Monday, July 24, 2006

:anime: The Genre, The Nation, & The Problem (First Part:: Anime + the U.S.: Still Not Perfect Together...)

While contemplating what to write on in the midst of other planned projects, there was a recent discussion held that, more or less, revolved around the effect anime fandom has on its popularity in the U.S. After reading on it, I decided to comment on the broader aspect of this and combined it with a similar posting I had planned on making later concerning Anime's popularity issues stateside. Part one in this series attempts to pinpoint this quandary. --HD

The foreign-born genre that is "Anime" has had a long, yet obscure history in the United States. Asking people who grew up in the 80s about shows they watched as children may yield replies consisting of "Robotech," "Voltron," or "Transformers." If their childhoods resided in the 90s, "Sailor Moon" and "Dragonball Z" would ring among the more popular shows. Even going back further, parents and grandparents might recall "Astro Boy," "Kimba the White Lion," and "Gigantor" from their youth. However, this cross-generational exposure to Anime has not produced a widespread acceptance or cultural attachment to the field.

Anime has long lived in the annals of a smaller, somewhat secluded base of fans and enthusiatists, with only a handful of current titles being in the knowledge of the mainstream (Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh!). The high level of enthusiasm and respectability amongst this community has served as a double-edge sword for their beloved genre. While it attracts a certain amount of attention to the masses, the sometimes-rabid overbearing nature of them has served as a deterrent from those curious to try anime. It is very much akin to other similar experiences with admirers of science fiction and fantasy stories of the likes of Star Wars, Dungeon & Dragons, and Lord of the Rings. Outside of the spectrum, people see garishly dressed individuals acting in strange sorts of ways, and it turns them off. To them, it is the personification of a "Geek," a "Nerd," something that they do not want to be or turn into if they should ever watch or experience it, nor would they ever want to be associated with them. In spite of this, such genre-related works are still very popular amongst the general populace. Though these fans are acknowledged, for their aloofness, they have yet to repel others from enjoying in the same stories they relish in.

Foreign features themselves have never held a grand footing in the mainstream of the U.S. Though a "Life is Beautiful" or a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" passes along every few years, capturing the attention and admiration of the public, international cinema remains a niche flavor, enticing mainly to those of native language, dedicated film buffs, and artistic fellows. The use of distracting subtitles, the presence of unknown tongues, and just overall cultural barriers has alienated many from viewing these sorts of things. Martial arts movies, on the other hand, have generally been the most accepted of the subgenres amongst the U.S. peoples. These films, primarily originating from Asian countries, have garnered many fans and have had a profound effect and presence on the culture as a whole, even if some have lacked the polish and budget of big-time Hollywood projects or have had the dubious distinction of having poorly dubbed lip-synching.

Animation, though, has long had a prosperous role in American culture. The Disney and Fleischer fare of the 1930s has given way to many of the shows we see today on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. As a vast majority of these kinds of work is aimed at children, it has been traditionally thought of animation as just for them. Normally, it is looked down upon to watch anything resembling a "cartoon" if you are not a child yourself. Most of the anime that is knowledgeable in the mainstream have either been children's shows or downplayed into being one. Though the genre runs across many age groups, only these have seen any real major success in the U.S.

Change in this tradition has begun to grow in recent times, however. More "adult-oriented animated" fare, such as Family Guy, South Park, and a number of short shows on Adult Swim have been produced and have been met with a good degree of popularity from the public. In addition, the reach of Anime into the cultural landscape has slowly grown, with a number of popular animated children's shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Totally Spies containing influences of the genre. While true acceptance is still far off in the ever-closing distance, anime-specific networks, like The Anime Network and FUNimation Channel are gaining more viewership, and online services offering free or minimal fee content have expanded greatly from the beginning of the year. Yet, this is not enough for Anime to reach the mainstream. Where other genres have succeeded and flourished through its own issues, it is not close to reaching their level. The biggest wall in the division between "outsider fare" and cultural birth is not awkward fanbases or foreign roots, but the lack of marketing towards American audiences. In an area filled many sub-genres, appropriate titles capable of penetrating into this relatively untapped region should be not pushed exclusively towards the stalwart fans. If the exposure of children's themed anime proved successful in the past, then more "adult" anime shows should have an impact in the U.S. as well (most importantly, however, if it is done right).

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