Do Japanese Fans Care What's Popular Overseas?

by Justin Sevakis,

Will asks:

Do Japanese citizens pay much attention to the trends, adaptations and popularity of their media exports or is this just a particular case where they are out of the loop? Do they talk about how anime, manga, tokusatsu, etc do overseas at all?

Japanese consumers generally don't care very much what goes on in Western fandom. Of course, they'd love for their favorite shows to be successful here and elsewhere, but to them, anime is a domestic medium. It's made in Japan, by Japanese people, and largely for Japanese people. It simply doesn't have anything to do with America or the West. This, obviously, is a little bit of an outdated attitude, particularly in an era when an estimated 1/4 to 1/3 of anime industry revenue comes from overseas (mostly China and the US).

But like most fans around the world, the average Japanese fan really only cares about what happens in the US when it affects them or the shows they love. For fans of shows that don't do well domestically, being a smash hit in another country could get more of that show made. Conversely, if something is controversial in the West and fans perceive that the embarrassment caused the producers to stop making more, that can be the cause of some intense anger.

But mostly, Japanese fans regard Western fans the same way most American fans regard Japanese fans: "oh, yeah, those people exist, don't they?" They might occasionally interact with us online, or share some links to Western cosplay photos (good and bad). They might listen to a minute or two of an English dub, just to see. Some of them will attempt to buy cheap American Blu-ray releases instead of forking over the big bucks for a Japanese disc (much to the chagrin of the anime industry).

The Western market, and the American market in particular, does have one thing going for it that the Japanese market doesn't: prestige. For example, if a Japanese production gets shown in a theater in New York City (especially any theater on Broadway), that will make the news, and footage from the screening will often make it into press kits and promotional materials. Some Japanese producers go out of their way to host these prestigious "foreigner screenings" if no convention or venue wants them. For example, when the film Umizaru 2: Limit of Love came out, a Japanese PR company held a screening for US Navy officers, who were no doubt confused as to why they were watching it.

Those are mostly just PR stunts. Of course, many Japanese feel pretty proud whenever entertainment products from their seemingly tiny domestic market manage to hit in America. But beyond that, Western fandom is really something off-the-radar for most of them. After all, most everything they want is right there, right in front of them, available in the language they speak. As far as their anime fandom is concerned, we're both out of sight and out of mind.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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