Is Anime Ready for the Mainstream?

This post has links to previous posts I’ve done – notably this one – and is a response to Dewbond’s question.

Obviously, we can start with the idea – what is “mainstream”? I’ve personally found I’ve never fully reconciled with the concept of “mainstream” so this may be a poor definition, but “mainstream” in my head is that associated with pop culture (although arguably, comics – and thus manga – would be a part of pop culture) and the non-anime world.

Just to add to that diversion, I see the DC Universe and Marvel Multiverse to be comics’ leap to the big-time. We see the same sort of thing in anime and its related media – Ghost in the Shell, Edge of Tomorrow maybe, even Avatar (depending on who you ask). However, I bring up Avatar because it’s considered one of the biggest flops of all time in the movie world and only live-action adaptions because people keep thinking that’s the way to break into the mainstream consciousness (see: Netflix Death Note). The problems of adapting animation to live-action could be its own post and is something people have discussed already, but I don’t feel I’m qualified to tackle such a question as I don’t watch enough movies to know what works in the first place. (I never saw video games as a mainstream outlet, but…you do you, Dewbond.)

The idea of “newbies vs. old guard” (something Dewbond mentions with doxxing, tribalism etc.) is something that’s already present in the anime fandom – you might not be aware of it, but it’s there.

Shipping wars.

Discussions of piracy, which are clearly not “normal” to the law-abiding non-anime fan and yet something some anime fans do with glee to hop over region locks and “stick it to the man” in cases of paywalls/otherwise unobtainable content.

Death threats to creators, just because the aforementioned shipping wars were given the “wrong” conclusion or because the fans weren’t pleased in some other manner.

Dubs which become “politically correct” and “fulfil the need for gender equality”, but in turn lose what made the anime special in the first place. (see: Cardcaptor Sakura, certain parts of Pokemon and Sailor Moon)

(…I could go on, because anime fandom is not a utopia, but let’s cut it there for argument’s sake.)

Historically, some people retreat to anime because it’s a niche where they belong, because it’s “different”. Because it’s weird and comes from people we revere and yet can also come to understand if – like me – you spend money, resources and hours and hours of work learning the Japanese language…and I’m only about halfway there. This is why we’re capable of shrugging off negative outside opinions.

However, there is the downside to this – gatekeeping…but I’ve discussed that topic before (see first link), so let’s not open those floodgates again.

Dewbond is right that anime fans tend to be accepting of each other’s opinions because anime consumption tends to come with the territory of creation or interpretation…because anime culture has come to be associated with doing things in groups, moreso than some of the other cultures (notably book culture, based on my experience volunteering and hanging out in various libraries, but your mileage may vary on that).

The second half of that paragraph about acceptance is the somewhat even gender ratio. Historically, anime is a boys’ club and has only been gaining traction with women due to things like multi-demographic appeal and female-oriented shows/subgenres (most recently, those would be shows like Free! and Yuri!!! on Ice, but also think of reverse harems and BL). Anime is also great for exploration of the concept of gender. I have way too much discussion of how various anime play around with the concept of gender (at least, I think I have a lot…) which is a testament to that. This means while the ratio is not perfect, you’ll see more girls/female-identifying individuals in certain circles (see: fanfiction, fandom circles where bishonen are big draws such as Boueibu‘s) which may accidentally inflate how one sees the female presence when interacting with anime and vice versa for stuff like isekai (stuff like No Game No Life, not My Next Life as a Villainess or Magic Knight Rayearth) and harem anime. Heck, even WordPress’s anime community is its own limiter. Well, what I’m saying is that even if the ratio is somewhat even now, it hasn’t always been this even and it might actually not be…but we’d have to accurately poll the entire anime fandom to determine if it was.

In short, anime fandom is not as pure as Dewbond thinks it is, but anime fans have learnt to deal with being outcasts for so long, we built thick skins along the way. By talking in ways only we understand, we develop our own jargon and become the fans we want to be, for better or for worse…so basically, be respectful, don’t gatekeep and we’ll be just fine, regardless of whether we’re in the mainstream or not.

If we are part of the mainstream, sure thing, we’re ready but if we’re not, I’m also fine with that. I don’t think we need to be part of the mainstream to validate ourselves – just existing is fine, warts and all – but I also say it’s not my position to decide if we are in the mainstream or not. Saying we are or aren’t in the mainstream is bound to bring gatekeeping, after all.

Okay, I think I spat out a few posts’ worth of ideas right there. So thank you to Dewbond for letting people discuss this idea and now it’s time for everyone else to chip in. Is anime ready for the mainstream? Was it ever ready, or will it ever be ready?



8 thoughts on “Is Anime Ready for the Mainstream?

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  1. I’m not worried about individuals as gatekeepers. It’s a big multiverse of opinions out there. If you only listen to one twitter feed and let that make up your mind about anime, then the problem is not with the anime – or even the gatekeeper – but with you.

    The gatekeepers who concern me are all multinational media outlets. It hasn’t happened – YET – but I’d hate to see anime become the homogenized pablum we are dispensed by the movie industry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone who specializes in covering both Eastern and Western animation, this is a tricky question, and one that doesn’t have a simple answer. On some level, I’d say anime already *is* mainstream on some level- most people casually know some of the biggest anime or characters from them in passing without much thought (heck, Goku even had a parade balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this past November, that doesn’t happen in the past).

    On the other hand, the tremendous potential that anime has shown in the complexity of the animated medium as it pertains to storytelling and characters is obfuscated by petty tribalism (shipping and fandom wars), underexposure of many good series, stereotypes about anime in general that still persist (going back to what you said about its niche) and then general stereotypes about animation we all deal with (namely, that it’s a “kid’s medium” and that any adult show, to the lowest common denominator, is drivel like Family Guy.) Ultimately, all these things are better off then they were a decade ago, and I would expect them to be less of a problem as time goes on, but that will be for the future to decide. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. for one thing, anime is influencing western cartoons like Steven Universe, so that’s nice. and a bunch of Netflix originals are anime or anime inspired, whether good or bad. I guess it’s not really ready for the mainstream, but it;s a step above what it used to be a decade or two ago where anime is super underground.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks so much for replying to this! I am always glad to see opinions on this subject.

    I may have been a bit too narrow in my view of anime. It absolutely has a dark side of fandom that all things do. There are bitter fans, mean fans, harassment of actors, youtubers, producers, etc. etc. All of which is 100% unacceptable regardless of your personal views. And that isn’t even getting into the very unsettling aspects of the anime industry itself.

    However right now (and I am using the last few years of video games and comic books as a reference here) there seems to be a level of peaceful co-existence among the anime fanbase. Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, Forums, there just seems to be a general atmosphere of getting along, at least from my observations. I don’t subscribe to the idea that anime is some “pure political incorrect paradise” only that it seems to be a fandom wholly untouched by the recent culture wars that have devastated several western entertainment venues.

    Either way, I loved this post and thank you so much for writing it.

    Liked by 2 people

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