Ask John: Did Girls Cause America’s Anime Bust?

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Question:
It might be politically incorrect, but would it be inaccurate to attribute the early-to-mid-2000s domestic anime bubble -and its subsequent bursting- to wishy-washy American fangirls who treated anime as a fad, rather than a hobby? You know, the ones who, one minute, are into the Power-Puff Girls, the next, Lizzy Maguire and Hannah Montana, and now, Twilight and The Hunger Games. Hana Yori Dango, Full Moon O Sagashite, Kodocha, and Marmalade Boy. All shoujo-oriented anime which bombed over here to the point that they were never completed. Or, they just barely got to the end and still suffered from low sales. American fangirls generally only jump on whatever has the most buzz. As soon as the hype fizzles, they move on to the next fad. Thus, the only reason anime sold as well as it did in the beginning was because it was being touted as the “next big thing.” As soon as it became too “mainstream,” they stopped buying into it. So an inevitable market correction ensued. So, did fickle fangirls cause the anime crash of ’06?


Answer:
In a word, “No.” America’s 2008 anime industry collapse was caused by a number of interconnected circumstances, but fickle female anime fans were not one of those factors. In order for female otaku to have significantly destabilized the domestic anime industry with a sudden emigration, they would have had to have been a substantive supporting audience in the first place.

During the heyday of American anime home video distribution, less than a dozen shoujo titles ever got released to completion on domestic home video: Hana Yori Dango, Fushigi Yuugi, Utena, Card Captor Sakura, Marmalade Boy, Princess Tutu, Ultra Maniac, Fancy Lala, Pretear. St. Tail just barely limped to a complete DVD release. (I think the shoujo status of the Rayearth anime remains debatable.) Full Moon wo Sagashite, Corrector Yui, Kodocha, Sailor Moon, and Ojamajo Doremi never saw their final episodes reach American DVD. Mew Mew Power (Tokyo Mew Mew) didn’t even get a promotional or partial American DVD release the way Ojamajo Doremi did. The sum total of all shoujo anime titles licensed for American release from 1998-2008 constitutes a tiny fraction of the total number of anime titles licensed for domestic release during that time span. The very reason why the American industry tried so hard to court the female consumer market is because America’s anime distribution industry never did fully capture the female consumer audience.

Looking even beyond the shoujo genre, the massive majority of female consumers in the American anime community from 1998 through 2008 did not purchase DVDs, and most of those who did only purchased a limited number of DVDs. Even the most successful of all shoujo anime DVD releases during the boom years, arguably Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura, were never the blockbuster hits that shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Tenchi Muyo, Rurouni Kenshin, Evangelion, Outlaw Star, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon were. Even Sailor Moon, the most popular shoujo anime ever in America, only had its first two seasons released on domestic DVD in edited, dubbed DVDs and uncut but incomplete limited edition boxed sets. Certainly female fans did contribute significantly to the popularity of Gundam W. But it wasn’t predominantly female consumers that were buying tens of thousands of DVD copies of titles like Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, Tenchi Muyo, Yu Yu Hakusho, Trigun, Excel Saga, Outlaw Star, Lodoss War, and Berserk. And the domestic industry didn’t crash because female consumers stopped buying DVD releases of UFO Maiden Valkyrie, Yumeria, Gasaraki, Project Arms, Trouble Chocolate, Initial D, Brain Powerd, Battle Athletes, Hyper Police, Patlabor, Geobreeders, Betterman, Otogi Zoushi, and countless other titles because it was never female consumers that were buying these titles on DVD and sustaining the domestic industry in the first place. In effect, there was never enough shoujo anime invested in nor released in America from 1998-2008 to make the genre a weight-bearing pillar that could have crumbled and brought the entire distribution industry down with it, nor were female DVD collectors ever such a major market force that their exodus could have deflated the industry.

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