What's A "Mainstream" Anime Fan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asked:

I have been wondering this for a while but what is now considered to be a “main stream” anime fan? I know up until the when the economy crashed in 2008 whatever played on TV was considered to be mainstream up until Toonami went off the air. Even though anime still plays on cable, now in the 2010's with so many people cutting the cord I do not know if these shows are the bar anymore. What shows and type of shows do the “main stream” fans watch now? What kind of people are they? What is the bar for the casual main stream anime fan now?

"Mainstream" or "casual" anime fans - the ones who casually watch a show now and then - are out there, and more plentiful than they've ever been. The accessibility of anime on services like Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll and Amazon have put the entire world at their fingertips, and jumping in is now as simple as clicking "add to queue" on an idle Tuesday evening.

It's difficult to talk about these consumers as a group, however, because they really aren't much of a group. Just like the rest of the media consumer landscape, their experiences have largely splintered. What they're watching varies wildly depending on their demographics, their tastes, and what they're using to explore anime. Someone who watches entirely through Netflix is going to have a wildly different experience from someone who still DVRs anime off of Adult Swim every Saturday, and both of those experiences are different from someone diving headfirst into Crunchyroll for the first time.

The mainstream edges of anime are so mainstream that they don't really count as subculture anymore: Studio Ghibli movies are perennial best-sellers on DVD and Blu-ray, and regularly fill special family-oriented screenings. Buzzy Netflix exclusives like Devilman Crybaby pop up in nearly everybody's feeds, just like all their other successful exclusive programming, and presumably a lot of people casually click on them. (We'll never know how many; Netflix doesn't release viewer numbers to anybody.)

There are the"classics" that always attract a lot of eyeballs: Dragon Ball Super, One Punch Man, Death Note, Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, Boruto and his dad... you know the ones, you can probably list 'em yourself. Naruto might not be as white-hot as it once was among dedicated fans, but there are still a lot of people playing catch-up (its various incarnations are still 3 of the top 5 anime on Hulu). Bleach has faded over the years after a widely-disliked ending, but the anime still has a lot of fans. Yuri on Ice, My Hero Academia, Tokyo Ghoul, and Food Wars! have been recent inductees to this hall of fame.

The treasure trove of streaming anime, and the giant pile of anime information that's just a quick Google search away, has been a big factor in the general good health of American anime fandom. Discovery via streaming sites can quickly become a rabbit hole: a quick Google search reveals the piles and piles of information fans have spent the last 30 years stockpiling. Favorite shows get purchased on DVD and Blu-ray. Mecha shows, obscure classics, artsy auteur works... a huge percentage of anime and in-depth information about it can now just be stumbled upon. All of this is entirely possible now without interacting with a single other anime fan.

To be honest, the big difference between casual fans and hardcore fans in 2018 is how many simulcasts they're watching, and how much attention they're paying to the scene and how deep they dive in - access isn't really an issue anymore, and you're much more likely to hear about an exciting new anime casually via social media. It is entirely possible these days to be a voracious anime consumer solely via mainstream streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, even eschewing anime-centric ones like Crunchyroll. Indeed, the line these days between a "mainstream" fan and an otaku is a little blurrier than it once was, because it's no longer about access to the material - it's entirely about your level of personal investment. It's an interesting time: everyone is watching whatever they want, with few things to stand in their way, and then getting involved with the fandom at the depth they want to. As someone who became a fan when the guy with the tapes held all the cards and gated off access, I'll take it.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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