Anime director and writer Yasuhiro Imagawa sees a dead end looming in front of the world of anime. Echoing critics of a lot of popular television in America, he sees too much of the same thing being repeated in different shows. Once a show or genre becomes popular, it gets copied to the point that it becomes difficult to tell one show from another; only the names seem different. In terms of technique this has improved things, as each show learns from the previous ones. But Mr. Imagawa sees this as only superficial growth, not the internal growth of stories and themes needed to sustain the art form. A flashy character design and good drawings can't make up for a bad story. As a result, he no longer watches much TV anime.
He spends much more of his time watching American and European dramas cinema which he feels has depth and substance. He agrees that this repetition in anime is leading to a narrowing of Japanese TV audiences' tastes. And like a food bias, this leads to a vicious cycle. Without exposure to other types of shows, audiences are less likely to "brave them" and give them a fair shot. Without confidence in a potential audience, producers are unlikely to make these "risky" shows. So audiences are not exposed to them, and and the cycle continues.
Q) The animation industry in Japan seems to be stagnant while in China and Korea, there looks to be a comparative amount of growth. What are your thoughts regarding the situation?
A) I concur. The biggest reason I feel so far is the Japanese industry has stopped nurturing their own talents.
"My great teacher, Tomino, the creator of Gundam, taught me something very important. if you continue to make a copy of a copy of a copy, eventually the image degrades to nothing. Anime has become almost disposable, like a seasonal product. It can hurt seeing something you created selling used for a few yen on Amazon. Us creators should strive to make anime that people will hold onto and love for years."
Is the irony supposed to be that his criticism has become stagnant?
Simple capitalism. Of course you'd rather have a stable source of revenue than taking a risk. If you have a compliant audience that watches and buys whatever you make as long as it is similar to the last popular thing you made, of course you will keep doing it. "Us creators should strive to make anime that people will hold onto and love for years" sounds heartwarming, but probably sounds like naive idealistic whining to the ones with the money.