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2005 Year in Review

by Evan Miller,
For Japan, 2005 will be remembered as a year when the popular image of anime, manga, and the otaku that support it underwent some major changes. For over a decade, the otaku have been stereotyped as outcasts – or worse – by the Japanese media. However, in 2005, retailers and industry observers finally began to take notice of the immense size of the otaku market in Japan. In turn, the public image of otaku began to change.

Image is everything

Perhaps the biggest event to inspire these changes was the popularity of the story Densha Otoko (Trainman). Based on an actual series of posts made to popular Japanese internet community “2 Channel” (ni-channeru or "2ch"), the story of a lonely otaku type who manages to capture the heart of someone he rides the train with struck a chord with audiences all over Japan. A movie adaptation of the story was one of the most popular films of the summer, while a TV Drama adaptation of the story was rated as one of the top 10 dramas of the year. The true impact of Densha Otoko, however, was not its ratings, but how it helped usher in a new surge in popularity and respect for Japanese otaku. Viewers of the movie and drama were exposed to a very different image of the otaku than the scary, socially inept image that they were familiar with.

The result of all this was an increase in public interest in the otaku, reflected in TV programs devoted to the otaku culture and a boom in the popularity of the Akihabara area of Tokyo. Examples of this trend were everywhere. In February, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum opened an exhibit devoted to the otaku subculture. The exhibit was a runaway hit, and customers would often have to wait in line for an hour just to get into the museum. Retailers in the Akihabara area, formerly known as a haven for electronics, intentionally increased the amount of otaku-themed items and goods available for sale, transforming the image of the area. New magazines designed for otaku readers, such as the “Akiba Walker” guide to Akihabara and “Otaku Elite” sprouted up almost overnight. Even economists joined in; 2005 marked the first ever study of the market worth of the otaku as a niche group. The study, conducted by the Nomura Research Institute, concluded that the otaku “industry” is worth 411 billion yen (over 3.6 billion dollars).

A look at the industry

Many players in the Japanese Anime and Manga industry underwent major changes this year. Studio Ghibli separated from their distributor to become their own company, while Bandai and Namco completed a business merger to become one of the largest entertainment companies in Japan. Production I.G became a publicly offered company on the Japanese stock market, accurately reflecting the popularity of the industry as a whole.

Growth of the Japanese Anime and Manga industry was not just limited to Japan in 2005 either. Throughout the year, Japanese Anime and Manga companies continued to focus on expansion into the western market. Japanese film company Itochu completed a deal with Time Warner to start a fund for new anime productions, while publishing company Shogakukan tried to increase its influence in the US market by developing Viz Media as a base for their overseas operations. Japanese fans and companies are hoping that the popularity of Anime and Manga in the western world will continue, so it is likely that we may see other big name mergers and agreements between Japanese and American companies in 2006.

Top titles of 2005

Even with all the major changes in the industry, the most popular Anime in Japan for 2005 was no surprise to anyone. Miyazaki Hayao's Howl's Moving Castle, in Japanese theatres at the beginning of the year and released on DVD a few months later, was the most popular Anime of the year, surpassing the ticket sales for Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and finishing 3rd for most popular DVD of the year.

Ironically, the area where Manga and Anime had the most influence in 2005 was in live action films. Following big-screen adaptations of Manga titles like Cutie Honey and Casshern in 2004, feature films based on Manga titles Cromartie High School, Nana and Touch found their way to movie screens all over Japan in 2005. The biggest story of the year belonged to Nana, which became the first franchise in history to reach number 1 in the rankings for Manga, Movies and Music all at once. The two major CD singles from the film both appeared in the chart of Top 20 CD singles of the year, according to industry group Oricon. Another Nana feature film is scheduled to begin filming this spring, so you can expect the trend of big screen adaptations of Manga to continue in 2006.

Looking ahead

The trends of 2005 will most likely continue into the new year, but this doesn't mean that a major change cannot take place. Many people worry that another tragedy involving otaku in the news, such as the Miyazaki Tsutomu murders of 1989, could set back the industry and cause the otaku to fall out of favor instantly. Other industry observers worry that Japan's current Anime and Manga boom will become nothing more than a fad. In the end, it will be up to the fans and otaku all over the world to determine how long the current boom in Anime and Manga related businesses will continue.

Footnote: The following is a list of the top 5 Anime News stories of 2005, as rated by Japanese Anime industry site http://www.animeanime.jp/:

1. Bandai – Namco Business merger
2. Studio Ghibli becomes an independent company
3. Production I.G goes public with stock offering
4. The boom in movies based on Manga
5. Viz Media is created as the base company for Shogakukan's overseas operations

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