Why Anime Died In North America
Since I was born in the 90's, I'm going to start from there. I know there was some exposure to anime in North America early on with Samurai Pizza Cats and such, but that's before my time so I don't really know about it. All right so, where did it all begin?
In 1995, DiC acquired the rights to what they would target as one of the first girls action oriented tv shows. Due to cultural differences, the show was fairly toned down to make it suitable for American audiences; this mainly involved the removal of Japanese references, violence, and sexuality. I can't recall what network the shows aired on in the USA, but in Canada it aired on YTV. It proved to be fairly successful at first but nothing too major. Only the first 65 or so episodes were ordered, but due to popularity DiC managed to complete the show until the end of season 2, which was in around 1998. It was at that time that Cartoon Network picked it up and it blasted in popularity. In 2000 the show was licensed yet again, but this time by Cloverway. They licensed the shows 3rd and 4th seasons, and were a little more lax on censorship and retained the original background music. These seasons were much darker than the previous ones and attracted not only girls but boys and older teens as well.
Pokemon is what escalated the anime wave in North America the most. It was one of the biggest phenomenons in the late 90's, in terms of the TV show, and the games. If it weren't for Pokemon, anime would not be nearly as big as it was. In fact, the first 3 or so movies were even theatrically released across North America, which only select anime titles have ever had the honor of. Pokemon remained big until the early 2000s and lead the way for many similar anime shows such as Digimon, Monster Rancher, Medabots, etc... Pokemon has since died down a lot in popularity but is still on TV to this day (as of August 2011) and has released 5 generations of video games. In fact, the 5th generation was just released around 6 months ago and proved that Pokemon is still a powerful franchise and one of the best selling games of all time, only behind Mario. Most of Pokemon's original fans have outgrown it, but the dorky ones like me occasionally return and watch a few of the early episodes every now and then. I also got Pokemon Black which was awesome up until you beat Team Galactic; gets a bit boring afterwards so I haven't played since.
Anyone who grew up in the 90's has to agree. Dragonball Z swept a whole generation by storm. It re-defined entertainment for kids, pre-teens, teens, hell even adults. The only real exposure to action that children got before DBZ was Power Rangers, which pretty much died after the Mighty Morphin' series ended. Even Power Rangers was never really anything more than explosive spectaculars in terms of action, and the story line was very redundant. Now Dragonball Z - that was not only full of the typical hands-on fighting, but also exhilarating plot lines, character development, and most of all truly evil backstabbing cold-blooded villains.
When the franchise was set to come to North America, it was originally starting from the original Dragonball series in 1996. However, due to poor ratings Dragonball was dropped only after 13 episodes. Thankfully, FuNimation decided to pick up the Dragonball Z series in 1998 and release THAT instead. This was probably due to the popularity of Pokemon and Sailor Moon, so we'll give those series credit where they deserve as well. Shortly after Dragonball Z started airing it became a phenomenon. Even though it came to Canada slightly afterwards, it became just as big. I remember I would come home every day from school in the 4th grade and eagerly await the next episode of Dragonball Z, which came on right after Pokemon.
At that time there were only rumors of a Super Saiyan, no one knew when it would happen. We all saw pictures thanks to the growing popularity of the internet at the time, but it was still as mysterious of a legend in real life as it was in the TV show. The day Goku finally turned super saiyan was probably one of the most exciting moments of my childhood, it's all anyone in school could talk about the next day. Dragonball Z retained its glory for many years to come, until about the Majin Buu Saga where it kind of lagged a bit. I have to point this out because I'm Canadian, but we always got the short end of the stick when it came to DBZ. We were always way behind Cartoon Network, and halfway through the series YTV decided to switch from FuNimations version to some cheap Canadian production with crappy voices. Thankfully there was internet at the time so I didn't have to put up with that crap.
The Rise and Fall of Anime
Anyway, Dragonball Z escalated a whole new trend of anime, not only in Japan but also in North America. Let's face it, Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach, Naruto, and all those other shows would not exist if not for Dragonball Z. They owe it to Akira Toriyama for creating what he did. And the only reason any of those shows even came to North America is because of Dragonball Z.
Shortly after Dragonball Z ended, a stampede of new anime flooded onto TV. It was the peak of anime in North America, around 2003 I would say. Even though Canada yet again got the garbage for the most part, we did get Inu Yasha and Gundam Seed which were quite popular. Those were followed by many other anime such as .hack//sign, Death Note, Naruto, Bleach, and a lot of other stuff that was popular at the time. In the USA Cartoon Network wasn't the only network playing anime anymore, it was on a bunch of other channels as well. Basically, everyone and their uncle was trying to cash in on the success of Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, and Pokemon. All the popular anime and manga titles were licensed. You could pretty much go into any bookstore to buy manga, and any video store to buy anime.
It was quite a time, the short few years when anime was mainstream and pretty much everyone at some point watched something related to it. As such, it was a really big part of pop culture in North America. Even singers such as Gwen Stefani and Kanye West jumped on the wagon. Let's not forget the internet, it played a big role in catalyzing the popularity of anime. It wasn't until around late 2006 that the storm began to die down a bit. The only explanation was of course, over saturation. The North American market was too indulged in anime. In fact, many people even began to embrace Japanese culture. Nothing wrong with that... except that we're North American. But that's besides the point.
Anyway, pirating probably played a part in the destruction of the anime market as well, but I doubt it had any major impact. Pirating had always been around, and still is, while most other media markets have survived. The downfall of the Economy of course had a role in this too. Frankly though, I'd say people were just growing tired of anime. That includes me, my friends, and many other people across the continent. It was more of a phase that most of us went through, and now we've grown over it. When it all comes down to it, the only anime I ever really liked were the 3 major ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. I did watch a few more, hell I even bought a bunch of manga, but I've outgrown it and haven't had any real interest in a couple of years now.
So, to those people asking, will anime ever revive in North America? Not anytime soon. Maybe some day, but we just got out of the Japanese invasion, we're not ready for another one. Anime has subsided back into a special interest, a hobby, and a niche market. In my opinion, it's best it stay that way.