Anime has always been a medium that’s been close to my heart; whilst not solely being the basis of my preferred entertainment, it’s always been something I’ve held dear, and close to my interests.
With any medium, anime has seen various phases and ages become defined over time, with the industry having been popularised now for nearly 60 years, it’s fair to say that anime’s impact on not only the Eastern world, but also the Western world has been nothing short of exemplary. As streaming services and juggernauts such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, VRV and Funimation all compete to bring users across the world the best viewing experience possible, I feel it’s equally as important to reflect on anime’s past over the last 29 years, and see where, after next year, this beloved medium could be headed.
Neon Genesis Evangelion began what many consider to be the central turning point for anime as a medium – From here on out, stories would feature darker, more mature themes, and would feature more violent and horror-inspired visuals and designs, prevalent in many Shounen and Seinen manga to come post-Evangelion.
After the 1980’s had come to a close, anime had a bit of a bizarre transitional period into the modern age, with many critically acclaimed series being born from this era of experimentation; anime was reaching more and more people throughout the world over, as more and more people began to realise anime’s potential as an alternative form of television and film – Many great classics here made their way over to the West in this time, from the legendary Dragonball and Dragonball Z, to Cowboy Bebop, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Gundam and Digimon – At this point, in the West at least, anime was perceived as simply “Japanese cartoons for kids”, no different to Scooby-doo, The Flinstones or even anime’s central forefather, Astro Boy.
One series, however, managed to break through the stigma, and, whether for better or worse, changed the landscape of anime not only in the West, but in Japan, forevermore – Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Neon Genesis Evangelion was, without discrediting it’s precursors, the first major anime to make it’s way to the West that questioned it’s audience and brought extremely heavy themes of self-worth, suicide, depression, instinct, abuse and lots and lots of Jeudo-Christian symbolism and themes of godhood and anglicism – Evangelion, initially, flew somewhat under many people’s radar in the West due to the rumours of the original production company, Studio Gainax, running out of money to create the series’ finale; however, what sent shockwaves throughout the anime scene of the world was Evangelion’s now legendary ending movie, entitled “The End of Evangelion”.
Don’t worry Shinji… I think that was all of our reactions during the End of Evangelion’s second half…
The End of Evangelion didn’t just peacefully make it’s mark in the anime scene, it scarred it – Tore it asunder and shredded the existing concepts of anime and of what was deemed profitable with an almost animalistic fervour – The End of Evangelion scarred anime fans with it’s brutal ending, it’s off-the-scale symbolism and astoundingly haunting sound design, leading to one of anime’s most controversial, confusing and most discussed endings of all time, even being debated and fought over to this day in chatrooms and groups alike.
One of the largest reasons why Evangelion and other experimental series did so well in Japan during this period, however, lends itself to the societal troubles and international nature of the world, and the direction the connected world was going in – Japan at that time had just entered it’s biggest financial depression that it had ever seen, known as Ushinawareta Jūnen, or, as we would call it, The Lost 10 Years, the period between 1990 and 2000 is known for falling hopes, lowered employment rates, and for the country’s mass value going down exponentially due to the financial crash – Many industries were struck by this, and many people found themselves out of jobs, or stuck with long hours and low paying jobs.
Unintentionally, studios and creators began creating series that would not only question themselves, and their ways of thinking or tradition, but rather society itself and it’s future, focusing on both the good and the bad to make the world they lived in a topic of discussion – Previous eras of anime had fulfilled power fantasies, taken people to far away worlds and been colourful, exciting and action packed, much like the Hollywood boom of America and Europe around the same time periods…
However the 1990s was a time of struggle – It was a period where the Japanese public wanted to sympathise with characters that were going through similar struggles they were going through; suddenly, we went from having characters that were near-perfect mountains of muscle and idealism to weaker, more feminine looking male protagonists and characters with actual flaws, character development and discerning arcs that grew them as the viewers experienced their journeys in parallel – Not only did this work in helping to somewhat heal The Lost 10 Years Japan suffered, but it also helped to carry on the red-hot streak of merchandising that had been initiated in the 1960’s – Anime was getting everywhere, spreading as far as it could and trying to relate to as many as it could, with realistic, more human characters to try and prove that it wasn’t just ‘from kids-at-heart’ for kids… And yes, whilst we did get some of our childhood favourites, undoubtedly they had more lessons to teach than some anime of recent or past memory…
Bleach, Naruto and One Piece each set their own hardcore fanbases globally – Some of which are still extremely active to this very day – Many of these stories spanned many hundreds of episodes and chapters, with Bleach ending at 686 chapters, Naruto at 700 chapters and One Piece having just reached over it’s 900th chapter since it’s inception in 1997.
With the beginning of the 2000’s era, the world looked forward to another progressive thousand years, marking the start of this age with major innovations, society developing more and more intricately, and technology making a larger and larger footstep on the modern world… With this, though, came a brand new generation of anime fans, ones that grew up watching the-now classic franchises established through the 1980’s and 1990’s – Suddenly, thanks to Western television spots such as Cartoon Network, Toonami, JetiX and Adult Swim, anime had it’s place in American homes (Albeit usually relegated to late positions).
Having just stepped hot off the feet of the 1990’s, there were a few experimental franchises that were trying more and more to appeal to Japan’s youth through the famous magazine Shounen Jump, a weekly serialized magazine focused on bringing readers and subscribers fresh and unique series to read each week, with mainstays such as Hunter X Hunter and YuYu Hakushou either going slowly on hiatus or ending… One series, however, stood the test of time and is still to this day recognised as one of, if not the most profitable, marketed and recognisable anime and manga franchises of all time – One Piece.
One Piece still waves it’s black-and-white flag in the midst of the current decade of anime and manga – The (Currently seemingly) immortal titan of the anime industry.
One Piece set off a sort of second impact within the anime scene after Evangelion, where Evangelion became a trendsetter for anime’s older adult audiences, One Piece became the trendsetter for the new generation – Featuring a likeable, bubbly and energetic cast of characters, fast and fluid battle scenes and a massive, world-spanning plot, it was prime for readers to get absorbed into the world of One Piece as they followed Monkey D. Luffy and the Strawhat gang on their adventures in search of the One Piece…
So much so that, with Naruto running alongside in parallel, it seemed like these two juggernauts had a hard iron grasp on the current crown of manga and anime… Until one more hand lept up to grab the glistening title – Bleach.
Bleach is a bizarre series, to say the least – More mature in style, tone and action than One Piece and Naruto, but less marketable overall; Bleach was moody, brooding and covered edge to edge in lashings of style and heat – All three franchises remained white-hot up until the end of the 2000’s, all becoming top-sellers and inspiring many, MANY others to imitate their footsteps and follow along for the ride – Fullmetal Alchemist sought to bring the serious symbolism and themes raised in Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop to the Shounen scene, Fairy Tail looked to capitalise on Naruto’s energy and Bleach’s more active and kinetic battle sequences, and One Punch Man, whilst not becoming an anime until the 2010’s, aimed to bring more comedy and a ‘anyone can do this if they try hard enough’ vibe to the scene. It seemed for a good while that all we would get were Shounen battle anime… But with the turn of the 2010’s, the scene yet again morphed to become one steeped in nostalgia and, admittedly, somewhat mediocrity…
Scary to think that, perhaps in another decade, shows like Sword Art Online could become more of a reality rather than fantasy…
It’s without a doubt that, despite the 2000’s being a pivotal decade for anime, so far, the 2010’s is really when anime started to become truly mainstream in a bizarre way; with new, dedicated services for anime to be broadcast and streamed legally worldwide – Industry pioneers Crunchyroll and Funimation both started this gold rush for anime streaming licenses with their own dedicated streaming platforms, with Crunchyroll becoming the go-to for many non-Japan viewers (Despite it’s many flaws, which I’ll be detailing in a future article suggesting improvements).
Soon after, the more western-centric world started to pay attention and notice what a market anime was, and how, dare I say, ignored it was as a medium by the western world for so many years – Colossal streaming titans Netflix and Amazon both paved the way for fresh, original anime series to be created by not only Japanese studios, but international ones as well, dedicating entire sections and marketing budgets to pushing the anime train, catering to long time fans of the medium with accessible fan favourite franchises, and bringing the freshest of the fresh in terms of anime; add this with the portability of streaming services, and you have yourselves a winner!
Shows like RWBY, despite having deep flaws, push the conventions of classic anime and really question “What is considered ‘an anime’ “. Rest in Peace, Monty Oum: 22/06/1981 – 01/02/2015.
Whilst streaming itself has had a massive influence on the way that anime now works, the world itself has ushered in a new age of innovators and technically impressive studios to create shows unlike anything we’ve quite seen before – Titles such as Kill la Kill, Space Dandy, Redline, RWBY, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, the Fate/Stay titles and so many more pushed what it meant to ‘be an anime’, with the last entry in that list, Fate/Stay, essentially being a televised movie in terms of quality and production budget – Modern re-imaginings of classic series’ also came about with the turn of the decade, with classics like Gundam still receiving modern adaptations, Evangelion obtaining a good (But still flawed) reboot in the form of the Rebuild films, Hellsing Ultimate having approached it’s cinematic climax, and titles like Full Metal Panic getting whole new seasons utilising modern animation and technology; it feels a bit like a modern renaissance of the anime scene, with classics being updated and brought to the modern age.
It’s not just the technology in the anime scene that’s had an influence, however; the global technological scene has boomed and evolved at such a speed that our modern times are near incomparable to those ten years ago – With the rise of Virtual Reality, imaginative works such as Sword Art Online, Log Horizon and many, many others have delved into the gaming world to bring their take on gaming culture and the rise of technology throughout the world; many titles now are set predominantly with some sort of technological focus, bringing back the air of mystery that was felt back in the 1970’s.
Credit where credit is due, Crunchyroll not only had a massive hand in popularising anime and making it more accessible, they made an entire awards show for the medium hosted by avid fans and content creators.
Another big part of what made anime so popular in the 2010’s harkens to the inevitable rise of social media platforms; services such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and many more meant that people with tied interests could find eachother easier, thus making the fandoms of various shows far, far more vocal than what was available previously – It’s even got to the point where famous celebrities with mass followings of dedicated people are sharing their interests in anime, with notable examples being:
- Britney Spears showing her support and enjoyment for her childrens’ favourite anime, such as Dragonball and Re:Zero.
- Ronda Rousey often sporting her love of Pokémon and Dragonball Z.
- Kanye West showing off his giant Zaku Gundam statue…
- Kim Kardashian showing off how her new hairstyle was inspired Darling in the Franxx, which she enjoys.
- And of course, Jaden Smith made his own anime in the form of Neo Yokio.
What many would’ve assumed was just a ‘nerd thing for those basement dwellers that watch Japanese cartoons’ was suddenly in the limelight, and cropping up on many people’s news feeds and social media profiles – Another inevitable beneficial factor that has had a huge contributing factor in popularising anime across the western world as well is, and I can’t believe I’m about to write this (I swear, I’m a real journalist mum!!), the power of memes.
Think for a minute. How often has someone randomly posted an out-of-context anime GIF or made a motherfeckin’ JoJo’s reference in your main group chat of choice? Or even online? People often spouting silly quotes or funny Engrish or anything related to anime? I guarantee you it hasn’t been long, even in groups that may not be at all interested in anime. Memes, unsurprisingly, reflect the social attitude and focus of the larger community of the world, as silly as that sounds.
Dominating statues like this one of Unicorn Gundam in Odaiba could become a much more common sight… Image credits to Japan Travel as I can’t afford a plane ticket to go see this beauty.
So… What can the future hold for anime..? For one, we’re seeing a massive uprise in interactive technologies such as VR anime livestreams like Kizuna Ai have already made a massive impression on the let’s play and livestreaming communities, and I feel that it’s only going to develop further and further as technology progresses; I feel that long-standing tech demos such as the ever-popular Vocaloid will see a brand new era of immersive concerts, anime, experiences and even more, with it blending more and more into our real lives; the inevitable rule of home assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, not to mention Siri and Bixby already pave the way for anime to have influence there, with references, plugins, and much, much more.
Not just this, but with anime becoming more globally adored, I feel that we’ll be seeing a massive influx of anime movies targeting western and eastern theatres with simultaneous releases, which could certainly lead to some interesting experiments and productions being developed – We’ve already seen this with things like the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 4D Experience, so it’s expected that more and more anime franchises will follow suit.
ゴゴゴゴ (MENACING) Ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora ora oraaaaAAAAAA!!!! (MENACING) ゴゴゴゴ
Of course, with updated technologies comes a reliance on updated platforms and services – I feel that providers such as Crunchyroll and Amazon will need to up their game to make their services the very best that they can be to match demand, and to make anime as accessible and enjoyable to access as alternative content. Finally, with the rise of 5G networks, especially across the UK, we should be expecting more and more streaming competitors to make their way onto mobile platforms, and form into a truly enjoyable experience.
Depending on how society progresses, we could possibly see a lot of anime focus on darker topics again, like unemployment, war, societal pressure, government and individuality, some of which have already started to be questioned by projects like Persona 5, however I feel that we may be on another cusp similar to the pre-Evangelion era of the 1990’s – All anticipating the challenging of these themes, but just waiting for the kettle to boil hot enough for these creative works to really put these questions at the forefront of society’s collective mind and question what society has developed into by then.
…Or I could just be speaking a load of drivel and we could see nothing but ecchi fanservice anime. Who knows? I suppose that’s the fun of articles like this – We can’t know for certain exactly WHAT is going to emerge from the 2020’s era… All we can do is patiently wait and see where the tides of time take us…