will anime ever be mainstream in america?

Riding the wind
Floating to somewhere else,
Across oceans, across time.
You will surely bloom.


So right now, two anime series that I think have a great chance of succeeding in the US are airing: Gurren Lagann and Guardian of the Sacred Spirits (curiously referred to as “Moribito“). Both fit the bill of what mainstream American audiences might like with plenty of action, solid storytelling, and not a lot of objectionable material. Hell, even the lovable Code Geass is getting in the action with R2 airing on Cartoon Network right after the first season finishes. But will they be enough to finally break through the media barrier and make anime mainstream?

I wouldn’t bet on it. Before 1999, anime had probably its most favorable conditions for a mainstream breakout. I think historians will disagree with me, but I remember it clearly. The battle for anime in anime media wasn’t going to be won with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, despite the fact that they were like Kobe and Shaq on the 2001 Lakers back then, it was being won by a guy named “Hayao Miyazaki.”

The Pokemon problem isn’t that it’s something for kiddies, it’s just that it is just another kid’s toy show. It’s like the modern day Voltron or Transformers. Appealing to little kids will only take a medium so far– to gain mainstream traction, well, it’s tough. Not even Batman TAS managed to do this in the early-mid 90s, and that was a fantastic cartoon.

But Miyazaki changed that– here was a guy, a relative unknown outside of Japan and maybe France, and he had buzz with the nascent anime crowd as well as the film elitists. Maybe the controversy surrounding Nausicaa forced curious people to watch the original and even fansub it. Whatever the case, it all came to a head when Princess Mononoke was released in the states.

I remember being dragged to a screening by one of my friends. I remember distinctly that I agreed to go because Gillian Anderson was somehow involved (remember, I’m an X-Phile). I remember leaving impressed. This is anime? Really? There’s more to this genre than electric mice and transforming robots? Also at this time, Cartoon Network started up its popular Adult Swim segment anchored by three greats: Gundam Wing, Cowboy Bebop, and Tenchi Muyo. Toss in the emergence of a viable media (DVD), anime was poised to make it big in the US. Companies like ADV and Geneon (Pioneer back then) were ramping up production and acquiring shows like drunk venture capitalists. Anime was like Latin music and Ricky Martin– they’re here to stay forever and live la vida loca, right?


Little did we know that it wasn’t the start. But more of an end. Anime never really caught on and still remains in the fringe. Yes, the anime section at Best Buy is a bit larger. Yes, there’s shows like Xam’d that get “aired” in the US before Japan. Yes, more people downloaded Kanon 2007 than Kanon 2003 by a factor of maybe 1,000. Something happened along the way, and Adult Swim doesn’t have the same glory it once did, ADV & Geneon are shells of their former selves, and DVDs are obsoleted by digital distribution. Surely, I can recount all the missteps along the way. The greed? Oh yes. Fighting against digital distribution instead of embracing it? Yes sir. Clinging to old business methods? No doubt.

But that’s not really the problem. The problem is that for anime to ever be mainstream, it needs to crack the mentality of the average person that it can be better entertainment than most of the crap on network TV nowadays. Otherwise, it’ll just languish on late night blocks on CN and on discount racks at Best Buy. Surely as train wrecky as Code Geass R2 has been, it’s probably still much, much better than the new Knight Rider series.

Here we sit in 2008, about ten years after I first watched Princess Mononoke. For anime to gain traction in the wider audience, a few things gotta happen first:

1. You think NBC delaying the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics by 12 hours and “live” events on the West coast by three hours was outrageous? Good. Now you kinda, sorta, maybe can understand how waiting 15 fucking months for Gurren Lagann feels. We live in a digital age. There’s no reason why a willing consumer has to wait 15 months for any aired media. None. Thanks to the insistence that the English market always trail the Japanese market by years, that vacuum has created a culture of fansubs and BT. Now, of all the studios, Gonzo has been making the best inroads in this aspect (I’ve purchased every episode of Tower of Druaga). I think this is the right way to go, and the fact they offer a free streamed version only makes it even better. The wrong way, of course, is Xam’d.

2. Bring over the best shows first. Gurren Lagann and Guardian of the Sacred Spirits are great starts– if they don’t succeed, then I don’t mind conceding that America is only good for electric mice and emo ninjas. I’ll just retire to my bunker of FLCL, Haruhi, and Kenshin DVDs then. I think I would target the harem comedy genre next (haven’t had one since Tenchi… well… maybe Gundam Seed Destiny). That’s like the bread and butter of fanboy revenue generation, and it’s something distinctly different compared to everything else on American TV. With that said, I’d probably opt for something more like Haruhi Suzumiya than Haruka Nogizaka.

3. Fanboys have to spread the word. Like the blind followers of the Church of Obama, you gotta spread the word. I would never have gone to Princess Mononoke without my friend prodding me. That’s just the way things are. Currently, I sent my old Haruhi DVDs to a friend trying to get him hooked on it. Some things just need a little push, and, little-by-little, YES WE CAN!


Now why would anime want to be mainstream? Well, that’s a good question. The first is simple. More viewers = more dollars = more incentive for the content producers to, uh, produce. The flipside is that there’s a chance a lot more crap will be produced as well, but it does ensure that anime will continue to be a viable and profitable form of entertainment. The second reason is a bit more selfish– I think anime is a quite diverse medium and can tell a lot of fantastic stories that are just not possible on network TV. (They’re certainly better than Date My Ex.) For their own reasons, shows like Haruhi Suzumiya, Mushishi, and Escaflowne have been incredible, and I want more people to experience them if anything as a reinforcement that, “Hey, maybe this anime thing ain’t so bad after all.”

60 Responses to “will anime ever be mainstream in america?”

  1. There’s too much objectionable content in anime to be adopted in a country where animation is still viewed as kids’ material. I don’t know anything about anime in Japan, but isn’t anime even kind of a geek thing there? How can it be mainstream if it even has a negative stigma in its home country?

  2. I hate to say this, but I can’t see Gurren Lagann becoming Mainstream here.
    1. It is on SciFi. I personally think they could have picked a MUCH better network to show it on.
    2. The timeslot. 11 PM. Now this wouldn’t be too bad if it was on a weekend, but on a monday night? Most kids have school, so they go to bed.
    It is the greatest anime I have seen, but with these conditions I can’t see it becoming popular.
    Another thing that burns me up is that the Suzumiya light novels will just come here in 2009. What. The. Hell. I know that a light novel would take longer than a manga, due to it actually being words, but still. I read “The Dissapearence of Haruhi Suzumiya” on a fan-translated site, but I still would like to actually own it.

    Great blog as always.

  3. Oh, and I forgot to add something. I switched to SciFi to watch Gurren Lagann, and they cancelled it for wrestling. They just had to take away “Ani-monday” for wrestling, but Wrestling isn’t very SciFi-ish to my knowledge.

  4. It won’t be mainstream for the same reason sci-fi isn’t – the masses don’t want to watch cartoons as they’re “kids’ shows”, and because the storylines can be too complex (yes, even harems) for them to get. There’s a REASON that reality TV is the big thing, as were sitcoms for decades before them – they’re simplistic to the point of being utterly predicable cliches… and they offend very few people for the most part.

    You try THAT with a tsundere, a loli, or a harem show in America. I guarantee you that the Religious Right would be all over those shows the way Jack Thompson is on videogames. Pretty much any anime, except children’s shows, would be too racy for the mainstream or just not popular enough. Sci-fi shows are niche shows, as anime is likely to end up… even in Japan. Remember that the most popular anime over there is Crayon Shin-chan… a kid’s show.

  5. Will it ever be mainstream? Doubt it. Can it be? Sure. I’m just not sure the ones with the ability to make it so believe that it is worth it to jump all of the hurdles necessary in order to become mainstream.

    You mention the Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh phenomenon, I actually believe that it created a negative stigma about anime in the mind of Americans that will be hard to erase. There are a few things that need to be done before any real progress can be made:

    – Better dubs. This is obvious. I prefer subs but that is mostly because my first exposure to a new show is subtitled. Trying to get casual friends or the occasional special lady friend to watch an anime is like pulling teeth. Getting them to watch it subtitled is even more impossible. So the dub most be top notch, whether the hardcore fans like us utilize it or not. Another problem is the tone with which a dub is done. As we all now, the Japanese are weird about age and maturity levels. Just like at Yoko and her adult body at only 14 or these young teen males piloting mechs with the weight of the world on their shoulders. In American society a 14 year old is not capable of any of these things, yet when it comes time to dub the show they feel the need to give the character the typical American 14 year old personality. The show doesn’t jive and it screams “kiddy.” Another example is the Kanon dub. Sure you’ll never find a sweet and cute 16/17 year old girl like Nayuki an America, but that doesn’t mean they had to give her the valley girl personality that Americans can relate to. Completely destroyed her character. Those in charge of dubs need to quit being guided by age (Like the Japanese) and cast a voice actor based on the actions of the character in whatever the show is.

    – Primetime showings on a mainstream channel. Cartoon Network and Fox on Saturday mornings is only going to get the medium so far. The Sci Fi channel is a nice move but not quite good enough. Can you imagine TTGL in the same block with The Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of the Hill? Sure it doesn’t fit the demographic but you already have an audience who is watching cartoons simply because they have the “adult cartoon” stigma surrounding them.

    – Releases near or identical to the original Japanese airing. You touched on this and it is important. This would eliminate many fansubs and thus force the hardcore audience to get on board with the American releases. Anime is one of the few mediums in which a lot of the hardcore fans even pass up paying for a domesticated release. We already know selling anime to the mainstream is hard but if you can’t even sell to your hardcore fans, thanks to fansubs, then you have no chance.

    – Marketing to reverse the “kiddy,” “nerdy,” and other negative stigmas. Maybe some commercials or appearances in popular shows. Just imagine if there was a scene in 24 with Bauer watching Golgo 13! ;)

    There are so many other things that can be done but the motivation just isn’t there and I don’t know if it ever will be. Then again, look how far videogames have come. We just need to keep waiting for the Playstation of anime. Maybe we can get Mike Krzyzewski to help! He did resurrect America’s basketball image, maybe he can resurrect anime’s image in America. He can’t fail with a little help from Kyou and the NBC basketball music!

  6. Sometimes I think that even american fans don’t really want anime; they want action cartoons with nice visuals and a passable plot. Everything else about anime (ecchiness, touchy subjects) seems to be despised by westerners when they are not portrayed as bad or inappropriate for western standards. And let’s not get into moe; it would seem that its mere mention is an insult to most american fans.

    So how can anime be accepted in the mainstream when most of the stuff it is composed of is not liked by even the so-called fans? Most of the time they basically trash anime, so how can they spread the word when they have problems accepting it themselves?

    Again, I think americans just want good western cartoons.

  7. Completely off-topic, but that wrestling thing was just one of the more obvious signs that Sci-Fi has gone to hell. The wrestling and the anime was just a way to try to pull in more viewers that want to watch something other than their continuous D-rated monster movie ‘Sci-Fi Originals’ they keep cranking out. It’s apparently Sci-Fi because there’s barbed wire involved. The anime was a right step, but they should be pulling that leg way harder than they are. Make it a damned nightly occurrence. Beats the hell out of the new Flash Gordon series and Painkiller Jaine.

    I remember back when I used to watch that station all the time, looked forward to Fridays when I was a teenager because of Farscape. All they do is play horrible, horrible movies over and over again and stopped playing classic shows that pulled in all their viewers. I think it’d help them out immensely if they took a chance on anime.

  8. >> . I guarantee you that the Religious Right would be all over those shows the way Jack Thompson is on videogames.

    Fuck, don’t even mention the Religious right. Every time I start thinking about them I want to go burn a church. Destroying our country one piece at a time.

    >> So how can anime be accepted in the mainstream when most of the stuff it is composed of is not liked by even the so-called fans?

    Most people ‘trashing’ anime are new initiates who haven’t really come to understand the meaning behind the things they’re seeing. I think making people feel uncomfortable and challenging and expanding their understanding of morals is very important for growing character.

    I have been slowly turning my friends on to Anime, but its a hard uphill battle since they are a bunch of movie buffs and WoW nerds.

    One thing I’ve noticed, many people have a conception that Anime is just empty sex, violence and gore. (TY Ninja scroll, etc) The rest think of screaming ninjas and samurai when they think about Japanese. Hard to sell the idea that Anime has great romance, comedy and deep plotted shows when people have such a shallow concept of Japanese culture.

  9. Something that you missed off that list – if anime ever really wants to become mainstream then they need to start mastering their DVD releases properly. It seems like the more high-profile potential a series has, the more likely there will be a SNAFU along the way.

    I am referring mainly to Bandai and their inability to consistently produce DVDs that work properly, plus their inability to admit when they’ve screwed up and fix the problem. I shelled out a whole pile of cash for the Code Geass v1 & v2 LE pack and the discs are so shoddy that you can’t watch them end-to-end without crashing your player. And this is one of the rare shows that’s actually running on TV in the US and stuff. I had the same thing with their release of one of the Eureka Seven discs, too. And because I’m Australian they won’t admit I exist, let alone replace them, even when they actually admit failure and announce a recall.

    If these companies want to even stay relevant, let alone expand their market, then they need to become a hell of a lot more professional.

  10. Something I would love to see is a show like Monster showing up on a mainstream TV channel, something that is considered excellent, and something that even if animated would be taken seriously rather than just being seen as “just another cartoon.”

  11. The thing is, not all cartoons here are for kids, but the ones that aren’t like Family Guy or South Park, are all categorized in the satire/parody category. I feel that culturally, it’s hard for the American audience to accept animated show as anything else from these two categories. Avatar The Last Air Bender is the only exception I can think of to this and it has thus far been a great success. Hopefully it can become the pioneer to a new type of mainstream category in the future. Also probably for revenue purposes, it’s much more common for US animated shows to run as stand alone episodes that has a possibility to continue season after season endlessly rather than a 26 episode storyline that ends in half a year. it’s been almost 20 years since the Simpsons started and Maggie is still a baby. But who cares, cause $$ is coming in right?

    The run time of adult swim is another thing that’s hindering the main stream possibility, in all honestly, how many people who don’t already know what Seirei no Moribito is really wait up until 1:30AM to watch it. It’s just not the way to introduce new material properly. As frustrating as NBC’s delated ceremony show times were, least they got the rating logic down. And really what justifies a 1:30 showing for that? you get to see a spear run into a gut like twice in the anime and neither times you see blood.

  12. Though somewhat unrelated, reading this entry reminded me of a panel from Otakon where the US anime industries actually gathered on the same panel with some of the more recognized fansubbers to talk about anime. It was a very interesting panel to read about to say the least and it does also talk about the difficulties of mainstreaming anime a little.


  13. Fanboys? What about the fangirls? The amount of shoujo-flavored material available in the states has grown quite a bit, and women of the West are just as rabbid as their Japanese counterparts, even more so, in some ways…

  14. It’s a bit disingenuous to compare The Simpsons against most of the anime we’re interested in. Far more accurate to compare it against Crayon Shin-chan or Doraemon or the like – they’re far closer in terms of cultural impact, structure, and number of episodes (though actually both are significantly longer)

  15. I think wp hit the nail on the head regarding anime’s content. Most of the people with whom I talk consistently equate animation with kiddy fare. Something like, oh, say, School Days or Higurashi no Naku Koro ni would break them.

    One of the reasons that (I believe that) anime will never become mainstream in America is because of its willingness to address and embrace topics that make the mainstream cringe. Unhappy endings, dying protagonists, intense sexual humor, homosexuality, fanservice, teacher/student relationships, morality questions/issues… pretty heavy fare for the average American raised on Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Generally, anime requires its viewer to either have a large comfort zone or the ability to leave his/her comfort zone, a trait that many of us Americans lack. (Those who disagree with me kindly describe Revolutionary Girl Utena or Kashimashi to your homophobic friend.)

  16. Harukaaaaaaaa….

    @Skyman747: It better be alien wrestling, then. :<

  17. The ‘American’ viewers has shown strong resistance to anything that seems ‘un-American’. It is mainly due to this xenophobic tendency that anime is more accepted in ‘liberal’ atmosphere in universities, compared to high schools. Unless the public education in USA shows marked improvement in teaching foreign language and foreign cultures, most promotion of anime will fall upon deaf ear.

  18. I’m also not sure if anime is even mainstream in Japan. If you look at the quotes most anime series get, it’s pretty low … of course, since many are broadcasted in the middle of the night. But those time slots are also because many more people are interested in new J-Drama than animes over here. Therefore many mangas get adapted into Drama, like Nodame or right now Seigi no Mikata, to reach a larger and older audience.

    Even looking at the anime rates every week in Japan, it’s always the same series and even those don’t come close to a prime time J-Drama XD

    Myself being a big anime/manga fan for years can already feel how I’m growing out of it. Can’t stand the typical anime art style anymore and many of the stories are simply boring and repetitive or superficial. The shows that can really entertain me are getting rarer and rarer as I’m getting older and older ^^ Which is also because many manga and anime series are really aimed at a younger audience … or at an otaku audience, which I simply can’t get into. But on the other hand, “mainstream” doesn’t exactly mean “not boring, repetitive or superficial”. So maybe that wouldn’t be a problem ^^

    The art style however can be a big turn-off if you’re not used to it, I think … depends on the series, but a lot look really childish and … kitsch?

    And then DVD prices are just too high for anime to become mainstream, because most “normal” people prefer to buy a whole season of Dr House instead of 10 anime episodes (not sure how big the price difference is in the USA).

    So I think the one thing that can become mainstream outside of Japan are real life series based on manga/anime stories. Like the recent boom of american remakes of japanese or korean films. There are some wonderful stories that deserve to be told or re-told to more people and then more people will be interested in the source material.

  19. Dubs are terrible, so no, end.

  20. Lateraldeath brought up Avatar the last Airbender. Avatar is a perfect example of an American cartoon that is FAR more then just simply for kids. BUT it has a HUGE problem, it was on Nick. And Nick knows how to handle shows like Spongebob, not a show like Avatar. So while it still did really well, and I mean REALLY well, it will have close to zero effect on the anime community, or any other shows.
    I have hope for the Live Action movies though…………M.Night Shamalan scares me a bit(the Happening sucked), but hope!

    Personally on the topic of it being mainstream, in my view has the problem of the majority of fans being in the high school range. They have more free time then they really know what to do with, and a decent amount of money that they don’t need to spend on things. And this is also when they have groups of friends who can talk them into going to see some crazy animated movie from japan.
    But the # of people who leave high school, continuing to watch and support anime dissipate at an amazing rate.

    I do believe that anime will stay with us, for a good while yet. But as Jason said, it missed it’s prime. As for it going mainstream, I don’t think it ever will.

  21. A couple of points:

    1. Showing on a channel like Sci-Fi or CN is good enough. You make it onto something like Fox or ABC after you’ve made it big mainstream (and Death Note is the first volley, even if it’s the CW). I mean, CN and Sci-Fi are two of the top cable channels and are available to something like 70% of American households… what more do you want? Those are great starting places. Much, much better than 10 years ago when anime was only on KTEH, Encore, and International Channel.

    2. You guys worry too much about “objectionable content.” Look, there’s a lot more brutal violence on American TV than anime. Go watch CSI or Law and Order. As for sex, there’s less sex in anime than Dawson’s Creek or even How I Met Your Mother. Skimpy clothes is much different than the two lesbians constantly making out on The OC. And most anime haremettes are still dressed more conservatively than the typical NBA cheerleader. I don’t buy this as an argument– have you watched American network TV lately?

    Plus, I’m not saying that anime has to be represented by Ikkitousen, Eikan, and Koi Koi 7. Show some intelligence in picking shows. Really, Mushishi has content worse than CSI? Haruhi costume raping Mikuru is worse than seeing LC and her boyfriend snort up in The Hills?

    3. I’m also not arguing that it’s NBC or CBS who has to push anime. I’m arguing that it has to be the fans. Nothing has changed in that respect in that last ten years. You can’t expect a flashy ad campaign or whatnot, so it’s just grassroots.

    >> I switched to SciFi to watch Gurren Lagann, and they cancelled it for wrestling.

    No, they bumped it for Read or Die… everyone knows Tuesday is ECW.

    >> The ‘American’ viewers has shown strong resistance to anything that seems ‘un-American’.

    This explains why the most popular car is the Prius (Japanese), the most popular reality series is American Idol (British), the most popular food show is Iron Chef (Japanese), and one of the most popular sitcoms is The Office (again, British). No, I think American viewers can tolerate foreign media, and that American viewers are nowhere as xenophobic as you believe. I mean, Pokemon and Power Rangers dominated the kiddie market for the longest time.

  22. “Dubs are terrible, so no, end.”

    Not necessarily true, I’ve seen quite a few dubs done properly, such as Full Metal Alchemist and Haruhi. Though, there are a lot of terrible dubs =/.

    I think it’s because anime in generally is deemed to be “childish” in the ‘States. I mean, the only anime that the majority of the people have seen or heard of are Pokemon, Digimon, DBZ, Bleach, Naruto etc. The closest things that the teens I know will watch is Afro Samurai, which misses a couple key characteristics that’s part of anime, namely a good, complex plot, some character development, and at least decent animation. It does however include gore, action, and style.

    In addition, some dislike anime because sometimes it has long drawn-out character development sessions with the characters, which are boring to an extent, but necessary in some cases.

    Honestly, I think that if Claymore was dubbed and put on a decent network, at a decent time, and was advertised well, it would do pretty well. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will ever occur, as there’s too much that could “offend” viewers. (Ala, beheading, gore, attempted rape, nakkidness etc.).

    In other words, mainstreamity will never occur until North America decides that people can handle more than just Gundam Seed at 10:30 PM.

    What we need to do, is as a community, is force at least 2 different friends to watch a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki films and/or Code Geass.

  23. What we need to do, is as a community, is force at least 2 different friends to watch a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki films and/or Code Geass.

    Lelouch vi Britannia commands you to make anime mainstream! XD

  24. I think you forgot #4 – Don’t butcher the translation.

    Or did you forget that Escaflowne actually made it to US TV once :P

  25. Jason: I think everyone worries about “objectionable content” mostly because we are not talking about a live action show but “cartoons”. Isn’t that jump far more difficult to make for american viewers? (Family Guy, The Simpsons and the likes get a free pass because of their “satirical” nature.)

  26. SF Nordic has started shoveling out mass quantities of Myazaki movies. They’re also running them through cinemas in chronological order. I’m so proud of Norway. Now we just have to kill off all the Death Note Wannabes and I think anime might have a viable chance here.

  27. How about more diverse casts? Most anime have casts that exists out of asians or ambiguous white people, Animes usually don’t have any relate able characters or situations for most Americans (I would guess) to peak their initial interest. Most people judge stuff on a glance before switching the channel and if you see some various coloured, weird, characters doing god knows what I’d guess people would change the channel rather than sit through it.

    I would say Darker than Black would be a good anime to introduce to an audience who isn’t familiar with Anime. It’s dark, gritty and has that Heroes feel to it.

  28. One primary reaction to anime in the United States has been of the capitalistic kind. The old “why are we sending our money over there when we could be sending it here” debate. I recall this happening in the mid-1980s when “American” cartoons on what would become FOX were mostly Japanese animated products (Transformers and the like). There was a backlash of some kind and the Japanese cartoons dissapeared for a while.

    Then the Sci-fi channel appeared in the early 1990s and had their own Anime block (midnight) for a while where they’d show dubbed movies. That lasted a few years I think, then vanished….like a lot of content from the Sci-fi Channel.

    Getting Americans to not see anime as cartoons, but not as ultra-violent pron will take some doing. Since that is basically what the Sci-fi Channel was running early on for their commericals spots. (Fist of the North Star, Robot Carnival, and the like). Just getting some of those that grew up on Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny into Animaniacs and South Park was difficult enough in the 1990s. Getting them into a show that is not a comedy would be even more difficult.

    Even a reasonably serious older anime such as Space Battleship Yamato can work. Sure Star Blazers was dubbed for children, and edited to fit the standards of 1978 TV, but the plot was not harmed or changed. It still works in either English or Japanese. However it does show something about American voice actors that I think still exists. American voice actors go for an emotion/characteristic voice to fix to a character and play with that emotion for the most part. The Japanese seems to try to focus on a personality type and stick with that. The voice changes and is “sometimes” more serious in Japanese than in English because the Japanese voice runs through different emotions to pitch the voice, while the American’s character, the emotion is the voice. The voice has to be “strange and unique” to be notice in American cartoons, thus you tend to get weird sounding voices in dubs. Some more recent productions have gotten away from this pattern, but that older voice style is what Americans expect from a “cartoon”. Every voice is silly or unique. Though the Japanese do this as well…especially with catch phrases for characters.

    And Higurashi would break people. Probably not in a good way at first.

  29. as much as fans pushing for anime can bring more anime license here, I doubt it can do anything about the time slot most anime’s shown. Jason make a good point when he said a lot of stuff on tv during prime time are much more gory and sexually exposed than most anime. If they can figure that out themselves and change anime to prime time then exposure will be much more and faster than friends showing friends. Although anime being shown the time it is could also be financial constrants, i’m sure prime time slots are costly.

    And Negativezero, I only brought up the Simpsons as an example of how the American cartoon industry typically structures their shows. The disparity between that and the “most anime we’re interested in” that you speak of is exactly my point.

  30. >> and one of the most popular sitcoms is The Office (again, British).

    It’s interesting how you point out The Office as an example of America accepting international humour. The British and American versions are very different in tone, and when I first saw the latter it did seem that it had been adapted from the original to better entertain it’s audience. Both are excellent shows but I don’t think it shows a true acceptance of foreign humour, in fact I think it highlights how the original probably wouldn’t have done so well if it was aired instead.

    On the point of American cartoons, there’s a definite view of what the 6/7pm timeslot should be filled with. If you consider that the most popular shows are the Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, King of the Hill, American Dad, etc. then you can see a definite pattern that they’re about a typically stupid main character getting into wacky situations in an unlikely environment. Nine times out of ten it’s slapstick and irrational humour, and that’s what people want (and more importantly, expect) to see. If you go and chuck in something like “ef” or “Clannad” in there instead people are just going to switch off or switch the the next closest Simpsons clone. Clannad probably has as much slapstick comedy as most of these, but the actual progressive plot and character development in a cartoon would stop it becoming mainstream. If you could get someone to stick watching it then by all means they’ll probably enjoy it, but the problem is getting them to make that leap in the first place.

    Bringing anime into the mainstream is going to be a slow process if it is even possible at all. Regardless of the popularity of Pokemon with kids, it’s done irreparable damage to the general public’s opinion of what anime is. The amount of times I’ve heard “Oh, like Pokemon” when trying to describe a series to someone, even something like GitS. But then those same people have now watched the likes of Haruhi and TTGL with me after they’ve gotten over that initial image of what anime is (and what it isn’t).

    [Oh and just for the record, I have no problem with American cartoons. Futurama is awesome.]

  31. I really believe that in order for anime to really become mainstream in America we would have to find an anime that had a decent plot, great animation, and not be easily recognized as anime plus be on a primetime slot on one of the major networks.

    In other words big networks would have to be willing to take a chance on something new like they did some years ago with Heros and Lost. I never would have thought those shows would have made it yet here they are spawning legions of dedicated fans with complex plots and character development we scifi nuts have been consuming for years.

    The future of anime in America doesn’t depend on digital distribution (We have a terrible infrastructure/greedy+unwiilling to change ISPs) , Cartoon Network and Sci-Fi Channel (Have you seen the ratings they get for anime compared to they’re comedy shows like Boondocks, Fuckingawesome Venture Brothers, and the shitty Awesome Show? Way the hell more.). It lies in some lowly, lucky network executive one day growing some balls and finding that one anime filling that new need that the average consumer didn’t even know they wanted.

  32. I would disagree with your take on Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon. Aside from being seen as simply children’s shows in the eyes of most Americans, their sheer popularity also makes many blind to the fact that there are other anime out there. One example I’m reminded of is one day when I was riding the bus back home from campus. It’s a long bus ride, about an hour or so, so I pulled out my laptop and started watching Cowboy Bebop. Some of the people sitting around me grew interested and asked me what I was watching. Before I could answer, they followed it up with the question “Are you watching Pokemon?”

  33. One bigger problem with comparing anime to shows such as The Simpsons or other 6-7pm cartoons is that plot wise, they’re very different creatures. The former are shows that you can easily pick up and enjoy an episode for it’s worth. There are certainly anime that allows you to do the same as well. But much of the anime that we watch does not allow for that luxury. You can’t pick up an episode half-way through the series and fully enjoy it. Yes, it may certainly make the viewer curious about what happened before. But the traditional 6-7pm dinner time TV crowd would most likely be too lazy to try to search that out.

  34. The biggest stigma anime has to overcome is something it won’t be able to overcome for quite some time. It’s a generational thing. Try telling your parent’s friends that they should watch anime. The first question that should come up, asside from ‘what is anime?’ is ‘Isn’t that just cartoons?’ This generation doesn’t know, and probably never will know. Like trying to convince your grandparents that technology is a good thing, you can’t convince your parents that anime is a good thing. And right now, they are driving the market. Granted, some niche channels are breaking out, such as SciFi and Cartoon Network, but the stigma will still be there. Anime, just like all good things in geek culture, will not mature until we do. You’ve seen it start to happen. The geek couple at the convention with their child cosplaying as Nia. This is the start. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach a new dog. Understand what I’m saying? Patence is a virtue. The day will come. Spread the word, but don’t push too hard.

  35. As a 55 year-old anime guy, I have chosen anime because it’s not like American TV. There’s a certain exuberance and good-heartedness in much anime that I find appealing – it’s not generally as world-weary as most American drama or even comedy. And when it is (Cowboy Bebop, GitS) it is offset by plot lines that get one to think, not just feel.

    In the States, we could never get by with a show like Aria, which is mainly about nothing but daily life in an interesting place (Seinfeld was about nothing, but world-weary – and in New York).

    In my view, the tough sell for anime in the American market is that most of the stuff we consider high quality still involves teenage protagonists (again, Bebop and GitS are counterexamples). Notice that, besides being parodies, all the current U.S. evening animation involves adults and their foibles, which are noticeabily different from those of their kids (and even on the Simpsons, the kid plots usually revolve around adult problems). If you go back in time to the earliest prime-time animation (Flintstones and Jetsons), you see the same dynamic. The only sixties (partial) counterexample I can think of is Jonny Quest. Even there, the adults played a large part in the plot.

  36. I don’t think it will happen… The anime fan community lacks a unified push. There is too much division between the camps of fans. This is probably caused by anime being so diverse in its offerings. Without unity we are nothing but scatered whispers lost in the wind.

  37. I think it all depends what you mean by mainstream. Do you mean mainstream as anime becoming as popular as Law & Order, Heroes, and Lost? Or do you mean mainstream as anime becoming as popular as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica?

    There is a huge difference.

    I personally don’t think that anime will ever get past the level of popularity of a mid-tier sci-fi show like Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5. Surely it will never reach the exhalted stage of ST:TNG which even my dad watched from time to time.

    The reason is pretty simple… anime is created for the Japanese. No matter how good the production values, no matter how good the stories, at it’s core it is still Japanese. This means a lot of things which just are too ‘weird’ to be accepted into the mainstream. What’s with all the bowing? All the hot springs? All the super polite talking?

    Even the main themes of anime of all heroes wanted to ‘protect someone’, of introspection, of wanting to commit suicide, of school being everyone going to school and going to cram school and being really bored has little resemblance to MAINSTREAM American life (they don’t even have football or prom in Japan!) even if at first glance it may seem universal.

    Because most people cannot relate to anime or understand or even CARE to understand the culture behind it, it would be hard for people to actually get into it and thus as a uniquely Japanese creation, anime will not break into the mainstream in the forseeable future.

  38. I wonder why even serious anime casts seem to be based on teenagers or maybe early 20s protagenists while American television and cartoons seems to be based around 20s to 30s protagenists? Aside from the fact that most of the actors don’t make it until their late 20s and early 30s I mean. Most mech pilot heros are teenagers (or even younger). All magical girl shows are based on teenagers or below.

    On the otherhand, the events of the day and the mood of the country tends to set how television is shown and written. Everything today seems gritty. The comedies are darker and edgier than before (or totally pointless). The dramas seem to run in a gray area these days where there is not good guys or bad guys, but everyone in the cast is both and neither. The Good guys are shown to be bastards that should probably be killed, and the bad guys “could be doing it fir a worthy cause”. There are no “white hats and black hats” anymore. The “Feel Good” comedy or action shows are long gone.

    There are few casts that anyone really cares about anymore. Plots that would work if there was some sort of connection between the cast and the audiance don’t work because the audiance doesn’t care. Gone (seemingly) are the “extended family” type shows, where even if no one in the show is related, they would all lay down their lives for each other and the audiance actually believes it.

    This last reason I think is why the later Star Treks failed on some levels. There wasn’t enough times where you really cared about the cast, or that the crews showed that kind of personality that is needed to make the audiance care about what happens to them. Even something as simple as the Kirk – Spock- McCoy bantering was enough to make people care. Next Generations had a good cast that over time you could care about. After that though, the about one cared about the cases of DS9, Voyager, or Enterprise was decidedly small.

    What does this mean for anime? It means that the viewing habits and personality of the United States might not be up to caring about a group of characters enough to watch them (aside from the soap opera/90210 type caring who slept with who type scandal shows). Can you imagine the average American caring enough to cry over Fuuko? Getting pumped over Simon? Following Mikuru’s cowering melonpan (without the average scandal type shows serious face sucking to go with it)? Can you imagine an America ready to take Sheryl Nome and Ranka Lee seriously as potential weapons of war? (actually…come to think of it, in what is rapidly turning to an anti-war era, such a message of winning a war through song might work.)

    Do you think the dubbing studios can master serious voices that sound like that character rather than the emotion of the character’s age or having an accent just to have one?

  39. Is anime even mainstream in Japan? Shows like Nogizaka Haruhi no Himitsu and Welcome to the NHK sort of make it seem like it’s just as underground.

    Besides, why would you even WANT it to be mainstream? It’s enjoyable having a hobby that makes you an quote/unquote “an outsider.” The community is more tight-knit because of it.

  40. I’ve also noticed that the longer I type and think about things, the more off my spelling gets. Missed letters, mistyped words (that are still words..but the wrong words), and runone sentances.

    Sigh. Oh well.

  41. I’ve also noticed that the longer I type and think about things, the more off my spelling gets. Missed letters, mistyped words (that are still words..but the wrong words), and runone sentances.

    Sigh. Oh well.

    Case in point?

  42. Jason: You do realize that all those shows you named (American Idol, Iron Chef, The Office) are ADAPTATIONS which have, at times, very little to do with their original inspirations? The source for American Idol, Pop Idol, is probably closest to its original form but feels somewhat different than the British version which, IIRC, is closer to European-style EuroVision competitions than it is to the American Idol version. Iron Chef was heavily edited to fit the American viewers’ expectations, and now that they’ve had enough seasons of Iron Chef America to syndicate I never see Iron Chef Japan anymore. The Office and other shows are extensively modified from their original forms, enough so that viewers of the original may not even recognize the show in question… and, as an ABC Memo about ripping off show concepts reveals, they do it deliberately to avoid paying royalty fees…. as well as to cater to American tastes.

    Another relevant example is Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – the BBC version of the show’s completely different from its American version or even the American-edited version shown on Food Network; it isn’t a festival of curse-words and drama… and it’s the same fucking footage, albeit edited differently once it was licensed for Stateside broadcast. Cursing is acceptable objectionable content, and the sort of fits that Ramsay has get played up in the American version of the show because it appeals to viewers. Live-action violence is okay… but heaven help anyone who wants CARTOON or videogame violence on prime-time.

    Hell, I don’t even think Minami-ke’s sex jokes would make it onto air in America… like when Natsuki got a face-plant into Haruka’s cleavage, and his memory of her being half-undressed later when he came to apologize. Animated sexual situations, unless they’re stylized like say.. the SImpsons… are for the most part completely unknown in American TV. I do wonder how some of the raunchier parts of GL (the introduction of Yoko’s sisters, IIRC, was one such) will be broadcast.

    Plus, anime in Japan is a niche market – it’s not mainstream, and for the most part the market depends more on sales of associated merchandise (games, collectibles, models) than it does on direct DVD sales or broadcast revenue. I’m wondering whether anime will ever escape its stigma as ‘kids cartoons’ in North America in the mainstream, or at least non-kids’ show niche, and if the R1 licensors can even turn a profit given how the Japanese makers of anime depend more on merchandise sales than they do DVD sales.

    As for all of you people who say anime has to have great plot… may I point out that some of the best shows that run over here have little or no plot at all? Soap operas have persisted for decades because they provide an emotional peak and dramatic value, not because they have well-constructed plots. As I noted earlier, most mainstream viewers don’t want plot or deep characters, or anything that forces them to THINK; if they wanted that, they’d be reading books or playing RPGs. They want to be entertained by something mindless, maybe something funny or dramatic, and which doesn’t offend anyone too much. Some of the stuff that anime handles in animated form would probably draw more comparisons to animated porn promoting deviant sexual behaviors than they would to serious drama… all because it was drawn, and the character designs in anime tend towards the ‘big-eyed childish’ look than they do to more ‘serious’ styles.

    It’s a niche market. The problem is finding a way to market within that niche and profiting from it, not broadening its appeal to the ‘mainstream’.

  43. Mainstream anime in America, the land of Mickey Mouse and the corporate monster that is Disney shoving on everyone’s face kiddie cartoons shows? not bloody likely =_= (don’t get me wrong Disney is great but it focuses on happy happy joy joy for the whole family).

    I agree with better dubs. A lot of people I know don’t wanna watch anime because “japanese sounds weird”.

    I don’t think anime will be THAT mainstream, but acceptance for it will grow because younger generations are given the opportunity to read manga and watch anime even more than us 20-30 year old people had at their age.

    @Epi: football? Eyeshield 21.

  44. W4 > “One of the reasons that (I believe that) anime will never become mainstream in America is because of its willingness to address and embrace topics that make the mainstream cringe. Unhappy endings, dying protagonists, intense sexual humor, homosexuality, fanservice, teacher/student relationships, morality questions/issues… pretty heavy fare for the average American raised on Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Generally, anime requires its viewer to either have a large comfort zone or the ability to leave his/her comfort zone, a trait that many of us Americans lack. (Those who disagree with me kindly describe Revolutionary Girl Utena or Kashimashi to your homophobic friend.)”

    How about Card Captor Sakura?…teacher-student relationships, teacher-student engagements, gay love, unrequited lesbian love, lebian love-triangles, gay/lesbian/straight love-polyhedrons, moe costumes…did I miss anything?…

  45. Freedom III: How about Card Captor Sakura?…teacher-student relationships, teacher-student engagements, gay love, unrequited lesbian love, lebian love-triangles, gay/lesbian/straight love-polyhedrons, moe costumes…did I miss anything?…

    Yeah – that all THAT got edited out when Nelvana brought it over for the kiddies. They even took out the hints that Tomoyo’s mother was in love with Sakura’s, and edited more scenes to make sure even the hints to the hints were gone.

  46. >How about Card Captor Sakura?

    Yeah, that one sure got massacred alright. Changing the tone of the relationships I can understand for broadcast, but it lost a lot of its flavor in the process. And don’t get me started on the chopped ending, that one made me RAGE for days. At least here in Singapore, they showed a chinese dubbed version of the original (they also showed the masscared American version, leading to a lot of confusion).

  47. >>I do wonder how some of the raunchier parts of GL (the introduction of Yoko’s sisters, IIRC, was one such) will be broadcast.

    I think you mean Kittan there. Other than that, I fully agree.

  48. Many have already pointed out how foreign entertainment concepts transforms before it makes itself known to American public and again, I believe the fundamental problem behind this may be that of public education. Despite heavy importance, evidently seen by available choices in AP courses and exams ( http://www.collegeboard.com/st.....jects.html ), to the foreign language, literature, culture, and history placed by most college admission officers, most high school students will not bother taking any of these ‘optional’ courses, thus being content with shallow knowledge of the people and the land close to him. Furthermore, the AP exams related to foreign cultures is the one least likely to be taken by most high school students, and it would be highly unlikely that they would even take AP or SAT II exam in English Literature. Therefore, most high school students and graduates would not have any in depth academic training about dealing with matters that are foreign or having literary value, and the easiest reaction he can have is to foreign things like anime or literary masterpiece like Steinbeck is to reject it as something that will never encroach upon his life. Lack of deep insight into any matter usually will hinder that person from forming his own well thought out opinions about matters he encounters, so it becomes very hard to persuade him to try anything new that is not already in vogue. Throughout the world, you can see that good education tends to promote open mind while the bad education likely closes them. Although you might not immediately see the connection, I believe improvements in American public education will occur before Americans become more accepting of foreign entertainments like anime.

  49. …I’d wanna see Youko’s sisters. XD

  50. anime mainstream?… i doubt it, say what you will, but there is that whole cultural thing that just makes it difficult. maybe things will be more different in a couple of generations, but now i have my doubts…

  51. @ Jason: Yes, American primetime shows are more risque and have more violence – but they happen to (for the most part) adults. I realize that that’s pushing the line when it comes to shows like the OC or Dawson’s Creek, but… well, for instance: just how acceptable would Haruhi costume-raping Mikuru be? I think the key factor instead would be to promote animation as just another medium. Dan888 got it right: Monster would be something to be pushed on mainstream cable, if not broadcast. No mecha, no espers, no time travelers, no aliens, no harems, no transformation sequences. Just suspense and drama. It’d be shows like that that would restart the march towards mainstream.

  52. *CLAPCLAP* Nicely done post, Jason.

    I especially wanted to stress the point out that anime should be looked upon as anothe rviable form of entertainment, and also on at least basic cable as well.

    The problem with animation and cartoons is that people who make programming blocks for kids all have this male-oriented action block model that they don’t want to get out of. I mean, anime is amazing in that, unlike Western animation today, anime has a lot more genres (try to look for a shoujo anime equivalent in Western toons except for Powerpuff Girls…), and henceforth, it should be treated as such. I mean, look at Cardcaptor Sakura and how much bastardization they did to it because they don’t want to break out of the stupid action mold.

    Lemme give you a comparison. Back when I was in the Philippines, Cardcaptor Sakura, Evangelion, Fushigi Yuugi and Kare Kano all aired nearly uncensored on national TV. That’s because they were not treated as KIDS SHOWS, but as ANIME. The same could be said of Malaysia, Thailand, and most all SEA countries.

    So not only does anime have to change its media format (from DVD’s and late night programmings to regular time programming and digital downloads/streams), but anime of all genres has to be aired.

    …. besides, I bet Akazukin Chacha could PWN all the sordid crap on kids’ toon hours.

  53. America is only good for electric mice and emo ninjas. Srsly. We can dream on about Haruka or Haruhi (you dissed her AND xam’d D:) but it’s all just a niche market dream. Because everything that’s said here was said 10 years ago, except now there’s more anecdotes, numbers, people who can beat the same dead horse better and more to the point, and of course, more newbies and ignorant people.

    I think the fact that Best Buy still has an anime section is hope enough. The Pokemon Generation are just now getting into college, so give another 30 years or so until they rule the world.

  54. omo: Bad news – the last time I was at a Best Buy, the anime section had been downgraded from two wall-units to two racks, and all the boxed sets were no longer stocked.

  55. Try Fry’s..they still got an section.

  56. Will you Canucks ever understand that AMERICA is larger than your freakin country? There are even two AMERICAs!!1

  57. where i live, anime seems like it is mainstream to me.. and it really annoys me.

  58. Anime won’t go mainstream if the US doesn’t produce its OWN comic books and its OWN anime series, made by homegrown talent. Getting Korea to animate for us doesn’t help much, nor does JUST selling anime DVDs by the dozens. Each major city should have its own comic book company AND its own animation studio ( at LEAST one of each). Then there’s developing the talent, lack of animation programs, promotion of the medium, drawing for fun, a reliable source of stories…….it starts with the smallest things.

    The problem goes beyond digital distribution, fansubbing, earlier release of series, and business methods: it makes me think a LOT of anime fans don’t understand it, or aren’t aware of it.

  59. Sorry for replying on such an old post. I read all of this and needed to let out what I had to say. Anime in no shape or form will ever be mainstream here. Personally I dislike Anime but when I was younger stuff like Pokemon and Dragonball Z was the epitome of Anime in the US. Kids today in all honesty don’t sit down and watch Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh anymore (even though they continue to shove it down there throats.) nowadays they want to be more grown-up or having interests for things targeted to an Adult demographic. Where I live Video games especially First person shooters are the general interest of kids. You may argue that how are things like Pokemon and etc making money? It’s the same people who were fans of the games 10 years ago that are still buying merchandise. Or it is the outcast 14 year old that has nothing else to do. I’m only a Junior in High School but I’ve noticed so many new things go through mainstream media it is mind numbing. The only people in my High School that is remotely interested in those things is this overweight girl and crated faced guy who are trying to be rebellious wearing attire from that Naruto show. (Speaking of. Seeing most of your intelligence I think the people that were mentioned are your typical brainwashed Pokemon fans.) My final statement is most people would rather watch Southpark or Family guy (Sorry I’m guilty for being a fan.) and get a laugh then sit down and try to watch something they never heard of. Oh and for everyone complaining about their shows being moved or canceled you still have the internet right?

  60. Keiya, Powerpuff Girls isn’t equivalent to any anime. It’s a pure western, typical Cartoon Network styled show.

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