I have long suspected that no matter how much research I do or how open minded I try to be when approaching anime, something surely must get lost in translation. Sometimes it’s obvious. For instance comedies where the humor is so foreign to me I can’t even recognize it as a joke, let alone appreciate it. Sometimes it’s a bit more subtle, cultural references that get explained to me by my readers and suddenly bring a whole new layer to the story.
And sometimes it’s purely theoretical. I can know about a cultural bias for instance but I’ll never truly be able to understand what it means to grow up with it. To have it deeply ingrained as second nature. As such I will understand certain anime are supposed to evoke nostalgia for my school days for instance but as it looks nothing like my own experience, I will never actually feel the nostalgia.
But it goes both ways. As someone who believes art is up for interpretation, I think it’s just as valid if I see something that the author didn’t consciously put in their work or relate to a character in ways I’m not *supposed* to. Personal experience and biases have a lot to do with “How” we enjoy anime and a big part of that is our social/cultural reality.
The question in my title was rhetorical. I’ve already decided on an answer, and that answer is yes! Of course where we live and come from does have some influence on how we enjoy anime. But maybe not in the ways we think.
Most people will immediately go to cultural taboos when considering the question. Sexuality in media and the *place* of women and minorities are traditionally viewed differently in western societies when compared to Japanese norms. As the world is quickly becoming more of a cultural melting pot, these views are normalizing but there’s still a visible clash on certain topics.
As such anime that may be considered scandalous or in poor taste in the west could be generally accepted or even appreciated in the east. Titles like Eromanga sensei come to mind. At least that’s the general perception, but is that really the case? It may not be explicit but western media is also extremely sexualized. The realization is different but the core is pretty similar after all. I haven’t seen Game of Thrones hurt too much in the ratings because of its overt sexuality, depictions of incest, harsh treatment of women (and pretty much everyone, let’s face it). But I have been wrong before. Often.
I thought it would be interesting to see if we can learn anything by comparing the popularity of different anime by region. I figured this would be easiest to do by focusing on the last few years as anime’s own popularity has increased worldwide and we should be able to get some good numbers.
I’m going to go by raitings for this one. According to what I could find 2018 was a year of shonene. As in shonen shows were the ones that racked in the largest viewerships worldwide. What else is new, right? In fact only a handfull of shows dominated the ratings no matter where your look but the order was different by jurisdiction.
For instance North America had high numbers for One Peice and Boruto while My Hero Academia blew almost everyone else away. This said, the islands of Haiti, Dominica and that region seemed to really enkoy Black Clover. I was suprised to see the generally badly reviewed Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (I haven’t watched the show), take the number 1 popularity spot in Montserrat. Then again I know next to nothing about Montserrat, only that a lot of people there watched Death March.
South America is pretty similar with MHA taking top honors once again, followed by Boruto and Black Clover. I have to give Naruto props, after over a decade and a second generation under its belt, it remains very relevant. That’s pretty impressive. Just about as impressive as being Hokage if you ask me.
Over in Europe, the massive easter europen representation helped make Darling and the Franxx a ratings success, the UK and northern countries gravitated towards My Hero Academia like the new world while the more mediterean regions seemed to prefer Black Clover or Boruto.
Africa was interesting, it was mostly watching Boruto with Black Clover as a fairly close second and a bit of Darling and the Franxx here and there but the surprise was that Central African Republic decided to watch Hanebado! instead of all those young men fighting. That’s sort of nice.
We’re going to exclude Japan from the Asian round up. From what I can see, anime is for kids in Japan and if we go by sheer numbers, anime aimed at very young viewers are the one’s that tend to do the best. However, in the rest of Asia, everyone was watching Boruto. See what I mean, impressive. The exception was North Korea (which seems reasonable) where everyone was watching Citrus(?). I’m not sure what to make with this information but I kind of like it.
Finally Ocenia brings us back to My Hero Academia with a smathering of other contemporary shows. I would just like to bring your specific attention to the small micronesian island of Nauru, which I should probably see if I can move to, and which was watching IDOLiSH7.
I have to admit, the results are much more similar that I expected. With extremely rare exceptions we were watching action fighting shonene and the same 4 ones at that. My Hero Academia is heavily influenced both in art style and story by the classic supert hero genre so it’s success in the american, australian and english speaking european markets seems reasonable. You would figure that the same demographic which are breaking box office records for Avangers, are likely to be attracted to what My Hero Academia has to offer.
This said I’m suffer from some major super hero fatigue and haven’t gotten out to see the last 4 DC or Marvel movies and at the moment I am not tempted to do so at all, yet I’m more or less holding my breath for the next MHA season, so it’s not exactly one to one here.
Boruto has a slightly more classic anime feel to it, and certainly a lot more history behind the franchise. there might be a familiarity and nostalgia that would explain it’s popularity in Asia. As for it’s dominance in Africa, to be honest I’m not quite certain. Black Clover on the other hand I can see aas successful. It’s beautiful and new. I haven’t seen enough of the series yet to make a proper judgement call but a lot of the details that seem to play against it in reviews I’ve read are likely to not be considered a detriment in the African market. Besides, it is a title that comes up a lot all over the world so I assume at the very least Crunchyroll is advertising it well.
As for Darling, eastern europe has long had a soft spot for science fiction and sleek stylish entertainment a mecha anime made by trigger with some questionably sexual undertones was basically written for the region.
As a lover of diversity, these results are a little disappointing. However, it is also nice to see just how alike we are. MHA, Boruto, Black Clover and even Darling share a lot more in common, expecially at their core, than they diverge one.
So I guess the answer to my question is: it makes a small difference but in the end anime fans are very similar the world over.