the modern silver age of anime

The silver age is upon us.

Sometimes, I call things badly (hello Heroic Age!), but other times, I do get things kinda right. I argued (and you argued back) that the Modern Golden Age of Anime is between Sister Princess and Haruhi Suzumiya. Back in 2006 and when anime was going to sweep America like Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglecias, and Mark Anthony did a few years earlier, I wrote, “Yes, it is a golden age of anime, and it continues today. However, like the housing market or price of oil, it’s hard to say where it will go now. Is the golden age ending soon? Or is it still going strong?” And what happened? Both the housing and anime bubble burst soon after.

Now, it’s years after the rise and fall, and there’s data to show for it. A lot of $$$ data is from Someanithing, and while there are revenue streams outside of disc sales, disc sales do provide the bulk of the revenue and is a predictor of other revenue streams as well. If BTOOOM! didn’t sell well (it didn’t), I doubt Himiko figures would sell well. This first chart is easy to understand. It’s simply the aggregate industry DVD/BD/VHS sales of “Animation for Grown-Ups Domestic” which basically means all anime minus Pokemon sold in Japan.


It’s pretty much what you expect with VHS sales dying by 2007, BD sales increasing every year, and DVD sales decreasing after BDs were released. What is interesting is the hump from 2005 to 2007, but anime seemingly has been level the years since. It’s like 2005-2007 were really good with only a slight dip after. Well, that’s not the whole story. I decided to process the data a bit.


Here’s the same chart with tweaks. First, I converted yen to dollars (blue). Now it’s easier to visualize that X-Men Days of Future Past and Godzilla in two weeks would generate more revenue than the entire anime industry in 2013. Then I normalized the dollars to 2014 dollars through inflation adjustment (red). What’s interesting is that it makes the peaks from 2005-2007 much higher, and there’s even a peak at 2002 (Sister Princess Repure!). I would consider 2002-2007 the Modern Golden Age of Anime. You can read more about it in my original post. But one thing I noticed recently is that there has been a shit ton of anime. Thin slicing has become more and more time consuming to write because of the sheer number of series involved. So I decided to count the number of anime series per year.


I plotted the number of anime series per year (yes, it’s not a 100% accurate assessment since some shows are single cours, others are two cours, and some are OVAs or movies… but really, unless you have full production finances of each show since 2001 and can break it down to dollars per episode per year, this is as good as it gets). The data has a few noteworthy observations:

1. There is almost the same number of anime series today as there were in 2006, but there’s about 50% less revenue. This implies that either the industry is not sustainable or that other revenue sources are picking up the slack. But I wonder what revenue today wasn’t around back then. Nendroid figures can’t make up all the slack.

2. The industry is stagnant as the total revenue number hasn’t increased nor has it approached their inflation-adjusted highs almost a decade ago. Yes, we’re approaching the decade anniversary of Haruhi Suzumiya, and there’s still no Astonishment in sight.

3. Maybe the industry isn’t stagnant and media is dying. I would love to proclaim Crunchyroll and Daisuki have won, but there’s relatively few streaming options in Japan. Besides CR’s announcement of 100k paid users in 2012, they haven’t been forthcoming with subscriber numbers. If they had hit 250k as they wanted, it would make sense that they would announce it. Even at 250k subscribers at $7 a month, that’s $1.75 million a month or $21 million a year. That’s still peanuts to the $800 million BD/DVD market.


So clearly the past few years anime has plateaued, and that’s with some major shows with major mojo behind them. Madoka (especially the movies) set BD sales records. The third movie has moved over 100k BDs already. Monogatari, KILL la KILL, Free, Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, and even Love Live have been selling great. But that’s the thing: even with a show like Attack on Titan, it hasn’t created a new peak or sustained one. You’d think that with 7-11 and Puccho tie-ins (I’m enjoying some Attack on Titan Puccho right now), it’ll be at least Haruhigasm levels.

The issue is that all the problems with anime earlier have been “solved.” The Golden Age was brought about because anime became a lot more accessible, and enjoying anime also became more accessible. It was a perfect storm. Now, it’s an even better time to be a fan. All the distribution issues of the past? Gone. With all the streaming services, we were legitimately bummed when KILL la KILL was delayed by hours on Crunchyroll. Hours! I thought the sub-48 hour turnaround by Cellphone on Gundam Seed was already fast. Or the sub 48 day turnaround by the Otaku no Video guys on Love Hina. Hours! We’re upset because the show has been delayed hours from its original Japanese airtime.

All the discussion issues in the past? Gone. We went from basically zero discussion (except AoD’s forums) to anime blogs to way too much oversharing on Facebook. It’s weird to think that anime blogs are quickly becoming relics of the past. Tumblr, Facebook, MAL, and Twitter are all modern replacements. Anime blogs won’t go the way of the dinosaur, but more like the way of the newspaper. You can follow and discuss anime with exactly whom you want to. And you can discover others who like the shit you like easier too. You like Ping Pong but dislike Kamisama ga Asobi? Hey, maybe we can get along. You think Mahouka is the best thing since sliced bread and is no way a homeless man’s version of Index? We’re going to get along as well as the NBA and Donald Sterling.


There’s no major obstacle to anime except mainstream acceptance. As long as mainstream America thinks anime is nothing but sailor uniform fetish pr0n or Pokemon, it is what it is. I think we’re in the long plateau. Maybe the industry will grow or contract slightly over the next few years, but it’ll still have a way to go before it can match the Golden Age again. While the ability to consume and enjoy anime has improved, the giant step was taken back in the Golden Age. Going from VHS to DVD (and nothing to bittorrent) is a much bigger step than DVD to BD. The issue isn’t the quality of shows as even zeitgeist moving shows like Attack on Titan and Madoka haven’t moved the revenue needle, but really the onslaught of competition from other sources. Back in 2007, you might watch an episode of Dennou Coil before going to bed. Now, you might play a game of Flappy Bird or browse Facebook. There’s just more ways to chew up discretionary time, and that’s what anime has to compete with.

It’s like when comics had their Golden Age, but once television and movies started taking hold, the comic industry never recovered their previous level. But like the comic industry, I feel like it’s going to go full circle… like how TV shows are mining comics and the hottest movie right now is Days of Future Past, one day anime itself will be mined, and the next peak wouldn’t be limited to just disc numbers for “Animation for Grown-Ups Domestic”. But when that day finally comes, please don’t cast Zac Efron as Spike or Channing Tatum as Eren.

6 Responses to “the modern silver age of anime”

  1. If you divide your two numbers, and plot revenue/series, you see that the peak came in 2002, at about $13 million/series, dropped into a $6 million-$8 million range between 2004 and 2011, then declined to around $5 million per series in the last two years. I’m eyeballing the numbers from the charts, but I think the gross structure is there. The question is, are 2012 and 2013 the new normal?

  2. Reading your 2006 post linked here really put me back. You mentioned the changes of distribution over time, particularly in the ’90s.

    I remember attempting to download Realvideo files through Hotline servers that would have you click on links in order to gain download privileges. During that time, my friend would buy anime from Suncoast at what would be astonishing prices by today’s standards, *one dvd at a time!* We sold his Dragon Ball Z VHS set on that newfangled ebay, too.

    One day, I saw anime on shirts at Hot Topic in the mall and thinking that anime has finally arrived. That was ten years ago. Now, I just go the mall for Red Robin, so I’m definitely out of touch, but I can’t say anime’s popularity has increased since then. I’d say the anime art style is more recognizable to the public, but anime is no driving force for sales. I’m fairly sure Best Buy has been shrinking their anime section since the good ol’ days of the mid 2000s.

    I think you hit the head of the nail with the ways of spending discretionary time. Free-to-play games are using psychological tricks to make us want to play, and ultimately pay. Video games and social media are booming, and I think it’s due to the “interactiveness” they provide. The most popular sites don’t even make their own media (youtube, twitter, tumblr, reddit, Vine, et al). However, I do admit Netflix traffic accounts for a lot of internet bandwidth usage. But even Netflix deigns to new media’s expectation of interactive demand.

  3. There’s also the assumption that the cost of creating anime has remained constant, in $/series. It’s pretty obvious visually that animation quality has increased – my guess is that the cost has dropped due to Moore’s law, which would explain why we now have more series for the same amount of revenue.

  4. I agree with the thought that a key note now is Anime is a lot cheaper to produce than it was a decade ago. The biggest change was the introduction of proper digital anime.

    Anime studios took ages to convert to computers, but now that the pro software is mature and computing power cheap, no more huge shipments of cels to ink, in-betweening is assisted, and CG can help with mundane backgrounds and even slightly-off dance routines.

    That being said with legal streaming and the piles of other distractions available, I’m not buying DVDs (or LDs thinking back) like I was in the Golden Age as I barely have enough time to keep up with the current seasons.

  5. Anime crossed over to the mainstream once in the States when it was moving a million units a volume of DBZ and Pokemon, and when 4Kids moved $200 million annually in revenue peddling Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Ninja Turtles box sets. Since then, the American anime scene has retreated back to its niche status. Rightfully, because that bubble was never particularly sustainable. While we might be seeing a new era for the industry and a new crop of fandom, no way will those rosy days of ADV, Bandai, and Geneon ever come back (outside of something monumental, say, Hollywood swallowing the industry ala American comics).

    Yes, Funimation is doing well, but they’re doing so by heavily downscaling expectations, and slowly creeping up price points. Funimation survives, because they too realize that they’re catering to a niche. Their paying customers buy to collect, not to consume, because they already watched everything. If that sounds familiar, that’s because the industry is finally following the same business model in Japan for a decade and half.

    Siren songs towards “the mainstream” is pointless. A breakout hit once in a blue moon is the best anyone can hope for. Something like Titan might generate a little mainstream awareness, raise a new batch of anime fans, but that attention it too will fade. Sell to a niche, and you get a niche product.

    Niche isn’t bad. Niche is sustainable. As long as everyone keeps their expectations in check. Looking at how Hollywood guted the comic industry, I’m not sure why anyone that cares would pray for the same to befall our niche. I wouldn’t wish for it onto my worst enemies.

  6. I noticed from my Amazon history today that I bought my first anime VHS through them in 1998, about the time I introduced my daughter to it (I probably bought my first manga in ’95 and my first anime in ’96, at the comic shops in Tucson). We followed the rise of anime and manga into the mid-00’s, and I bought most of the series of interest (at least in the USA we got two episodes per tape). We started going to Anime Central in ’98 as well, and kept up until about 2010. I remember when our local Borders had four aisles of manga, and Meida Play was king of anime on VHS and then DVD. Those were heady days, but costly.

    Then came bittorrent and high-speed internet. Now, as someone mentioned above, I may buy a show I’ve seen and want to keep or lend to others. I don’t even save shows I’ve downloaded to DVDs anymore – I can always download them again if I want to see them. I still buy a couple of manga regularly, but have mostly given that up. It’s a wonderful time for anime and manga lovers, and a cheap one if you don’t need something to keep. But as a business, given the one section of manga at Barnes & Noble, and about 1/8 the amount of anime they used to have at Best Buy, I think it is at niche or below. And I don’t very often scratch that niche…

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