The Anime News Network published an interview with Aniplex of America president Henry Goto, centering around their new event Akibafest, which happened in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles this past October, but saying some interesting things about fandom in the process.
When addressing questions about the growing global market of anime, Goto had some very interesting responses:
That's a lot of work. From a content standpoint, what do you think the prescription is? Do you think anime should just forge ahead, doing what it's been doing, being anime as it is now? Or do you think it's going to change to meet that global audience? Do you think it needs to lose any of its cultural identity to be even more global?
Yeah, I think so. Because an audience is an audience. One Sword Art Online fan in Japan, one Sword Art Online fan in US, same. Same fan.
Right, exactly. But in terms of meeting that global audience, you're going to start selling shows to Germans and whoever else in the world. Do you think Aniplex Japan is going to start creating television that is aimed more at that global audience? So the content itself will be potentially more appealing to an even bigger global audience? Like, now you need to consider what a German fan would want to see?
I can probably defer to Hayao Miyazaki's words – to paraphrase, “I am making the movie for a Japanese audience”. But, there are people all over the world with the same mentality as Japanese fans. So I think like radio waves, some people “get” it.
Even in Japan, everyone is not an anime fan, right? Anime fans react with the same radio wave. And the US audience, some people feel it too.
In context, the two questions came as a follow-up to Goto commenting on the difficulty of promoting the upcoming Sword Art Online movie worldwide. How announcements now happen at conventions worldwide, how even the Sword Art Online portal site has to now be in Japanese, English, and German, and how it’s difficult, but highly necessary, for Aniplex to manage all that worldwide promotion.
Anime is the holy grail of fringe interests. It continues to grow without compromising what makes it unique. Despite years of handwringing from fandom critics and intellectuals, the medium forges on in the West. They told us anime needed to change to appeal to other cultures. They told us some shows are too “dangerously Japanese” to draw people into the medium. They told us that, because the US has more people, anime needs to appeal to the West to make more money.
Perhaps we were lied to.
Consider that anime is a subculture, not only here, but in Japan as well. Almost equal to the worry about the “need” to appeal more the Western audiences has been the complaint that anime’s current business model of appealing to its niche audience is unsustainable, despite the anime industry being historically successful, even in the face of recession.
It doesn’t appeal to mainstream Japanese or mainstream Westerners, but to a subset of both audiences. Perhaps there’s something in common between all anime fans, regardless of nationality. Perhaps we all share a culture, rather than just being subsets of two different cultures.
A funny thing started to happen in the 2010s. We caught up. The rise of streaming and simulcasting closed the gap between us and the Japanese fandom. We could all finally be watching the same thing at the same time. Interaction grew closer, as both sides of the Pacific could share experiences, insofar as language barriers permitted. This, coupled with a growing body of research, both translated and original English, gave us more understanding.
As the time-shift between fandoms converged, it got harder to lie about anime and its surrounding culture. The false narratives surrounding concepts like otaku and moe started to break down.
Much of the handwringing over anime’s ostensible lack of appeal to the West could be seen as self-serving. People assume there’s a chasm between what Japanese fans want and what American fans want, simply because what they like isn’t particularly popular in Japan. Indeed, changing anime to appeal more to the mainstream could be highly damaging. Anime lives and dies by its fanbase, and changing it would likely alienate its fans on both sides of the Pacific.
The anime fandom as a whole grew out of the anime industry being left to its own devices. Engineering a bigger fanbase by changing the medium would be death. Like Goto said, “some people ‘get’ it.” Some people are tuned to anime’s wavelength, and some aren’t.
That’s not a bad thing: That’s the basis of a subculture.