Since the late 1990s, Anime has grown tremendously popular mostly due to globalization and the Internet becoming widespread. When I read Moonlitasteria’s take on the topic on whether or not Anime as a whole have become mainstream in the West, I wanted to share my own thoughts on it.
In the 1990s or even the 1980s, Anime was not as accessible for the fact that broadband Internet was not widely available and very few knew about it. Unless you are living in Japan, Anime was a niche medium to westerners since only some could watch it. If you wanted to watch Anime, you either have to deal with the dubs, borrow some tapes from a fansubbing circle or buy home releases, which in most cases only come in dubs, although there was some subtitled only releases too. While it gained popularity with a few notable and popular being aired on television, most of the shows, especially obscured ones did not see a western release until later on.
Thankfully, things got better with fansubs becoming readily available due to broadband becoming widespread with technologies like Bittorrent and IRC downloads. Also, there are more licensed DVD releases being released by various companies like Funimation and the defunct ADV Films. With forums and fan sites becoming popular during that period time until the late 2000s, Anime have gained a lot of popularity, especially when blogging, wider availability of legal streaming sites like Crunchyroll and social networking came along. This eventually had a positive effect on Anime conventions in the west since more people are attending every to the point that it can become difficult to experience certain events, especially with Anime Expo.
Now that Anime in general along with other Japanese popular media has gained tremendous popularity while becoming widely accessible to most people, now it is time to ask this question: will it ever become mainstream outside of Japan?
To me, while the medium gained a lot of popularity along with manga, light novels and video games from Japan thanks to globalization, I do not see it happening in a traditional sense. The problem is that Anime is generally geared towards a Japanese audience, not for a western one. This is not surprising since most shows or works typically incorporate several aspects of Japanese culture, subculture and/or traditions. Moreover, the Japanese audience tends to have different tastes compared to western audiences when it comes to media and the types of stories told.
Sure, one can argue that Japan have been facing a birth-rate problem for a while and they should cater more to the western audience, do you think they have to make shows to appeal to both audiences to maintain the medium’s popularity? To me, I think it will undermine the appeal of Anime as a whole since most people watch these shows because it is different and unique. Once you take that quality away, you basically have a show that is no different to movies or cartoons from the West.
For instance, this effect was quite noticeable with the Pokémon franchise, especially with the Anime when it became internationalized since 2000. Things like references to Japanese culture such as food, clothes and holidays were removed. In addition, they got rid of some crazy scenes such as Kojiro’s/James’s cross-dressing along with reducing the violence to make it appeal to a younger audience. In other words, the Pokémon Anime has become rather formulaic and bland to some since it lost the aspects that made the show unique and enjoyable.
At the end of the day, I feel that Anime is more of a niche medium that is capable of covering a large variety of genres and topics than one that appeals to a wider audience. Therefore, I do not see it becoming mainstream in the same way like video games. When studios attempt to cater shows to a western audience or internationalize it to appeal a wider audience, some things that made Anime popular such as the unique storytelling, animation and other quirky things are lost in the process.
Of course, the same also applies to other Japanese media such as manga, light novels and Japanese games. Sure, not all shows that come out of Japan will appeal to a wide audience since there are a lot of niches. Still, I think Anime is popular enough to be considered mainstream in a sense of popularity and not in a traditional sense with widespread appeal, especially since mostly everyone in the world can watch any show through streaming while having a wide variety of genres to pick from. In other words, globalization is a big factor that contributed to Anime and other Japanese media becoming popular and widespread, not internationalization.
With that, do you think Anime have gained mainstream status outside of Japan? Moreover, do you believe that Anime needs to change in order to appeal to a wide audience or should studios continue to make shows for a Japanese audience and maintain the cultural references?