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2005 Year in Review

by Bamboo Dong,
As another year comes and goes, it's always a shock to step back and look over the year's events. The big scandals and crises always look so petty and trivial, unnoticeable little tidbits come together to form big trends, and it's so hard to believe that so much happened in one unbearably long, short year.

In 2005, anime received a giant boost in the eyes of the world. More than ever before, it was recognized as an important export with an indispensable fanbase. Japan responded by showing their support for this art form. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a plan to subsidize anime broadcasts in underdeveloped nations, with the goal of spreading the understanding of Japanese culture, and opening up the market even wider. The government agreed to pay for TV broadcasting licenses in hopes that countries with few media resources would be able to show a variety of anime shows.

On the US side of things, business was bustling as well. Sister companies Viz LLC and ShoPro Entertainment announced their merger in the spring. Later in the year, FUNimation Productions became FUNimation Entertainment after being purchased by Navarre. Meanwhile, Bandai and Namco announced plans to merge, which was finally solidified in early 2006.

Even with all the merging and recreating, though, there was still turmoil afoot in the American anime industry. Many companies went through layoffs, including Central Park Media, ADV Films, and more recently, Geneon Entertainment. While the anime market continued to grow, signs pointed to oversaturation as a source of problems. Retailers like Best Buy decided to limit the amount of shelf space given to new titles, stocking only those they thought would sell.

At the same time, while the market was busy trying to find itself, it was sending out new tendrils towards different target audiences and demographics, namely... women. Shoujo has always been popular in Japan and around the world, but only in 2005 did the American market truly recognize the importance of this powerful market. Viz launched their new magazine, Shoujo Beat, a manga anthology jam-packed with titles to satiate girls and women alike. With popular goodies like Ai Yazawa's NANA and Yuu Watase's Absolute Boyfriend, it finally proved that shoujo was not only a major player in the market, but also the fastest growing genre. It was no surprise that titles like Tokyopop's Fruits Basket consistently landed on Bookscan's Top 10 list for graphic novels, usually in first place.

The past year was also good to fans who just couldn't get enough of their favorite series and wanted to turn towards novels. 2005 saw the release of original books and book adaptations alike, ranging from prequels like .Hack//AI buster, to adaptations like the Fullmetal Alchemsit novels, to books like the Boogiepop series, long-awaited by fans. The demand for books was so surprisingly high that Viz even created new imprints for their novels.

Other trends included the rising appearance of anime on UMD, a technology that would allow viewers to watch their favorite movies and shows on their Sony PSPs. There's no telling yet how well it'll catch on, but one thing's for sure, the PSPs have certainly made their impression on the market. With its convenient size and memory-storing capacity, companies have not only started to release their titles on UMD, but have given thought to other uses, like allowing manga readers to download their favorite titles onto their handhelds.

Of course, as with every year, 2005 heralded plenty of new titles as well. Notable amongst those were Blood+, the anticipated sequel of the popular film, Blood the Last Vampire. The new TV series will be released concurrently with three Blood manga titles, drawn by different artists. Also notable was the announcement of Hellsing Ultimate, an OVA retelling of the wildly popular TV series. Suddenly, fans had renewed hope that all of their favorite series could eventually be revived in the form of sequels and OVAs.

But, if Japan was unwilling to make new series to tailor towards American audiences, there was always the hope that they could be convinced otherwise through co-productions. Such was the case with IGPX, a new 26-episode series co-produced by the Cartoon Network and Production IG. Starring big name actors like Haley Joel Osment, Mark Hamill, and Michelle Ruff, it represented the first co-production ever made between a US network and a Japanese studio. They weren't the only ones, though; Bandai and Studio Bones announced their newest project, Eureka 7, a multi-platform release that would include an anime series, a manga, and a video game for the Playstation 2. Hasbro followed suite with GI Joe Sigma Six, a co-production with Studio Gonzo.

On the television front, anime continued to stake its claim as one of the highest ranking attention grabbers. September was a landmark month for many fans—after a few years of fruitless rumors and whispers that it would never happen, the much beloved Naruto finally premiered on Cartoon Network. The fact that it was licensed was reason enough for fans to enjoy, but to be able to enjoy it on cable was bliss for many.

Moving from the small screen to the big screen, there was just as much groundbreaking news there. After opening at the end of 2004 to much success, Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle continued to hold its head high on Japanese box office charts. It stayed in the top spot for over 8 weeks and spent over 15 weeks on the Top 10 list. It broke previous records set by Spirted Away not only in its home country, but in other countries as well. During its first 50 days in South Korea, it sold 1 million more tickets than Spirited Away. It eventually peeked into American theaters, where it enjoyed plenty of fan praise, but lukewarm critical reception. Other big name movies included Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, which was released in March across the United States.

Interestingly, one of the biggest movie buzzes wasn't really anime-related, but more video game-related—Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children. Released in Japan on DVD, the film - although criticized for being unintelligible to anyone who hadn't played the PlayStation game it's based on - was lauded for its amazing visuals and stunning rendering. Unfortunately, the US release of the film was delayed many times; it's now expected to release in 2006.

Continuing a trend from a few years ago, there was more live-action fun to be had this year, with several titles either launching in Japan or heading into production. Viewers were able to anticipate seeing their favorite characters come alive, with movies and TV specials and series based on titles like Blue Submarine No. 6, Saikano, Prince of Tennis, Dance Till Tomorrow, Mushishi, Grave of the Firelies, NANA, God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand, Maison Ikkoku, Designer, Advice for Sane Romance, Tokyo University Story, Boys Over Flowers, Honey and Clover, and Parasyte. Movies like Initial D enjoyed popularity at several film festivals and even a US release. Other titles received the Hollywood treatment, from the critically panned Aeon Flux starring Charlize Theron and plans for a Voltron movie.

With so many events happening in 2005, it would be impossible to pin down the most “important” event, or even the trend. All that can really be said is that when it's all over and done, the year brought anime and its subculture a few steps closer to integration with mainstream society. Whether this cheers you or depresses you, it can't be denied that anime is becoming stronger and stronger ever year, and it will be interesting to see how the news of 2006 reflects this.

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