I’m not sure this post is going to reach the intended audience. I think most of my readers either don’t care if anime is mainstream or not or are happy if it is. Still, I have been reading a lot of comments, and even some think pieces about how anime is becoming too mainstream and why that’s a bad thing and I have some good news about that. You don’t need to worry, anime has been mainstream for a really long time.
In the past, I have actually looked up numbers that show that anime is a massive market worldwide and a very rapidly growing one at that. I do agree that anime has become more generally popular in the past decade or so. But where do you draw the line between mainstream or not? At what point does popularity change anything. Because for me I would say the existence of Crunchyroll was that point.
You see Crunchyroll is a huge digital distribution platform. I’m not teaching you anything new here but just bear with me for a little bit, I’m going to try to explain my point. Crunchyroll was rolled out in 2006. Meaning that if there are any 20-year-olds reading this when it publishes, they were 4 when Crunchyroll became public.
Although not exactly the same platform as we know it now, right from the beginning it was entirely focused on distributing East Asian media and the bulk of it was anime. Some of it was fansubbed and dubbed but it was still an entire platform dedicated to anime. Moreover, it also quickly became popular (and potentially profitable) enough to be bought out by AT&T.
When a huge Texan-based company thinks that anime is watched by enough people to have a dedicated distribution platform, I think it’s safe to say it’s mainstream. Only sports and news get that kind of treatment. It’s as mainstream as you can get.
And Crunchyroll was hardly the first platform to distribute anime. Specific shows had been airing on network television all around the world for decades prior. It didn’t have the fandom it has now but honestly, nothing did. Fandoms as we know them today are a fairly modern phenomenon that exists in great part thanks to social media.
So from my point of view, anime as a general medium has been mainstream all over the world for quite a while. And it’s been mainstream in Japan forever. Whatever bad thing is supposed to happen when things become mainstream has happened to anime long ago in my opinion.
But to take it one step further, I would say that there are some really great things that happened as well. Let me conflate anime and manga for a bit.
20 years ago I couldn’t really find manga where I lived. Even if I went to specialty comic book stores, I might be able to find one or two volumes of the most popular titles like Akira, but that was it. And even getting it shipped here was dicey.
Fast-forward a few years. Things started to shift a bit. I could now find volumes of manga here in there in large chain bookstores le Chapters. It was still rare and they were just mixed in with western comics but you could find them. Especially in French. I would say there was two to three times more French manga than English at the time which is why half of my collection is in French.
And then something happened. Indigo bought out Chapters and opened a slew of enormous bookstores I still love wasting hours in. And maybe a decade ago they started putting in Manga sections. At first, it was just a few shelves, then it grew to an entire bookcase in the back corner of the store. A few years ago it was about 5 bookcases in the graphic novel section and just a few weeks ago, when I went in to pick up the latest Bungo Stray Doges volume, they had redone the manga section to a real section. Rows of bookcases filled with various manga in alphabetical order. I could actually go in and have a reasonable shot of finding what I was looking for.
By now I can also easily and reliably find most things online and get them delivered to my place (as long as I play just as much in shipping as the manga costs…) but there’s something nice about being able to go in and browse. See the books for myself before picking them up. I like it.
And it sounds very mundane. Even I take the availability of manga for granted. But it’s fairly recent. For a very long time, I just couldn’t read the manga I wanted to. I would hear about it, make wild assumptions in my mind and if I was lucky find some French versions because France has been distributing both anime and manga regularly since the 70s.
In case it isn’t clear, I really like the fact that I can get most manga I want. I can even discover new manga I had never heard of before. This is something I dreamt of for a long time. But it only became possible relatively recently because anime and manga have gained enough popularity for commerce to follow.
I won’t even get into the fact that I have dozens of new anime to choose from every season. Instead of three and two of them are just the continuation of long-running shonen or well…Sailor Moon. Not that I’m complaining about Sailor Moon. That was my jam. Irrelevant tangent, have you ever heard the German OP of Sailor Moon?
Crazy right? Oh and here’s the French One. I should just have done an international Ops of Sailor Moon post. That would have been way more fun!
After this brief Sailor Moon intermission, let’s get back to the post!
Personally, I think that the availability and variety of anime are worth any drawback that popularity may bring. But some people might disagree. So let me throw one last thing out there…cautiously.
I know that fandoms have their ups and downs. They can be exhausting, and I have occasionally just steered clear of anime I would have otherwise watched because the fandoms around them were just too much for me. It’s very rare but it has happened.
However, I would say that just as often I have discovered great anime because I heard fans talking about it enthusiastically. I have had interesting conversations about anime as well. You have to choose your venue and subject. It’s pretty obvious that if you inject yourself into an already contentious argument, you probably won’t get any interesting takes out of it but there are some thoughtful threads out there and you can always start your own conversation.
That would probably be possible if anime wasn’t as popular as it is, but it would still have to be mainstream enough to easily find other fans. Heck, I have even made friends through a shared love of anime. That’s amazing!
Personally, I hope anime stays very popular. I don’t want to go back to watching only the one or two shows that made the worldwide distribution list. And I want to be able to chat about my favourite series with people.
This is a very one-sided post. I can’t really argue the opposite point because I’m not sure what the detriments of anime being mainstream are. Corporate influence? Maybe but that’s also not exactly a new thing.
Most of the other issues I’ve seen, fans can’t agree on whether they are a good or bad thing. Like studios put more importance on visuals because it’s an easy way to get a wider audience. But there are a lot of fans that really like the fact that we have so many beautiful anime now. And there are a lot of fans who say anime was better looking when everything was hand drawn. And I know the underlying complaint is that they focus more on visuals than story but no one can prove that. It makes it really difficult to figure out exactly what the issue is.
I’m sure there are some genuine concerns. I just haven’t put my finger on what they are yet.