Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Another post from me on fads? 

I hope I'm not getting repetitive with these things, but a couple of different things popped into my head than usual after seeing seeing Steve Bunche's comment on another thread. When I later saw his reviews, I knew he wasn't just being dismissive as he seems into this stuff. So:

What will be the biggest story of 2004? The implosion of the manga glut; I just don't see the current success continuing since American audiences are notoriously fickle and quickly tire of "fads."

I just find that statement kind of ironic because the country usually sited as having the most fickle consumers and style-following kids of them all is Japan. I think that is what has actually put them in such a good position. Back when DBZ and Sailor Moon was on network stations, that was an experimental thing. Pokemon was a concerted effort from Japan to take an existing fad and make it work here. Same thing for Yu-Gi-Oh. After DBZ really started to take off, companies moved in YuYu Hakusho, Kenshin, etc. Each of those may be a fad in itself, but as it dies out something can take the place.

Japan isn't sitting still and the companies here aren't either. I think the thing is that "anime" (or "Japanimation" as the journalists used to love to call it) used to be a big buzzword. There is still some of that happening, but less. It is much stronger with the manga industry right now. The key is if they can take the focus away from the medium and into the stories and authors.

If all goes well, the kid isn't thinking "Hey there's a new manga out in the shop. We should get it because manga is cool." Instead, it is "Hey there's a new manga out in the shop. It looks really cool and the fights are supposed to be better than in XXX." When I was growing up, I didn't watch Voltron or Robotech because it was from Japan. I didn't even really think of where it came from. They just seemed like cool shows, along with He-Man and Transformers and M.A.S.K and stuff, and the style of all of those was certainly more similar to each other than something like Looney Tunes.

When I was growing up, pretty much all the comics I read were in color. If I saw something b&w, my first reaction was to be put off by it. It seemed strange and cheap. And non-superhero stuff was always sort of outside of the main vision. Image was new and cool but after a while it was just more and more of the same. If I'd ventured more outside of the normal, I probably would have stuck around instead of dropping out during the crash. Normal was just too limiting..

Looking at the shelves of manga in a bookstore or well-stocked comic shop lately seems a world of difference. A lot more variety there than I ever saw in Wizard. And who knew that comics don't have to be collectable? I liked light mystery stuff as a kid. I watched Clue bazillions of times and Scooby Doo was always fun. I would have enjoyed Kindaichi Case Files so much (review pending)... Kids will browse through all this stuff on the racks like novels and if they see a mystery, a horror title, a romance, something wrapped in plastic Mom won't let them buy, and a couple stories that seem too slow and boring, it already sets them up to know variety is up there and they can always try something else if they get bored.

Also, for kids of today, video games from Japan have been around for many years. Several generations of anime on TV in various forms, and more recently the CCGs and and manga. I'd bet that for a lot of kids, stuff from Japan in general just seems pretty normal. If that normality can then be broad enough to keep people interested, it isn't likely it'll all be dropped wholesale. Is a kid really going to look at Tuxedo Gin and say "You know I'm tired of comics with big eyes". It is more like "Whoah, a boxing penguin! Never seen that before...". Sure they'll get sick of too many martial art animal re-incarnation stories, but Japan seems good at finding new ways to mix up tired old themes to keep new people coming back.

A lot of fickleness comes from age of material. Gundam 0079 flopped on Cartoon Network most likely because it looked old. I hear stories of many anime teens and kids that refuse to watch stuff older than '95 because it is all "old stuff". Manga has a bit of an advantage there as it isn't always quite as easy to pick out the age on sight.

I do think there'll be a glut coming, and probably some company casualties, but I think Asia is here to stay unless local companies can manage to make titles even more accessable and varied and what people want to see, which would then weaken the presence. Like US movies oversees. Countries with strong home markets like France do well on that front, but still end up importing a lot of US blockbusters. I think for once we're on the receiving end of something big like that. And the iconic nature gives a convenient way into more places than usual. Dubbed cartoons are much less jarring than dubbed real people and comics are usually even less of an issue. Any coolness or aversion to reading back to front is going to go away very quickly and be a non-issue.

I think anime is already mostly settled. The bigger companies like ADV or Geneon can either outbid other companies for popular shows or have connections with Japanese companies. The stuff that first came out on DVD first has generally been re-issued in newer cheaper versions. Even stuff from like a year or two ago tends to be re-released in cheaper box sets. Stuff they're taking a chance on or isn't great quality will usually be cheaper to begin with. Specialized favorites with limited fanbases or restoration work can be more. It is about as mature as the DVD market itself is. Manga is still growing right now and the insane number of manga titles in Japan leaves more room for abuse, but there's also the known entities and returns. If they get too many returns, they just have to scale back. If things already seem saturated, new manga company X is going to have to have a good reason for Waldenbooks to start carrying their stuff. Hopefully that kind of stuff will help keep some checks in place.. I guess we'll see..

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