Lately (I’m writing this on November 1st, 2020) I’ve been seeing a few anime fans express their worry over anime becoming mainstream. As in if it becomes mainstream either quality or variety will suffer. This isn’t a new concern or an unusual one by any means. I have been seeing it for decades in fact. And it isn’t particular to anime either. Every group is worried that losing exclusivity will have negative effects on the thing they love.
I’m not here to figure out whether these anxieties are warranted or not. But I do find them increasingly baffling. Because to me, anime has been mainstream for a very long time. Like as long as some of my readers have been alive…I assume… Certainly most of my own life. So what are we comparing it to?
First of all, I’ll admit that this is just an assumption. I’m thinking anime is mainstream because I live on the actual opposite side of the world from where anime is made. I have little connection to the culture and barely speak the language. Yet I can get pretty much any anime I want, literally 1000s of titles, any time with a click or two, for comparatively little money. If I was willing to up it to 4 clicks, probably for free.
It’s not like I’m hiking through an abandoned train terminal in the middle of the night to find a concealed door and give a gruff bouncer a password I read of a message tied to the leg of a specific goose who made a landing in a park 13 miles from where I live during its migratory route. I also don’t have to give up a month’s salary to watch a series.
I’m exaggerating of course. I sort of started on trying to do a parody of those exclusive hipster pop up bars and it got out of hand. But you know what I mean. Anime is very easily accessible to all and hardly an exclusive product. But that doesn’t mean it’s mainstream, I guess. And neither does my vague gut feeling. Just because everyone I know knows what anime is, doesn’t mean it’s applicable to the wider population. So I tried to figure if anime is in fact “mainstream” or not.
As far as audiovisual arts for general public consumption are concerned (i.e. Series, Movies and General Programming), I think we can agree that the US Film and TV industry is mainstream. In that it pretty much dwarfs all the other ones to a ridiculous degree, making it ubiquitous.
I went on the internet and googled market shares for various film industries. Because the internet is the most reliable source of information, I got some pretty widely varying results. So I took the 10 to 12 first ones google suggested and made an average.
According to that, for 2019, the market share of the US film industry was 35.3 billion US. This is actually not that impressive. The market has not been growing as much as in past years. And this isn’t only Hollywood, the number also encompasses all traditional media and independent movies. It does NOT however account for YouTube (new media).
When you compare this to India for instance, and it’s thriving Bollywood. Their market share for 2019 was just a bit below 3 billion US. Or less than 10%. And it’s one of the biggest single country film markets out there, after the US.
That is unless you count anime. Again, please remember to take internet numbers with a salt mine. Still, following the same protocol I did for the US numbers, what I got for anime in 2019 is a market share of 20.47 billion US. And unlike the US industry, it’s growing fast. Hella fast. The market has doubled in the past 5 years.
In all probability, this growth will even out. However, projections of Anime being more or less on par with the entire US film market anywhere from 2027 to 2035 are fairly common.
And again, when we talk anime, we are talking exclusively anime. Not the content made around anime or inspired by anime. Avatar the Last Airbender would count as US rather than anime. Any commentary, live-action remakes, or US-funded Netflix originals are also not accounted for in that particular market.
So although Anime is still smaller than the US market, it’s way bigger than any other in the world despite being a more concentrated product. As far as numbers go, I would call this mainstream. Again I’m not sure what the comparison is.
As many people watch anime as Disney movies. there is more anime merch sold than Marvel. However, there’s also a heck of a lot of anime out there. So that doesn’t mean people have heard of your favourite series. Or half of mine, cause I got some weird tastes.
Still, I think that whatever was meant to happen to anime once it became mainstream, probably happened a few years ago. By now, maybe even a decade ago. I don’t mean anime isn’t going to change or that market pressures won’t have a “negative” influence on it. But I don’t think that the number of people aware of anime or consuming it is what’s likely to tilt the balance at this point.
In my opinion, anime is already mainstream. What it isn’t quite yet, is profitable. Or at least as profitable as it could be. For tons of simple and complicated reasons, 1 hour of anime simply doesn’t generate the same amount of revenue as an hour of US programming. And it’s debatable on which is more resource-intensive to produce. However, this point is subject to change and I believe that this is where the problem really lies.
Once anime becomes more profitable, it will become more interesting to all sorts of elements which will start to have more and more influence on the end product. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. This is where investor meddling comes in and we start to get boring anime which are just copies of whatever is most popular or sanitized series for highest common denominators. It doesn’t matter how many people are watching anime if your profit is only half of what you could get with another form of media. Then it’s not worth the effort to meddle. But once that changes…
I know what you may be thinking, but Irina, if more people are watching then it will have a larger market share and it will generate more profit. So popular (mainstream) and profitable are the same thing, you irresistible sexy goof.
Ok, so you’re right about that. Both counts. However, I have a theory about that as well. It’s just a theory though, I haven’t really crunched the numbers on it or anything. Anime is sort of too spread out. It has so many genres, niches, weird tropes, a multitude of studios (that appear and disappear) and authors to really be properly stirred in one direction or another.
As long as we all watched different types and genres of anime, with different influences and tropes, it becomes really difficult to pinpoint what the popular elements that should be imitated are. And as long as we can’t easily identify what the profitable part of anime is, then no one can just blindly copy it over and over again.
It really is just a theory. Still, my hope for anime is that as long as we all seek out new types of anime and give them an honest chance, that will keep the industry agile and diversified. After all, it’s an industry. It cares about profits. So if all the anime are making a reasonable amount of profit and no one is overtaking everyone else….
We’re all going to end up watching fighting shonen, aren’t we? I mean, that’s basically what I just wrote. Ok, now I worried myself a bit. Let’s see what 2020 was like. Oh wow, actually as far as popularity goes, 2020 had a romantic comedy series, a couple of isekais, a sports anime of all things and whatever the God of Highschool is. So we’re safe for now. Nevermind, crisis avoided!
Ok, real take away. Keep being weird fellow anime lovers! There may be a ton of us, but we’re all different, and that makes us great!