noitaminA is going backwards


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

Honey and Clover

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
2013: Katanagatari

Bunny Drop

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?


7 thoughts on “noitaminA is going backwards

  1. Cool.

    Just want to add that Black Rock Shooter is a noitaminA anime and you might want to edit your opening statement.

    Also: Is it josei? Probably not. However if we take a broader view of it, BRS is an offshoot of vocaloid culture, and females make up probably a majority of that.

    I’m also uncertain about Katanagatari. I think it might be one of those ambiguous shows where a female audience can appreciate it better than, say, Fractale. Or even shows like Kuuchuu Buranko.

  2. It’s frustrating in a sense to think that the block once claiming to “expand the target audience beyond the typical young male demographic” has actually gone and done the exact opposite. As is the case with most industries, economic profit will be the main driving force in determining its direction. Perhaps the 10’s haven’t been a good set of years for Japan’s economy and more specifically the anime industry, so the shift to air titles which contain elements pertaining to the young male otaku (the primary consumers of anime) could be considered a more economical choice. However, for those of us desiring a level of quality more akin to noitaminA’s original mandate, this shift leaves a lot to be desired.

    Regarding some of the more ambiguous titles you’ve mentioned such as the currently airing Psycho-Pass and Robotics;Notes, I can see why these two titles were chosen to air in the block. Looking at both title’s initial premises, there is potential in tackling quite a few socially-relevant subjects (an area which has been touched upon with varying success by previous shows which aired in the block such as Eden of the East, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and [C]). Furthermore, both Psycho-Pass and Robotics;Notes do feature what appear to be fairly strong-willed female heroines, which again would satisfy another one of their original goals. Mind you, none of the female characters in either one of these shows contain the same level of realism as most of the josei titles they’ve aired in the past and, in my view, appeal more to a male demographic. Finally, having Gen Urobuchi as the writer behind Psycho-Pass and Robotics;Notes riding off Steins;Gate’s popularity also ensures better commercial success from the primary consumer market.

  3. @omo: Interesting thought. I think we can’t get numbers as to gender of BR consumers, but we can observe demographics for Vocaloid. Though I only have English statistics, I would assume them to be representative; plus English-speaking fans also buy figures.

    A majority of female fans. Indeed, hence, it might be right to think that noitaminA had good intentions by greenlighting Black Rock Shooter.

    @Don Don Kun: I would really have fun if we had a way to quantify anime’s financial situation. We have access to detailed Oricon rankings, but it’s difficult to compare years to one another, and impossible to have an understanding of the success of a season as a whole. When facing crisis, it’s going to be very hard for noitaminA not to become just an ordinary timeslot (which it almost has become), especially after having a taste of commercial success which Ano Hana provided. To a degree, it might be unfair to fault noitaminA when we know it started in 2005, a time at which things were possibly much easier.

  4. I read the article, and felt like I have so many questions by the end result from the article. What does noitaminA changing mean? Why is it changing? How will it be effected in the future? Will we ever have a return of noitaminA legacy? What effects does noitaminA changing have on the demographics it originally was aiming for?

    I guess the main point I feel like is that you are just stating facts that I could be reading else where, and it doesn’t read thought out like I expect from you. You sort of end without going anywhere in the article, mainly that I believe its just merely stating these anime are now aimed a different demographic.

  5. @McNagah: You are right, the conclusion to this article is dry, and it could have been more ground-breaking. Certainly will I pen more opinionated articles for your pleasure and my own, but I still deem necessary debunking claims reasoned people such as you and I know to be false, especially in the context of the anime fandom. Have more ‘facts’, if you care at all:

    – People claim MAL to be useless per the existence of notepad (frequently)
    – People claim mecha and moe are not genres, while entirely unaware of the volumes of academia on the subject of genres (frequently)
    – People claim moe cannot be wilfully induced (frequently)
    – People claim anime discussion is pointless because all viewpoints are equal (cult of ignorance) (frequently)
    – People claim the universe came from the dust of the earth and Noah gathered the 40,000 spider species on an Arc within a lifespan (DAILY)

    None of this makes sense in my worldview, and I am still going to disprove it, because only weak, intellectual imposters ever depict an opinion as disprovable without addressing it. The main reason for that is that even the most fallacious claims can be difficult to undermine, and that’s why building an analysis against them is worth the time.

    Facts? I am happy my analysis is treated as fact, for I surely consider it as such. Now go proselytise to Ano Hana fans who applaud noitaminA being as good as ever. If you want to debunk that, arguing about quality will make the task difficult and subjective. To claim legitimacy you will need to rely on objective data. And objective data, this article offers; alongside a time-saving analysis to give no room for counter-argument.

    Lastly I hope the fact that one subject at a time is dealt with didn’t betray your expectations; good academic that I am, after all, I precisely quoted and pinpointed the question the article was going to answer within 150 words of my essay.

    But yes, right, some of the claims I have in stock are more disagreeable subjects. Please look forward to my progress, for the day you will hear folks calling me ‘Hokage’ will undoubtedly come.

  6. Good article. It’s a conclusion almost everyone is in agreement upon but is rarely quantified through hard data.

    I think the situation isn’t beyond repair. Despite the decline in quality josei titles, noitaminA is still averaging 1-2 good shows per year. And despite 2013 being barren, this year has fared much better: Ping Pong, Silver Spoon, there’s the Shinichiro Watanabe show in the summer, plus a josei-targeted show in the spring about an aspiring musician that could be good. Oh, and they commissioned independent animator Hiroyasu Ishida for a short film.

    It would be interesting to see the effect targeted programming blocks have on anime sales (one reason for noitaminA’s financial success is its demographic focus). I wonder what sales are like for Fuji TV’s more otaku-centric programming block Animeism?

  7. I noticed after commenting on your blog that WordPress automatically attached this blog from one year ago, and I felt embarrassed because my writing used to err often on the pretentious side, haha.

    In any case, considering the actual broadcast content is probably a much more significant factor than whether the programming block is targeted like noitaminA, I don’t know if there’s actual data that would reliably support the hypothesis. The idea that convenient programming and good marketing increases sales obviously still stands, though!

    As for noitaminA, or anime in general, 2014 does seem hopeful. Since a few titles per season are sufficient to keep us excited, and since anime directors have such influence over the end product, individual people seem to be large factors in my enjoyment of the medium. One-man endeavours to save anime may not be that ridiculous after all, but the saviours might not be those who claim the title!

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