Be warned. This is long and rambling and may not arrive at a point. It was originally a completely different post and has ended up somewhere else. And yes, I ignore animated feature films, as I am want to do.
Kidfenris asked on twitter today:
Question for the anime crowd: what’s the worst T&A fan service you’ve seen in an
otherwise mainstream, please-take-this-seriously anime?
Response to this question highlighted a frequently made misconception, that please-take-this-seriously anime is mainstream. On the rare occasion it is, but for the majority of the time it’s as much about otaku decadence as any other late night anime. They aren’t sticking a show full of tired old sci-fi or cyberpunk cliches on TV on Sunday afternoon any time soon. And chances are they won’t break through late at night either. Plus, if you’re a non-sci-fi, non-fantasy serious minded manga, you’ll probably get a live action adaptation before an anime one anyway. And chances are you’ll get higher ratings than a cartoon.
The fact is that the mainstream is mainly made up of shows that don’t want you to take them particularly seriously – namely kids shows and family comedies. Of the shows that broke the Top 10 anime in Japan last year you’ve got just three shows made for primarily adult audiences. Two of them were from the successful noitaminA slot, namely Eden of The East and Dezaki’s The Tale of Genji adaptation. The other was the final episode of Shin Mazinger. I’ll let you argue whether any of them were begging you to take them seriously.
Obviously noitaminA has been a success in finding an elusive adult audience, both in the ratings and that we’ve seen Fuji TV try and recreate the success with Noise and other networks have taken note too (TV Tokyo’s Power of Anime). I do wonder though if the live action Moyashimon due in the slot later this year will prove a death knell should it get better ratings than anime in the same timeslot.
Now, a short diversion to what this post originally started out as. Back in January Tim Maughan was complaining about the number of kid protagonists in anime, and I questioned if that was really the case – producing this list over at one of my 15 or so tumblr accounts.
I then thought that it was perhaps skewed a little by shows people weren’t actually watching in any great numbers, so made another list from all the shows that Anime News Network listed in the weekly top 10 anime charts over the whole of 2009.
It broke down as follows:
ADULT ALIEN FROGS 2.9%
CURIOUS PRIMATES 2.9%
DIGITAL PETS OF INDETERMINATE AGE 2.9%
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ALIEN BIOWEAPON 2.9%
ROBOT CATS 2.9%
TEENAGER TRAPPED IN CHILD’S BODY 2.9%
I only took the main protagonist, had I averaged the age of the main casts it would probably have had more adults due to parents in some shows being in the main cast, and the fact One Piece now has an 88 year old living skeleton as part of the cast. On the flipside, some shows are basically about children, even if their leads are technically not kids.
It’s those same shows that I’m looking at today when I take a look at what the mainstream is. Back to the issue at hand!
So what is the mainstream?
Well, the biggest TV anime hit last year, as it almost always is, was the Lupin III TV special. This time boosted by being a crossover with another mainstream anime show – Detective Conan. It’s light adventure fare, not really asking the viewer to take it any more seriously than an episode of The Avengers or The Saint would. With an aging (and in some cases, increasingly frail) cast, I’m wondering if Lupin III will remain as popular once the inevitable cast changes have to made. While it survived its lead actor changing in the 90s, it definitely took a while to find its feet again. I should really look at how Doraemon was effected when it went through with its wholesale cast change a few years ago.
Here are shows that made up the mainstream for much of 2009:
These three are on a plateau above everyone else in terms of being mainstream. Sazae-san is arguably another step above everyone else too. They’re all family comedies and when you take into account the success of Mainichi Kaasan last year and the occasional charting of ATASHIn’CHI, it suggests that family comedy is the true mainstream TV animation in Japan. Just as it is everywhere else in the world.
Another evergreen title, though one that doesn’t quite fit the family comedy mould of those other three. Given that parents grew up with the character and now have kids of their own, its continued success makes a lot of sense. That, and the fact the character is both a work of genius and a true icon.
Shonen Sunday still proves a strong source of anime. Conan’s been running for over decade on TV now, and each MAJOR season proves successful with their return. The inevitable Rin-ne adaptation is pretty much guaranteed to be the next big Shonen Sunday anime hit.
The Shonen Jump gang. One Piece and Dragonball Kai are the massive successes of the group, the other two dipping in and out of the top 10. While aimed at kids, One Piece and Dragonball Kai have cross over appeal due to being based on two of the biggest manga of all time. Gintama is an odd one, for reasons we’ll get to later. Dragonball Kai also has nostalgia appeal like another recent success…
The revival of Tatsunoko Pro’s classic kids show was a massive success to begin with, but it started to trail off last year. However it was still far more popular than the majority of anime produced last year.
Toys and games still put kids in front of the telly. For better or worse, these are pretty much the giant robot anime of modern times. Too often the sci-fi elements are attributed to being the reason for old giant robot shows’ success, rather than their toyetic nature. And modern shows in the Pokemon mould do that toyetic thing far better than modern giant robot shows do. Talking of which…
Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
The various Gundam, Fullmetal Alchemist & Code Geass series have been alternating in and out of a shared time slot for years now. Currently it’s Sunday, 1700 on TBS, which they’ve had since mid-2008 (Geass R2, then Gundam 00 season 2, then FMA Brotherhood). They’re pretty much guaranteed to slip into the low end of the top ten a few times a year with that slot. Before that they had the 1800 slot on Saturday since 2002 (when Gundam SEED took over from Ultraman Cosmos), where they performed much stronger in the ratings. I think some analysts have judged this a sign of them not being as popular, not taking into account the timeslot change from their earlier incarnations.
Shugo Chara!! Doki-
Whatever two Pretty Cure shows aired in 2009
The twin giants of magical girl shows. Well one giant – Pretty Cure – Shugo Chara was sort of bubbling under and snuck in the chart once. That there were only two shows aimed at specifically at girls has less to do with the shows themselves, and more to do with the unisex nature of the other shows. Particularly the toy based shows like Pokemon, where the toys & games they are based on are no longer just for boys as the robot toys of yore were marketed. When you do market them like that, you tend to fail, as the makers of Kabuto Borg VxV are probably all too aware.
GeGeGe no Kitaro
Supernatural shows for kids! And their parents. And adults who grew up reading/watching the originals. The latest Kitaro revival ended last year after another successful run, and the successful Thriller Restaurant storybook series got an equally successful anime.
Stitch is the Madhouse version of the Lilo & Stitch TV series (sans Lilo)for Disney, but Curious George is the US series. Both performed well. In fact shows with cute animals / genetically engineered monsters tend to do well.
Tale of Genji
Eden of the East
Eden of the East is the most consistent performer of these, Dezaki’s Genji show charted early, but later ones didn’t. Personally I think the expectations from the name value of the story and director weren’t really met. Shin Mazinger’s finale was a bizzarely high jump in the ratings. It was doing fine throughout for a late night show, but certainly spiked with that last episode.
There’s a few specials I’ve not mentioned – most of which involved talking animals. Plus Sgt Frog scraped the chart once or twice too, along with Sanrio’s Onegai My Melody Kirara. But that should give you an idea of what the “mainstream” is in terms of eyes in front of TV sets. It’s really not all that different from cartoons elsewhere in the world, save for a few things like that TBS slot for Gundam etc. and noitaminA. There’s just more of them.
But what of DVD & Blu-ray?
What of it, indeed…
It’s clear from the sales figures that in 2009 Blu-ray was the domain of the Otaku. Shows like Bakemonogatari & K-on, which didn’t set ratings on fire on TV, tore it up in the Blu-ray sales chart, but didn’t see those sales matched on DVD. In fact they outstripped sales for similar shows, pre-Blu-ray. It’s like that hardcore otaku niche finally had a medium that matched their obsession with detail. Or that before they were shunning DVD in favour of hanging onto hi-res HDTV rips. Probably a bit of both.
Shows like Gundam 00 and Code Geass, which had enjoyed something akin to mainstream TV success, had similar sales on both media, but couldn’t match the overall sales more niche shows enjoyed.
However, the bulk of niche shows released in 2009, and there were a lot of them, did absolutely nothing of note. If the business plan is that the late night TV acts as an advert for the BD or DVD, then it looks like its failing an awful lot of shows, even if it works great for a handful of shows.
One interesting trend is the success of Gintama. While outperformed by many shows on TV, it’s currently a bigger hit on video than its Shonen Jump peers (well, at least until the latest One Piece movie hits video). I’ve not watched any of it myself, is it tapping into an otaku audience more inclined to drop money on it than the audiences its peers get? I’ve noticed it trends higher in Google than Naruto, despite selling less manga volumes. I suppose I should really watch some and figure it out for myself.
Oh, and I should mention MTV’s Usavich. Always seems to be overlooked when discussing successful, mainstream Japanese animation. Probably because it doesn’t fit people’s expectations of what Japanese animation should look like.