Do you guys like that title? I did in fact enjoy the Unbearable Lightness of Being (obviously I related to it on a very personal level) but I think it’s one of the most pretentious titles ever. It’s the type of title you whip out when you want to sound all smart and intimidating which usually only makes you annoying.
This post isn’t in fact about my famously dubious naming skills, rather it’s about hype. It’s about those titles that generate so much buzz, sight unseen, that it colours the entire experience. With the rise of the age of information, all that matters seems to be *going viral*. News and entertainment gets thrown at us at top speed in dizzying quantity that the only thing that matters is to make an instant impression or risk getting completely lost in the fray.
It’s no wonder that more and more, the entertainment industry is throwing their budgets into marketing and promotion rather than in the end product. As a niche industry, anime may still be a little isolated from this phenomenal but it’s hardly immune to it.
I hadn’t observed the phenomena first hand before as I have only recently becoming more aware of the larger anime fan community. Since starting this blog however, I do notice that certain shows generate a lot more interest pre-season. When those first impressions and episode 1 reviews roll in, some titles get a lot more posts than others. Certain shows have MAL ratings months before the first episode even airs.
Others fly completely under the radar and you only realized they ever existed years after they are done airing.
Obviously, any show would want to be part of the former group. Even if you happen to be the best anime series ever produced, there’s little use if no one ever sees the show. But there are some drawbacks as well, and increasingly I’m wondering whether it’s worth it.
I remember when Violet Evergarden came out. This was one hotly anticipated title. People were going crazy over it based on one promo picture and some concept art. I still haven’t seen the show myself (I will) but from everything I hear it’s quite wonderful, yet there was still a slight let down. The expectations were so high that it was impossible to live up to and some fans started the show carrying a certain fatigue from having heard about it so much already. And that’s the best possible case. A show with that type of anticipation needs to be all things to all fans or it will get completely chewed out.
It’s a similar story with subsequent seasons of beloved franchises. If they don’t keep upping the ante, suddenly the no longer measure up. And no show can just keep upping the ante if they started out phenomenal, that’s just irrational. (OK so somehow Natsume can do but there’s a lot of black magic and ritual sacrifices involved).
Isn’t it better to be a sleeper hit. That unexpected little show that could and suddenly takes over everything? Land of the Lustrous or Made in the Abyss seem to come out of nowhere but have earned almost unanimous praise. The mindset of audiences going into a show more or less blind and unknowing is very different and it allows for those wonderful surprises and linger in the viewers’ minds.
But despite being critical darlings and admired by fans, we can’t pretend that such sleepers have anywhere near the commercial success of something like One Piece or SAO. In the end a studio needs money way more than accolades. An ok show with a tepid reputation seen by millions is simply more valuable than a masterpiece seen by thousands. Then again, if your flagship tanks hard enough it will sink your reputation and risk taking the whole studio down with it.
It’s generally agreed that this is why studios are more willing to invest in endless season of well received but ultimately average shows than second seasons of beloved series. This is why you have to carefully weight and parcel out how much exposure you want to get before airing. You need to keep expectations realistic, make sure fans will be forgiving but still drive them to see the show.
From a pure marketing standpoint, I think the best way to go is early to mid season contraversy. A few episodes already available and people have gone into your show without too many preconceived notions. Everybody’s already adjusted to and accepted the show’s limits and weaknesses. Now you want to get some word of mouth to attract as many viewers in (with realistic biases) as possible before the midway mark. Most of us won’t drop a 12 episode series if we’ve already seen 7.
Of course cramming in some type of hot take into the narrative just to get a reaction out of viewers doesn’t necessarily make for the most compelling story. (I consider it a type of fanservice). Actually now that I think about it, fanservice does serve the same purpose but the market is already so saturated with it that it hardly registers anymore.
Megalo Box may have done it right as a spiritual successor to a show that no longer has many die hard fans. The oddity and nostalgia gives you some decent hype but there are no concrete expectations associated to any of it. Of course in this particular example, the show had some rather fantastic production values to fall back on. I’m not sure the same formula can be blindly applied across the board.
So what do you guys think. Is Hype more of a Blessing than a curse? Is there a too much of a good thing moment?