Anime History: Akira to Now

While the failure of Akira may have helped signal the end of Japan’s “golden era of anime,” something rather unexpected happened. When Akira was screened internationally, it received high acclaim, and ultimately helped increase the profile of anime in the United States and the Western world.

Over the course of the 1990’s, a number of anime properties crossed over to the United States. Some of the anime titles to cross over during that decade included Ranma 1/2, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Digimon.

The 1990’s also saw Studio Ghibli striking a deal with Disney to dub and distribute the studio’s films in the Western world. This deal helped raise awareness for more child-friendly anime, such as Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle in the Sky. This deal also marked a major turning point for Miyazaki, who had been unhappy with previous English dubs of his work (especially the original dub version of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind).

Meanwhile, in Japan, the next anime to really make a mark on their market was Neon Genesis Evangelion. A number of the scenes in Neon Genesis Evangelion were so controversial that it forced TV Tokyo to clamp down with censorship of violence and sexuality in anime. As a result, when Cowboy Bebop first began airing in 1998, the series was heavily edited and only half of the episodes aired. While the censorship crackdown has relaxed some, Neon Genesis Evangelion ended up having a major impact on Japan’s television anime industry as a whole.

The late 1990’s also saw a brief revival of the Super Robot genre that had been so popular in Japan in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The 1990’s also saw a rise of popular video games series being adapted into television anime that lasted several seasons. More often than not, these video game properties ended up spawning several movies, a trading card game, toys, and musicals. The best-known video game-to-anime property is Pokemon.

In the 2000’s, the trend in Japan had been to have an extreme emphasis on otaku culture in anime. This tended to consist of series that relied heavily on fan service (such as Green Green, Mahoromatic, Hand Maid May, and Lucky Star). The 2000’s also saw an attempt to revive 1970’s-style mecha designs (which is illustrated by RahXephon). There were also new experimental trends in anime (such as Superflat, which combines Japanese pop culture with postmodern art).

In the United States, the most popular anime series of the 2000’s include Yu-Gi-Oh!, Naruto, Bleach, and Death Note. The early 2000’s saw an explosion of anime in the United States, which was helped along by Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Adult Swim programming blocks. The Anime Network, a cable network devoted entirely to anime, also went on the air in the early 2000’s. The SciFi Channel also launched their “AniMonday” block, which featured anime.

Unfortunately, the tide turned in the United States as the 2000’s progressed. The Anime Network is no more. Several anime distributors have gone out of business, and most of the magazine publications devoted to anime have ceased publication. In addition, the brick and mortar stores that had been big supporters of anime either shut down completely or didn’t continue to stock the amount of anime DVDs as they had in the past. The number of broadcast and cable networks airing anime either stopped airing anime completely, or severely cut back the amount of anime they aired.

The only real bright spot was the rise of legal anime streams on the Internet, especially anime simulcasts. A simulcast is when an episode of an anime series is streamed on the Internet within hours of its debut on Japanese television.

But during the 2010’s, anime began picking up momentum in the United States again. This decade brought about new “gateway” anime, including Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, My Hero Academia, One-Punch Man, and Tokyo Ghoul. There have also been the “rebuild” movie versions of Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Another trend to develop right near the end of the 2000’s and in the early 2010’s was rebooting older anime titles. As of this writing, the anime to receive the reboot treatment include Fullmetal Alchemist, Hunter x Hunter, and Fruits Basket.

Starting in the later 2010’s, and now going into the 2020’s, we have started seeing next generation sequel anime series. As of this writing ,we have Boruto: Naruto Next Generations and Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon.

While we may not know what the future will hold for the anime industry, both in Japan and in the United States, it’ll be interesting to see how the industry will continue to evolve in the years to come.

Learn more history of anime:

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