An interesting assessment of how things have changed in the anime world across the past decade. The most obvious touchstones: the Internet; digital production techniques; the moe-splosion; the hard times across the industry affecting what gets produced and how.
I accepted some time ago that certain things are just plain gone for good. The work conditions that allowed something like Akira or Giant Robo to be made have evaporated. What does get made has to find an audience immediately — either a domestic or foreign one (i.e., an American audience) — or it won't even merit consideration. That means many more adaptations, a whole lot less original material, a lot more quick-and-dirty 13- and 26-episode shows with potentially abortive story arcs.
And yet even with all of those constraints, there are still some amazing pieces of work being completed. Gankutsuou; Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex; Saiunkoku; Ergo Proxy; ×××HOLiC; Basilisk; Le Chevalier d'Eon; Mushi-shi; Samurai Champloo; the list goes on. I'd add any of these to a list of best-of that spanned the decades, and they're all from the past ten years alone.
So: down, but not out; bloodied but unbowed. Great things are still possible.
What next? For one, far greater collaboration across the ocean. Co-financed American and Japanese productions might well become the norm at this point, since a divide is growing between projects that have explicit domestic appeal (the endless moe productions), the stuff that's borderline (Akagi — what American licensor is likely to pick up a show about a mah-jongg jock?), the stuff that's crossover (Basilisk, Mushi-shi) and the stuff that's "mid-Pacific" (Burst Angel, gag me with a shotgun).
From all that, a few other things become clear.
- Fansubbing will continue to proliferate. If the American licensors get that much choosier about what they pick up for domestic distribution, that creates a market for unlicensed material. And with revisions of international copyright treaties (the "super-DMCA") looming, it might well become that much harder for fansubs to co-exist with day-and-date licensing (e.g., FUNimation and One Piece) — assuming, that is, such licensing schemes proliferate and don't just remain piecemeal, one-off deals.
- Hi-def licensing will be a deeply divisive issue. Many of the Blu-ray anime editions coming out domestically are not true 1080p masters; they're upscaled from 720p, as a way to prevent parallel imports. Or, when they're not upscaled, they may be dub-only titles, which further discourages Japanese buyers from bothering with them. We may end up with a situation where the hardcore fans shell out for the cost-plus true-HD import editions, and everyone else goes for the local copy. I've heard arguments that many of the TV shows in question were not originally 1080p anyway, and so the whole issue might well be moot, but the fact there is so much disinformation and confusion about this particular issue is by itself a sign of something rotten in Denmark.
- No one format or distribution mechanism will dominate. Everything from DVD to Blu-ray to on-line streaming to download-to-own will take a piece of the pie. The age of one format to rule them all is most likely over. Many people will still opt for physical media as a fallback or a default, but it will simply be one thing among many. This will be as true for distributors as it is for consumers; probably even more so.
- The era of big single productions is over. Tentpole productions like Akira or even Sword of the Stranger are only going to come along maybe once every couple of years. From here on out it's TV or nothing, because that's about all anyone's going to have money for.
It barely feels like the same industry anymore, and I suspect that's because it isn't. It's no longer an insular business that provided content solely to Japan, with the rest of the world as an afterthought. I just hope its internationalization doesn't also become its undoing.