If you are a veteran world travel, like I am not, then you will know that the menu items on your favorite menus and toppings on some of your favorite foods are quite different in foreign countries. In Europe, people love to dip their french fries in mayo and/or vinegar instead of ketchup. Any international fast food franchise will have a significantly different menu in another country. There will be some menu items that are notably absent in some countries and others that are unique to one country. Heck, in different parts of the same country you will have variations in eating tastes and menu items.
Now, I’m hungry.
What does this all have to do with anime and manga? Well, it just shows that like people consume different foods in different regions they also consume different entertainment as well. There are some anime that are insanely popular in Japan that will never come to the U.S. or horribly bomb in the U.S. because Americans just don’t care for them. There are also some shows that the Japanese don’t care for but are brought over to America and sell like gangbusters. Even though there are anime fans on both sides of the Pacific the tastes in the anime that anime fans have can be wildly different.
As we know, dozens upon dozens of series get brought to the U.S. every year but there are thousands to be picked from. And there is good reason for that in many cases (and in some cases not). A lot of anime/manga are very Japanese, more Japanese than anything we have seen, and it just wouldn’t be appealing for most fans. A lot of these include comedies, which can sometimes turn out to be totally not funny if you aren’t from Japan.
There are a slew of long running anime/manga that have never even come over despite their enormous popularity in Japan. In general, Japan likes long running episodic family shows and Americans want nothing to do with them. Japan also loves sports shows but Americans ignore them completely.
Sports show are huge in Japan! Giant! The only one that seems to have any U.S. following is Prince of Tennis. But then who wouldn’t love a show where you can defeat dinosaurs by using tennis? The Touch series was especially big, it is about baseball, by Mitsuru Adachi. He did a short story series called Short Program which was released in the U.S., quite good. Anyway, Touch was decently long, had 3 movies, T.V. specials, live-action adaptations, you name it! This was an 80’s show so that may account for some of the lack of interest. Captain Tsubasa is another that comes to mind, it is about soccer. This series started in the early 80’s and still has incarnations of it running today! Manga, anime, video games, movies, the works! They can’t seem to get enough. Although this could be attributed to Americans notoriously not caring about soccer, too. Because Captain Tsubasa was translated into many languages in the Middle East and Europe. Some of both these series have been fan-subbed though.
I also remember that Captain Tsubasa has a huge fan following in South America and Mexico. America loves baseball and football but you don’t see Star of the Giants and Eyeshield 21 merchandise all over the place because of the huge TV deals they got to put those shows on Cartoon Network. I’m sure if the U.S. loved soccer we would still not see Captain Tsubasa in the U.S.
Sazae-San is clear the most famous of the huge hits in Japan that has absolutely no following in the U.S. Sazae-san is often the highest rated anime on Japanese TV. I remember that Josh in Japan said that when he lived in Japan the only anime he regularly watched was Sazae-san with his family. Sazae-san started in 1946 in a local newspaper and revolves aroun a housewife named Sazae Fuguta and her family. Much like many American newspaper comics the characters will change with the times but do not age much, like the Simpsons. Even though the manga has ended, and the original manga artist has died, the characters have proven themselves so popular that the Sazae-san anime is still has new episodes on TV today.
Doraemon is one of those perennial TV shows that so many other anime have referenced. Heck, I remember GTO and XXXholic making Doraemon jokes. The cartoon Puri Gorota in Nodame Cantabile is also an obvious parody of Doraemon. Doraemon is a robot cat from the future who was sent back in time to help out his original owners descendant named Nobita. It turns out that since Nobita is such a sad dork he runs up a huge amount of debt for his descendants in the future so they send him Doraemon in hoped that he grows up to be a better man and save the family from finical ruin. Since Doraemon is from the future, he can pull out a large array of hyper-technological gadgets from a pouch in his belly. The gadgets are supposed to help Nobita but they often get stolen by his friends or cause more trouble they they solve. Nobita usually learns a lesson from his adventures making it firmly a children’s cartoon. In many ways, Doraemon is wish fulfillment mixed with a moral lesson.
Doraemon is a cute enough show. It also doesn’t have an engrossing appeal to ever need to be watched over again, which is fine. But that doesn’t exactly mean it should be wrapped up and brought to the U.S. It also isn’t hysterically funny either. It is kind of slow and has a lot of word-play. It is something you watch with your kids and maybe you laugh, too. Also Japan loves cute mascot characters so Doraemon takes the cake.
Detective Conan is another well loved long running anime and manga in Japan. Jimmy Kudo is a 17-year old prodigy and often helps to police solve cases much like Encylopedia Brown. After helping solve one murder case he is attacked by an employee of the mysterious Black Organization and injected with an experimental poison. The poison was supposed to kill him but instead it regresses him back into a ten year old. Since the Black Organization thinks Jimmy is dead he takes the name Conan Edogawa and enrolls in elementary school. He helps his friend’s father, Richard Moore who is a detective, help solve cases while he tries to track down the leaders of the Black Organization and find a cure for his condition. Most of the episodes are Conan solving some mystery that either Richard Moore has become involved with or some problem that his friends have gotten involved with. Every few episodes Conan finds some lead with the organization but usually he ends up just as in the dark as he did at the beginning of the case.
Yay, Detective Conan! I have seen very little of this series but detectives always attract me, it’s like bat radar. I would really like to see this series released as brick sets, it is the only way it seems worth getting such an insanely long series. I would watch like the Japanese do, sort of, by watching a few episodes now and again. The problem with shows like that is you seem to lose the U.S. audience because you have to purchase it and you don’t just get to tune in randomly to it.
The main problem with Conan is it’s a kid show so it is sort of hard for people to wank on about how super deep it is (not that it stops them from doing it with other shows) but it can be rather bloody and violent which make it unsuitable for children according to U.S. standards. The paradox sort of keeps it from getting any mainstream appeal in America.
Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen-mae Hashutsujo (Kochikame) is the longest continually running manga in Japan and the longest running Shonen Jump manga. I know: A Shonen Jump property that is popular in Japan that has not be brought over here. It sounds like a lie but it’s true. Kankichi Ryotsu is a lazy, money grubbing otaku police officer who spends almost as much time coming up with silly plans as he does doing actual police work. I have heard that some people consider Ryotsu the Japanese Homer Simpson. There is also a large cast of Ryotsu’s fellow police officers who either help with his plans or try to foil them. There are two reasons why we won’t be seeing this in American anytime soon. The first problem, the art has been somewhat modernized but still has an unshakable old school style that most American fans don’t care for. Second, many of the plots revolve around Ryotsu trying to get rich by taking advantage of the latest fad in Japan. I assume a lot of the time even if you don’t fully understand the fad the jokes are still funny but it’s still a big hurdle for a lot of people.
Let’s not forget those few shows that slip through Japan without much interest and then get a huge reception here in the U.S. The biggest examples I can think of are Trigun, Berserk, and Big O, which then got a second season because of U.S. desire. While I like all of these shows, I have to wonder if they were really noticed because they were marketed well (Trigun especially had lots of merchandise) and also because they just had fewer shows to compete with in the states. I mean with a hundred new shows going on each year in Japan you can be lost in the shuffle. I also think that the success of these shows domestically, made a lot of people take a second look in Japan. Shows seem to stay in the minds of American fans longer.
In general, U.S. audiences like darker, action shows which generally only have otaku appeal in Japan. Hard seinen with very mature plots and little or no fantasy seems equally unpopular. Gritty or fantastic shonen seems the most popular genre of anime in America. Trigun, Berserk, and the Big O are all prime examples of that. Shows that are darker than most shonen but not as ponderous as some more mature seinen. In Japan, they tend to like either light-hearted shonen or very hard seinen depending on the age of the viewer.
I sometimes wonder how episodic shows would do if they were only released on DVD in Japan. They might fall to the same place as the U.S. but luckily for them that is not the case. Like was said earlier a lot of the shows have so many Japanese-isms that it could be difficult to translate and also might not translate into anything coherent. I think anime fans are interested in Japanese culture but not to the extent of many of these shows. Someone made the example using Seinfeld, a very American show, while some of the humor translates many of it just comes from the things we know as Americans and can’t really be duplicated. So while it was a huge success here in the states, it wouldn’t translate into big ratings in Japan.