All your souls fucking belong to me. – Pikachu, 2016

At the height of the 「君の名は」 boom in August, Nikkei Entertainment, a prestigious magazine focusing, eponymously, on Japanese Entertainment, turned and looked at the state of the Anime industry. Its publication could not be better timed, given how much anime has become part of mainstream Japanese culture.

It isn’t to say that there haven’t been times in the past where anime has completely dominated the Japanese entertainment scene – for example, 1996 to 1997 marks the height of the industry, when both Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Pokemon behemoths were ruling entertainment as a whole. Yet since then, the industry has gone into hibernation, being mostly the outpost of otaku in the years since.

There were small signs, though, that this was changing. In 2006, the popularity of 「涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱」 made several songs into something of a viral phenomenon, and every year since has seen the birth of at least one, if not more, major songs transition into a truly popular hit among the Japanese public. That being said, anime was something that was more or less still a subculture, especially among the younger generations.

Since 2013, however, anime is no longer a subculture. It was and continues to be mainstream, which makes me a bit remorseful that I didn’t notice the signs sooner – that the idol boom was not killed by idols losing popularity but that their primary fan base (the 10s and 20s generation) had shifted entirely to a new trend.

  • As of the past two years, the top 10 celebrities among girls in their teens have all been voice actors. The top 10 among boys in a similar age group are split between Momoiro Clover Z, AKB48 and several female voice actresses.
  • At JOYSOUND, the number of “anisongs” (that is, songs associated with a particular title) has been exploding since 2006, with this year the number of ranking anisongs in the top 1,000 most requested in the first half of 2016 finally tying – not even second – J-Pop (both had 200 songs each in the top 1,000). In addition, both the Touhou and Vocaloid franchises are considered separate of this category.
  • At year-end, the rankings split by age showed 16 out of 20 for the 10s to 20s age bracket were either vocaloid or anisong. Even people in their 50s will regularly request at least one or two anisongs, which shows just how far the genre has penetrated.

It has gotten to the point where even storied singers such as Hikawa Kiyoshi have come to accept relying on anime tie-ins to maintain their fan bases, and advertisements for these franchises now target the so-called “normal” section of middle-aged society.

Nor is this trend limited to just Japan alone, either. The top 10 grossing films for 2016 worldwide were either animated or based on comic book characters, with the sole exception being Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, given Harry Potter as a franchise, is not that different from the rest of the list. Regardless of how you might feel about what is essentially a geocaching game, Pokemon Go is now the fastest game to reach 500 million downloads worldwide, becoming the largest hit mobile game of all time.

It may be safe to call 2016 the year geek culture (that is, anime/animation, comics, and its associated genres) truly cemented its status as the top dog in entertainment – for now.