The Phantom Menace

We lived together for two years, I’ve known him for ten, he’s in his forties, and he’s never been interested in Japanese cartoons. Which was why I fell off my chair when a friend confessed to buying some anime last month.

So what was it? Statistically, this year, the chances were one in five that it was the Animatrix, one in three that it was the first Pokémon movie. The odds were 5000 to one that it was Kimagure Orange Road. But will and opportunity are two different things. Statistically, if you take a random sample of 1250 UK anime tapes, one of them is likely to be a copy of the baseball soap opera Slow Step. But that hasn’t been on sale in the high street for ten years. If my friend has bought an anime in the last 12 months, then store racking policy and promotions start to have an effect. He is more likely to have Memories or Evangelion #7 than a lot of other titles. But I should have known…

“It was a box set, actually,” he said. “Something of Darkness.” And because he was hoping for boobies, I am sure. Although the heyday of hentai is long-gone in the United Kingdom, it still forms a substantial part of the anime market. I call these people Phantom Fans, because although they inflate the sales figures for certain titles, they mainly don’t come back for more. Twenty thousand people bought The Gigolo, making it one of the Top Fifty anime ever in the UK? How many people do you know who actually own a copy?

“It wasn’t very good,” my friend confessed. “Like porn with all the nudie bits cut out. Don’t know what you see in this anime lark. It was only three quid, though. Do you want it?”

(This article originally appeared in Neo #9, 2005)

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8 thoughts on “The Phantom Menace

  1. Ahhh yes, that inevitablely awkward first initiation into the anime genre. I know several people who normally showed no interest in anything animated from Japan who suddenly showed up with a copy of something like Ikkitousen in hand, ranting about how anime was all shoddily produced base entertainment for perverts. Or at the very least they’d pick up something benign but still mediocre.

    A few of those folks I was able to salvage by feeding that flickering spark of interest with some actual quality titles, but many of them to this day look at me askance whenever I see them, the whole genre tainted in their mind by that one bad first experience.

    Then again, I also know someone with no previous anime exposure who sat down and watched Rozen Maiden and for some reason liked it enough to get hooked. *shrug*

  2. The Phantom Fans that give the rest of us an image problem, sadly. I’m regularly fending off barbed comments from friends about my “cartoon porn” collection, despite:
    a) having shown them a number of shows to try and prove there’s more to anime than tentacles and whatnot (even Cowboy Bebop failed to impress, which probably says enough), and
    b) having nothing more risqué in my collection than Najica.

    I know the hentai titles are (were?) a nice little revenue stream for some companies, I just wish there were a way to disassociate them from the rest of the anime market…

  3. Sadly we will always live under the stain that was Urotsukidoji on Channel 4 as “an example of what anime is all about”. >.<

  4. Erm… well it’s another ‘get my coat’ moment for me, because I own the Gigolo (actually got it free as a loyalty scheme thing), and tried the Darkness stuff. All awful rubbish, but being male and somewhat immature I never seem to learn. Would people be more impressed if we got the uncut versions in the UK? They’d probably be more appalled.

    Also got Ikkitousen, but quite bored watching it. The first Urotsukidoji has *some* merit as animation, I feel… art design was good. ..erm..I’m fighting a losing battle here…

    In my defence I’m not a ‘Phantom Fan’ – I own a fairly wide range of anime, for example, Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress are fairly recent faves (hang on, they sound a bit like porn titles themselves)….

  5. I’m gob-smacked your friend didn’t ask for a recommendation, after all who has got through more hentai than your good self? Strictly for professional purposes of course.

    I think BBFC should apply a an additional rating to porn titles, something I’ll refer to as the Kleenex Rating e.g. a 1K rating = blow your nose it’s dull, 5K rating = wait till the other half has gone out before playing, up to 10K rating = put A&E on speed dial and a split close to hand… well, we consumer have a right to know what the “sexual” ingredients amount to don’t we?

  6. I used to have the gigalo, along with Rei Rei on VHS, I think I may have even bought that cheap as chips Darkness trilogy from hmv for the slightly higher price of a fiver. Of course of all these erotic H-OAVs don’t compare to the likes of Bible Black, Immoral sisters or A Forbiden time. Oops I appear to be wearing a dirtier mac than Columbo.

    In actuality I’d say I was between the ranks of a phantom fan and full otaku, I started out with devilman, violence jack, cyber city oedo and street fighter II, all those badly dubbed movies with a rock track and profanities thrown in for no good measure, those and Legend of the four kings, that series that used to air at around 2am in the morning on channel 4, that’d alwys fall asleep watching because 2am was no age for a 12 year old boy to be awake for. Since about 9 years ago I was exposed to Evangelion, Gunsmith cats both of which I liked, and a couple of other shows that never held my interest. Since then I have discovered on my own, a love for Miyazaki movies, Bleach, Naruto, Death note, I’m even considering finding more Shonen series to ‘Jump’ in to. Your book has helped me further, I loved Grave of the fireflies so your book has inspired me to watch barefoot Gen 1 & 2. I can;t find a cheap copy of Roujin Z.. which surely tells me I need to find a scart lead for my VCR and watch the copy I recorded off sci-fi man many eons ago.

  7. Chris, my anime experience is pretty similar to yours, late night Channel 4 led to Manga video and still into anime today. I recognise the artistry and genius of people like Miyazaki, but sadly, I can’t seem to shake my fondness for junk anime. Legend of the Four Kings! Just remembered that one. ‘Classic’. Always found Roujin Z a bit dull, though, again it has more to say for itself than the junk I usually watch. My firend still insists Cyber City Oedo 808 is the best anime ever made.

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