Posted by: Tim | March 12, 2010

Anime USA After Thoughts

I originally wrote this posting for One Astronomer’s Noise

A few months ago, I attended Anime USA, my 4th anime convention.  This was the 2nd time I attended Anime USA and it was a great time as always.  I went to some interesting panels and enjoyed the dealer’s room and artist alley, and I got to sit down with one of the voice actors, J. Michael Tatum, and talk about various aspects of his job and the anime industry, as well as, a lot of other things.  Some things that intrigued me in the course of the weekend (panels, conversations, etc.) were the concept of classifying anime, the stigma surrounding anime, and the problems that these cause in marketing anime.

A lot of people seem to refer to anime as an all encompassing genre, similar to comedy, drama, romance, and action, but this classification isn’t really accurate.  It’s more complex than that.  Why?  Because you can find all of those genres in anime, too.  So, anime should fall into a different level of classification.  Maybe it should fall into a category such as television, movies, and books, but then again it doesn’t fit there too well either.  Why?  Because anime can be a TV show or movie.

Love Hina (Right Image) and Hellsing (Left Image)

So, it’s hard to classify anime just as anime.  I can’t say that because you like “Love Hina” you’ll most likely enjoy “Hellsing” because they are very different.  There’s anime that’s comedy, drama, science fiction, surreal, romantic… anime that focuses on robots and vampires… anime geared towards girls (Shojo), geared towards boys (Shonen), geared towards women (Josei), and geared towards men (Seinen).  There’s anime with real, in-depth, heartfelt stories and ones that are mostly action…there are musicals and shows that are just sickeningly cute and ones that are mind-blowingly absurd or just freaky and messed up.  There’s horror and suspense.  There are ones that are just epic.  Ones with morals and trying to make a social or political point.  There are ones that are just for fun.  Not to mention “adult” anime (Hentai) which has its own breakdown of types.  So it cannot be classified simply.

There is also a stigma that surrounds anime, similar to the stigma that surrounds science fiction.  Anime is looked as being childish and/or geeky.  People hear the name anime and immediately associate it with cartoons, geekiness, Pokémon, children’s shows, robots, etc.  Some of those things are correct.  If by cartoon, you mean it’s animated, then yes.  There is hand-drawn and computer-animated anime.  Is it geeky?  Well, it certainly does have that stigma and some of the fans are extremely hard-core and do dress up as characters (called Cosplay), so it is definitely something that appeals to geeks.  However, I don’t think there is anything instrinsically geeky about anime.  Pokémon and other such children’s show ideas are just one aspect of anime.  Some will argue that they are the parts that give anime a bad name and the stigma, but I disagree.  It is judged by the beliefs people have about it, and often these beliefs come from limited knowledge about it.  There is such a variety within anime that it is a shame it is not even given a chance by so many people.  As a young kid, I was into the anime that was available, though we didn’t think of it as “anime”, it was just another cartoon.  When I got older, I shunned it because I feared the ridicule of my peers and, at the time, I only knew one small sliver of what was available.  It was in college that I started to get back into it.  Yes, it started with Pokémon and it was everything I remembered as a kid.  It was silly and childish, but I now saw a message in the stories that I didn’t see as a kid.  I was then exposed to a hentai series, which was the complete opposite of everything I knew about anime.  So I started to explore other series and found a wide range of shows.  I liked some and I didn’t like others, but that’s when I started to realize a lot of people who shunned anime, like I did, could find something that interested them.  I just lucked out that I had friends who knew about anime and hadn’t shunned it like I had and they could walk me through it and help me find things I liked.  They helped me find where and how to look for series.

So not all anime is created equal.  So what?  Well the difficulty in classifying anime makes marketing it difficult.  The broad anime moniker means there is no target market because the age range, gender, sexual preference, race, etc. are all over the place since there is such variety.  Combine that with the stigma that surrounds anime and you’ve narrowed your market.  Even if you do take a broad approach at marketing, the stigma will keep a lot of people from even considering it, so you’re wasting lots of money for little results.  This is a major problem in the industry.  Without marketing and advertising, only the diehards are up-to-date on new releases.  It’s like a closed off genre because if you’re new you don’t know what is what and it’s hard to find out.  There isn’t a lot of marketing and advertising to even point you in the right direction or let you know new things are coming out.  People see Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh on television and for them that is anime.  So the consumer base is only growing very slowly, which is not good for the studios.  It’s expensive to purchase the titles, translate the story, adapt the story, record the new voices and then make & distribute the DVDs.  And since anime does not have as wide a consumer base as major television series and motion pictures, the prices are higher for each consumer.  That also results in people using the internet for downloading unlicensed “fansubbed” shows.  All of this combined really does hurt the industry.  Recently ADV, one of the few studios in the United States for dubbing anime, closed down.  Luckily, there are still others (like FUNimation) left to try to pick up all the titles once owned by ADV, but it was a major blow.  It’s getting harder and harder for these studios to operate and turn a profit.  Something needs to be done, marketing needs to improve, and the consumer base needs to increase.  How?  I am not sure, but social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook seem to be a good place to start.  Why?  Because compared to other forms of advertising, social media networks are relatively inexpensive.  There are definitely draw backs to social media networks.  With social media, consumers have to actively come to you for information, whereas with regular advertising information comes to the consumer.  But there are more and more people are joining Twitter and Facebook, and both are continuing to evolve.  Videos can be posted on Facebook and YouTube, so they are good places for trailers and teasers. Companies can search Twitter for certain terms and then send those people 140 characters of information.  Plus, fans and people who like what they see can repost the information or email it to their friends expanding the reach of the advertising.  For a tiny investment, it seems like a great place to start.

Actually, FUNimation is already on Twitter and Facebook

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