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Growing Hollywood Trends, and What They Mean For Otaku

Star Trek is responsible for a lot of things we Otaku can really appreciate. After all, some of the first fan conventions were centered on the television series. Trekkies (though as I understand it, like to be called Trekkers) were some of the first people to be known for making their own costumes and dressing like the characters in public. Star Trek’s even responsible for the rise of pre-internet fanfiction, and it was a Star Trek fic that created the original Mary Sue, a term still known to all fanfiction readers and writers today.

So now, the series is getting a reboot from J.J. Abrams, a man most well known for producing the shows Alias and LOST. Paramount, the studio funding the product and owner of the franchise practically threw money at the man with only one request: Make it for everyone.

Indeed, it seems to be just that. A thrilling, character-driven action-adventure movie that just happens to be set in space, the movie has people talking. And not just geeks. Newsweek recently featured a series of articles centered on the movie. Be honest, when was the last time you read Newsweek? That’s what I thought.

If the movie proves successful, and it’s looking like it might, what does that mean for us, as fans of Japanese animation? Star Trek is certainly not the first successful sci-fi movie, certainly. But as Hollywood branches out more and more into already existing source material, it’s only a matter of time before studios start going after anime full force. In the meantime, what can we do to establish the credibility of our fandom, ensure our voices are heard, and show to people that we don’t just watch “toons” all day?

Before I cover some of the indications we’ve already seen of this happening, let’s examine the patterns of other geek culture swept up by the Hollywood machine.

Comic book movies are probably the biggest, and the most well known. Comic book movies first kicked off in 1978 with Superman, followed later by Tim Burton’ Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. Batman was, at the time, the largest grossing movie for Warner Brothers ever. A few other movies featuring caped crusaders did arrive in the 90s, but many were catered towards small audiences, or terrible, badly-written sequels not worth mentioning here. Computer graphics however, seemed to catch up finally with the visions directors had of their favorite heroes, and starting in 2002 with Spider-Man, we saw an explosion of superhero movies. Even the lesser-known guys like John Constantine were grossing over a hundred million dollars.

We saw this same pattern at the same time in a different genre. The success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy had Hollywood inhaling fantasy titles. It didn’t last long however, as people decided to spend their money on things other than dragons, children with magical powers, and talking lions.

So now it seems Hollywood is turning back to sci-fi. Just so we’re clear, I will only be talking about sci-fi films from the past decade or so. The history of sci-fi films themselves is long, filled with ups and downs, and in order to give them any kind of justice, I’d have to talk about history and national psychology as well. But for now, let’s just say that great Sci-Fi movies of the past decade number very few. The Matrix could be included, certainly, for its revolutionary ideas and contributions to the arts of cinematography and computer graphics. The Matrix was truly something no one had ever seen before. But there wasn’t a lot more. Other sci-fi movies were hated by critics and audiences alike. The Star Wars prequels had the name-power, certainly, but most film experts would agree they could not be classified as “great” film.

The result of all these genres becoming popular enough is that aspects of nerd culture are gaining mainstream popularity. The best example is probably San Diego Comic Con. In recent years, ComicCon has become one of THE places Hollywood goes to push its media and drum up hype. Fifteen years ago, it was hard to explain to someone who didn’t go what a fan convention was. Now it’s common knowledge.

As far as geek culture goes, otaku still have kind of a bad rap. In general, the population is more open to things like Sci-Fi and Comic Book movies, because they see that many of these movies have characters they can identify with. But when they see otaku fandom watching cartoons, they can’t really identify with that. Sure, you could show them live-action Death Note all you want, but they probably won’t pay much attention because they’re not a fan, and to them it looks like Mean Girls with a guy from a Tim Burton film floating around in the background. They don’t have a reason to identify with high school kids having a go at each other, even if they are homicidal psychopaths.

Which brings me back to my point. It is hard to guess where Hollywood might go next, but we’ve already seen some indications. Hollywood will probably grab up more sci-fi scripts if Star Trek proves to be successful, but we’ve now started to see them grabbing up sci-fi scripts that also overlap with anime.

Let’s face it, no one was impressed with Dragonball: Evolution. Not critics, movie-goers, or even fans of the original series. Next on the list of anime adaptations is a CGI version of Astro Boy, and we as a community can only wait apprehensively for this to grace our movie screens, and what a general audience will think.

Unfortunately, the general audience will probably think it’s just an imported kids show, like Pokémon, and they’ll have no knowledge of the incredible history behind the boy robot all otaku love.

What can we do as fans of the genre to help ensure that anime has credibility?

1. Be vocal: The anime industry is floundering in our failing economy as people have less money to spend on hobbies. As a result, companies seem to be generally interested in what we, as fans are interested in, and what sells. E-mailing, commenting, and asking questions at industry panels at conventions are all good (and acceptable) ways of letting your thoughts be known. Just remember to be polite and use spell check.

2. Support what’s good: I’m not talking about just buying the DVDs, though you should definitely do that too. If you can’t afford them, ask for them as gifts. But also spend money on movies in theaters if they’re good. Didn’t like Dragonball? There’s a shocker. If it doesn’t look good, don’t spend ten bucks to go see it. That’s one of the only ways that Hollywood will listen, is if the money doesn’t come rolling in.

3. Share: And I’m not just talking about running up to people going “Naruto is the best!” That frightens people off. I have another guide here about introducing people to anime gradually if you’re looking for tips. Bottom line is, don’t be childish and fanboy/girly about stuff you like. If people ask you about your hobbies, speak to them about it intellectually, they’ll be much more interested and more inclined to try it themselves.

I would like to hope that there’s at least one person in Hollywood that can see anime as an art form, and not just more material to be snatched up and made into a live-action adaptation. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon. So in the meantime, I’ll just keep buying my special event tickets to cram into a movie theater at eight on a Tuesday night with every other local otaku to watch movies I’ve already seen on the big screen.