In more recent years the world has seen a trend where anime has continued to grow in popularity and draw in entirely new audiences. Considering that anime is in no way a new medium for entertainment, it’s actually quite impressive to see how widespread otaku fever seems to have spread. In the past, the largest anime releases would make appearances in North American box offices in a limited capacity, if at all. Today, a trend is seen in which more anime feature-length films are making it over to the states and their take has continued to skyrocket.
It’s gotten to the point where certain franchises have spurred additional sequels due to their success. This isn’t just a DragonBall Z or Naruto ballgame anymore but extends well past these series. My Hero Academia, a relatively recent import to the US has also seen overwhelming success. The first full-length feature film My Hero Academia: Two Heroes saw a short theatrical release in the states that ran from September 25th through October 2nd of 2018. Despite this short run in an extremely limited number of theaters, the film was able to pull in almost 6 million dollars. That’s the seventh-highest total for an anime film ever.
The second film in the franchise has fared even better. Forbes reports that My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising went “Plus Ultra” and pulled in a total haul of $14 million after only two weeks in theaters. This is impressive in itself but becomes even more so when considering a few key factors. First, the franchise is still fairly new. Second, this is only two years after the first film, making this almost a tripling of the first film’s success. Third, this was a limited release, but clearly fans still decided to show up in droves to support their favorite series. Lastly, this success stands out for outperforming coveted anime titles like Spirited Away, Pony, and Your Name.
It’s far more common to hear someone today gushing about their love of anime than it would have been 10 years ago. Fans don’t just love their series of choice now but are also willing to go to bat for them at events like movie premieres and conventions. More and more games seem to be adopting the art style as well, with even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild taking on a cell-shaded art style more reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film.
There are many factors that have contributed to this Saiyanic rise in popularity across the board. Roots can be traced back to look at Pokémon and Dragonball Z, which infiltrated the American subconscious back in the 90’s despite limited air time on time slots like Cartoon Network’s Toonami. While the initial boom in popularity of these series was seen more as a novelty at the time, the impression that they’ve had upon their viewers has not waned in the slightest.
We see this most prominently in the way that the anime aesthetic has started to seep into many genres of music, often taking center stage in the form of album art. Even just looking at the lyrical content of songs, it’s especially clear how iconic Goku and Super Saiyans have become. Artists like B.O.B. (“Autotune”), Soulja Boy (“Goku” and “Anime”), Machine Gun Kelly (“Wild Boy ft. Waka Flocka Flame“), Frank Ocean (“Pink Matter”), Jay Rock (“Hood Gone Love It”), Childish Gambino (“My Shine”), Denzel Curry (“Ultimate”) and Big Sean (“Paradise”) all reference Goku and going Super Saiyan. A hardcore punk band called Paradigm just this past August put out an entirely animated music video for their single “Bitterwood” depicting anime girls playing instruments on stage. This is just a small sampling of artists and genres, but this trend clearly illustrates that the influence of anime has become especially prominent over the past decade especially.
Anime’s stylings have even spread to social media, with influencers like Corpse Husband rising in popularity. For those who don’t know, Corpse Husband joined YouTube back in 2015 and has served up scary story videos as part of his signature style. Nobody knows what Corpse Husband actually looks like, only his avatar has been seen; an anime-styled half man, half Frank from Donnie Darko face. He’s most well-known for his extremely deep voice, and his song “E-GIRLS ARE RUINING MY LIFE!” has earned over 26 million views to date. His videos regularly receive millions of views, with his musical tracks in particular usually having anime artwork.
Ultimately, understanding the rise of anime at the American box office is a matter of looking backward and seeing the ways in which anime has continued to pervade the social lexicon through its characters and concepts. There’s a reason that Pokémon games always sell millions of copies, which is that on top of the fans that do return many parents also introduce their children to the series they grew up with. Each generation that has come has included references to things that inspire them, and anime as the world has seen has been a pretty constant go-to. As more games take on anime trappings and box office numbers continue to climb, it’ll be exciting to see where this trend of success takes anime next.