How Japan is Taking Over

Updated: Jan 19

In April of 2019, the world of cinema was changed forever. Avengers: Endgame, the final proper film in the massive MCU timeline, finally hit theaters after over ten long years of Marvel films setting it up. The movie was everything everyone ever wanted and more. It ended major character arcs. Gave a satisfying conclusion to the tale of Iron Man. And most of all, it had an extreme sense of finality. And not just for Marvel.

I remember shortly after the film came out; the YouTube film critics at Red Letter Media claimed that Avengers: Endgame would be the last proper Hollywood Blockbuster ever made. And after over two years since the film originally came out, I can’t say I disagree.

While Disney kept bringing in huge numbers from all sorts of films. Making over 7, billion dollar movies the same year Endgame came out. There was a small problem emerging. People were starting to lose interest. Avengers just marked the perfect conclusion to what was – and probably is – the biggest and most hyped modern movie franchise. Even though the MCU continued after this, I think most people would agree that it wasn’t the same.

In fact, hype for the franchise died down so much after Endgame’s release that it’s my belief many started to lose interest in fiction in general. For many, stories aren’t something that needs to be consumed on a regular basis. It’s just something they consume occasionally because of the trends or to enjoy with friends. But no movie brought in the excitement and attention that the MCU had. And since its conclusion, casual film goers just don’t want to experience stories anymore.

For the first year or so, this wasn’t much of a big deal. It’s not like people need stories to survive. And massive companies like Disney can still make money by riding the hype train that Endgame left behind.

But then something drastic happened. Something that completely changed the fiction experience and the world of stories as a whole. It all changed when the Corona nation attacked.

In March of 2020, countries all over the world started going into lockdown over fears of the new Corona virus. I would go into more details of this event to give a better introduction, but I really feel like I don’t have to.

Anyway, because of lockdown, suddenly people were stuck in their homes with nothing to do. Nothing but consume. And what were they consuming? That’s right, movies and TV. All of a sudden, casual viewers who only watched a handful of films and TV shows a year were binging all kinds of stuff to make the time pass. And this is where the lack of quality films and stories due to the end of the MCU really starts to hit.

Even though there was an even bigger demand than ever for movies, major companies kept delaying their major releases. Movies like Mulan, No Time To Die and Black Widow all got pushed indefinitely and only released relatively recently. This put the consumer in a weird spot, yes there are still new TV shows to see and old movies to re-watch, but when you start watching many stories in a row, things start to change. You begin to notice all the cliches, the tropes, instances of poor writing. And not only does all of this happen, but on top of everything, stories begin to get stale. So, what does the consumer do when the stories they’re familiar with begin to get boring? The answer is obvious. Look elsewhere. And this is where Japan comes into play.

Japan and Japanese media in general is one of the major industries that has been thriving during the pandemic. More and more people are moving over to anime and manga for their entertainment and leaving the Blockbuster film behind. And this isn’t just me speculating. The numbers don’t lie. If you look at Google Trends charts, you’ll see the terms manga and anime considerably spike right around the time that lockdown started. Viz Media (the marketer and localizer for pretty much all major anime) reported a 70% increase on sales in 2020. And if you look at bookstores like Barnes and Nobles, you’ll be surprised on just how much of their stock is dedicated to manga nowadays in comparison to a few years ago.

But why is this? Why is it that anime and manga are now such a huge deal, and appeal for American stories are starting to die down? Well, you might say it has to do with the pandemic. And while that is true, there’s actually a lot more to it than just that. Because the pandemic was really only the catalyst that started all this. Similar to how Franz Ferdinand’s death was the spark that lit the already burning fire of the first World War. What the pandemic did was expose and bring to light all the poor decisions made by the American storytelling industry that are now starting to come back to bite them in the ass.

Also, a lot of this post is my speculation on the reason for why Japan is taking over. But I do believe there is ground to believe everything stated here.

Tanjiro Kamado

To start off with all the mistakes made by America, I want us to take a look at film industry. Among all the entertainment businesses in the United States, film is easily the biggest one. It’s what gets people to experience the stories the most. Nevertheless, there’s been one major problem with them for a few decades now. The lack of originality. Look back at all the major releases that have come out in the last five years, something that you’ll very quickly realize is that practically all of them are either sequels, remakes or reboots of characters that were created decades ago. Sometimes a century ago. Pretty much none of them are original.

You might say that this isn’t a big deal. This is just what the industry is like nowadays. But once again, in a post-pandemic world, this simply won’t do.

For the sake of comparison, let’s take the American comic book industry. A storytelling market with pretty much the exact same problem as film. American comic books have been a bit of an enigma as of late. In terms of sales, in 2020 they actually did relatively well. Selling over a billion dollars in comics. Though that pales in comparison to the 5.5 billion dollars that manga racked in the same year. And people have been trying to figure out why there’s such a huge difference for a while now.

I’ve seen a lot of people online attribute this to the more and more prominent presence of real world political ideologies in age old characters, but I don’t think that’s it. While politics (primarily leftist beliefs) are appearing in comics a lot more than in manga, I’ve yet to find any evidence that correlates that with the lack of sales.

No, I believe there are more factors involved than just that. First of all, manga has tons of original properties coming out all the time. Look at something like Shonen Jump Magazine. The biggest manga magazine in the country which has birthed some of the biggest anime of all time like Dragon Ball and Naruto. This is a magazine that prides itself on constantly obtaining and cultivating new talent. Constantly you’ll see brand new mangaka getting their shot at making it big with their own original stories and perspectives. And this is how they constantly come out with brand new big hitters like Jujutsu Kaisen, Chainsaw Man, and most importantly, Demon Slayer.

Meanwhile comics are still re-using the same characters that were created a long time ago.

There’s also the factor of the intimidation that comes with comics. Speaking from personal experience, I find American comic books to just be so hard to get into. Say I want to read a Spider-man comic. Well, I have to choose from the fifteen billion different Spider-man comics, as well as make sure I know which version of Spider-man I’m getting into. On top of this, multiple comic series correlate with each other, so sometimes in order to understand one comic series you have to read an entirely different comic series. There’s just no easy way to get into this shit without doing mountains of research beforehand. In comparison, I can just pick up the first volume of One Piece and know I’m starting at the beginning of one story I can continue by reading volume 2.

Add onto this the fact that most comics follows stories of characters that were created decades ago, and you have a medium that is generally unappealing to someone who’s not already in the know. It’s way better to just watch the movies which are also a bit of a clusterfuck but at least their easier to understand than the comics. Manga is just much more appealing from the simplicity of it all, yet the American comic book industry refuses to adapt.

Well, you might say comics are one thing, but what about other major storytelling mediums like movies and TV. Well, they have very similar problems. Again, if you look at Disney’s lineup for 2019, none of those films were completely original. You might say they still made money, but they only did so because people had nothing else to watch. In comparison, Disney tried to pull the same shit with Mulan after lockdown only for it to make a pretty pathetic 70 million dollars. Yes, the pandemic is partially to blame. But you can’t put the whole blame on it when anime like Demon Slayer still rack in tons of dough. In fact, let’s talk about that series for a moment.

Earlier I mentioned that comics made a little over a billion dollars in sales in 2020. Which equates to about 82 million units sold. In comparison, Demon Slayer, a singular Jump series, sold about the exact same amount. So yes, in 2020, Demon Slayer nearly outsold the entire American comic book industry by itself. It’s also estimated that in its lifetime from 2016 to now it’s sold about 150 million units and made over 8.75 billion dollars.

Not only did it destroy the comic book industry, but it also destroyed the film industry. With the movie Demon Slayer: Mugen Train becoming the highest grossing film of 2020. Granted it’s important to keep in mind that it came out in 2020 in Japan while it didn’t come out everywhere else until 2021 when theaters were starting to open again. But still, it’s an extremely impressive feet, especially for an anime movie.

Some of you might be asking what makes the story so memorable and successful. So much so that you’ve probably seen Demon Slayer through social media a lot as people posts picks of Nezuko and memes of Inosuke. Well, to be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure.

The manga itself is pretty good, though personally, I don’t think it’s anything out of this world especially in comparison to other recent manga like Chainsaw Man. But it still does a lot of things right. The characters are great, the story is fast paced and follows a well defined structure, and the art is something to truly marvel at.

But there is one thing that Demon Slayer made me realize. While I don’t think it’s the best manga out there, I definitely prefer it over the vast majority of mainstream stories from America. If you compare Demon Slayer to something like modern Star Wars, there’s just no competition. The characters, story, lore, emotional moments, structure. It completely destroys it. And this is what I think is one of the weaker manga out there.

And it think this takes us to the main reason why Japan is taking over, and that’s because (in my opinion) stories from anime and manga are just better than anything the mainstream in America can offer.

First of all, I would like to ask you, what do you think is it that all stories should have? Of course, this is something extremely subjective. But as somebody who’s been doing this for some time now, I can say that the one thing I always look for in a story is purpose. Why is it that this story exits? What is the author trying to tell me? What message - if any - can I get out of this narrative? This is why having a small number of authors is always better than having a group of writers. Because fiction is art, and art is inherently something extremely personal. It’s a reflection of the person who made it. And yet, if you look at the IMDB page of most major films, you’ll usually see like fifteen different writers involved and ten different directors working on the same project. In the process, what happens is that the sense of intimacy is lost. Yes, the story is entertaining, but there’s no heart. There’s no emotion. Most of these stories feel soulless and without purpose. And this is something that Japan has in spades.

Unlike in America, Japan hasn’t lost that intimacy between art and artist. Most manga (the dominant storytelling medium) are usually made by just one guy. Yes, they have assistants who help them out with the more tedious stuff, but it’s mostly just the one guy. This means that no matter what, you’re almost guaranteed to have a much deeper sense of intimacy with something like Demon Slayer then you’ll ever have with say, The Avengers. And this intimacy is what makes you want to keep reading, watch the anime, buy the merch. It’s what causes success.

In fact, if you look at most of the major film franchises nowadays, you’ll see that they’re based off stories that were originally made by one guy. Just like with manga.

Of course, as I said before, this is all just my personal speculation as a story enthusiast. I could be completely wrong here, and the reason Japan is taking over might not have anything to do with this. But what I do think is impossible to deny is that foreign media are beginning to dominate the mainstream.

45.6 Billion Won

A little over ten years ago, Korean filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk was going through some rough financial issues even after the success of his recent film My Father. He was going through so many problems in fact that he began scripting a possible movie based on those experiences.

He tried pitching it at the time but got rejected, and the project was practically shelved. However, a few years ago, he dug it back up and pitched it once more only for it to finally be accepted. After countless amounts of stress during filming, something that caused him to lose six teeth, his series was finally done.

It was finally released on Netflix as Squid Game and as of this writing, barely a month after its release, it’s become the most watched series in all of Netflix.

A Korean story, made by the mind of one guy, is now the most popular series in the most popular streaming platform. Something that has pretty much cemented the foreign takeover of the mainstream storytelling medium.

This post might be called how Japan is taking over. But the truth is it’s not just Japan, it’s a lot of countries outside of America.

And Squid Game isn’t the only one, this series comes right after Korean film Parasite became the first ever foreign film to win best picture at the Oscars.

In places like India, Bollywood is taking over with companies like T-series becoming the most subscribed channel on Youtube.

And going back to Japan, Netflix is going full force on its anime releases. With the live action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop right around the corner and the exclusive release of JoJo part 6. Netflix is hitting in harder than ever with their anime releases.

So, what is the point that I’m trying to make with this post? Is the American entertainment business dying? Well obviously, no. There’s a reason why America has been so dominant in the entertainment industry for so long. Because it does things, and it does them well. It’s only recently that the most mainstream sources of storytelling started to die down. And even then, it’s not all bad.

While Disney is the tyrant of the mainstream storytelling business, Warner Bros (the closest thing the mouse has to a competitor) released all of their major films on streaming through HBO max at no extra cost. Something that while not directly related to the stories themselves, still works as a huge win for the consumer. And besides, in the storytelling front, literature and indie films are still going strong. Even if most of them don’t reach the mainstream.

No, I think that if Demon Slayer has taught us anything is that soon America is going to have to share the industry with many other countries. Not just Japan. India and Korea are gonna start making their way even more prominently then they already are. People are going to start talking about anime in the same way they talk about the latest Blockbuster. American movies and TV shows will still be there and have the same appeal as always, but it’s going to have to share.

The pandemic and the end of the MCU might have marked the end of many stories worldwide. But in a more optimistic note I think it’s marked the start of the reboot of mainstream storytelling. Once we get out of this pandemic, things will be permanently changed. Not only in our real life. But also, in the fictional worlds we’ve grown to love.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end of the post. If you liked this then make sure to subscribe to The Lechuga newsletter, follow the Instagram account @the_lechuga_adrian or follow the Twitter account @lechuadrian to get notified of new posts. I try to upload once a month so stay tuned!

What did you think about this post? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Whatever your thoughts are, I’m already thankful to you for reading all the way to the end.

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