The State of Anime Now

I am growing disillusioned about anime (though I’ll still keep up this column, if that’s what you’re worried about). The last time I saw a good anime was probably in 2012, when Fate/Zero came on. After that, well, subsequent anime seemed to comprise either of weird humour or excessive violence (Fate/Zero was already treading the latter category, but I’m mainly looking at Psycho-Pass). Of course, this is a very harsh and unjust labelling of anime (what is weird? what is excessive?), which I won’t go into here. Instead, I’ll focus on some changes I’ve seen in the anime of today.

1. Audience

Anime of the 21st century does not cater to the same audience as anime of the past. If you saw my previous entry of noitaminA, it may strike you immediately that no sane person will be staying up past midnight to watch anime, which means that the ones watching anime are increasingly hikikomori or international audiences who catch their favourite shows anytime they want. You can see the influence of international audiences already, particularly in how more and more shows include an English version of their title below the Japanese one, or even in the decreasing number of shows set in Japan.

Aside from nationality, one salient point is that anime now caters to people who are very genre-savvy. This is one point I see everywhere. Chuunibyou assumes that people know the extent to which giant weapons and “Dark Flame Masters” impacted our lives in the 1990s and 2000s. Kyoukai no Kanata, as I repeatedly emphasised, assumes that people know enough about demons, exorcists and superpowers that they don’t have to spend time explaining their relationship. More and more elements are treated as common knowledge, “demon lords”, “elemental powers”, that there is very little discovery of such things anymore.

Miyazaki Hayao criticised the anime of today as being “made by otakus who do not go out to observe people in reality”. In the same vein, anime is also geared towards otakus, sometimes quite obviously. Look at the number of protagonists who are “hikikomoris”, or otherwise socially maladaptive. In fact, too socially-savvy people are regarded with distrust.

2. Art quality

Art quality has definitely visibly increased. I was watching Kindaichi Returns the other day and noticing their old-fashioned way of drawing — big eyes, small face, white streak in their hair. And really, anime art has gone a long way, such that it can be hard to tell what is drawn and what isn’t (see Shinkai Makoto). People look a lot more attractive in anime (sometimes even better than real humans). I have high hopes for this, and hope they never go into 3-D like American cartoons have done.

3. Language

I have heard more than one person lament that watching anime helped them in learning the casual form in Japanese, but not much else. There is a profound lack of usage of the polite form in anime, or pretty much anything you’ll need to get around in Japan. But that’s old news. What is new is the rise of new vocabulary only known to anime viewers. Things like “Nendoroids”, “Chuunibyou”, and a host of other words used with exclusive meaning among the anime community. Anime has started its own lexicon.

These are just some of the changes I see in the new generation of anime. What do you think?

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