Five Big Questions for 2014

The answers to these questions could affect the otaku experience in the upcoming year.

You can’t say 2013 was a dull year for being a nerd, not in a year when you begin the 2nd cycle of Avengers movies, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, two new game consoles and two hot new anime.  We’ve already looked back on our show (Teaser alert!), so let me take some time to look forward.  No one knows what the future will bring, but there are definitely some things we can expect in some way in 2014.  These are five things I’m looking at and wondering how they will affect our present and our future.

Can Kuroko’s Basketball fans ever have fun?

For most of this year, the answer was likely in the negative.  And then this happened. Now that this generation’s seminal basketball manga is presumably free from being terrorized, all those events that were postponed will go off without a hitch and it’ll be just like things were never bad, right?

Well, not so fast.  After more than a year of cancelled events, lost revenue, and annoyed fans, there may not be as big a desire to flock to Kuroko events as there once was.  Plus, there will still likely be a residual fear of another person trying to pull the same crap.  That being said, humans have come back from far worse. While this sentence is really just an excuse to justify (NSFW) linking to David Ortiz, it’s also to show that we can rise above adversity, no matter its degree.

Prediction: Turnout for events may be smaller than expected, but there will be no shortage of Kuroko fans, either.

Has GAINAX finally changed the game?

When I and my cohorts hit Japan in May, the one big thing was Evangelion 3.33 hitting store shelves.  Eva had tried theatrical re-imaginings before but they’ve finally landed a hit.  Hell, the 2nd one earned over a million viewers when it was on Cartoon Network last summer.  While it’s great for GAINAX, I personally viewed it as sort of a one-trick pony.

And then the Madoka movies came out as a trilogy.  And you know that you’d love to see a Colossal Titan on an IMAX screen once the 20 volumes of Shingeki are up.  What was once a realm for non-canon Shonen Jump narratives seems to now be the 2nd Act in anime’s new story: Be a hit on TV, then re-tell it in the theaters.  Granted, this would only be for the super-popular titles, but considering many hit anime are spectacles on small-screen…

Prediction: An Attack on Titan movie can’t not happen; film-based rewrites become more normative.

Is there still a market for Japanese games outside of Japan?

After a full year on the Market, Nintendo’s WiiU has sold about as many consoles in 2013 (2.6 million at time of writing) as the PS4 (2.7) and XBox One (2.1) have in a couple months.  Four of Japan’s top 10 sellers this year are in the Top 15 globally, but two of those are essentially portable MMO’s (Pokemon X/Y, Animal Crossing) and a third is a Mario game (Luigi’s Mansion 2), and all three are evergreen.  GTA:V just unseated Call of Duty from it’s three-year reign at the top, and the rest of the Best Sellers are a fairly extensive collection of first-person shooters, as has been the case for the past few years.  There has even been some talking-head talk about Nintendo needing to stop making consoles.

But here’s a weird thing: That fourth J-Top 10 was Monster Hunter 4.  It has sold over 3.1 million units, and only nine other games have sold more.  Here’s the list of countries who have Monster Hunter 4: Japan.  That’s it.  That’s the list.  In addition to that, the 3DS made up over 30% of all console/platform sales in 2013.  Granted, it lags in the software department (PS3 and 360 both sold well over 100 million units of software; 3DS only 48 million, and that includes Monster Hunter 4) but it is still a solid 3rd among all platforms.  Results are going to be partially skewed this year because of all the new hardware, and it’s clear Sony and Microsoft have doubled down on the same male 18-34 crowd that all other media seems to have fixated on, but there is still a place for video games with more Eastern sensibilities.

Prediction: WiiU and 3DS sales remain steady while PS4 and XB1 sales start to taper later in 2014.  The Japanese game market remains where it is while Sony and Microsoft continue to try and wage war on the iPhone.


Will merchandise in the Dealers Room get cheaper?

Would you like to know where Yen-To-Dollar rate was at the start of this year? 86.69, and that was an improvement over the low of 76.2 reached in February 2012.  Since then, the yen has skyrocketed to at times over 105 yen per dollar thanks in part to the ever-magical “Abenomics.”  This is great for us Westerners–the more yen you can buy for a buck, the cheaper things cost to import.  That 100 yen gashapon that now only requires pocket change used to cost $1.31 in February 2012.  Now imagine if you had to import 1,000 of them for your arcade.

Now this is all well and good, but let me tell you a story. While at a convention I went into the Dealers Room and found a figure listed at $40. I did not buy this figure because I had already bought one…while in Japan. For under $25.

Obviously, one anecdote does not an argument make, but the secondary market for otaku goods is very robust in Japan (perhaps you’ve heard of Mandarake or Book-Off). Meanwhile, after import costs and taxes, convention-goers will likely be paying full retail for the same merchandise. And then, there’s the imminent (and much discussedsales tax increase. While a 3% increase seems quaint compared to a 40% change in Yen-To-Dollar, the two events may end up having similar impact to store owners whose profits aren’t all that great to begin with.

Prediction: If there’s any general change in price, it will be a minor decrease.

On the other hand, does anyone still care about Japan anymore?

This issue was big enough if we were just talking about a waning interest in Japan and larger interests in ponies, trolls, various Britons, demon hunters, and human-dog partnerships. What added fuel to this was Anime Expo linking to a CNN puff piece about Tokyo.  These days any article on a news site is going to bring out some interesting opinions about society (and PM Abe isn’t helping), but on the Facebook page of convention site?

In order to bring this up, I may have buried the lede.  Chew on this: the first episode of the Pokemon anime aired in the US on September 7, 1998. Children born in the fall of 1998 are currently neck-deep in Senior High, and people who are young enough to not have memories of the fall of 1998 are embedded in our system of colleges and universities. This is not to make you feel old, this is to make the concept of anime in the United States seem old. Yes, there was other important anime before that, but Pokemon was the big one and that was already three Playstations ago. Also consider that in 2012 there were, on average, 8.6 conventions per week in the world, a number that surely went up this year. Anime cons are like slot machines in McCarran Airport, they’re everywhere. So not only is anime old, it’s overdone! People need something new and something that’s not already taken for granted, hence new obsessions over adaptations of fantasy novels, comic books, and fairy tales.

Prediction: Convention failure rate creeps up as more try to start up, but the smart cons will adapt and remain successful. The total North American attendee count (which, by my unscientific estimate, is at least 500,000 pople) won’t be negatively affected. People complain a lot when they get old and anime fans are no different. After all, anime in the US is an institution now.

[NOTE: A previous version of this article implied that there were 449 conventions in North America.  This has since been corrected.]