Anime industry figures say the anime boom of the past several years is ended, and the industry is quick to point fingers.
There seems little doubt that the production of anime has cooled off of late: in 2000, 124 anime titles were broadcast on Japanese TV, but in 2006 this had risen precipitously to 306; in 2008 it declined to 288. The latest season sees 30 shows airing, whereas the same season in 2006 saw 60.
A director of an industry group is gloomy:
“The bubble of a few years back is well and truly burst. With declining birth rates and a recession it is downhill from here on. The industry has gone from boom to bust, and restructuring looks likely.”
Much of this success is attributed to a steady series of hit late night anime starting in the nineties, some, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, spawning entire industries unto themselves. In this boom, domestic sales rose to 97 billion yen in 2005, but have since slumped to a “mere” 78 billion in 2008.
One anime producer has no doubts about where to lay the blame; he places it squarely at the feet of the increasingly unadventurous studios themselves, who have been endlessly churning out moe and mecha anime:
“The reason this stuff isn’t selling is because people have cottoned on to the fact they’re just rehashing the same moe and mecha anime over and over. With less disposable income and the diffusion of HD, youngsters have become very careful about what they buy; as only the best products can weather this, there’s nothing for it but to make more of them.”
The disastrous mishandling of the international markets is another worry for the industry, which has seen the US anime market shrink from $4.8 billion in 2003 to $2.8 billion in 2007, with DVD sales collapsing even as the online popularity of anime has been stable or risen.
Publishers blame the pernicious influence of fansubs and P2P, rather than their own willful failure to adapt to the digital distribution model, which has seen international anime fans left with no legal options in most cases.
Considering that Japanese P2P networks have been transferring vast quantities of data at rates most countries can only dream of for years now, the notion that torrents are a major drain on sales clearly has some problems.
Fortunately, publishers are finally beginning to take halting steps in the direction of a workable online distribution model, with anime viewable over a variety of video sharing sites legally, if with excessively restricted regional availability.
These efforts seem to be meeting with some success, so growth and supplantation of the ineffectual direct DVD sales model seems likely.
The collective realisation in the industry seems to be that quality must now come to trump quantity.
Prior to the boom of the late nineties, output was steady at 100 to 150 titles for many years, producing great hits such as Evangelion and Gundam all the same. This is taken as evidence of the fact that massive output is not necessarily appropriate.
The industry group director puts it plainly:
“We have to change fast. China already outstrips us in quantity of titles produced, so from now on it must be quality over quantity, with anime production taught properly at universities in order to create human resources of great quality; this can become a national forte.”