The Consumerist Perspective

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Do not fight the demographic that’s willing to spend hundreds of dollars on cute anime girl products. That is a no-win battle. If your chosen media isn’t making the same kind of money as products for the otaku fanbase, namecalling, shaming, and judging might feel good, but it won’t help you.

I remember a Youtube video from a few years ago about how making “good anime” is hard because of the nature of the market and the need for money and support from the fans to make it. The core message was sound: “Buy and support the anime you like,” but what bothered me about the way it was presented is that the dichotomy between “good anime” and everything else was presented as “anime that’s like REDLINE” vs “anime that’s like Strike Witches.”

Indeed, many critically-acclaimed anime saw much fanfare while they were airing, but said hype dropped off completely after they ended. In the meantime, popular moe properties of yesteryear continue to get new character merchandise. A 1/6 scale figure of Tamaki Kousaka from 2004’s To Heart 2 released in September of 2017.

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While big-name anime critics, feminist-leaning anime bloggers, and belligerent “MANime” fans might be quick to namecall, shame, and judge fans of slice-of-life, fanservice, ecchi, and harem anime as low-standard-having misogynist virgins, what remains true is that otaku continue to get what they want while everyone else has to wait and hope.

In a world where being able to merchandise a show can be a determining factor in that show’s fate (and further, the studio’s fate), it’s counterproductive that so many outspoken anime fans in the West seem disdainful of anime made to appeal to people and sell. There seems to be a hard separator in their minds between “art” and “product,” manifesting in a widening chasm between “critic” and “consumer.”

The consumer perspective is disregarded in favor of a multitude of critical perspectives: Feminist criticism, deconstruction, sakuga, etc., all with their own techniques, frameworks, and jargon, yet all utterly meaningless in the face of consumerism; all doing nothing to anticipate what will sell or to better understand why certain shows are more successful than others.

Indeed, despite many critics knowing full well just how” by-committee” the process by which most anime is conceived is, it’s common for them to fall back on the “sales numbers don’t equate to quality” argument whenever financial success is brought up in a discussion, regardless of whether anyone was trying to make that point or not.

The Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency gave Strike Witches a ringing endorsement in 2009. Nobody talks about this.

The Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency gave Strike Witches a ringing endorsement in 2009. Nobody talks about this.

But the refusal to acknowledge the consumer product perspective of anime leaves a lot of very interesting questions completely unanswered. How did the Girls und Panzer movie become the highest-grossing film in Japan on its opening weekend? How did Strike Witches succeed where Sky Girls failed? Why did Redline bomb in the Japanese box office, despite acclaim from US and UK anime critics?

And, no, the answer to that last one isn’t “because Japan has bad taste in anime.” Lazy answers are very tempting when trying to answer these questions without delving deep into the consumer perspective. It can be very tantalizing to simply dismiss the mass of anime fans by implying they have basic tastes, or that they just buy the “lowest-common-denominator” products, or that they’re too lazy to seek out something else.

That fails to address the real issue, however. Are anime fans lazy consumers, or is there something about shows like Bakemonogatari, K-ON!, Love Live, and Girls und Panzer that appeals to people that we just aren’t talking about?

Or take Sword Art Online. Despite being a critical punching bag of Youtube anime types, SAO remains a fan favorite. Criticism alone won’t improve a show. However flawed a series, if it manages to captivate people, it did something right. What critics fail to understand is that critical analysis only goes so far.

Critical acclaim and consumer popularity occur together by coincidence, at best. When they diverge, however, no energy is expended trying to find out why the critical darling failed to gain traction, or how the flawed show still managed to gain an audience.

Instead, laziness takes over, in the form of critics haughtily looking down their noses at popular shows, pointing out this flaw or that flaw while ignoring the appeal.

Criticism, but to what end?

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Are we trying to improve anime? That can only really be done at a market level, given how “by-committee” most anime is created. Anyone who knows about the creation process should understand that.

The consumerist perspective is important for anime because it’s realistic. It’s congruent to how anime is made, marketed, and consumed. When a production committee gets together to plan out an anime, they’re thinking about their consumers. Therefore, a complete examination of any anime must include discussion from a consumer standpoint. Otherwise it’s incomplete.

To disregard the consumerist perspective is to fundamentally ignore a major element of anime as a medium.