Somewhere around 2013 when Trigger’s Kill la Kill was announced, a half joke/half well intentioned belief that the show was destined to “save anime” popped up around the internet. It kind of made sense. For years a growing segment of anime fans had been bemoaning the rise of moe and how slice of life and idol anime were ruining the industry. New shows were getting more and more targeted toward selling merchandise to the otaku crowd, leading to an over saturation of the same cute girls’ school comedies and light novel power fantasies over and over again. Quality aside, laser focused marketing to a niche demographic isn’t a particularly great long term business plan. Without a steady stream of fresh new fans, some even began to question the industry’s future survival.
With a large portion of the creative talent behind Gainax classics such as FLCL and Gurren Lagann, Trigger and Kill la Kill represented a return to glory. It was back to the way things were, when anime had action and swords and blood and scantily clad women, and yet it’s still light hearted enough to sell to the wider “Toonami” audience abroad. In that respect, the show was a success. Kill la Kill did fairly well both critcally and commercially. Personally I enjoyed it quite a bit, and we voted it Glorio’s #1 anime of 2014. Still, it was hardly the industry changing series some hoped it would be. You might even argue the over the top sexuality and violence were a step backwards. If the industry needed saving, casting a wider net into the young male demographic was only going to get you so far.
A different kind of revolution was needed, one that has been slowing building over the past few years. Anime has always been a boys’ club. For long suffering female fans, watching anime usually means having to decide whether the amount of boobs and panties being smashed in your face is worth the trouble for any given show. Anime aimed at young women has always been around, but historically it’s been a niche within a niche and not given the same attention and resources as those pervy shows guaranteed to move blurays off the shelves. This is where the revolution comes in. More and more anime studios have been acknowleding their female audience, culminating in the massive success of Mr. Osomatsu.
In another day and age Mr. Osomatsu would be a novelty, a revival of an anime last seen in the 80’s that was based on a manga from the 60’s. It might have nostalgia appeal at best. From the very first episode the show breaks the fourth wall and addresses this directly, smartly realizing the way to be a popular anime in 2015 is to load up on pretty boys almost making out with each other. Even if that aspect is played as a tongue in cheek joke, there’s more than a hint of truth to it. For example, I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that the six main characters of the show are voiced by big name voice actors with large female followings, and they were used quite a bit in promoting the show. This direction has paid off tremendously. According to sales data from someanithing.com, Mr. Osomatsu has joined huge powerhouses Bakemonogatari and Madoka Magica as one of the top 3 highest selling series of all time.
And so in that sense you could say that yes, Mr. Osomatsu has saved anime. Try it, it’s fun. But really it’s a culmination of a how anime sales have been trending. Looking at figures from the past year, half of the top 10 best selling series are shows popular with the female audience. If you told me even a year ago that Uta no Prince-sama would be the top selling idol series and not IDOLM@STER or Love Live, I would have had you drug tested. But there it is, going toe to toe with traditionally huge selling, male targeted shows like Fate Stay/Night and the latest Monogatari. Turns out if you make shows for women it seems they are just as capable of buying them as men. Funny how that works.
Naturally the more women buy anime, the more we are seeing shows being created that are geared toward their interests. According to data from myanimelist.net, on average there have been about fourteen shows per year since 2010 with either the shoujo (aimed at girls and young women) or josei (aimed at adult women) tag. Halfway through 2016 we already have fifteen. That’s a big increase, but still only a small percent of the thirty to forty new shows that come out every season. It’s also considerably less than the number of series tagged as shonen (aimed at boys and young men) or seinen (aimed at adult men). There are other factors to consider to get the full picture.
For one, a direct comparison doesn’t take into account how many shonen and seinen shows have become equally or even more popular with women despite their source. For example, sports manga like Haikyuu or Yowamushi Pedal might start in shonen publications, but the extremely popular anime adaptations have mostly found a female audience. There’s really no accurate way to measure this, so for our purposes we will just call those shows a tie. As we mentioned earlier, anime aimed at women have been something of a niche within a niche, so what would be a more fair comparison?
Consider the ecchi tag. It is the catch all for shows that focus on sex appeal to specifically target guys, essentially another niche within a niche to compare to. Taking that same time period, there have been an average of seventeen shows per year with the ecchi tag. At this point in 2016 there has only been eight. That’s on pace to meet the yearly average, but it’s considerably less than shoujo and josei. There is still half the year to go and plenty of time for these numbers to swing in another direction, but the difference is hard to ignore. It’s also interesting to see, putting aside last year, the past few years have been trending toward there being a nearly equal amount of both types of shows.
Of course the end goal of all this then is not to swap a male dominated industry for a female dominated one, but to have a broad range of shows every season that provides something for everyone to enjoy. The cool thing about Osomatsu is that while yes, it did make an effort to draw in female fans, it’s a show that appeals to everyone. It has become something of a phenomenon in Japan, appearing on magazine covers, TV shows, and in other cameos besides the sea of merchandise generated from it. I’ve always found adhering to the shonen and shoujo “rules” of what appeals to guys or girls very limiting (see my final thoughts on the brilliant Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun), and I think the best shows are the ones that just try to be “good” and don’t worry about those antiquated concepts. There is still room to improve in that regard, but it’s encouraging to see progress being made.
So if you’re in the camp of people that wants to complain there are too many shows starring pretty boys these days, just stop. There are still plenty of shows full of cute anime girls for you to obsess over. Instead, be happy that a weird reboot of a showa era anime has proved there is still plenty of room to grow in this industry and that the medium you love has a healthy future to look forward to.