Does Anime Have a Future in America?

It's a hard life being an artist, living by your passions and dreams. You create and share great art, hoping it will change the world, only to inevitably run into the suits, and the cold reality of the marketplace.

It's a lesson I'm well aware of (in case you haven't noticed, I'm still not a world-famous artist), even though I resist the realist view every step of the way. Perhaps that's why I'm such a fierce champion for these animated works from Japan. They're beautiful. They're moving. They intelligent, wise, thought-provoking. These are some of the great cinematic works of my lifetime. And it's all so painterly; only animation truly fulfills cinema's promise as the dream factory.

But there's still the hard reality of the market. Folks have to be paid. And it's here that the dreams usually die.

What future is there for anime in America? What future is there for the Takahata/Miyazaki canon? Really? It's one thing to be moved by a classic like Anne of Green Gables or Gauche the Cellist, to name a couple examples.

Heck, look at Totoro. Even in the greater American culture, poor Totoro is only barely known. Apart from animation fans and the wisely devoted parents (the ones who do more for their children then schlump them in front of the idiot box and call it a day)...where does it all fit? I'd be greatly interested in looking at some sales numbers.

In a perfect world, the market would be wider and the audiences would be smarter, and there would be good money to be made by all parties involved. But how do you crack this egg? And can this egg be cracked at all?

These are the kind of sobering questions that rumble through my mind after surfing through three years of "Ask John" columns from Anime Nation. His view lacks any romanticism about the commercial state of anime in the States. I'm sure he wishes things could change. But he doesn't seem to believe that will happen.

To succeed with a Heidi or Marco or Anne, to succeed with a Conan or Lupin, you need to break to a wider audience that what's currently available. As of now, that's pretty much teenage boys and parents of small children. Hmm.

I'm trying to think of ways I could have made Animal Treasure Island and Puss in Boots sell better than they have. Maybe the packaging could have used better colors. Maybe they shouldn't have been single-layer discs. Maybe rigorous pursuit of the anime community would have helped. Maybe I'd find out I had a rich uncle buried in the mountains.

I don't know how to change that. I really don't. All I have are my dreams, and this stubborn conviction that there's more to life than what we merely see. There's more than the numbers. If you'd only sit down and watch, and experience for youself, then things would change. Then we'd get the revolution. Maybe.

Then there's this viscious circle involving dubbing. Paying for a dub of an anime series will at least double production costs. But most consumers insist upon American dubs (strangely enough, they like the idea of watching Japanese animation, but don't want to be reminded of anything that's actually from Japan). So you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Hmm. Not good, in any case. Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel! I have been thinking about exactly the same issues, just for the German market, where things are even more complicated since a lot of DVD releases only include English subtitles. And I've come to the bitter conclusion that, considering most people's aversion against subtitles and new, demanding experiences, there is very little that can be done. The best thing probably is to just spread the word among our friends and families, through blogs or whatever means we have available. In the long run, word-of-mouth can be very powerful and might lead to a better acceptance and greater interest in anime (and, for me, Japanese movies in general).

Anonymous said...

Well Klaus, I guess you Germans will have to learn to read subtitles! ;)
It really is about time. I can't count the number of times of seen a glimpse of a classic movie or anime series on German television, only to, a second after, remember how horrible German dubbing sounds (as do dubbing in general) and how much it destroys the feel of the movie. Fire those 10 hammy actors you have to do all the voices and hire some quality translators instead.
In Denmark (where I live) and most other European countries it's only programming for small children who can't read that's dubbed. Do you Germans really want to be grouped with small children in the marketing analysis.
You'll get much better at english if you listen to it in films too.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against either Germans or small children. In fact I love both very much.

As for the topic. I firmly believe that it's just a matter of time when all the big copyright owners realize how stupid it is to just sit on all their old gold, when it can be distributed at next no cost.
It's still very early days for digital distribution, have some patience.

Adrienne said...

Oh, I don't know. As far as distribution in the United States goes, why would there be all that much interest in foreign animation? There's comparatively little interest in foreign live-action.

The situation will probably improve as the young people who are familiar with manga and anime today grow older and have their own children. I mean, look how enormous the manga section is in even smaller bookstores. Young people are reading this jazz, and not just Naruto. Those generations are more open to the idea--and particularly girls and women--which is the key demographic to win over if you want something to go more mainstream. The gears are already turning.

Anonymous said...

Good post sir. As someone said, there is little interest in foriegn live action and animation has a tenious state in american culture. It's still seen primarily as the domain of children or teenagers.

Future of Anime, big risks have to be taken. Someone will have to choose a work that's SOMEWHAT palatable to american tastes and try and push it towards regular joes. Problem is with anime as a whole, it's seen as nerds fodder and with modern productions, this is very true. (I would know being a huge anime nerd myself). Disney has tried with the Ghibli's, fair successes. But unless more productions that are palatable to GENERAL NON NERD US AUDIENCES are made and marketed nothing will change here.

Anonymous said...

It is not only in America but in Asia too. I believe anime do have a future in America and world wide with right publicity, promotion and good timing. Viewer are hard to please nowadays as they have so many choices. They just need to be lead to the good one provided the dub didn't kills the movie. In some part of Asia, people has less respect to artist as we are paid peanut but still we choose to live with the art.

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