Why the Anime Industry Is In Trouble

Revised on 2017/11/07 to reflect on new learning and to be less glib. Thank you to the people who commented on this post for giving me a better understanding of the situation.

So if you’re an aficionado of Japanese media, you probably know that the anime industry is in danger of dying. The manga industry is not faring so well either. You can look up ‘anime industry dying’ or ‘why good anime is hard to make’ or ‘manga industry dying’ to get more info, but basically, while anime and manga for niche markets (mainly the otaku fandom) is doing fine, anime and manga for a broader audience is not.

To be honest, I think there are a lot of reasons for this.

The major reason I feel that it’s not doing very well overseas is because anime, manga, and related merchandise is ungodly expensive. A lot of anime fans are college students and teenagers; in other words, people who aren’t exactly rolling around in money. Because of shipping costs a lot of products cost a lot more than a similarly boxed DVD set for a western cartoon. I also feel that anime is not properly released in DVD and Blu Ray format. I once saw a Blu Ray box set for the first half of Attack on Titan season one that cost almost $100, and a DVD set for the first few episodes of Kill La Kill that cost almost $90. Yes, really. You can see why not a lot of people are flocking to buy physical copies of anime like that.

A lot of anime (and manga) can be extremely long, which would deter a lot of more casual fans from watching or buying the whole thing. Sometimes people can’t get the entire series if the English language distributor loses the rights or goes bankrupt. (And, again, it’s expensive if a series go on for so long.)

The biggest reason why anime has trouble is the lack of audience appeal. Clash of culture and values, outlandish stories and visuals, and growing amount of anime fetishistic images and stories is contributing to a lack of worldwide interest. Anime is growing a negative reputation for its sexualized and bordering on pedophilic depictions of women and girls, a very serious problem that is affecting the industry. Aside from that, anime is seen more as a novelty, not as widely commercialized like Marvel or DC, so you usually end up with either the fetish anime or something that was based on a hit manga series.

There’s also the factor of creators and animators working in awful conditions. I know the Japanese manga industry is extremely cutthroat; creators are under strict deadlines and have to rush out a manga chapter once a week, and their stories can live or die depending on sales and editors. I can only imagine what it would be like for anime.

My main point of the original version of this post was that anime and manga needs to be more AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE, and widely AVAILABLE. I would not be surprised if the future of anime ends up being solely online. But, as some of my commentators have pointed out to me (and I thank them for that), there also needs to be some serious reforms on how anime is commercialized, marketed, and made.

And with that, I think I sufficiently corrected this post. I originally wrote it out of frustration and confusion (I want to support good anime but can’t financially do so all the time), but after learning more about the problem and from some important comments, I had to rewrite this post because it was getting too many views.

As for how anime (and manga) can be saved? Well, I would say go out and find good quality anime (and completely boycott crappy fanservice anime) and support it however you can. Show the creators that we want to see (and support) anime that values quality and artistic freedom over anime that shows panty shots of girls or has a plot on a boy having the hots for his sister.

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The Creepiest Disney Knockoff Ever

Hey, remember Anastasia? That Don Bluth film that was widely mistaken for a Disney film when it really wasn’t? That’s probably because it was actually good. The music was great, the visuals were great, the story was fairly understandable, and you sympathized with Anastasia herself, who was a great character who did no harm but took no shit. There’s an utterly fantastic and beautiful scene of her trying to reconnect with her past, and imagines that she is reunited with her true family, but at the same time, isn’t entirely sure. It’s well animated and well sung. It’s one of the few Disney knockoffs with actual class.

So imagine a Disney knockoff with none of those qualities. Imagine a Disney Knockoff with bland songs, bland visuals, bland (or asinine) characters, and a scene that tries to imitate Anastasia‘s beauty  but fails spectacularly. Add in some extra fucked-up themes and you have got yourselves The Princess and the Pea.

A curious little film that came out in 2002 (even though at that time no major animation studio was making Disney Knockoffs and Disney itself had put Princess films on hold), this is a movie that isn’t necessarily TERRIBLE (I’ve seen worse films), but is still quite puzzling and at times cringe-worthy.

For starters, there are plenty of animals in this film who are somehow able to live more than 18 years and only one of which is sentient. That would be Sebastian, the creepy-looking raven at the focal point of the above poster who is the keeper of the kingdom’s knowledge or something. Who is this raven? Why is he so important? Why the hell is he able to talk to humans like it’s no big deal but the titular princess gets accused of being a witch for hanging out with pigs? No one knows, and quite frankly, I’m not sure if I want to know the answer.

But don’t worry, there are plenty of human characters too, and you can clearly distinguish the the good ones from the bad ones by how they look. The good characters are all beautiful and Aryan-like in appearance while the bad characters are all ugly, have darker colourings, and even look vaguely antisemitic (hooked noses, a fascination for all things golden). Despite this, the movie somehow pulls off a plot where the rightful princess, the redheaded, green-eyed, and beautiful Daria was switched as a baby with the dark haired, violet-eyed, Hildegard. That might be because the King is too desperate to project his dead wife onto his ‘daughter’.

Daria is the typical Cinderella, raised by an abusive stepfamily, is a friend to all of nature’s animals, has to do all the work, and dreams of something more, and eventually marries a prince, but unlike the Disney Cinderella, who is graceful and elegant and makes subtle but awesome jabs at her abusers, Daria is just boring. She’s kind of a doormat, never once shows any emotion besides “oh, how awful”, and generally has nothing going for her other than that she’s ‘nice’. Yet she somehow attracts the attention of Prince Rollo (‘Rollo’? Really? also he looks like a Prince Eric knockoff), who falls immediately in love with her because she’s…pretty. Oh and she has a special kingdom of the heart, apparently. With the aforementioned ripoff of Anastasia:

You can tell from the thumbnail that this is going to hurt.

Yet Prince Rollo ditches Daria to marry a princess, and we learn a very important lesson: all princesses are shrill, vain, haughty, rude, have bad senses of humour, are not ‘noble’, and are definitely not wife material. Apparently Daria is the only good princess because she’s nice and making her live a terrible life for so long has made her sensitive to people’s needs and pain. Insert witty comment here.

The villain, Laird, decides to get Daria out of the way not by quietly killing her himself, but by raising a mob to kill her (it doesn’t). Then getting Rollo to marry his own daughter that he switched with the king’s. And a bunch of other convoluted plot contrivances.

Daria and Rollo get together (apparently they make a great team), she is reunited with her birth father who immediately comments on how she looks like her mother, the villains are presumably thrown in jail (they didn’t really do anything to warrant a worse sentence), and they all lived happily ever after. Even though I would have much rather have let the villains win (they were slightly more interesting and Helsa, Laird’s wife, speaks to me on a personal level, in that we both don’t want to hurt children and we both love food).

I understand that this movie isn’t the only one to have such problems, but what makes them stick out is how underwhelming the rest of the movie is. Disney movies have serious problems, but they distract and entertain and enrich you with good stories, good characters, and good music and visuals. The Princess and the Pea has none of that, so you’re left with looking at all the flaws. You can watch a better breakdown of all its flaws below:

So yeah. If you’ve seen the film and you don’t mind or even like it, more power to you. If you haven’t, just stick with Disney or even Anastasia. It has much more to offer and isn’t nearly as creepy or harmful in its messages.

A New Franchise For Disney?

So I was on Tumblr (as I always am) and I came across this picture:

disneymoviesanywhere:
“You too can save the day with these heroic Disney movies, now available at a special price.
”

For a split second, I thought it was fan made, but then I saw that it was part of an official post from the official Tumblr page of disneymovieseverywhere, with the following caption: “You too can save the day with these heroic Disney movies, now available at a special price.

If you click the link in the quote, you can see it lead to a webpage that is indeed dedicated to “Disney Heroes”. So far, the movies listed in this new category are Mulan (and it’s sequel for some reason), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (and it’s sequel, again, for some reason), The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and Hercules. All of these movies have their followings (well, except for the sequels), and a lot of them are considered underrated (in other words, not universally hated).

When I saw this, I was pleasantly surprised (especially over the fact that Mulan is actually shown in her blue dress and as a hero, not a princess), but also very confused. For a company that’s mostly about Disney Princesses, Frozen, Star Wars, and Marvel right now, it’s really interesting to see them make a special page and offer dedicated to movies they barely acknowledge anymore. Why is that now, all of a sudden, we’re seeing a Disney Heroes collection? Is it going to feature a wider arrange of films (mainly Tarzan and Aladdin, movies which practically beg to be called “Disney Hero” films)? And, most of all, is this going to become a potential marketing franchise, like the Disney Princesses?

To be honest, I hope it does. Mainly because, I think children deserve a broader range of Disney-related products to play with and read. It would also give older fans a chance to buy products related to their new and old faves/not be swamped with the same merch from the same movies all the time.

I think they did have a previous Disney Heroes lineup a long time ago, focused on male hero leads, but died out due to the overwhelming popularity of the Disney Princess lineup. I could have sworn I saw a toy with a blue Disney Heroes label and mentions of it online but I can’t find any official info (if you have any, please let me know). So I wonder if this means they’re reviving it.I hope it becomes more successful at any rate.

I’m totally curious to see what they’re going to do with it. I think the best thing to do is to buy the movies offered to show Disney that people love them and would like to see more of them, and maybe Disney will do something from there. I really hope this leads to something, especially for Mulan (I don’t want her to be pigeonholed into just wearing glittery dresses and looking pretty and demure), Big Hero 6 (which is practically begging for a franchise; I just hope with its upcoming TV series we’ll see something more out of it) and Wreck-It Ralph (which has been almost completely forgotten, which is a shame given how good it is). I just hope it doesn’t mean that these are movies that Disney doesn’t care about and is lumping them together to sell them cheap for a limited time.

A Tribute to Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

I have quite a few fave Disney directors (mainly Rich Moore, John Musker and Ron Clements, Don Hall and Chris Williams), but I think Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise are my ultimate faves. Why? Because I absolutely adore all three of the films they directed at Disney, and they all resonate with me very strongly. Those films are Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

All films are absolutely gorgeous spectacles to behold. Each one of them has a compelling, awe-inspiring climax, a compelling and complex male lead, a beautiful and strong female lead, and a realistic but threatening villain. Here are brief words of love to their three films.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

A masterpiece. The main reason why I love this film so much (besides the striking visuals and the wonderful music and songs) is because of Belle, the Beast, and their relationship. I resemble Belle in so many ways: we look alike, we both love reading and stories, we don’t entirely fit in socially but love our families, we refuse to handle any crap, and we have an affinity for monsters. Belle is great because she’s kind and inquisitive but is not afraid to stand up for herself, but is also willing to admit she’s wrong. I love how she is also beautiful without being either overly sexualized or overly infantilized. The Beast is, in my opinion, the first official Disney Prince that people started caring about; he was well-defined, sympathetic, layered, went through a lot of character growth throughout the movie, and his love for Belle is so pure. So of course, seeing these two misfits get together and find true love in one another despite all odds was really rewarding.

The film is not just a simple fairy tale; it’s a story about social exclusion and self image and how to overcome it. Gaston is a truly terrifying villain because he’s so real: he starts out as a standard misogynist with ego issues but develops into a cold-blooded killer when he doesn’t get what he wants. A true and well-deserved classic and one of my ultimate faves.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Another masterpiece that is slowly getting the recognition it deserves. The film is truly revolutionary by how it’s so different and radical for Disney and a lot of other animated family films. It’s not afraid to touch serious, dark, complicated issues with bigotry, racism, abuse, isolation, religion, and corruption of power in a powerful, intense, but ultimately uplifting way. Quasimodo is one of my fave leads because he’s disabled and has gone through a lot of hardships but ultimately won’t let it define him, is well-developed and likable, and finds true friendship and is recognized for the hero he is. Esmeralda is beautiful and cares about social justice, and Frollo is one of Disney’s most terrifying, evil, and realistic villains. While the gargoyles probably needed less screen time and they should have brought in actual Romani people to be involved with the film, for what it is, it’s a really important movie about standing up against injustice and prejudice. It’s dramatic, it’s gorgeous, it has some of the greatest soundtracks in Disney history, and is simply wonderful.

ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE

An underrated gem. The animation is stunning, the characters are a lot of fun (with a truly badass and beautiful female lead with Kida and a nerdy but likable male lead in the form of Milo), and it is an action film that pulls no punches. It also has set up a truly unique and creative culture and world of Atlantis. The villain isn’t just a mustache-twirling sociopath; he’s just greedy and morally bankrupt. It’s an adventure story of a young man finding his place in the world and a woman who saves her people and becomes a queen. They both share a mutual love of the culture and for each other, but without the relationship being shoved down the audience’s throat. It’s a fun, creative film, and it deserves more credit.

Gary Trousdale is now working for DreamWorks, and Kirk Wise has been keeping a lower profile but apparently he has a new film in the works. I hope one day these two can make another movie together. I’m sure it will be great and I’d love to see it (and hopefully, lots of people will too).

Does Style Hurt Disney?

When you think of Disney having a style, you probably think of big eyes, soft, round features, and general cuteness/prettiness. Films that come to mind include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, who are all almost universally beloved and are massive hits. Fast forward to the 2010s and you can see a similar style in their CGI hits; all the characters look cute and soft around the edges and the set pieces are pretty. There’s a distinct lack of sharp edges or angles. And they’re all also huge hits with big fan bases.

But what about the films that came between the Disney Renaissance and the Disney Revival? The films that were much less successful at the box office and don’t have as big a following? I’m talking about what is referred to as (depending on who you talk to) the Experimental Era or the Second Dark Age. Between Fantasia 2000 to Bolt, these are films that range from very mild hits to flat out bombs, with Lilo and Stitch being the only real hit.

A lot of people have cited a lot of the movies released during this time simply didn’t have good stories and/or good marketing to make the cut. Some people say that there was too much competition between Pixar and DreamWorks. I think this is all true, but I havean additional theory as to why some of the films didn’t do so well: their animation style.

Here’s a look at The Emperor’s New Groove, which has a bit of a following but wasn’t very successful when it came out initially:

Look at how…sharp and pointy everyone looks. Remember the cute and soft and round Disney style I mentioned earlier? It’s gone here. And I think the new style fits the tone of the movie better, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people looked at the posters and trailers and felt something was…off for a Disney film. It only ended up making just under $200 million worldwide, which is…not very good for Disney’s standards.

Now look at Atlantis: The Lost Empire:

This is a VERY distinct style for Disney, based on the art of Mike Mignola (of Hellboy) fame. And it did about as well as The Emperor’s New Groove, which is to say, not well at all.

Lilo and Stitch came after and was an actual success…and it had a style that was closer to what Disney is well known for, with cuter looking characters and a lack of pointy imagery. And it was a hit. Immediately after, there was Treasure Planet, which had a lot of weird imagery that wasn’t as cute as in Lilo and Stitch…and it bombed dramatically.

Then there are Disney’s two most reviled movies: Home on the Range and Chicken Little. You know what they have in common, besides questionable stories and characters? They both look like shit.

Look at how garish these movies look. They don’t look like Disney films. They look like films made by someone else entirely. HotR is victim to the angular/pointy/sharp style of other Disney misses, and CL is just…no.

While I don’t think this is the ONLY reason a lot of these films were received so poorly, I think there’s a major correspondence and didn’t help matters. Furthermore, I think this goes just beyond Disney’s weaker period during the early 2000s. You know how Pocahontas wasn’t very well received (and still isn’t)? I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that Pocahontas and John Smith look so radically different from Jasmine and Aladdin, Ariel and Eric, or Belle and the Beast. And you know how Hercules had an extremely unique style from all the other films during the Renaissance? It ended up being one of the lowest-grossing films of that period, doing better than The Rescuers Down Under but doing worse than all the rest.

So yeah. I think it’s safe to say that there are some things people are more willing to look at than others (or at least, take their kids to). I think when they expect a company to look a certain way, they don’t react well when it tries something new. And to be fair, I don’t think Disney is the only company hurt by this; you know The Good Dinosaur didn’t do so well? In addition to not being a very good movie (if you haven’t seen it, I don’t recommend it), it had really cartoony characters (the dinosaurs look a lot like plastic toys) clashing against ultra-realistic set pieces. And you know how Brave is kind of met with scorn? It has a way different look and feel from other Pixar movies.

It’s a little upsetting that, if a company or studio creates a style that is very well received, they’re never allowed to diverge from it without repercussions. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with their predominant style (in fact sometimes it looks absolutely beautiful), it’s just that I have to tell myself not to expect anything new and different. And it’s not that Disney doesn’t WANT to do it; it’s that it knows if it tries people will react negatively. (This is also another reason why Disney doesn’t also do anything thematically different anymore; The Hunchback of Notre Dame was pretty revolutionary and it still is, but because it’s not universally beloved, Disney’s probably not going to make a movie like it again.)

I am glad that some of the movies that didn’t do so well initially are slowly becoming appreciated for what they are, unique style and everything. And I think one day we can see animated films with various styles and designs becoming successful. I just feel that, for Disney and other family-friendly studios, they’re going to be stuck making soft, round, and cute designs for a long time; I don’t think parents are ready to take their kids to see anything otherwise.

The Most Beautiful Steven Universe Episode

Steven Universe has been rather infamous for its many long hiatuses, but now it is back with a vengeance, kicking off a new season with the very powerful double feature, “Super Watermelon Island”/”Gem Drill”, with more episodes to come.

While the show has made some duds every now and then, it has also produced some of the most beautiful and/or powerful moments in television history, my personal faves being “Jailbreak”, “The Answer”, “Keeping it Together”, “On The Run” and “Chille Tide”. But I got to say “Gem Drill” is probably SU’s greatest episode to date (well, maybe next to “Jailbreak”).

SPOILERS AHEAD!

For starters, this is one of the most intense moments in animation I have ever seen. Throughout the whole thing there’s a constant, looming threat that the world could end at any moment, and Steven and Peridot may not be able to save it. The show is also complemented by some gorgeous (and frightening) imagery. I can’t find a lot of good images, but when the reach the Cluster, Steven keeps seeing flashes of the ghosts of the Gems who were shattered long ago:

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/steven-universe/images/9/90/Gem_Drill_134.png/revision/latest?cb=20160513165836

Steven gets more and more stressed throughout the ordeal, until his sense of reality is warped, the world around him begins to dissolve, and he falls into some sort of trance:

File:Gem Drill 137.png

File:Gem Drill 141.png

Without willing it, he can now talk to the Cluster. It is established throughout the show that Steven has psychic abilities allowing him to communicate and astral project through his dreams, but I wonder if he was going to fuse with the Cluster (his gem wouldn’t stop glowing).Well, whatever happens, we get this really atmospheric and haunting look inside the Cluster’s fragile mind, and of how the shattered Gems that consist of it want to be free, but can’t.

It’s here that Steven actually talks to the Cluster, helps it, and encourages it to find companionship within itself in a safe bubble. In other words, he finds a peaceful, nonviolent, and even loving solution to the catastrophic problem.

What I love about this episode is that it would’ve been very easy to have Steven and the Crystal Gems merely drill into the Cluster and destroy it. But the show decides to reveal an alternative, unique solution to one of it’s biggest threats. It humanizes the Cluster, which is something that most people would not humanize or even sympathize with, giving it depth and making it sentient. You don’t really see that a lot in media.

I think it kind of connects to me because I kind of relate to it in my experiences as a neurodivergent. Peridot’s words of how the cluster gems are so broken that they’re beyond repair really hit home for me; in real life, it’s common to label a lot of severely disabled people as ‘vegetables’ that can’t experience life to the fullest and are often institutionalized and not given any autonomy. A lot of people look at them with pity and scorn. So it’s nice to see a show that takes a bunch of gems that are mentally and physically disabled and starts to see them more positively. The Cluster chooses to put itself in a bubble where it can reconnect with all its pieces and is ultimately seen as something almost beautiful. This gives me hope for the other bubbled cluster gems currently residing in the Temple.

I was utterly blown away when I saw this episode. I hope there will be more episodes of this magnitude later in the show. For now, “Gem Drill” is definitely one of the best episodes and one of my fave moments in modern animation.

Iron Man, Hiro Hamada, and Untreated Mental Illness

Note: The Iron Man mentioned here is referring to the MCU version. Spoilers for Captain America Civil War!

So, when Big Hero 6 came out, a lot people noticed there were a lot of similarities between the main character, Hiro Hamada, and Tony Stark. They’re both genius brunettes savvy with technology and robotics who build special suits to go out and save the world and love to fly. Considering how BH6 is based off an obscure Marvel comic book, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was intentional. However, after re-watching the first Iron Man and watching CACW, I notice that there’s another parallel between the two–mainly, they’re both people dealing with grief, guilt, and mental illness, but whereas Hiro is getting the help he needs, Tony is not.

When Iron Man 3 came out, a lot of people were talking about how Tony Stark was clearly suffering from PTSD and/or Panic Disorder. Other people talked about the possibility of him having Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well. If you ask most people, they’ll say Tony’s problems started after the end of the first Avengers movie. But I think his problems actually started with the first Iron Man movie.

When Tony comes home from captivity, I couldn’t help but notice he continues to put himself in danger. He refuses to go to the hospital, tests his gear without wearing a helmet (even though he does get hurt), and partakes in a lot of risky behaviour in the name of atoning for his sins. But he also refuses to let people help him. He only get’s help when he is incapacitated. Throughout this movie and other MCU movies he also makes a lot of really brash and reckless decisions and at times can come across as a serious asshole.

By contrast, Hiro, who is suffering from bereavement and depression, has friends and a healthcare companion that will protect him, keep him safe, and will reach out to and help him whether he likes it or not. And when Hiro behaves likes a jerk, he realizes that he was wrong and apologizes for it, becoming a better person.

One of the major scenes that stuck with me was in CACW was when, after Iron Man finds out Bucky was responsible for the death of his parents, he lashes out and tries to kill him. In the aftermath, Bucky escapes and Tony is still unhappy. A similar scene happened in BH6 when Hiro found out who killed his brother, and also reacts brashly and tries to have the man killed…but then realizes that wasn’t the right thing to do, cries, apologizes, and resolves to find a nonviolent solution.

The scene that I found really upsetting was when Iron Man went for his first test flight. I didn’t watch it feeling relieved or excited or happy for Tony; I watched it and went “wow Tony is clearly mentally ill”. Because that first flight was extremely dangerous and I got the impression that Tony did it because he felt the need to be in control of something. Compare it to the first flight scene in BH6; it’s clear throughout the whole thing that the experience is making Hiro feel better, and that he feels freer, and isn’t in total danger. I got the opposite emotion watching Iron Man’s first flight.

Whenever I watch MCU movies involving Tony I see it as his gradual descent into depression and despair. It’s clear that he has a lot of unresolved issues and either no one is bothering to help him or he doesn’t bother to seek it out. And it’s clearly wearing on him, to the point where he has to build technology to remold the memories of a traumatic or sad event by himself instead of seeking a professional therapist. At this point I want Tony to get his own personal healthcare companion in order for him to get better!

It’s a very sad parallel, and I find it a little disturbing how untreated mental illnesses and grief are somehow required for mainstream superhero movies (this is one reason why I prefer BH6 and a lot of animated, family-friendly superhero shows to a lot of live action superhero stuff). It goes without saying, until the writers and directors of the MCU take Tony’s (and other character’s) mental health seriously and respectfully resolve their problems, I’m going to be more excited for BH6 related content than a lot of MCU stuff. At least with BH6 I know that my problems are valid and won’t be brushed aside in favour of drama.