EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see the bottom of this article for updates on the dialogue following its posting. You’ll find an open letter I sent to Glenn, a Twitter thread where Glenn reached out to me in response to said open letter, and a link to a second article I wrote with final conclusions on the matter that I would appreciate if you read. Thank you.
If you’ve been following the anime community in the past week then you’re probably aware of a column in The New York Times that garnered controversy for its implied coloration of anime as perverse. If not, give it a quick read (to make things easier you can skip down to the bottom few grafs as that’s where anime is discussed). I’ll be responding to this here.
But before I do, it’s important to clarify what this article truly is: an advertisement in all but name for a new streaming service focused on Western cartoons. Glenn Kenny (the author) starts out by disguising his article (advertisement) as an evaluation of the artistic merit of animated films with footnotes about animation in the 1930s-’50s. However, he then changes gears into what is ostensibly a sales pitch on Boomerang (the streaming service in question, based on the cable TV channel of the same name). This segment literally reads like a press release as he attempts to sell you on the service’s features, using his prior anecdotes as justification as to the artistic quality of its content. Kenny then uses Crunchyroll as a foil which caused the stir within our own community.
In either a failure to do his due diligence as a paid writer or as an intentional smear of Crunchyroll and anime, Kenny singles out Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor. He points out a scene in the series where Glenn (the main character who ironically shares a name with the article’s author) walks into a bathroom of half-dressed girls. To us who understand anime trends, it’s quite obviously the expected antics from the type of light novel school battle harem etc. series we see at least one of every season. Even those who enjoy these types of shows would admit that they’re not bastions of artistic integrity or intellectualism, and as such not the standard by which the medium should be judged. But further, it’s a small percentage of the 50 or so series that air every season. As such, using it as a sole example of the content available on Crunchyroll is disingenuous and I’m being generous here.
Chances are that Kenny went to Crunchyroll’s “Shows” tab which highlights the most popular series on the service at any given time. As you can see in the image below it’s currently ranked eighth but generally jumps to the top spot after a new episode airs, something commonplace for popular simulcasted series.
This is complete speculation but let’s assume that Kenny took note of this ranking and gravitated to it. At a glance it should be obvious that it’s far sleazier than the other series on display by their cover art, thus making it an outlier. There’s also the matter that a series like Dragon Ball Super would have better fit with the old style of cartoons that Kenny focused on elsewhere in his column. This negligence is unacceptable for someone who’s getting paid to write, but again that may have been the point given the advertisement tone of the article.
What’s particularly frustrating is that Kenny goes on to state that his slant against anime by means of singling out Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor is ultimately a tangent and that his main goal is “to report on the pleasures of streaming movies, so I’m obliged to say that cinema is pretty thin on the ground at Crunchyroll.” It’s true that Crunchyroll’s film offerings are slim compared to its series offerings, but it’s still incredibly disingenuous considering that Boomerang’s service has, at the time of this writing, a grand total of 14 movies available, one of which is live-action. I’ve added a screenshot of this below as future-proofing.
While Cruncyhroll doesn’t offer a listing of its films to my knowledge (and I think it should), I can guarantee that it has a greater selection on offer, especially when you include live-action films as one must do when comparing it to Boomerang’s offerings. Not only this, but Kenny is flat-out incorrect when he states “Crunchyroll offers only the subtitled version of the [Fist of the North Star].” As you can see here, Crunchyroll clearly offers the film in both subtitled and dubbed variants. Again, a screenshot is included below for the sake of future-proofing.
It may seem like I’m splitting hairs here but Kenny’s portrayal of anime exemplifies the problem with outsider opinions: they’re rarely based in reality. In fact, it’s articles like Kenny’s that drives this misinformation and as such are necessary to debate and debunk.
There are, as I mentioned earlier, around 50 anime airing every season and of that batch will be a wide swath of subjects and quality. One doesn’t have to dig deep for what are considered to be the best series of the modern day. Just from this year: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu can rival the best dramas available anywhere, My Hero Academia feels in many ways like a byproduct of the lessons of decades of shounen series, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is both a stellar comedy and a mature depiction of a gay couple. That’s only the tip of the iceberg as well. Plus, Crunchyroll offers many older series that would appeal to fans of the classic cartoons offered by Boomerang, including Cowboy Bebop and the original Lupin.
I don’t mean for this to hypocritically be an advertisement for Crunchyroll– I actively support the service as a means of watching anime legally but can understand some of the misgivings others have with the platform– but rather to show that Kenny’s depiction of the medium by way of it is inaccurate. Anime appeals to a broad audience and to undersell or neglect such a fact is to do a disservice to both its community and the article’s readers. I’m making an example of Kenny here but if we don’t fight back then we allow these misconceptions to fester and when that happens we effectively alienate the medium from potential new fans.
The impetus is on us to counteract outsider opinions with our own as to why the medium we love is great. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard.
Update 5/22/17: I wrote an open letter to Glenn Kenny which you can read here.
Update 5/23/17: Glenn has reached out and we will be talking further in the coming months. See the exchange here.
Update 5/24/17: I’ve given my final words on this saga in a post you can read here. I would greatly appreciate anyone who’s been following the events to read this. Thank you. – Tim