In which you get to see a young French man acclaiming a programming block that caters to older Japanese women. Go figure.
Ask a sensible fan, the answer will invariably be: noitaminA is an exceptional block. When in need for something different, often will noitaminA be a wise answer; that isn’t so much because the anime it broadcasts excel in their category, but rather because they are, in nature, specific enough to strike the right chords with the right audience. As stated on its website, its aim is to “expand the target audience beyond the typical young male demographic”. This is why, it seems, when the very nature of the material noitaminA delivers is starting to change, it might be legitimate for the fans to worry.
This article is my answer to a question asked by omo to his readers, which I found interesting. “How many noitaminA shows are on the [2ch top 50]? Is it dead yet? Is it drifting from its roots?” To draw a conclusion on the evolution of noitaminA, I will attempt to verify whether its production did follow an identifiable pattern; if it did, I will look into whether this pattern was broken during the last two years.
First, thank you, omo, for your thought-provoking question. If I am not mistaken, two noitaminA series figure in the 2ch top 50 you presented: Tsuritama (#30), for one, and Sakamichi no Apollon, ranking 10th. I lack the knowledge to draw an educated conclusion on this top, though: it is difficult for a non-Japanese-speaker to characterise the 2ch community, and the delicate situation we are in is that, for instance, 2ch and 2chan are said to have very different userbases – I would be inclined to believe that 2chan is more representative of the demographic group noitaminA claims to go beyond. Let’s forget about 2ch for the moment and look at the titles noitaminA broadcasted since its inception:
2005: Honey and Clover, Paradise Kiss
2006: Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, Jyu Oh Sei, Hataraki Man
2007: Nodame Cantabile, Mononoke, Moyashimon
2008: Hakaba Kitaro, Toshokan Sensou, Antique Bakery, Nodame Cantabile: Paris Chapter
2009: The Tale of Genji, Eden of the East, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Trapeze
2010: Nodame Cantabile: Finale, House of Five Leaves, The Tatami Galaxy, Moyashimon drama, Shiki, Princess Jellyfish
Up until 2010, an emphasis on the “young adult women” demographic appears. Seven of their works were josei (‘ladies’) adaptations. Two of them were original content with no specific catering to males (namely Eden of the East and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, if someone wished to challenge this claim). Three others are adaptations of arguably genderless, classic literature: Ayakashi and its spin-off Mononoke, alongside The Tale of Genji. While these works could be said to be ‘genderless’, the fact that they adapt more elevated literature could entail that their target audience is slightly older than average.
Among the rest, you can find ambiguous source demographics; we have Kitaro, whose source material is older than manga demographics are, and a few titles that were published in shoujo or seinen magazines (but often borderline in content; while House of Five Leaves is sold as a seinen, its author Ono Natsume is well-known for catering to women). The rest seems to be adaptation of modern Japanese literature with no male-oriented content and a slight female bias. For example, Fuyumi Ono is known to write for women, but the content of her writing is rather universal. And though her works are aimed at the young, the large readership she acquired in her earlier career (Shiki or The Twelve Kingdoms) has aged, and become today’s josei demographic.
Feel free to argue if you feel this conclusion is inaccurate, but it would be fair to notice a pattern here. On the other hand let’s take a look at what noitaminA series were produced in 2011 and 2012.
2011: Fractale, Wandering Son, [C], Ano Hana, Bunny Drop, No. 6, Un-Go, Guilty Crown
2012: Thermae Romae, Black Rock Shooter, Kids on the Slope, Tsuritama, Moyashimon Returns, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, Psycho-Pass, Robotics;Notes
While critics express concern over noitaminA, it is apparent the programming block remained true to itself at times. Among the 17 latest works, we can find 3 josei, such as Bunny Drop and Natsuyuki Rendezvous. Much like the past years, though, there also are ambiguously josei anime: Wandering Son, Moyashimon or perhaps Thermae Romae weren’t sold as josei manga; however, their content could be associated to the demographic. Literature adaptations and original anime with universal or female-oriented content are present this time as well; No.6 fits the bill, and maybe Tsuritama.
A note: while Kids on the Slope also counts as josei in content and demographics, a detail is of interest. In fact, whereas a full volume of the source material focused on the characters’ life after secondary education, the anime was almost exclusively on high school. Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile and many others established post-high-school slice of life as one of the fundamentals of josei and noitaminA; Kids on the Slope deliberately didn’t fulfil this criterion.
But it ultimately comes down to the fact that josei content declined: 18% of josei adaptations, while the past years had 32% of them. Naturally, it wouldn’t seem like a problem in and of itself; for the real issue, in fact, is that what replaced josei content is, for the very first time, in complete contradiction with noitaminA’s maxim. Psycho-Pass is one of these ambiguous works, as it isn’t female-oriented but could still fit. Katanagatari and Guilty Crown, on the other hand, are romances with strong male self-insertion elements. As to Black Rock Shooter, we have here the biggest oddity of the list: selling figures being its main purpose, the male-pandering is glaring in the series. And with elements catering to otaku consumers, Robotics;Notes is another of the exceptions.
The list goes on… Fractale was an unabashed shounen; the economic bastardisation in [C] was certainly not befitting an audience in age of electing political representatives; and the angst specific to children in Ano Hana is something a mature audience oughtn’t to relate with any more.
Looking back at noitaminA’s progress since its birth, allow me to draw a conclusion: I submit that noitaminA drifted from its initial purpose. And looking at what this change meant for the quality of their production, I will add my personal opinion on this matter: I submit that this metamorphosis is negative, at least in terms of quality. Ano Hana, after all, sold extremely well, and arguably, so did Guilty Crown.
And when ‘noitaminA’ no longer is enough, we can only hope for another project to satiate our hunger for good anime. nootraC maybe?