The Best Anime of the 2000s (and the Trends That Defined the Decade): Part 2
The Best 5 Anime Trends of the 2000s:
5. Anime on TV. There's no doubt in my mind that anime was greatly boosted by its presence on television in the last decade. Adult Swim may pretend to hate the stuff, but they keep broadcasting it! The broad expansion of televised anime gave many teens their first taste and gave them reason to check out more.
4. Fandom becomes younger, more female-friendly, and even vaguely mainstream. Do you miss the days of a bunch of vaguely unattractive guys in their 30s sitting around a 20" screen watching the latest anime at anime clubs? I don't (even though I'm now in my mid-30s myself). While the youth of modern fandom has its own problems (which I'll mention below), there's no doubt that fandom exploded amongst teens and women in a good way during this time. This has helped to expand the kinds of titles available in the US, for one. For another, it means that anime is no longer the hobby of aging bachelors sitting around in mom's basement. Fans of anime are still sometimes looked at askance, but the truth is, you can now be the cool kid in school and still be an otaku. You can find actual romance in the anime kingdom. Booyah.
3. Through Oscar and Lasseter, anime gets some respect. While anime isn't going to have another breakthrough like Spirited Away, the respect that film earned -- along with Pixar's John Lasseter pushing for Miyazaki mainstreaming through Disney -- gave anime a new legitimacy. While we've had a champion in Roger Ebert for some time, Lasseter actually got classic anime on our shelves and in the minds of Academy voters.
2. Online fansubbing of shows virtually lost to time or licensing issues. Let's face it...nobody wants to touch Macross properties any more due to the rights issues faced not only in Japan but in America due to Harmony Gold's rabid protection of its license. And yet, many of us have been able to watch Macross 7, Macross Zero, etc. Why? Fansubs. And if you have moral qualms with downloading shows that might someday get a license, certainly you could still feel good about finding lost programs like Anne of Green Gables or Space Runaway Ideon. Not all of them are classics, by any means. Yet some like Legend of the Galactic Heroes are. While fansubbing via VHS greatly helped the hobby, online downloading expanded it beyond those die-hards willing to track down fansubbers and to pay megabucks for a 4th generation copy that's barely watchable.
1. DVD. Without it, anime would never have made the breakthrough it did. DVD revolutionized the industry. At its very inception, it made subs and dubs possible on a single disc. It made anime rentals possible online, expanding the fan base. It made box sets feasible at first and essential by the end of the decade. And eventually, it would lower the price point for anime to a level impossible to imagine even ten years ago. While Blu-Ray may look nicer and promise delights like lossless audio, DVD is what made the anime industry explode...at least for a time.
The Worst 5 Anime Trends of the 2000s:
5. Fandom's immense immaturity at virtually all levels of existence. Simply put, if we as a collective group acted better, anime would have a much better reputation. From demanding recalls for one mistimed subtitle and refusing to buy legitimate releases because "the fansubs are better" to wildly inappropriate personal conduct at conventions, fans are our own worst enemy. When we were those guys in mom's basement, we did have better manners. Things have gotten better as convention staff have cracked down and industry types have realized the needs of the fan base, but seriously, we all need to grow up.
4. The sheer impossibility of keeping up with everything. I've mentioned this many times, but to keep up with everything in the anime industry would take more hours than there are in a day. We've seen folks who are players in the field lose marriages and family and jobs from the sheer weight of it all. At one point in time, licensing used to at least provide some gatekeeping. Now, everything is available from Japan immediately, and it's like trying to keep up with everything on American television. Not only is it impossible, but it's ridiculous. And here's the reason why...
3. Anime has become far less creative. You could, instead, say that American television has just caught up. But now, you can find tons of quality programs on both the networks and cable. Many of us who loved the serialized nature of anime now have it through 24, Lost, BSG, you name it. Twenty-five years ago, we'd never seen anything like anime. Now, most of what's broadcast on Japanese TV is an imitation of something else. This is a situation where Japan is mostly to blame, not America, though the Japanese think they are catering to our tastes more now. In reality, the strangeness and foreign-ness of anime is still a selling point. Anime needs to stand out as something uniquely different.
2. The implosion of the anime distribution sector in America. While a few major players like Funimation exist, the late 2000s have seen distributors go belly-up (Central Park Media), become virtually irrelevant (AnimEigo), or become new entities in an attempt to survive the horrors of bad deals (ADV Films/Section 23). This means that we'll see less competition in the next decade, as well as fewer licenses picked up in general. I believe we have just begun to see the ramifications of this, especially since I am not convinced that the "free ride" of streaming anime is going to continue for very much longer without Japanese companies finally defending their international copyrights. But beyond that, I'm saddened by this because it stems from a moral failing that has touched the whole of this community, and it's this...
1. Fansubs of new, promising, licensable products have damaging every economic sector of the industry. Just because you can fansub something doesn't mean you should, and just because you can download something doesn't mean you should. Countless programs, good programs, are being ignored by distributors because those most likely to buy the shows on DVD have already seen them and moved on. I will defend fansubs of ancient and archaic gems from the past, but the "day and date" obsession of the anime community needs to end. Services like Crunchyroll are a stopgap, but they won't solve the ultimate financial problem. I admit that many anime television programs are not worth owning, but there's got to be a solution where the companies and artists who create the programs actually get paid for them.
I'm not sure where the next decade will take us as a community of otaku. Trends that began the decade are now forgotten. Some things on the anime horizon may be over and done within a scant few years. What I do know is that it was a great decade to be an anime fan...but I'm not sure that will be true in the years ahead. Still, this hobby is cyclical, and the new burst of creativity may be just around the corner. There's still plenty to see and read and enjoy. And while I have no idea whether or not I'll still be writing anime reviews in ten years, 2010 marks my twenty-fifth year in this hobby...I'm not planning on going anywhere soon.