Over the weekend the Rocky Mountain Anime Association (RMAA) and the Japanese Consulate held a summit to find the answer to one of the most important questions that an anime fan can ask. Why is anime so popular in North America? To find the answer to this question six professionals gave presentations on the history of anime in the states and why we are so interested in it.
First up was Dr. Alisa Freedman, an Associate Professor of Japanese Literature & Film at the University of Oregon. She spoke about how anime has influenced culture in both Japan and America. She talked about Japan's use of soft power (super cute or kawaii objects / creatures such as Hello Kitty). Soft power is the process using cute to get people to want to do things for you. To this affect Japan has made Hello Kitty their Ambassador to Asia and Doraemon is their ambassador for anime.
Dr. Freedman also spoke on how anime relates to people on a level that other shows cannot. She used Kiki's Delivery Service as an example. First year college students can relate to leaving home and starting their own adventures. One of her other points was that the exchange of culture is bi-directional. While we have taken a number of things from Japan and created shows, they too took from us. This can be seen in things such as Powerpuff Girls becoming Powerpuff Girls Zi. Really interesting stuff.
Next up was Sarah Sullivan and Christopher Bevins from FUNimation. Sarah is the Convention and Events Manager while Chris is the ADR Director, Voice Actor, Script Adaptor and Line Producer. They talked about how FUNimation was founded in 1994 in Fort Worth, TX and released Dragon Ball Z in 1998. They spoke on how anime allows you to embrace "owning your freak". Anime here in America is a culture of inclusiveness. People get together and accept each other for who they are. There are people whom have best friends in that they only see one or two times a year at an anime con. There is something for everyone and it brings us all together.
They also spoke about how anime is a great way for children to explore life experiences in a safe and controlled environment. They said that it is a safe to explore sexuality (lord knows there is are a number of shows that have sex in them) and death. The example that was used is Summer Wars was giving a child a place to deal with the loss of a great-grandmother. While a small child was watching the scene where Sakae Jinnouchi passed away, it prompted her to ask if her grandma will die and realize she will. This made the child think about that and mentally prepare for when it happens.
They were followed by Dr. Ian Condry, an Associate Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies, MIT. He has also wrote "The Soul of Anime". He spoke of anime as a culture that people were not expecting. People he spoke to commented on how anime is something they did not expect. Anime found that social dynamics lead to success. An example of this was with Gundam. It actually failed in 1979 and was cancelled. But the fans brought it back, and the rest is history. He also spoke on Vocaloids, and specifically Hatsune Miku. The company that created them, Crypton Future Media, does not fully restrict use of their creations. They have 3 levels of licensing. With level 1 if you make no money on what you create with it then you don't even need to ask. Sort of like the creative commons license. Level 2 is where they just ask that you place links back to them if you are going to be making some money on them. Level 3 involves normal licensing. This would be used in situations such as the games that Sega made with these characters.
Our next speaker was Kevin McKeever, Directory of Marketing for Harmony Gold. For those that may not know Harmony Gold is responsible for titles such as Robotech and Macross. They started bringing anime titles to America 30 years ago, and Kevin has been there for 15 of those years. What he mainly spoke about was the introduction of anime on TV. He also mentioned how you will find anime fans in the most unlikely of places, including Washington DC.
The history he mentioned was when Robotech was first brought to TV. In 1985 ABC, NBC, and CBS controlled animation on TV, and it all had to be kid friendly. A new network came along and wanted to change the ideals that had been held to for so long, a network called Fox. This is where Robotech found a home, and it was a hit. This was the show that people had been longing for, they just did not know it until then. It was an instant hit. In LA it was in 3rd place when TV program rating were released for November 1985 at 13% and it was number 1 in New York as of February 1986 with 20%. That means 1 in 5 TV's in New York watched Robotech that month. It's popularity could not be ignored. With such a large fan base they soon demanded ways to show their loyalty to the show, and started demanding merchandise. Soon after that the cons started to appear. One last thing he mentioned was the Robotech movie is being created. They have a partnership with Warner Bros and Tobey Maguire is set to produce it and Nic Mathieu is going to direct it.
Our last presenter was Jerry Beck, founder of Streamline Pictures. He is responsible for initially distributing AKIRA and the Miyazaki files in the US. Who knows how long it may have taken to get them here had he not been around. His company was potentially the reason for any home market for Anime. They way they got licensing for films was they gave the license holders 50% of what they made in the theatres with promises that once their content was popular in theatres it could get placed in home video stores. The plan worked and they were able to start dubbing files such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. He had a hard time convincing theatre owners to play these films initially, but once in, they filled the theatres.
In all these presentations they always hit on a few main topics.
- Anime draws people together, it is inclusive in ways that few things are. It does not matter if you are a fan of the same anime as someone else. We are all one in our anime fandom.
- Anime respects us. It does does not treat us like children.
- Anime can take us places that conventional live action shows cannot with comparable budgets.
- People can identify with it
Now this article does not do the summit justice. There was just so much said that I cannot fully transcribe it here for you. Good news is that I don't need to. The NDK YouTube page will be showing the full recorded summit, so keep an eye on it if you want to see what was talked about without be condensing it.