Wednesday, July 26, 2006

:anime: The Genre, The Nation, & The Problem (Second Part:: Just Over the Pacific: Titles to Help Bridge the Gap)

In past years, animated features, or "cartoons" to most, have been an integral part of the lives of young children and teenagers. In this generation, however, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny have begun to share their spots with Peter Griffin and Cartman atop the apex of animation popularity. A peculiar shift in the age paradigm has taken place recently, as more "adult-oriented" features have risen in favorability among older teens and adults. In addition to Family Guy, South Park, and a few of the shows on Adult Swim, even a kid's show like SpongeBob SquarePants is viewed by a good amount of adults. In all of this growth, however, Anime has yet to fully reap the fruits of this harvest. Outside of a scant few titles, not many in America's mainstream culture know much of anything in the genre. While there are certainly many subgenres and styles that could prove appealing to the public, the bulk of these are marketed at the already-established fanbase. In a burgeoning demographic that is becoming more acceptable of animated shows, it is now a grand opportunity to extend anime marketing towards the mass audience.

The beginnings of such a major step in market expansion can already be seen in the greater presence of anime-related content and web services on the Internet and an increasing usage of movie theaters by distributors to showcase some of their offerings. A boost in public exposure is a prime start, but this can be further ventured into with promotional content posted in large populated areas (such as cities, sizable stores/shopping centers) and television spots (brief fifteen-second ads can still go a long way). Television is the most important venue of all. With its reach extending far beyond posters and theaters, it is the best device for tapping into the growing adult market. The most important aspects of this is knowing which shows are capable of accomplishing this feat and which kind(s) of networks to seek out who are willing to broadcast a niche product like "anime."

Black Lagoon, a thirteen-part series revolving around a young Japanese businessman left to join with a gang of mercenaries after an unfortunate series of events set for release next year, is perhaps the best candidate for capturing the attention of mainstream America. Unlike most action features on both sides of the Pacific, this particular work manages to be both big on action sequences and big on plot & character. High animation and score quality aside, the major plus for the show is the use of American pop culture references and sensibilities, something that many viewers here can relate to. The presence of strong female characters also adds to the show's appeal towards the female audience. Though Cartoon Network/Adult Swim has long been the spot for anime showings on TV, Black Lagoon would best be suited elsewhere for such a campaign of expansion. SpikeTV, being a male/action-oriented network, has a history in showcasing animated products and this fall will feature a GONZO-animated series in Afro Samurai. The style of Lagoon would make a very good fit on their schedule and could benefit them very well in the right timeslot (perhaps between 10:00 PM and 11:30 PM). USA Network, under their "Characters Welcome" banner, could also make good use of the series.

Paradise Kiss, also a thirteen-parter, chronicles the trials of a young high school student who gets pulled into the world of modeling & fashion, and love. Fashion and makeover shows themselves have risen in popularity, and with the deep involvement of the former's field in this series, Paradise Kiss can create a big splash with female adult and teen audiences. Because of its themes, the show has a broad appeal across many stations. Style and female-centric channel Oxygen are natural picks, however, the N (aimed at older teens), Bravo, and MTV (notable since it has a Franz Ferdinand tune as the ending theme song) are all suitable venues for it as well. Style would most benefit from broadcasting it because of its inherit fashion & makeup themes and insider-esque capture of the industry and aspiring artists & designers. The nicely-rounded story and superb all-around production (especially with its animation, art direction, score, and design) can make it a great sell to them and the other suggested venues.

Though already on another network (AZN Television), the Record of Lodoss War OVA (thirteen episodes) would make a better fit on the more widely-available Sci-fi Channel. The Lord of the Ring trilogy is still fresh in the mind of the public, so the deep fantasy roots of the show could draw those same folk over to watch this tale of warriors, sorcerers, and dragons. While its chief drawback is its older animation, its quality is still remarkable for its age, so perhaps Lodoss would best be used as a weekend marathon special, where exposure to viewers would be best. Not lacking in up-to-date animation, the upcoming Ergo Proxy and its stark, surreal look and atmosphere would fit quite well on either the network or MTV, whose stylings are very reminiscent of its early '90s animation offerings. Taking place in the far future, the show follows a young woman investigating an immigrant worker who may have something to do with the appearances of strange beast-like figures inside of a domed city. The design work and sci-fi elements of the 26-episode series could attract a sizable audience and help pique interest in Anime as a whole.

The genre of Anime holds much potential, but as often as many enthusiasts would like to see it flourish in the mainstream, it has a slim chance of doing so in the market's current state. If distributors and companies share this same feeling, then market expansion is key to achieving this goal. Expanded and better use of advertisement and peddling of suitable, high-quality content to networks outside of Cartoon Network/Adult Swim such as the ones mentioned may go a long way in making this a reality. In addition, the creation of Video-on-Demand services can also help boost attention, as Anime Selects and Anime Network On Demand have proven. Although the titles selected represent ones that would be most suited and viable for American interest and exposure, there are plenty of borderline titles that may have the possibility to become just as popular as or even more so than those may. Anime has a very wide range of works and subgenres, enough to satisfy many stateside, but unless the right titles are made available in the right places to them where an elicitation in the genre can grow, that long-sought-after cultural penetration in the U.S. will remain as it is now--slowly moving and far-off.

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