Anime as a medium doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. You’ve heard the accusations: Mass produced and cheaply made. Often more concerned with filling a time slot or being an extended commercial than actually producing a great show. You need to wade through a whole lot of subpar entertainment to get to anything of value…..
Aside from that last one (I happen to think even humdrum anime is pretty much on par with most entertainment…), I have to agree with most of the criticism. There is an enormous volume of anime produced each year and with tight deadlines and saturated markets, there comes a, let’s say loosening of quality standards.
Yet I think there’s in fact an upside to this. And that upside is lowered expectations. Or rather, what comes from that. You see, if anime as a market is expected to perform in a generally unimpressive way and is only really tasked with taking up a certain amount of air time and adhere to the most basic set of norms, no one is going to bother much with quality assurance or oversight.
Censors and industry regulations are much less stringent. Advertisers buy up add space without even bothering to find out what shows are about. The overall impression is that the industry is fairly inconsequential and therefore there is no need to invest important amounts of time, resources or regulations.
This is where the fun stuff starts to happen. There’s still room for innovation and rebellion in anime. More so than in most mass entertainment media. In fact, considering the algorithm and advertising guidelines, YouTube probably polices its content more than the average anime.
It’s rather funny when you think about it. **Warning potentially slightly offensive generalizations ahead** From everything I know, Japan as a culture doesn’t tend to value creativity and originality as much as western cultures. Moreover, it remains a society with a deep love of organization and conformity. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of these things. I’m just saying these characteristics don’t tend to be conductive to wild, crazy completely unexpected products.
I know what you’re thinking. So why do we get so much WTF Japan news? First, every country has its share of weirdness. Second a lot of it is in fact due to the ultra-strict adhesion of social norms. This wasn’t what we were talking about. Back to anime.
Ok so anime is the freewheeling, anything goes medium, with little to no oversight. But it’s produced by a society that is instinctively self-regulating. As a result, a lot of anime tends to follow a particular mould and stereotypes abound, but these aren’t dictated by industry or even necessarily market regulations. And tend to crop up fairly organically as a product of group think.
A less tidily organized society would probably not have been able to support such a large industry without putting in some rigid framework but in Japan, it can still work.
This also means that the few outliers who come up with truly original ideas have a much easier time getting their vision realized in anime than in any other format. Except maybe blog.. Not much oversight here either (obviously…) That’s why there are so many stories that really could only get made in anime. I’ve touched on this before.
It’s not a question of technical possibilities or high viewership. In fact, the comparatively low and very divided viewership of anime is in part responsible for this freedom. In short, the medium as a whole tends to fly under the radar.
In some ways, this is probably why anime can afford to be so permissive with both sexual and violent content. On the other hand, it’s also why you will get some brilliant shows that don’t seem to cater to anyone at all!
Mainstream and network shows seem to have accepted a certain degree of incest for instance. Fanservice and violence have both been rampant in every single form of entertainment for as long as I can remember. I’m sure something similar to Darling and the Franxx or My Hero Academia could be greenlight right now in the States. All the romantic comedies, moe shows and isekais are pretty much sitcoms already. Those might need some minor adjustments but would also be viable, if in lesser quantities. Sports anime would be a hit!
In my opinion, what we would lose out on are shows like the Eccentric Family. Oddball shows that don’t seem to pander to anyone in particular. The ones that don’t quite work on paper. Too meaningful and occasionally uncomfortable to be considered entertainment fast food for the masses. Not sexy or violent enough to be sold on the power of vicariousness. And not formulaic enough to be consumed mindlessly. This is a show you can’t throw a laugh track over. A show that makes no effort to be quirky and ever so relatable.
I really can’t see anyone putting it on air, unless it didn’t matter…. Tsuritama falls into this category as well. And of course Natsume. A children’s show about existential angst and societal isolation. Where do I sign!?!
In case you didn’t pick up on it, those happen to be some of my favourite shows. Judging by their popularity, I’m not the only one who feels this way but none would be considered breakout hits. They are all still lovingly crafted high quality offerings, that exist because they are part of a medium where failure is always an option. Where the fact that audiences are turned off by the unusual, wouldn’t matter all that much in the long run.
So yeah, as anime is gaining in popularity and recognition we are finally getting some more resources put into both creating and distributing anime world wide, which is a great thing. Slowly certain standards are starting to be applied to content as well, and average quality has visibly gone up with time. Truly awful shows use to be much more prevalent, trust me. I hope the trend continues.
However there is a tradeoff. We might lose some of those weird, unexpectedly great shows along the way. So, let’s cherish them while we still can. While they’re just for us, as the world is still looking the other way!