There are many, many fans of anime in the UK, however the medium still isn’t as accessible to us as it is in other parts of the world. In this post, I’ll be discussing the presence of anime in the UK as well as debating whether or not it’ll become more visible in the mainstream any time soon.
Mention ‘anime’ to most people in the UK and they will, after maybe a few attempts of also explaining it, automatically think of Pokémon. It was the first, and often only, anime that a lot of young people in the UK have seen. However, that wasn’t even the start of it. The Pokémon anime began airing on British TV in 1999, but it certainly wasn’t the UK’s introduction to the world of anime.
In 1994, Jonathan Ross – a television and radio presenter, film critic and actor – presented a documentary on the BBC called Manga! and this explored the rise of the popular Japanese media of anime and manga. It starts with Ross explaining that “Tomorrow night, BBC 2 will screen Akira…” implying that this documentary and the military action film in question was the actual introduction to the world of anime to the majority of the BBC-watching population in the UK. And, whilst the various opinions and metaphors used within the first two minutes of the documentary are questionable and arguably enough to put some people off, the documentary serves its purpose in introducing everything anime-related to the everyday BBC viewer, including the very first conventions which were held in Birmingham.
An interviewee in this documentary explains that his first exposure to anime was the translated versions of series from the 1960s, such as Marine Boy (1969) and this guy would certainly not be alone. Many Japanese animation series from the 1960s have been shown in the UK and many remain popular across various different generations – Moomin (1969) being a prime example of this. Towards the end of the documentary, Ross begins to talk about a certain director who “is surprisingly little known outside of Japan”. The director in question is of course Hayao Miyazaki – the main director and one of the founders of Studio Ghibli. Oh, how times change, huh? Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) was the first film to be released, but even then – it wasn’t all what it seemed to be.
Censorship within British children’s media is quite prominent, especially in imported series. For example, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) was instead released in the UK as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Why? The controversial connotations regarding the word ‘ninja’ and any related weapons such as nunchaku at the time. As well as something to do with Margaret Thatcher, apparently, but we won’t delve into British politics today. How does this link in with Ghibli’s Nausicaä? Well, that too was changed. The original Western release of this Ghibli classic was changed to be called Warriors of the Wind and the actual film was heavily edited, removing 22 minutes of the original film, to market it towards children. It doesn’t even stop there. The titular character’s name was also changed to “Princess Zandra” and the cover was adapted to feature a bunch of male characters who aren’t even in the movie!
These moves of censorship may make you question their motives and why many anime series, especially those which appeared twenty or thirty years ago, had such a stigma against them. The Jonathan Ross documentary also explored, although briefly, the attitudes to anime within the British media. Headlines, particularly those from The Independent newspaper, included “Blood and guts and Bambi’s eyes” as well as “Cartoon cult with an increasing appetite for sex and violence” and all gave pejorative connotations not just on the medium of anime itself, but also on those who enjoyed watching it and being involved in the community surrounding it.
Negative press didn’t even stop at the fans or content, though – actual creators of anime have been ‘attacked’ by British media. During the BBC Three documentary, Stacey Dooley Investigates: Young Sex For Sale in Japan, Stacey Dooley herself makes references to various different anime series, focusing particularly on Girls und Panzer, despite not including any material from the three-hour long interview she had with character designer Takeshi Nogami, frustrating him in the process to the point where he made a several tweet-long rant about it. The tweets reveal what appears to be a clash of cultures, with Dooley being judgemental and rude towards not only Nogami but also the Japanese culture in general. Is a general lack of understanding of the Japanese culture to blame for the British media attacks on anime?
Things were better at some point, though. In September 2007, CSC Media Group launched a television channel called “Anime Central” – the only channel dedicated to showing just anime within the UK and Ireland. The channel featured shows such as Bleach (2004), Cowboy Bebop (1998), Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (2002), however even this channel wasn’t completely safe. In August 2008, the channel closed down and nothing to replace it has since arrived on any British television. The closest thing to a dedicated TV channel is perhaps the online streaming services that Crunchyroll, Netflix and Amazon provide, however the monthly costs of these services soon add up – a factor which may drive people away from using them.
In other media, Helen McCarthy created Anime UK, a magazine that formed from a newsletter in 1991. It was admired for its design, high production standards and its entertaining content. Its goal was to make the world of Japanese animation accessible to everyone and promote the well-needed positive image that it deserved. This publication, as well as Manga Mania which was also being published (although little information is available about that), wasn’t to last however, and the Anime UK magazine ceased publishing in 1996. Aside from the currently publishing NEO and MyM magazines, which started in 2009 and 2012 respectively (the latter being exclusive to the MCM conventions), the presence of anime in UK media has continued to have been somewhat missing.
The question is: has the impression of anime in the UK media improved? It’s hard to figure out. On one hand, you have the negative press still. The negative press focuses on placing negativity on the fans more than the actual content – headlines such as “Japanese gamer ‘marries’ Nintendo DS character” quite obviously attempting to paint a pejorative image of the gamer to the reader. On the other hand, the anime fandom also gets praise. Cosplayers are often celebrated and admired for their costumes and they’re often shown in picture galleries, their costumes also allowing the conventions they attend receive promotion and allowing the world of cosplay, manga and anime to receive more presence in the UK media.
Of course, the content from Japan itself doesn’t escape UK media negativity, with headlines such as “Six year old in Japan falls to her death after watching flying cartoon characters“, quite clearly marking the anime medium as being too influential on children and therefore dangerous, and negative reviews on the shows and movies themselves are not rare, seen here with the example of Chris Michael’s review of 009 Re: Cyborg. However, there’s no shortage of praise either with reviews for Your Name being absolutely positive and various news outlets posting their own guides to the world of anime as well, such as this guide to popular anime Attack on Titan.
What people have to understand, however, is that the UK media is not an entirely accurate representation of the rising popularity of anime in the UK. To get a more truer representation of the popularity of anime in the UK, we have to look at things such as conventions and groups.
The UK sees a number of popular culture conventions taking place in various different locations across the country each year and the number is continuously increasing. For instance, let’s take a look at the popular culture conventions ran by MCM Central. What started as a collaboration in 2001 between two people as a large convention in London was transformed “from a collectors’ and autograph event into a US-style comic con, with the addition of dedicated comics, anime and videogame areas plus film and TV content” within four years of its first convention. In 2007, the convention began to expand to different areas of the UK, with Telford, in the Midlands, being the first MCM convention outside of the capital and since then, MCM conventions have been established in eight locations in the UK & Ireland. Another example of a popular UK anime convention is Minamicon, which was founded in 1994. Based in Southampton, Minamicon has the honour of being dubbed the longest running anime and Japanese culture convention in the UK and boasts three days of activities such as competitions, demonstrations, karaoke and various different talks and panels.
Away from these sizeable conventions, however, more and more smaller conventions are also making an appearance. Sure, these are smaller in size, but they offer the same things as the bigger conventions and you can read about my experience attending a smaller convention by checking out my Hull Comic Con 2016 post here! However, many of these smaller conventions focus on comic culture rather than anime culture. Using the example of a small, local convention – Wakefield Comic Con – guests included Tim Russ (Star Trek) and Hannah Spearritt (Primeval) and stalls included some that sold clothing with popular culture references on as well as Pop Figures based around franchises such as Game of Thrones and Deadpool. Nothing advertised was anime-related. Even the cosplay contest seemed to have an almost superhero-only vibe.
As well as conventions, many small groups and communities are also being established by fans of ‘otaku culture’ for other like-minded people. For instance, many UK universities have societies dedicated to anime and manga where they watch and discuss anime shows and films as well as go on trips to conventions. However, groups of anime fans don’t just exist at universities. Some places in the UK (such as Basingstoke and York) also have small community groups for anime fans. Although often quiet, these groups these groups also often hold anime showings, create a hub for reviews and prompt discussion between their members.
Anime certainly is gaining more popularity in the UK with each passing year, but it still remains invisible in terms of its availability, which is something I don’t quite understand. Why is something that is clearly gaining more popularity as time goes on not available easily to the British public? Theo Ellis at Anime Motivation gives some arguments as to why this might be the case, but, unlike him, I would argue that it is popular. We wouldn’t have the conventions and the communities if it wasn’t popular. Sure, it’s not as popular as it is in America, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a gap for anime in ‘mainstream media’ in the UK and it certainly doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested in having anime readily accessible for them. A lack of understanding may certainly be the case as to why many criticise the medium, but I do think it’s time for people to become more aware of different cultures (not just the Japanese culture), educate themselves and explore new things.
Basingstoke Anime Society (2017) Basingstoke Anime Society. Available online: http://www.basingstokeanimesociety.com/news/ [Accessed on 15th July 2017]
BBC (1994) Manga! [Documentary] Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g89WoIJGY0M
butch-cassidy on Anime UK News Forums (2007) Anime Clubs of the United Kingdom and Ireland | Anime UK News. Available online: https://forums.animeuknews.net/threads/anime-clubs-of-the-united-kingdom-and-ireland.3640/ [Accessed on 15th July 2017]
MCM Central (2017) About – MCM Central. Available online: http://www.mcmcentral.net/about/ [Accessed on14th July 2017]
MCM Comic Con (2017) MCM Comic Con Portal. Available online: http://www.mcmcomiccon.com [Accessed on 14th July 2017]
nert on ManyLemons (2014) ManyLemons >> Blog Archive >> MinamiCon 20 Gallery. Available online: http://www.manylemons.co.uk/entries/minamicon-20-gallery [Accessed on 14th July 2017]
Riley Hutchins (2017) Anime Character Designer Calls The BBC “National Shame”. Available online: http://comicbook.com/anime/2017/03/09/anime-character-designer-calls-the-bbc-national-shame-/ [Accessed on 15th July 2017]
Theo Ellis (2017) Why Anime Is Not Popular In The UK | Anime Motivation. Available online: https://animemotivation.com/why-anime-is-not-popular-in-the-uk/ [Accessed on 15th July 2017]
Unknown (2017) Minami Con. Available online: https://minamicon.org.uk/ [Accessed on 14th July 2017]
Wakefield Comic Con (2017) Wakefield Comic Con [Facebook] 7 July 2017 Available from: https://www.facebook.com/wakefieldcomiccon/ [Accessed on 15th July 2017]