As I’ve discussed a couple of times in the past, the anime industry is currently focused on finding the Next Big Thing. They’re searching for that next Pokemon – a title that will cause sales to explode, and customers to flock into the market in droves. Unfortunately, every explanation I’ve heard fails to account for the following facts:
- Pokemon was put out in a time in which cartoons were syndicated on normal TV networks
- Pokemon is backed by Nintendo, and veryheavily overseen by the parent company.
- Pokemon had the backing of both word of mouth and multimedia marketing through video games,
- Prior to Pokemon, the industry was looking or the Next Robotech, and before that the next Speed Racer
- Like Robotech and Speed Racer, Pokemon inspired several copycats and grabs at the mantle of “king of the heap.”
Pokemon was, and still is, such a perfect storm that won’t be recreated easily. Shows that the third-tier market will not only accept, but embrace with open arms are practically nonexistent in the market. Each generation has one appear, though the circumstances for each success is never the same. And, in every case, the title appears in the most unlikely of circumstances. For example:
- Speed Racer was heavily rewritten and toned down for US television. Episodes were aired out of order, and episodes were altered. The dub was frantically paced, and now lives in infamy of the mainstream culture for its random laughing and gasping.
- Robotech was three titles rewritten and combined into one product, in order to fit US television syndication standards
- Sailor Moon was heavily modified, with episodes being removed, and characters being rewritten entirely to fit the standards of an American kids’ show.
- Pokemon was altered from its Japanese adaptation. Dialogue was toned down, “objectionable” episodes and scenes were removed from the rotation.
Before I go on, I’d like to mention that I’m not advocating editing, selective editing, or alteration of anime. Instead, I’m merely remarking that these are titles that were able to endear generations despite their limitations in the market. We’ve all heard chatters about the Next Big ThingTM. Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece have already been knighted as successors. And, while they’ve all done well, they certainly haven’t reached the impact of previous juggernauts in the western market.
And frankly, it may be strange to expect this phenomenon to continue.
In today’s market, we’ve gained an incredible resource in the web. Rather than worry about finding the next big thing, the next carefully-groomed title that will spark a phenomenon, the market can react and change. We see dozens of titles hit each year that garner praise from the enthusiast media, and from the greater market. Customers happily tell their own stories, their own experiences with the products. In effect, these social outlets have given the customer the control of the situation. They now decide whether a title spreads and flourishes, or whether it dies horribly. And they are, without a doubt, using this control to influence their friends, their family, and their coworkers or acquaintances.
The customer has, in effect, supplanted many needs for the ad agency, the big edits, and the careful grooming that was required to spark the phenomenons of ages past. If the product offered continues to be sound, and distributors continue to place their customer and their products at the forefront, it seems almost certain that the market will continue to grow organically going forward. The reliance on the “next big thing” will (ideally) become less important, and new customers will naturally filter into the market as customers tell stories to tier-one refusers, who may gain interest in the hobby. These tier one non-customers, now customers, will then tell their own stories to tier two and three refusers. As Google outlined in “Ten Things We Know to Be True,” success will come “not through TV ad campaigns but through word of mouth from one satisfied user to another.”1
1: Jarvis, Jeff. What Would Google Do?