 156 as well as his English coverage on the topic, which was the only decent source for information throughout the year!
Meanwhile Meg Whitman, candidate for Californian governor, hilariously linked Americans to an eye-opening video of a crossplaying Keion fan and Nick Levasseur (a Democratic New Hampshire state representative) posted a rather controversial and foul view on anime on his facebook: “Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn’t enough.”. Don’t you just get the sense that politics and anime don’t mix? But it wasn’t just politicians on the attack; the production studio and writers on the anime adaptation of B Gata H Kei received a string of threatening mail over the content of the show, which featured the sexually promiscueous girl, Yamada. The BPO (Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organisation) recieved several complaints in regards to two fall-season anime: OreImo, for its portrayal of a underage girl playing adult games, and Yosuga no Sora, for its sexually explicit content. Fortunately, these complaints didn’t manifest in any further restrictions!
The anime/manga industry also had a crusade of its own: a crack-down on internet piracy! While anime torrents remain an immutable bastion of the internet, a group of major publishers banded together to target foreign websites hosting translated manga for free. As a result, websites such as Onemanga and Mangafox were bought into line and had to remove much of their content. While I’m okay with them taking down such websites, my problem with the Japanese attitude that fansubbers and scanlators are nothing but pirates is they are not doing enough to provide a legitimate commercial alternative. Sure, Crunchyroll has gained prominence (although it still doesn’t allow Australia to use its service, to my great anger), but Japanese sites remain strongly region-locked and few of the many manga titles out there are translated officially. So it’s a no-win situation. Ken Akamatsu did launch a interesting initiative with his jcomi website to host out-of-print manga for free, but it will, in many cases, remain region-locked due to clashes with overseas licenses.
One thing that anime does mix well with is cute (2D) girls! It seemed that K-ON! was the anime on everybody’s lips last year, before it was airing, during its 2-cour run on TV, and even now, well after the last episode was shown. From humble beginnings as an amusing 4-koma gag manga, Kyoto Animation turned K-ON into a marketing monster, with its large fanbase turning its girls into one of the strongest character brands of the last decade. K-ON is a loud and proud testament to the power of moe! Rivalling its ~40,000 BD+DVD sales level was the dark horse, Angel Beats! Despite the advertising spree that came before it, I certainly didn’t expect its sales to reach that level, especially when much of the critical reception I read was fairly mixed. Angel Beats was an original anime by Key writer, Jun Maeda, so I guess my old adage that anything Maeda Jun touches turns to gold proved true. The success of AB! seems to have bolstered the ambitions of studio P.A Works. Duarara sold well, at around 15K per volume (and that’s without a BD release, just DVD), Strike Witches 2 sold as well as predicted, at about the same, and the Railgun OVA sold over 20,000 copies. Sengoku Basara continued to be a strong title for Production I.G, and Black Butler season 2 remained above the 10,000 sales per volume. OreImo also proved to be as popular as expected. The biggest surprises came from Working!!, a moe/comedy manga adaptation, the first volume of which sold around 30K copies (subsequent volumes sold less, but still a lot), and the very recent Ika Musume, which is also a manga adaptation-turned-anime-success!
But all this success just makes the pain of Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi’s crushing defeat all the more bitter! For me, the dismal DVD/BD sales of Ookami-san was one of the biggest tragedies of 2010. The anime was charming, with a great voice cast, excellent characters, and some genuinely impressive animation! I can’t understand people’s disappointment with it, and even if the disappointment is warranted it deserved to sell more copies!
While their future looks somewhat unsure thanks to the looming threat of the controversial Bill 156, 2010 was a very good year to be an erotic anime series! The ante was upped in every department – not only did there seem to be more ecchi/ero anime floating about, but they seemed to have higher standards of productions, and even higher levels of naughtiness. Thanks to the allowance of the TV-station, AT-X, producers went all out to see what they could get away with! The bar was set to unsettling heights by the breast-milk themed Seikon no Qwaser, which covered all its bases by offering basically any fetish you can think of. Gone are the days of basic nudity, like Ranma, nowadays an extra layer of eroticism is required, such as tones of S&M and incest. Kiss X Sis took the incest idea and ran with it. Blood-related or not, Kiss X Sis is about the most ecchi incest anime (excluding R18 anime) to have been made! The levels of perversity, almost all of it coming from the female characters, scared away many Western anime watchers, while others lapped it up. Kiss X Sis also caught quite a bit of attention for its moments of peeing fetishism. Like I said, the ante has been upped! We also had Chu-bra for lovers of underwear. Finally, we got Hyakka Rouran Samurai Girls, which took a step back and actually had the nudity and echhiness as an accomplice to what was otherwise a pretty cool action anime. There was also the plethora of uncensorship to occur on DVD/BD releases, including Strike Witches season 2, Asobi ni Ikuyo, and Shukufuku no Campanella! Despite the number of competing ero anime, there was room for all of them on fans shelves, as evidenced by the strong sales most of these anime encountered.
The spending power of the growing fujoshi fanbase in Japan is starting to influence the more mainstream industry. As a result, last year saw the segregation between fangirl-oriented material and stuff for male otaku begin to fall down. We saw Durarara!! become a massive hit after quite deliberately capitalising on the fujoshi market with its appealing male characters and blatant yaoi pairings for them to latch on to. I have no doubt that this is a big reason for its ~15,000 average DVD sales, but the anime was nonetheless popular with both genders! The afternoon TV-anime, Star Driver took this a step further, with an experimental blend of hot-blooded shounen, mecha, and flambouyant pretty-boys! I won’t comment on the results of the experiment myself, but the decent ratings at around 3% are a testament to the fact that they may have been able to grab a mixed-gender viewership. Then there’s the action-heavy Sengoku Basara, which, including the game series upon which it’s based, has been a rallying-point for fangirls in Japan for some time, and they continue to drive its sales and success.
So, 2010 will be remembered as a turbulent but ultimately optimistic year in which the online fanbase became more interconnected and, most importantly, more open to the full spectrum of content anime has to offer. I’ve made many new friends, and gained a much deeper understanding of both the anime industry and the otaku culture that orbits it! Thanks to everyone who’s shared that journey with me! Please, share your thoughts on the year, especially if there are some note-worthy events or news items I’ve overlooked!