The Anime Ghetto of America

This is not about the ghetto of an excuse for NYAF in 2010 and 2011, even if that is probably tangentially related. This is about Kuraghime and Tatami Galaxy, and why I think there is some problem with the way some people think about anime. These problems may or may not be related, they just happen to pop in my head in the past 36 hours.

1. Liking is a state of mind. I remember talking to some people about the Passion of the Christ, a controversial film about a gruesome depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus as per the Gospels. The content of the discussion doesn’t really matter, but the conclusion was that the film became more about how you (in this case, secular press versus fundie types) react to a film has just as much to do with you as it does to the film. I think that sort of mirror-transparency is critical in today’s media reviews. I think this is a big reason why it is difficult to take reviews from sites like ANN or Fandompost seriously, unless you’ve hooked on to their particular bandwagon and can appreciate how those respective reviewer-mirrors work. I think over time I have done that for Chris B., but more because he does offer a much more technical-savvy perspective on a video transfer or sound space or whatever, something that is sorely missing among reviews of anime today.

2. The problem is further exasperated, that far majority of anime out there are derivative media crossover things. This means when someone looks at Fate/Zero, for example, they aren’t thinking it is not pandering to the max, but that they are suppose to think it is pandering to the max. [I mean, how can the anime moeficiation of a popular prequel set of light novels to a popular visual novel (that was also consequently “moe-fied” via anime) be not pandering? Seems impossible.] To use an analogy, it’s like we’re in the league of extraordinary lunch box collectors, and then there’s this awesome Twilight-themed lunch box available. Some guy who doesn’t even know what Twilight is beyond what they see in the news reviews the lunch box, and says it’s kind of lame or kind of good, whatever. I’m going to be like, derp. It is missing the point. Maybe that isn’t even a good example because the hypo reviewer at least knows it is pandering, s/he is just not assigning any or assigning the correct value to that part. It’s worse when it comes to some anime: I don’t think this guy is aware of the pandering at all. Or for that matter this other guy, let alone assigning value to whatever.

While it is valuable to have the perspective of someone who would judge Fate/Zero as someone outside of Nasuverse fandom, it feels invariably that they’re doing it wrong. It’s probably because they don’t know the material is pandering. Maybe this is the majority position on a lot of anime for us gaijin, since we’re not living in a deluge of otaku-bait-marketing as our Japanese counterparts may be swimming in, but one can make a strong argument that you can’t fairly judge the work if you don’t have this context baked into your perspective. Again, that hypothetical Twilight lunch box is intended to be sold to your daughters, not hardcore lunch box collectors. By reviewing it like box collectors instead of its intended audience, it feels almost like we’re ghetto-fying the whole thing. There’s this artifice in which we’re trying to fit the anime we consume into said artifice. And for what reason?

I think this is a major issue with the ghettofication of anime. It feels helpless to have to read reviews like that. It feels probably just as helpless to review anime like that while being completely blind to that side of the equation. I say ghettofication because these mix-media slums is where the bulk of the primary late-night TV anime audience lives, and it’s kind of a silo-style, little Hooverville camps that most mainstream people don’t even want to turn an eye to, let alone adventure into and gleam the essences of what makes the inhabitants enjoy the shows they watch. Or I should say, especially on ANN, it feels like they purposely want to stay away from that sort of evaluation. I want to posit this as a problem with anime, and not so much the way people review them–after all, they can review however they want. But the fact that ANN has reviews like this it is just kind of a joke. It’s like suddenly you read a crazy rant from Steve Jobs about how he hates charities or a crazy rant from Roger Ebert about how he hates video games. I mean, LOL? (By the way both are probably untrue.) This is kind of a problem that ANN has in order to obtain any kind of credibility as an reviewing organization. (Then again, this problem can be milked for pageviews! So hey.)

2b. I have this thought about Kara no Kyoukai. That show, too, is a sort of pandering. But among these attempts (IwakamiP gets an extra nod for taking that, Madoka and Fate/Zero to somewhere slightly less ghetto. Maybe.) I’m left to scratch my head and ask if people have otherwise really tried to build a bridge between the otaku and the growing number of kids-turning-into-adults who are friendly to the cause.

3. Sating the demand of the mainstream. Continuing in good o’ OWS spirit let us talk about the 1% versus 99%, even if it comes out to be a false dichotomy of sorts. It also pings one of my pet peeve about people who says “anime is a privilege not a right.” I think that saying is largely bullshit–this is not a have-versus-have not issue. This is an artistic proliferation and industry viability issue. I might like my moe anime as much as anyone, and I do a healthy amount of importing (if such a thing can ever be healthy). But that kind “hey I paid for it so” of thinking causes two major problems. First, it drives the have-nots to what all the have-nots do in the 21st century: media piracy. There are some good studies on this topic, and it really comes to artificial barriers to entry to extract cost based on some perception of value that does not optimize supply and demand. In other words, things are unnecessarily expensive and inaccessible due to a variety of reasons (some are forgivable but others are just petty) and not only the content creators and middlemen make less money than they could have, it encourages people to pirate things. It’s a lose-lose scenario. Second, it unnecessarily ghetto-fies the industry. Talent drain and race to the bottom in production cost? Because it keeps on pandering to those who would pay the biggest bucks, because the work, the condition, and the products loses mainstream relevance. I mean how many people entered the anime industry because they saw something awesome when they were little? Tons. I also believe this is a root cause of Japan’s fandom-industry vacuum now filled by doujin production. Is Ghibli all we need? I think that is clearly a “no.” I am not saying no to moe; I’m saying yes to everything. There will always going to be trashy moe crap to consume. We can count on the least risky thing to continue to exist, but that cannot be the dominant thing out there. And in order to do that, it means we have to make anime affordable and accessible. It’s the best thing for both fans and anime industry. It’s also good for society in general.

4. But of course it’s easier said than done. I think the biggest hurdle is that the financing model for anime in Japan just doesn’t lend itself to that sort of business models. The problem comes down to that mainstream production is expensive and they have a much smaller safety net when one flops (and they do all the time). Or not even that; just taking risks to make something of it is, well, risky and potentially expensive. You can just look at Anime-no-chikara and noitaminA for examples. What goes around does come around: if nobody buys Kuragehime, nobody is going to license shows like it. What I propose is not that the problem is nobody buys Kuragehime, but the problem is why should the proliferation of works like Kuragehime depend on people buying it on home video? Shouldn’t our energies be focused on solving the root issue and not run up the same pile of dead horse corpses?

People don’t buy Star Trek (TOS) (mainly because it is really, really expensive), but people loved the show and it went on to become the thing we know today. It’s very profitable. It transformed science and technology in America and abroad by inspiring a generation or two of scientists and engineers, and generally contributed so much good to the world. Not to mention its contribution to science fiction media, TV and film. It may sound mad-old Tomino-esqe but can’t we have that as a goal? It sounds like this has to be a part of whatever solution that flushes out the dirt, the good stuff, from the ghettos and release it to the masses. If there’s all this spite and bad blood between 99% and the 1% we want to be, the going would be tough on the road to reconcile the 1% of anime fans being catered to and the 99% of fans who don’t even want anything to do with that 1%.

[BONUS ROUND: 5. This is why I find Colony Drop problematic–they seek to reinforce this ghettoficiation; I should say, that is the schtik that they make a clapping noise upon, that cardboard wall of makeshift tents in which we live in. I’m just hoping that is offset by CD pointing out such a ghetto actually exists. They do not do this explicitly, but maybe they should.]

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4 responses to “The Anime Ghetto of America

  • _______

    “ANN” and “credibility” are two things that never, ever, ever go together. They are a blight on fandom, pandering to the self-righteous Type A western anime watcher who gains street cred among their idiot compatriots by looking down at the otaku culture and market while denying that anything they like could possibly be born of that same culture and sold in that same market (e.g. people holding up Bakemonogatari’s success as somehow being a rebuff to the otaku/”moe” phenomenon, lol).

    I get that a lot of the elements of any mixed media project are largely inaccessible to westerners (anime the most accessible, manga next, light novels a distant third, and everything else being almost impossible to get translated) but it takes a special kind of ignorance to completely disregard the context in which anime exists,

  • omo

    Not to just pick on ANN, this is more of a general problem too. I think it may be institutional coming from an older style journalism/press perspective, pre-2000 sort of thinking. Today’s social media just don’t quite work that way, where a blog post can already shed more light and offer more honest and clearer perspective because it isn’t about judging or putting a number on a product. And I think that is true for readers as well, if only it is the beginning of a wave of change coming down the pipe.

    Of course, the flip side is true. In order to tap into the distro side of things, media has to play the reviewer game. It’s not easy to come up with the right perspective, and in a way that is consistent and professionally honest. And a lot of people still prefer “old” media. ANN makes enough money for show; certainly I am in no position to point fingers at them.

  • cool beans

    I just hate that anime gets this zero-sum treatment from most angry internet critics (“if only there were less otaku productions, we’d get more mainstream stuff”) when in fact there simply isn’t a good business model for non-otaku anime beside selling comics.

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