It's Time To Stop Acting Like Nobody Watches Anime

Screenshot: Popsugar

Despite the genre's overwhelming popularity, people act as if anime is still a niche interest. When celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Michael B. Jordan say that they're fans, or Britney Spears posts pictures of her son's Dragon Ball Z fanart on Instagram, fellow anime-enjoyers are shocked.

Anime has actually been mainstream for a couple of decades now.

There was a time when anime was obscure in the west, only available on copied VHS tapes passed among ultra fans. In 1999, that would change when Cartoon Network picked up the rights for Dragon Ball Z for a new block of programing called Toonami.

Dragon Ball Z had previously been broadcast on a few local UPN stations across the United States, but this was a nationally available cable network and not a local channel, and given the chance to shine the show was overwhelmingly popular. In October of 2000, TimeWarner would write in a press release that the show was a ratings driver for the network.

At the same time, children and teenagers were enraptured by the likes of Sailor Moon, which also aired on Toonami, and Pokémon, the companion show to the video game airing on the WB. "We were working in a bubble until people started writing about the success of Dragon Ball Z, because that was right around when Pokémon blew up," Toonami producer Jason DeMarco said in an oral history of Toonami for Complex. "It was really weird to suddenly have the Wall Street Journal writing about Dragon Ball Z. … we didn't understand that it was making cultural impact until we would occasionally speak at a high school and half of the kids in the room were like, 'Oh man, I love Toonami.'"

TOM, Toonami's robot host, was voice by Cowboy Bebop's Steve Blum

Starting in 2006, Cartoon Network would also have to start competing with streaming video, in particular Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll began as a site that hosted pirated fansubs of anime, but by 2009 they secured a deal with Tokyo TV to host episodes of the still unbelievably popular show Naruto Shippuden and removed all pirated material from their servers. In February of last year, Crunchyroll reported that they reached one million paid subscribers.

The accessibility of anime has only grown since the late 2000s. If you want to see series that are currently airing in Japan right now, all you need to do is go to Hulu or Crunchyroll, where popular shows like Darling In The Franxx and A Place Further Than The Universe are simulcast with their Japanese counterparts.

It's not difficult to imagine that the same people who remember Dragon Ball Z from back in the day checking out a new show here or there, or taking a look at what's going on in Dragon Ball Super. Shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online have ushered in a new generation of anime fans as well, with merch sold in Hot Topic stores in malls across America. If you're on a bus in a major population center, it won't be too long until you see a teenager with a Survey Corps patch on their backpack.

You can buy these ugly leggings on the Hot Topic website right now.

Anime's influence on Western culture is undeniable. Not only are series and films like Ghost in the Shell or Akira, popular in their own right, Western artists have been inspired by them and publicly pay homage to anime in their works. Darren Aronofsky infamously recreated a scene from Perfect Blue in his 2000 film Requiem for a Dream. No Doubt would use the film Kite as the inspiration for their music video for the song "Ex-Girlfriend" in 2000, and Kanye West would riff on Akira for his music video for "Stronger" in 2007.

Nickelodeon would produce an original show called Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was heavily influenced by anime to the point that some people consider it an anime in its own right. More recently, Western directors have been remaking seminal anime series like Death Note, Ghost In The Shell and Battle Angel Alita in Hollywood.

To say that anime is still as obscure as it was before Toonami is clearly, obviously incorrect. It's just as wrong to say that this isn't a part of mainstream culture. This month, the state of Oregon launched a Studio Ghibli inspired tourism campaign to get people to visit the state.

In a time when Ready Player One, a movie all about references to pop culture that were once considered niche or offbeat, is getting a multi-million dollar adaptation directed by Stephen Spielberg, it would feel weird to call nerd culture obscure. Not everyone has actually seen The Goonies, but not everyone has to. People were inspired enough by that movie that it's become a part of our cultural landscape just by osmosis.

Well, Ready Player One also straight up has a Gundam in it, from the anime franchise Gundam. People know what those things are -- enough that Warner Brothers, the studio behind this movie, are banking on Gundam fans to come out to catch a glimpse of the robot in question.

You can see him at about 2:11 in the first trailer.

When you see someone like Kim Kardashian in Tokyo shopping for manga or declaring her love for anime on Twitter and Instagram, it seems a little shocking. But she would have been around 17 when Sailor Moon made its debut in the United States, and with three sisters, two of them younger, it's pretty likely that someone in the Kardashian household would have an interest in the show.

Britney Spears's son loves Dragon Ball Z with the ferocity of many young boys before him, but Britney herself also has Sailor Moon merch she keeps in her gym. Why not? When the show aired on television, she would have been around sixteen, right in the target demographic.

Michael B. Jordan's show of choice is Naruto, another show that aired on Toonami and then on Crunchyroll. He didn't have to take an exam to find out about this show. He just had to have some enthusiasm for stories about friendship and ninjas, and either an internet connection or cable.

Anime is just part of our world at this point. Maybe it's time to stop acting surprised that people like it.


    Anime is just part of our world at this point. Maybe it's time to stop acting surprised that people like it.
    Who exactly do you mean Gita? This is an interesting article, but you keep banging on about people shouldn't act surprised ... who are these people? You don't really identify them... I personally watch a bit and so do family members and friends and yeah its a cool entertainment medium. Please educate me :)

    Last edited 13/03/18 2:24 pm

      Yeah, talk about misjudging your audience... yeesh.

      The part that says "fellow anime-enjoyers were shocked" has two links to articles that go into more depth on that, if you feel like additional reading.

      From personal experience moderating a large community, there's still a lot of anti-anime sentiment especially among younger people. There's a lot of calling people weebs, mocking anime tropes or art styles (maliciously, not light-heartedly), dragging out the fabricated quote falsely attributed to Hayao Miyazaki that "anime was a mistake" and so on. Some is in jest, a lot is genuine disdain and a regard for anime as something only losers enjoy.

      I think Gita is the only one that’s acting surprised.

      And the example with Kim... Lol

    I think the reason anime fans get shocked when they find a celebrity likes anime is because there are massive polar opposites between those who like anime and those who don't. I only really watch Dragon Ball Super on my brothers anime lab account, and one day while watching on the way home from work on the train I could here the whispers of people saying some not so nice things about me just because I was watching anime. There's still this stigma around it which I honestly don't understand.

    It does help when celebs show that they're fans and makes them more relatable, but for some reason being someone who likes anime can make people dump you into the category of being a "basement dweller" like gamers were categorised in for the longest time around 10+ years ago. It'll be a while before the stigma is gone but it'll be gone one day

      I think it's pretty much gone. I heard a middle-aged bloke talking to his mates over a beer and schnitty at the local RSL club about how he was enjoying Assassin's Creed. When gaming can pass the 'pub test' then anime isn't going to be far behind. Just think, the kids that grew up in the 2000s watching Dragon Ball and Pokemon are now young adults. They are the ones that decide what is 'normal', not baby boomers clinging to the notion that 'cartoons are for kids'.

        If you look at the target demographic for most of the games in the public eye these days, there is a distinct "adult" focus. That middle-aged bloke was okay discussing a game where you are an assassin that kills people in a VR time machine thing. It sounds like a cool action story, whether the medium was a TV show, film or game. You would find it harder to have people listen to you talk about Mario Odyssey without them thinking about a kids game.

        That's the hurdle anime in the west has, the vast majority of titles in the cultural lexion are still marketed as children's entertainment. I know anecdotes aren't data, but I have a friend that classes any anime not aimed at children as hentai. Out of all of those kids that grew up watching Dragon Ball Z/Sailor Moon/Pokemon, the vast majority stopped watching all cartoons after being told that they were "too old of it". Their opinion on anime froze at that point as children's entertainment.

    Anime is cartoons, no matter which way you cut it, society at large is predisposed to not like anything that is marked, even un-clearly or unfairly, for children.

    Also, being surprised is valid, considering that even if it's not niche, it's still not the norm, I think people are allowed to enjoy the idea that "they're not alone" if you will, some people enjoy too the idea of their favourite celebrities sharing in their hobbies as well, can't deny 'em that.

      First part meaning the sort of, "you're an adult and you have to act like one, talk like one, like adult things".

      It really fucks over my absolute love of Kamen Rider, which is the older brother to the show that eventually gave us Power Rangers, for example. I even have the toys...

    Anecdotally, i only know 3-4 people that watch anime and none of them pay for it (torrent). But that's just an anecdote so meh.

    Last edited 14/03/18 9:29 am

      Same camp here, while may be influenced by being in the outback, but I know 3 people who watch anime, and all three are complete outcasts, eastern tropes just don’t translate well to western sentiments, with the over exaggerations and high pitched noises often push away most prospective viewers, and yes there are plenty of anime’s that don’t suffer from these flaws, but the majority do, and it pushes away the general public.

    I agree with this in part but am not convinced that the logic is sound due to various assumptions and generalisations. However, people are definitely a lot more aware of anime these days. In general, watching cartoons has become a lot more socially acceptable among adults compared to a time when you certainly were looked down upon. This is evidenced by the large followings of shows such as Rick and Morty, Bojack Horseman, Archer, Bob's Burgers, Adventure Time, Futurama these days. Compared to 20 years ago when pretty much (broad generalisation of my own) the only US cartoon with broad appeal among a range of age groups was The Simpsons.

    Anyway, back to anime... similarly to video games, animated entertainment has become more entrenched in society, especially among adults, because as we've grown up with them we continue to appreciate the medium and watch more. As Gita pointed out, many people were exposed to dubbed anime at a young age which sparked an interest which people of our generation have continued to explore as we've grown up. My first exposure to anime was actually reading the Anime section of the publication Nintendo Magazine System (NMS) in the early 90s. I never watched any of it but was fascinated by these cartoons with giant robots (as I also loved Transformers) and various other content. Of course I then started watching DBZ and my friends introduced me to things such as Cowboy Bebop and GTO when I was in early high school. I imagine many other people having similar experiences, even if they are now vapid or washed up celebrities with kids.

    Also, Death Note and Steins;Gate are two of the best anime ever. Change my mind.

      Heh, I was similar in that my first real exposure to anime was reading Nintendo Gamer, and them having a section on it. I was forever confused what this stuff about Japanese cartoons were doing in my gaming mags :P Although come to think of it there were a few anime shows I watched when I was a kid, with no idea why they looked so weird and different to everything else we watched.

      I think the idea of 'adult cartoons' was really championed by South Park - that's allowed things like Archer to flourish while Bojack Horseman has taken it in a different direction. They're significantly different in that there's absolutely no attempt to appeal to preteens.

      Bob's Burgers, Futurama, and Adventure Time can still be watched by a younger demographic and laughed at, but adults can still find them entertaining - but it's less socially acceptable to say "I watch Adventure Time" as a 30 year old than it is to say "I watch Archer". The issue with anime is that it's still predominately associated with Pokemon (so childhood stuff) or perverts gushing over anime titties. Even though we've grown up with it, it doesn't necessarily mean it translates into the adult world - it very much depends on the show.

      Side note: I don't publicly admit to watching Rick and Morty anymore because it's been associated with fucking imbeciles screaming about sauce and how high their IQ is.

    I had to fight to watch anime when I was a kid, I still watch almost every show. Hollywood can crash and burn.

    Anime is not a genre, it's a medium that contains genres. Like film. Heck, Anime is just the Japanese word for cartoons.

    Also, right now this is still relevant many years later.

    Of course people watch anime. Who else would we be shoving into lockers?

    I've worked in an anime merchandise store for the last 3 years. I've seen a slow but certain change of parents getting into the fandom along with their kids. But sometimes it is a case by case sort of thing, the fandom is growing and its much easier to get exposed to it at a young age. Dragon Ball Super and Sailor Moon Crystal also probably did its fair share to reignite the spark in adults that grew up with the originals.

    is it mainstream or do you just live in an echo-chamber?

    If I was to do a poll in my office of 150 people of what 2017 anime shows did they watch I'd probably get one or two responses. From the IT department.

    Everyone else is into doing adult things like mortgages, kitchen renovations, the state of public transport and watching terrible shows like the Bachelor.

      I think it's partially generational. I'm assuming you are in the same age range as me (late twenties to mid thirties) and I find the same thing. But that doesn't mean it's not mainstream as a whole.
      We are from a transitional era where anime was something of a secret. some people had it as part of their childhoods and some didn't. Like any hobby, some people drift away from it as they get older and seeing that when we were kids it was niche, it becomes a very small niche in adulthood.
      Games are the same. My older brother played games with me as a kid, but at some point he just stopped. Not for any reason, but he just drifted away. Now he considers games to be a kids' pastime, despite a lot of his friends being into games.

    There was a time when anime was obscure in the west, only available on copied VHS tapes passed among ultra fans.This is not true. The ABC was showing anime over 30 years ago. The difference is that back then it was re-edited and re-recorded in English to make completely different shows, but it still counts.

    Star Blazers and Robotech are two that come to mind. I'm pretty sure Astroboy retained the original stories, just with dubbed dialogue.

      That's it in one.
      I remember getting home from school, doing home work, rushing dinner so I could watch Star blazers and Astroboy, or getting up early on a Saturday morning to watch Robotech.

      They were and still are just cartoons to me having grown up before the Japanese fad in the late 80's and 90's that's still with us today

        Also I'm pretty sure Teknoman ( Tekkaman ) was screened on cheez TV before dragon ball z ever was? I loved Teknoman buy never got into dbz, and boy am I glad....that's an awful lot of eps to watch yeughhhh

          A bit after my time. I watched exactly one episode of Dragon ball z when I was babysitting once

      I was going to post the same thing. Europe and the US had anime well before then too.

      But let’s face it, this isn’t journalism. It’s become a blog where no fact checking is required and it’s just insane opinions most of the time.

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