Tuesday, 20 March 2018

2018: The Year of Anime?


I've been very hard on anime on this blog since I started here. There's a reason for that, as anyone who has followed the medium for more than a decade knows. What was once an unstoppable industry ended up sabotaging itself. Over the years it has nearly buried itself in its own hubris and poor decisions. I even wrote a post comparing anime to the popular MCU (which itself cited an article glomping on to the dying moe trend as a way to make its own fallacious point) and why they weren't actually that different. Or were. I stand by it, anime and the live action Marvel movies have much in common, and it appears like they have more in common than ever before.

But times have changed.

I'm not the only one who thinks that anymore. While 2017 was a bit of a letdown to previous years: 2015 and 2016 showed more of the spirit anime was known for at its peak. Things were improving. But after 2017 I began to feel that might have been a fluke. That quickly changed.

I don't think anything prepared me for 2018's offerings and announcement.

It might also help that this year is the 50th anniversary of Weekly Shonen Jump which lead anime companies to go all out licensing properties old and new for anime projects. It wasn't just Jump, but other classic properties and newer manga and light novel properties which are way above series from recent years. The industry might still prefer adaptions over original content, but that has been the case for a long time now. Nonetheless, they still picked good ones to use.

Keep in mind, I'm only writing this three months into the year and during what is easily the weakest season of said year. The fact that I still think highly of 2018 says a lot about what is coming.

But before I get there, let's travel the time warp. I'll be using anichart for my source. What exactly was anime like during this time decades ago?


1998



Yes, let's first go back twenty years to 1998, possibly the best and one of the most important year for modern anime fans. What exactly made it so, however? Was it just the quality of programs, or was it that the western market really was that weak?

It was both.

Action shows were dying in the west, hampered by everything from aping certain shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or being hampered by political correctness (watch any TV drama from that period now) and cartoons that had fallen far from Gargoyles and Batman: the Animated Series. There was not much to look forward to at the time. While this was happening here, in Japan they were still in a 90s golden age in regards to anime and manga that extended from the '70s through the '80s.

They were still unstoppable.

What exactly did they have? Well, maybe you know the following names. This was what was produced in 1998.

Cowboy Bebop
Trigun
Outlaw Star
Cartdcaptor Sakura
Serial Experiments Lain
Master Keaton
Yu-Gi-Oh! (original)
Bubblegum Crisis 2040
His & Her Circumstances (Kare Kano)
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
Initial D
Record of Lodoss War (TV)
Lost Universe
Silent Mobius
Fancy Lala
Gasaraki
Nazca
Weiz Kruz
Princess Nine
Night Walker
Legend of Basara
Shadow Skill
Eat Man '98


They are not all my sort of thing, but rarely do you see that much of a spread for different audiences in one year anymore. All of these were released in the west with some semblance of success, as well. This also doesn't include long running shows that were already running at the time from previous years. Nothing was out of the ordinary for the time. It's a solid list.

Of course not all was great. This was also the year of Brain Powerd, the reminder that Neon Genesis Evangelion had all but destroyed mecha anime for the foreseeable future (thankfully Big O was in the following year) and this was still a time when there were far less production companies and timeslots available. Nonetheless, what was allowed out was typically of higher quality to compete with each other.

It's no wonder many people still enjoy what was put out in 1998.

But even now you would be hard pressed to find a year where there is more than 10, never mind 20+ anime worth looking into. You were guaranteed to find something you would enjoy at least a little. This is far above a normal year these days.

Now let us jump ten years into the future where we jump into the thick of a strong downturn.



2008



Ten years removed from the last entry we have a much different climate. This is where the industry began to feel worldwide decline as they tried their hardest to combat growing piracy by catering to otaku. They did this at the cost of the normal audience and overseas customers. Obviously that tactic wasn't sustainable, but it also ended up biting them long term.

People still buy Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. Heck, they still buy Yu-Gi-Oh! of all things. You won't find anyone talking about Clannad these days unless its for nostalgia or to compare it to another visual novel adaption. And that was the biggest series of the year. There were no commercial smashes overseas in 2008.

But I digress. I can't pretend I'm not including this year to rub salt in the wound of an awful period, but I really, really detested what the industry became in the '00s. Regardless of taste, it was a bad time. The idustry chased many people away, contracted many art styles into one blobby mess, and ended up ruining their worldwide presence in the process. In every respect, the '00s took the momentum the '70s, '80s, and '90s (even the '60s) gave, and fumbled it so hard that the '10s have mostly been dedicated to cleaning the mess up.

Unfortunately, it also allowed an impression of the medium form based on very limited examples from a very specific time period. The image of anime as dark murder porn was replaced by one of fetishistic voyeurism. While the first was unearned, it is difficult to argue with the latter if you did not know better.

Let me first pick out the best of the year and set it aside.

Clannad: After Story
Code Geass R2
Kaiba
Gundam 00: Second Season
Toradora
Spice & Wolf
Natsume's Book of Friends
Aria: the Origination
Skip Beat!
Soul Eater
Slayers Revolution
Michiko and Hatchin
Macross Frontier
Golgo 13


You might have noticed two things. The first is that there are no big new action adventure series that aren't already based on existing franchise or turned out awful *COUGH*R2*COUGH* and the second is that what is there in the genre pales in comparison to said older entries. The list is also smaller and considerably less exciting than what has come before.

Now, while I didn't post everything in 1998, I also didn't leave out a whole lot. There were a handful of forgettable shows, but not much outright terrible. For 2008, you can see for yourself how much trash there really was. Scroll down at your own peril. It gets worse. This is also the year that gave the world Strike Witches and Linebarrel.

Of those listed above, I can't say any of them are personal favorites, though about half are quite good and worth your time. (I won't say which to avoid a potential flame war!)

The issue is that none are anything particularly great save one or two, and with such a high crap ratio it's hard to argue they are even worth seeking out. It is quite the fall from where the medium was a decade prior with so much trash and glut to clutter the landscape. Is it any wonder sales fell and many walked away?

And it had been this way for many years.

Now let's take one final look at the still-developing 2018.



2018



A strange year deserves a strange header.

Starting last year there were a lot of announcements for upcoming series that were quite surprising. Not only were there new series ordered for streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime, but many old manga were given anime adaptions for the first time, and some classic series were given revivals and new series. There was a lot announced that would surprise even the casual fan from a bit more than a decade ago.

You would have to make a double take to be certain you weren't seeing things. Are things turning around? All signs are pointing to the affirmative.

What does 2018 have? Well I'll get to that. The first thing to remember is that any of these could end up becoming trash, so I'm listing them based on pedigree of announcement or the status of the property in question. But even if some are, they still outnumber the exciting material from a decade ago. A lot of this is assumed, but I've seen so much of this before that I can usually tell beforehand if it's worth my time.

So, here it is. 2018 in a nutshell.

Pop Team Epic
Violet Evergarden
Overlord II
Golden Kamuy
Devilman Crybaby
Steins;Gate 0
Darling in the FranXX
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card
A.I.C.O. Incarnation
Banana Fish
My Hero Academia: Season 3
Karakuri Circus
Attack on Titan: Season 3
Juushinki Pandora
Record of Grancrest War
Dororo
Captain Tsubasa
Megalo Box
Pluto
Vinland Saga
One Punch Man: Season 2
Cutie Honey Universe
Gurazeni
Double Decker!
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: New Thesis
Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory
Hinomaru Zumou
Boogiepop & Others
Lupin III: Part V


Once again, I can't promise how all of that will turn out, but if even half of it is as great as it looks, 2018 will be a great year. And there's still yet more I didn't list! Some might not even release until next year, but it is still enough that they were even revealed among what is coming out. I'm not even interested in all of the above, but it's quite the interesting list. It offers a lot more to the average customer and knows what the majority of the audience comes to anime for.

The fact is that there's a reason Japan is doing this. It's fairly obvious.

You could say all of this is for nostalgia's sake, but that isn't quite right. You could see even back in 2008 that there were some nostalgia-centric series based on old franchises. That didn't stop dropping sales or people walking away. You could also say 2018 relies too heavily on adaptions, except that the anime industry has always relied on manga for its biggest successes. The fact is that the industry has never tried this hard to court the average watcher of anime since the early '00s before they turned their backs on them.

Take note of what you see here.

New series by Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Escaflowne), and Ryo Mizuno (Lodoss War, Rune Soldier), unadapted classics of their genres like Banana Fish and Karakuri Circus, and new seasons of worldwide popular hits like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan (keep in mind, Japan didn't do seasonal anime ten years ago, never mind twenty) all show a clear focus when taken together. Then there are the straight remakes which are not as plentiful as you would think: there are only three in that list. What's more interesting is what they chose to greenlight that is new. New sequels of old properties like Full Metal Panic!, Boogiepop, Lupin, and Cardcaptor Sakura, also help send the message. Japan really wants that audience back.

Then there is the recent slate of movies. Japan for the longest time has not really done much in the way of anime movies, but what they recently announced speaks volumes as to their hopes. Mazinger Z. Dragon Ball. My Hero Academia. City Hunter. If there is a bigger hint at their target being the worldwide market and the average fan I have never seen it. This is too obvious.

What 2018 says to me is that Japan is trying, and somehow succeeding, in getting its groove back. I never would have expected this a decade ago. Should the year live up to its promise I will be beyond delighted but until then I can only speak to intent. And that intent says a lot.

While Hollywood revels in remakes that miss the point, Japan hasn't lost the plot. They have carefully chosen what they know sells in their homeland and overseas and have made sure to put the right people behind those works to give the customers what they want. The public wants action, adventure, romance, and excitement. They want the out-there animation, direction, and plots classic anime was known for. Its not just that they want the old things back--they want the spirit the old things had. That is why this list is not as heavy on remakes as, say, Hollywood. They have a better idea of their audience. There is plenty new coming out, and plenty with the spark the old had back in the day.

I'm not clamoring for a Trigun remake (or sequel) and I hope one is never made. But that doesn't mean I don't want those involved in that series to go on and make new works with that same spark they made it with. I don't think I'm alone either. All I want are good stories.

Japan looks to be course correcting itself and regaining its footing. Here's hoping they maintain it. While 2017 was a bit of a step back, 2018 is a great leap forward.

I can hardly wait to see how the year turns out. I only wonder how 2019 will look as a result.




And if you like excitement and action in strange worlds, you will probably enjoy my most recent book.

2 comments:

  1. City Hunter. ADVision never treated that series right. Should make for a fun return.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. City Hunter had everything going for it that people in the 80s and 90s were looking for. Was always amazed at how badly its release was bungled over here.

      Delete