I’ve mentioned before how I often I see misconceptions about shojo manga in my group of anime-fan friends. The most common misconception that pops up is that shojo is a one-note genre (rather than a demographic, which it is by definition), but a close second is the assumption that female fans are a small minority among those that follow anime. While that’s somewhat true in Japan, it couldn’t be further from the truth in America. Indeed, female fans may make up the majority of manga buyers in the United States. So why so few shojo anime? I’ve got a take on that.
The main reason the misconception I mentioned comes about is due to the fact that very few shojo anime get made any more, so it’s very easy to miss the power of women to make something popular. In Fall of 2012, I was involved in some super-shady* underground anime gambling which required me and several others to guess at shows that would be big hits in the upcoming season so we could draft them in a competition. We used myanimelist stats to keep score.** There’s a lot of lore behind this season, and we had a solidly constructed draft board. Without revealing too much, our 10 most-valued shows were:
1. Robotics Notes
2. Little Busters
3. Code Breaker
5. Psycho Pass
7. Zetsuen no Tempest
8. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
9. Shinsekai Yori
10. Sukitte Iinayo
There was considerable debate among my group in particular over two things: whether Sukitte Iinayo belonged over Btooom on the top 10, and whether Psycho Pass should be valued over a show by KyoAni (Chuu2koi) and a show by Bones (Tempest). In previous seasons, we’d been pretty good at guessing which shows would be extremely popular. With that in mind, here’s the shows that were actually the ten biggest ones on mal from that season:
1. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
3. Psycho Pass
6. Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo
7. Zetsuen no Tempest
9. Sukitte Iinayo
10. Shinsekai Yori
Obviously, I blew the top spot pretty hard. However, there were two big lessons I took from this. One, some shows always surprise you, and some always surprise everyone.*** That’s a fun part of being an anime fan. Second is a lesson I got from the show that ended up being in the top spot; female fans, and their desire for a well-made shojo anime, are very definitely real and numerous enough to make a huge difference.
This one anecdote isn’t the only numerical clue that female fans may be more numerous than people tend to think. Series like Black Bird, Black Butler, Dengeki Daisy, Skip Beat, and Hetalia, all manga with huge female fanbases, hang out on the New York Times bestselling manga list for weeks at a time. DMP is one of the most successful English manga companies and competes so strongly thanks to its strong digital-BL presence.
With all the indicators of a heavy female fanbase, why don’t shojo anime get popular more often? Well, the simple answer is that, unlike manga, anime specifically in the shojo demographic, especially adaptations of popular shojo manga, are very rare. Fall 2012 was an anomaly; 2 big-name shojo titles were being adapted at once! And, while they failed domestically, both were in the top-10 for that season in terms of raw international popularity, easily getting picked up for U.S. home video release.
There are a few reasons why so few shojo anime get made, most of them having to due with the disproportionately male fanbase in Japan. Shojo and josei manga magazines are only one-quarter as popular as their shonen and seinen equivalents. Several shojo and josei anime adapted from manga (Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Natsume Yuujinchou) have done fairly well in the Japanese marketplace, but it’s probably harder to find female-oriented manga popular enough to make financial sense as an adaptation when the demographic both contains fewer overall manga and is generally less popular with the public.
So, in essence, plenty of market exists for shojo anime, just not in Japan. In our podcast on kickstarting anime, we talked about how international Bluray kickstarters for Nodame Cantabile and Skip Beat would be slam dunks for just that reason. This is a very interesting market divide, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a boom of anime companies using kickstarter gave rise to more shojo anime targeted towards people in countries that would pay for them.
*There was no money (or anything of value) involved.
**They’re easily available and, unlike DVD sales, come out before the beginning of the next season.
***Ended up rating Sakurasou a 10/10, actually.