Who determines a show’s quality? Is it the critics, who pass their opinions as advice? Is it the internet dwellers, who chatter ceaselessly aboout everything that comes out? Is it the viewers who download terabytes upon terabytes of torrents?
The master of the market, the one who deems what is quality and what is bargain bin rubbish is, in fact, the customer. The customer dictates which titles succeed with his money, and his graces. And, ultimately, the customer decides what shows are released, and how they will hit the market due to their buying habits. The customer is the reason why companies like FUNimation or Section23, authors like myself, or even you dear reader, are reading this piece today. Without the customer, there is no industry. Without an industry there are no conventions, no anime sites, and no real conversation. Therefore, it’s the customer that gets rightfully pandered to, and the customer that vendors prostrate themselves to.
I can hear the forces firing up their e-mail clients and flooding message boards alread? “What does he know?! He’s talking out of his ass!” they’ll sneer. But facts don’t lie. Dragon Ball Z is the classical example, with legions of anime watchers deriding the show as slow, pointless, and “stupid.” However, it still cleans up in the marketplace. The show tops charts, and has been a consistent cash cow for FUNimation over the past decade. It’s gotten to the point that FUNimation representatives joke that the last volume of the series at market is merely “the last set before the first set.” As a stark contrast, Big Windup!, a title that is regarded highly by its fans, was an abject failure in the marketplace. The show sold so poorly that FUNimation’s representatives publicly admitted to the show’s lack of performance (a rarity in an industry that is normally secretive to a fault).
To head off the “That’s only one unfair comparison!” that is sure to come about, I admit that I can be here all day giving comparisons of shows that are sneered at by decent-sized portions of the larger “fanbase”, but are commercially successful in spite of it. Naruto versus Flame of Recca. One Piece versus d.Gray-Man. Fullmetal Alchemist versus Utawarerumono. Gundam Wing versus Gurren Lagann. Bleach versus Soul Eater.
Better? No? Too bad.
Why these titles sell is pretty simple. The titles that make money are those that inspire the consumer. These are products that transcend culture boundaries, and go beyond the uber-niche, to spark the imaginations of the viewer. The concepts are clear, and they don’t delve into the more “otaku-centric” material that a show like, say, Kanon or Genshiken do. Customer-favorite titles constantly engage the viewer, be it with a swashbuckling sense of adventure, a simple yet well-told story, or some other combination of factors.
In this sense, the customer is indeed king. They determine what lasts for years, and what gets forgotten. their voice isn’t always spoken on the forums or the social networks, nor does it necessarily flood conventions or corporate sites. They instead speak the universal language of “cold hard cash”, and are fully willing to speak when something tickles their fancy. You, dear reader, can argue, you can disagree, and you can insult. However, the customer is the one that does control the cash, and the customer is the one that the market caters to first and foremost.