Like many fans in the west, my interest in anime really started with Akira. But the anime that followed were sold primarily on the basis of sex and violence. For a short time, this strategy worked but the marketing had a negative effect. It quashed the possibility of getting a wider audience for subsequent releases of anime feature films or TV.
Public consensus still misunderstands anime as being dominated by half-naked schoolgirls and extreme violence, whereas in reality it is as varied in tone as any fiction-based, live-action TV. Besides anime for the very young, there’s sci-fi, horror, romcoms — all genres for all ages. The controversial stuff was only in a tiny minority of releases.
Akira (1988) did lead to an interest in what else Japanese animation had to offer, with a focus on other adult sci-fi anime series. But this didn’t rise above the level of ‘cult’ and enter into the mainstream. Subesequent releases like Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) didn't cause the same stir as Akira.
Recently, some of the most intricate, ground-breaking animated movies in the world have had terribly half-hearted cinema releases, and been overlooked by critics. Astonishing films like Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell 2 - Innocence and ironically Steam Boy (director Mamoru Oshii’s first feature since Akira) have snuck out into cinemas without finding an audience. These are titles with challenging plots, predictive sci-fi, hugely entertaining action — that are often dumped straight onto video.
Admittedly, the west has got a lot of readjusting to do – in Japan the adult consumption of manga has removed the stigma of ‘cartoons’. At least we’re finally appreciating the films of Hiyao Miyazaki. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle herald a new wave of anime that has finally found a mainstream audience. This has lead to a demand for the twenty year back-catalogue of animated films from Studio Ghibli. Indeed, in France, these older films are getting re-releases in the cinema, not just on DVD.