As noted by the Asahi Shinbun, anime passed a grim milestone in September when its last two representative serials faded from primetime. Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, once heavy-hitters of the early evening schedule, are now pulling audience shares that struggle to hit 7%, which has caused them to be shunted aside this October. They will now air on Saturdays, leaving the primetime weekday slot for, I don’t know, inane panel shows and something about a cat that drives trains.
The news sits at the nexus of a whole bunch of metadata and statistics, tied up in part with technological shifts and the changing demographics of Japan. Time was, when the average Japanese nuclear family had two school-age kids who needed to be distracted on the single television in the lounge. Now, they are more likely to have just one child, halving the number of hours a TV is liable to be turned to children’s entertainment. And that notional Japanese child, certainly by his or her teenage years, is liable to have a TV and/or a computer screen, and a video-compatible phone.
And while this is probably a tad academic and nerdy, even for NEO, I feel obliged to point out that primetime is still keeping animation companies busy – there are logos and idents, eye-catches and adverts, a vast number of which not only require animation, but pay substantially better second-per-second than a 22-minute cartoon. We should also remember that the anime that you enjoy – your Death Note and your Ghost in the Shell and the like, have never been part of primetime. Most of the shows that score high with a foreign audience tend to air in Japan late at night, in the graveyard slot, when nobody is watching. The otaku audience has not been served by primetime since the last century.
So don’t cry for the “loss” of anime from primetime. This is an accountant’s decision, to do with who is liable to be watching at those hours, and what advertising space is most lucratively sold for them. I was sitting in the departure lounge at Narita airport last month, and the primetime adverts that assailed me were for writing a will, retirement homes, and a commercial for Tokyo Gas. Then again, the latter featured pop star Kyoko Fukada, dressed as devil-girl Lum and singing a pastiche of the Urusei Yatsura theme song. Anime isn’t gone just yet.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #194, 2019.