Today, I will address a question frequently asked to me about anime, “why isn’t it on TV anymore?” Let me clarify, the question does not refer to animation aimed for children such as Pokemon or Naruto. I’m talking about the shows geared for the older demographic. Well, blame is like fertilizer, it has to be spread around. Part 1’s target: the cable TV networks.
Although they were not the first network to air anime, the most prominent network to air anime is Cartoon Network’s adult swim. To their credit, the flagship title was one of the greatest series ever, Cowboy Bebop. When I first saw this series on DVD back in 2000, I said to myself that this show is too good to ever air in the U.S. But even before AS aired, CN had late-night blocks dedicated to anime, which were named “Toonami”, “Midnight Run”, and “Rising Sun.” Looking back, these blocks were more successful in promoting anime than AS. In other words, they aired better titles. The folks behind AS have mentioned time and time again how they are big fans of anime. I believe them without any doubts whatsoever. But that is the problem. They were such big fans, they went after shows that appealed to hard-core fans, and not the casual fans. Folks, here is my rule #1 with regards to watching anime, “don’t listen to the hard-core fanbase” (a.k.a. the self-proclaimed “otaku“). They probably went to the same conventions I attended, and heard the same buzz I heard. The problem is that otaku, like any other niche group, may be loud, but they are a very, very small minority. (There may be an inverse correlation between how vocal a group is compared to their actual head count). That is the only reason I can think of when you look at some of the shows the ended up airing. Even though I enjoyed niche titles like Moribito, and would even recommend to casual fans, shows such as Wolf’s Rain, Witch Hunter Robin, and Trinity Blood left me scratching my head. They had little or no appeal to the mainstream. So when they announced that the ratings for anime tanked compared to the domestic animation (e.g. Family Guy) or live-action shows (Tim & Eric…), I wasn’t surprised. So now, the anime block on adult swim went from six nights a week, to one night a week. I’m not bitter. In fact I’m grateful. That’s better than the other networks.
In the 90’s, the first network to air anime regularly was the Sci-Fi network (now SyFy). Sadly for me, I did not have cable back then. They introduced Americans to some of anime’s classic films, such as Akira and Robot Carnival. Unfortunately, the versions they aired were edited and poorly dubbed. Ironically, they were not airing any anime when every other cable network was. However, during that time, they were rumored to acquire one of the most violent series ever, but declined when they realized that it would have to be edited beyond recognition in order to pass the censors.
During the boom of the early 2000’s, an anime was aired on the following networks: Cartoon Network; IFC; MTV2; Showtime Beyond; Encore Action; Fuse; AZN; TechTV; and ImaginAsian TV. (The reason why I upgraded to digital cable was so I could get all of these channels.) There was only two slight problems: (1) they were showing anime against each other, i.e.: airing during the same time slots; and (2) some of the shows they chose were even more questionable than adult swim’s choices. Remember the meme, “I so you don’t have to” a few years ago? Well, during the early 2000’s I watched these shows because apparently, no one else did. One reason I watched these shows is because I had no desire to buy or rent the DVDs. So I can understand the low ratings. Not many of these would have been at the top of my lists, save for one or two notable exceptions. However, I will give a pass to AZN and iatv; they were catering specifically to the Asian-American demographic, not the 18-35 WASP male demographic. Ironically, some of the best anime aired on these two channels. Most of the time it was subtitled only, no English dub.
So to recap: American cable networks decided to air animation that got low ratings in Japan when they originally aired in its late night slot. They either got bad advice from rabid fanboys, or they were completely suckered by a non-indicative First episode, or Bait and Switch credits during the opening theme song. What happens next? Well, TechTV got bought by G4; AZN and iatv went out of business; Syfy gets a makeover; Fuse and MTV2 abandoned anime (and apparently music as well) for reality TV. Then, the economy collapsed….