You’ve heard of Pokémon. You’ve seen cosplayers take over the internet. Maybe you’ve even seen a few memes pop up in your feed. But what is anime? Why should you care? And how can you tap into a community that’s 50-500 million strong, and valued at $25 billion? UK Associate Editorial Director Viren Mistry explores why you need to care about cartoons and how can brands can tap into the anime community.
Keep it real
For many Millennials and Gen Zers, their first foray into anime was also their first exposure to East Asian culture. Following the domestic and Western success of Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball, “The Big 3” that followed in the noughties – Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece – each nurtured a huge fan base and inspired subsequent generations of creators.
An anime has usually already been established as manga (Japanese comic), so will have a following who are invested in the world and characters. Protagonists, antagonists and background characters often have their own cult followings and fandoms.
Harnessing this can be a challenge. Looking back at the critically panned Dragonball: Evolution movie, it’s easy to see why – Fox Studios lazily attempted to capitalise on their diminishing rights to the franchise, resulting in an army of angry fans. Screen Junkies called the film “the greatest insult to Japanese culture since Hiroshima”.
Netflix’s live action Cowboy Bebop also completely missed the mark. Empire explained how the show “misunderstands the style and subtext of its forebear, only honing in on its least interesting elements”. Instead of being sharp, thought provoking and dynamic, the new rendition presents a tired, boring and flat version of a classic.
Conversely, when Michael B Jordan dropped his Naruto style clothing connection, fans loved it. Why? Because he’s one of them. When Samuel L Jackson and Lucy Liu dubbed over Afro Samurai, the result wasn’t a gimmick, but a clash of gritty, violent storytelling amplified by beloved actors. Why? Because they’re both part of the community.
We Are Social’s work for adidas Running saw athlete Noah Lyles direct his own anime film. As a true anime fan himself, adidas were wise to use his expertise, and be steered by his creative vision.
And it paid off. The film was met with praise, and the community responded with fan art centred around Lyles and other characters.
— Noah Lyles, OLY (@LylesNoah) May 23, 2021
What does this mean?
The anime community has grown up with the art form, so make sure the stories you create or curate ‘feel’ like they belong.
The 2012 A-Class Mercedes advert is distinctively anime in style, focussing on expressive storytelling and characterisation to the stage where viewers were eagerly awaiting a sequel. Microsoft opted to embody their audience when releasing Windows 7 in Japan, walking viewers through FAQs with a friendly guide. Meanwhile, McDonalds chose to focus on the journey of a new employee, urging people to join their family.
Make it relevant
Beyond offering a window into a different lifestyle, anime also poses compelling philosophical questions. It welcomes you into a visceral, immersive world, providing an insight into a different life.
From pandemics to warfare, global catastrophes are probably more relevant now than they’ve ever been since anime rose to popularity. Attack on Titan delves into a violent, morally ambiguous apocalyptic world, whereas Dr Stone deals with an apocalypse by restarting civilisation, educating audiences in science, engineering and history.
Black Lagoon explores a corrupt world where exceedingly ordinary people become smugglers. Cowboy Bebop explores the bounty hunter life in a Star Wars scale world, without the supernatural antics. Castlevania unashamedly explores what it means to be inhuman in the most human way.
Anime is already deep-rooted within Western culture. Kanye West often cites Akira as one of his main sources of inspiration, while in his album Six Paths, Dave directly references Naruto. Avril Lavigne, Ronda Rousey, Ariana Grande and John Boyega are also among famous anime superfans. There’s clearly an appetite for animated grown-up storytelling – it’s just waiting to be tapped into.
Dial it up
If you do want to tap into this community, you have to go all in. It’s not all superpowers and cool hair – there are a myriad of subgenres, many of which push the boundaries of which stories ‘should’ be animated.
Anime has gone after more taboo subjects, shining a light on sex work through Rent a Girlfriend and exploring the intricacies of cosplay with My Dress Up Darling. Both shows humanise the characters and industries portrayed by exploring their relationships to work, friendships and life.
Some creations are just completely off-the-wall. Food Wars bludgeons its way onto your screen with over-the-top NSFW food reactions. Gintama and Jujutsu Kaisen bleed between genres and build unconventional links to other anime. Samurai Champloo even uses hip-hop to remix storytelling.
Taco Bell’s Fry Force advert is unashamedly corny, cheesy and packed full of anime flavour. Brands need to be bold when delving into the world of anime, packing a punch and delivering something unique and in your face.
Where to start
The anime community can be found in all corners of the internet, but social is where the conversation flourishes. For brands wanting to get involved, there’s no better way to start than by exploring what’s shared by the community on these platforms.
Instagram: Fanart and memes.
TikTok: Sharing favourite short clips.
YouTube: Reviews and reactions to content.
Twitter: General updates and discussions.
Reddit: A catch all, flexing between most of the above.
The two most interesting platforms are Snapchat, where anime filters are extremely popular, and Deviant Art, a tight-knit art community.
The deep connection people have to anime means that there’s huge potential to tap into powerful storytelling with a loyal, empathetic and proud community. But beware: get it wrong, and you’ll get punished. Anime comes with its own niches and language, so make sure you’re clued up before you dive in at the deep end!