Over the past twenty or so years, anime has been a part of my life in some form or another. In the past eleven, it’s grown into something of a staple in my daily dealings. I’ve become the type that kicks his morning off with an episode of City Hunter or Dirty Pair, and closes his night off with something like Shiki or Eden of the East, as my fingers clack against the keyboard in a frantic rush to get the next article out the door. I’m the type that’ll gleefully post to Twitter or Facebook when UPS arrives with a DVD order, only to gleefully rip these very shows to shreds in my next review.

In short, I love what I do.

Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve joined the ranks of million in a silent resignation that anime is a niche product. Anime, as a whole, is a product that is inherently off-putting to the greater market. The character designs are strange, the stories are unusual, and the writing styles don’t always fit in with cultural norms. There’s simply no chance of it gaining traction.

And then, I pack a room for a viewing of Trigun, Last Exile, or Bunny Drop.

“What does that have to do with anything?!”

Well, dear reader, this is far from a simple gathering of anime fans. These titles are strong enough to attract the many that don’t normally watch anime. These gatherings usually feature a fairly diverse gathering of people from all walks of life. Businessmen and software engineers mingle with shopkeeps, artists, and musicians, as they share and discuss the action on-screen. For these few brief hours each month, it doesn’t matter whether a person is a long-time fan, a regular, or somebody dragged along for the evening. All that really matters is the fun of the experience. Not everybody returns, but those that do often follow up with questions about what happens next, or which characters go through the greatest changes. Others ask whether Netflix offers the title, or even where they can purchase the rest.

Basically, these folks arrive for the company, but they grow invested in the content of the titles that are run. These shows are strong enough that they are enticing to even those that would turn their nose at such a proposition.

These are folks that don’t fit into the niche, they are, for lack of a better term “casual fans.” They aren’t hunting out the next big show, and they don’t give a rat’s ass about simulcasts. They don’t know what a “tsundere”, “moe”, or “waifus” are, nor do they invest themselves in whatever the hell seems to bubble through the greater subculture nowadays. They’re simply a group that enjoys strong content, regardless of its origin.

I’ve mentioned these before in our Blue Ocean Study. These are the Third Tier of non-customers – the type that don’t know that they want the products being offered. They’re the type that need to be jumped in by somebody, be it a core customer like you and I, or a person with similar interests. They can be called “casual fans,” if you may. And, if one were to unlock the potential in this market, we could see a revolution in the industry – a path to profits that are unheard of in today’s market. This is a crowd that could have serious sway on what is acquired and how it’s released, as it’s able to eclipse the current market on an exponential scale. How to reach this crowd is a Rubik’s Cube in itself, since it requires that special combination of the right content, with the ability to expose these new audiences.

In its current state, the anime market has great potential for expansion. However, the anime market is something that simply cannot expand on its own. It requires that social aspect, that first “push” from within. We all have the potential to help expand the market. It’s merely a matter of being realistic, and being willing to try new things. After all, the greatest journeys all begin with but a single step.