2020: The Year of Anime Hell
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t Space Red Forman’s actual fault this time (or was it?), but man, 2020 has been such a screwed up year. It was to the point where in late summer, somebody reminded me of the wildfires in Australia at the beginning of the year, and I had to admit “oh yeah, that was a thing.” Heck, my apartment was rattled last week by a small meteoroid blowing up(?) in mid-air here over upstate NY.
I’ve been fortunate enough to both not lose my job (or have to take a furlough) AND be able to work from home to minimize potential exposures, so while for me it’s been mostly an inconvenience (but in some ways a blessing — more on that later), COVID19 has had a substantial impact on the anime industry, in ways big and small.
Welcome to “12 Days of AniTAY 2020”, a writing challenge in which I look to have an article a day for 12 days leading up to Christmas, all centered in some way on anime or anime-related topics. You can find re-posts of my 2018 and 2019 series (posted originally on the late TAY and AniTAY Kinja sites) now here on Medium.
The Blindingly Obvious
Note: For our new hosts here at Medium.com, and hopefully new readership, for the first part of this article, I’ve gone with an assumption that the readers may not be as familiar with how the anime industry works, and what went on with it specifically this past spring and summer. For the rest, I hope you’ll forgive and bear with me.
The most obvious impact to end users of course, were the many, many delays in shows that were airing, or were planned to start airing, this year, beginning primarily with the shows of the Spring and into Summer seasons. Anime News Network (along with many others) compiled a list of known delays due to COVID. It’s not a small list. A number of shows that stopped in the middle, and so many more that had to be pushed back one or more seasons. Similarly, many tie-in movies had to have their release dates pushed off as well.
And of course, it’s not as simple as just “push everything back 3 months”, as due to licensing, TV block purchases already made, other upcoming anime that the studios want to release and not sit on, but also not have competing with their own shows, it’s produced a domino-effect of shuffling and delays, the full extent of which is likely still being felt and dealt with and re-scheduled, and which will never be truly calculated for what it’s done “downstream”, on shows that may get bumped, or never even produced, due to needing to make way for rescheduled series.
The Slightly-Less Obvious
Obviously, schedule impacts affect income. Between that and safety concerns, the shutdowns naturally impacted on the animators, studio staff, and voice staff, dealing with less, or no, work to do. This extended additionally to some of the US distribution/streaming companies, who had to put on hold their dubbing sessions for safety reasons. (I assume that this may also have been the case for dubbing in other languages as well.)
The Smaller, But Still Real
For those not as aware how anime is shown in Japan, in many cases, the production companies effectively buy blocks of time on the various Japanese TV networks to run their shows, more akin to how long-form infomercials are done here in the United States. Less income from current shows, plus potential income hits from having to push off new or pause existing shows and reshuffle everything, leaves less money for the next cycle, affecting how much new anime the studios, especially the smaller ones, can afford to create (and license source material if necessary) in future cycles. Other sources of income were also subject to reduction — for example, multiple conventions / expos put on by some of the bigger studios / production companies were either forced to be canceled, or in some cases were re-tooled to be streamed online —a move which while helping to keep interest with the fans, obviously lost out on ticket fees, additional fees for voice talent and other special guests from direct sales to fans, and less merchandise sales.
Outside of Japan, the economic impacts and uncertainties on the viewers, leading to some loss of revenue for streaming services losing subscribers who might not be able to pay, and on merchandise sales as local stores were closed and/or people “tightened their belts” to get by. For the moment, we appear to have missed a “death spiral” of loss of income -> less anime that can be licensed for streaming -> less anime produced -> and back around it goes, but it would not surprise me to learn that the recent disruptions were another factor in AT&T/Warner’s recent decision to sell Crunchyroll to Funimation.
I absolutely understand and agree with shutting down production at the various anime studios for health and safety reasons. Naturally, I was disappointed that several of the series I was watching had to be put on hiatus (one of my favorites, Gal to Kyouryuu (Gal and Dino), just resumed new episodes last month). And it’s been somewhat frustrating in that, the last couple seasons, the total number of series that I’ve been interested in watching has fallen dramatically. Similarly, for the last several years, Friday nights were generally “anime night” with a friend who’d come over. That hasn’t happened since late February or early March at this point, and it is sorely missed.
On the other hand, having fewer series to try and keep up with has been somewhat of a blessing for me. I feel like I was starting to get too spread out, and have too much to follow, and was getting burned out more on shows. Having this break is, maybe not enough to “recharge” per se, but to allow me to re-focus, and get a better feel of how many shows are “enough” versus “too much” — I’m still finding myself without much interest in several of the sequel series I’d originally been looking forward to.
But, on the other, other hand, my wife and I have also done some catching up on older series — some things she missed before, some that neither of us have seen. Starting later this week, I’m taking a nice long “staycation” for Christmas, unlike previous years when I travel out of state to visit family, so some of this year’s shows that we missed, we may get caught up on. And working from home has allowed me to watch some shows (new-to-me or re-watches) while eating lunch, making for a nice change-of-pace and a good way to get my head out of work for a little while.
Looking ahead, the next season of anime (starting in January 2021) is potentially chock-full of sequels and other shows I’m interested in (although we’ll have to see if they’re really going to run Cells at Work 2 and Cells at Work Black in the same season). That will be nice, although my main hope is that no matter what happens, we won’t have to wait until this time next year (or later) to have something more approaching a pre-COVID “normalcy”, when we can do at least a little more visiting with family and friends without having to worry about everyone’s safety. But until then:
Or maybe Captain Janeway can ram the timeship after all, and push the galactic “reset” button so none of this crap ever occurs.