It’s a familiar story. We see the dozens of new shows released each season, only for one show to gain unprecedented amounts of attention and be hailed ‘the saviour of anime’. Fans watch a single episode and get hooked, and the show becomes popular through word of mouth alone. The anime community is powerful, and in recent years, the power has elevated certain shows to a whole new level. Those of us who don’t have much time to watch anime can choose one of two options: stick with the crowd and go with the hype, or deliberately go against the grain, ignoring a possibly amazing show. Only in the past decade or so has this been possible, and it’s becoming more and more frequent. Is it a bad thing?
Think back to 2013. It had been a pretty so-so year for anime so far, and then a show called Attack on Titan was announced. A few hailed it as brilliant before it started airing, but anticipation was lukewarm overall. Then it began airing, and the anime community exploded. Discussions on streaming sites and forums, memes all over the place, and people crowning AoT as the saviour of 2013. The hype was so intense, we felt obligated to watch it. If we were to watch anything that season, what better than the one everyone was talking about? None of the hype necessarily meant it was the best show ever, but with the sheer amount of hype, you’d definitely get that impression. Before we knew it, AoT cosplayers were swarming conventions (and they still do to this day). Not much of this would have been possible without the existence of social media. It wasn’t the PVs or trailers, it was the community itself that boosted the show’s popularity.
This phenomenon just wasn’t happening on the same scale a few years back. Death Note became extremely popular quite a while after it was aired in the early 2000s. There was no massive hype train – there was just a steadily growing fanbase that continues to this day. If Death Note aired today, it would probably skyrocket in popularity and stay there for a few months, before clearing the path for the next big show to come along. Maybe it was a good thing that Death Note escaped the explosion of hype. After all, it’s become a solid show known well for its decent plot and interesting concept, and not for how crazy the fans went over it when it aired.
It might also just be a matter of time. In years gone by, the voice actors and studios we love today were just getting started. Key Studio’s fanbase was niche and selective – until the holy trinity of anime came along and shot the studio’s reputation through the roof (the holy trinity being Kanon, Air, and Clannad). Nowadays, a show’s director, composer, or studio can dramatically increase its hype by name alone. This summer season, a show will begin airing that’s based off a webcomic by One, the creator of One Punch Man. These credentials have been enough to get the hype train started before it has even begun airing. Will it be any good? Who cares! It’s the guy who did One Punch Man, right?
A show sometimes doesn’t even have to look too special to get some hype. It just needs to look good in comparison to the other shows airing that season. Thus, the hype will begin. Those of us who haven’t got time to watch everything that comes out every season will inevitably have the dreadful choice- going with the hype or not. No matter how much hype a show gets, sometimes the ending can be disappointing and we’re left with that twinge or regret- was listening to the hype worth my time? (See: Erased, Winter 2016).
But hype isn’t all a bad thing. Anime fans can shout a show from the rooftops and share it all over the place, but the community has remained underground, a niche that no amount of hype can destroy. If anything, it creates a good community spirit and room for some healthy debates on whether the hype is justified or not. With the ever rising tide of social media, it looks like anime hype is only going to continue. It might not even be a choice to go with the hype or ignore it – we just need to see past what other people are saying and decide for ourselves whether it was worth it.