Since I was born in the 90's, I'm going to start from there. I know there was some exposure to anime in North America early on with Samurai Pizza Cats and such, but that's before my time so I don't really know about it. All right so, where did it all begin?
In 1995, DiC acquired the rights to what they would target as one of the first girls action oriented tv shows. Due to cultural differences, the show was fairly toned down to make it suitable for American audiences; this mainly involved the removal of Japanese references, violence, and sexuality. I can't recall what network the shows aired on in the USA, but in Canada it aired on YTV. It proved to be fairly successful at first but nothing too major. Only the first 65 or so episodes were ordered, but due to popularity DiC managed to complete the show until the end of season 2, which was in around 1998. It was at that time that Cartoon Network picked it up and it blasted in popularity. In 2000 the show was licensed yet again, but this time by Cloverway. They licensed the shows 3rd and 4th seasons, and were a little more lax on censorship and retained the original background music. These seasons were much darker than the previous ones and attracted not only girls but boys and older teens as well.
Pokemon is what escalated the anime wave in North America the most. It was one of the biggest phenomenons in the late 90's, in terms of the TV show, and the games. If it weren't for Pokemon, anime would not be nearly as big as it was. In fact, the first 3 or so movies were even theatrically released across North America, which only select anime titles have ever had the honor of. Pokemon remained big until the early 2000s and lead the way for many similar anime shows such as Digimon, Monster Rancher, Medabots, etc... Pokemon has since died down a lot in popularity but is still on TV to this day (as of August 2011) and has released 5 generations of video games. In fact, the 5th generation was just released around 6 months ago and proved that Pokemon is still a powerful franchise and one of the best selling games of all time, only behind Mario. Most of Pokemon's original fans have outgrown it, but the dorky ones like me occasionally return and watch a few of the early episodes every now and then. I also got Pokemon Black which was awesome up until you beat Team Galactic; gets a bit boring afterwards so I haven't played since.
Anyone who grew up in the 90's has to agree. Dragonball Z swept a whole generation by storm. It re-defined entertainment for kids, pre-teens, teens, hell even adults. The only real exposure to action that children got before DBZ was Power Rangers, which pretty much died after the Mighty Morphin' series ended. Even Power Rangers was never really anything more than explosive spectaculars in terms of action, and the story line was very redundant. Now Dragonball Z - that was not only full of the typical hands-on fighting, but also exhilarating plot lines, character development, and most of all truly evil backstabbing cold-blooded villains.
When the franchise was set to come to North America, it was originally starting from the original Dragonball series in 1996. However, due to poor ratings Dragonball was dropped only after 13 episodes. Thankfully, FuNimation decided to pick up the Dragonball Z series in 1998 and release THAT instead. This was probably due to the popularity of Pokemon and Sailor Moon, so we'll give those series credit where they deserve as well. Shortly after Dragonball Z started airing it became a phenomenon. Even though it came to Canada slightly afterwards, it became just as big. I remember I would come home every day from school in the 4th grade and eagerly await the next episode of Dragonball Z, which came on right after Pokemon.
At that time there were only rumors of a Super Saiyan, no one knew when it would happen. We all saw pictures thanks to the growing popularity of the internet at the time, but it was still as mysterious of a legend in real life as it was in the TV show. The day Goku finally turned super saiyan was probably one of the most exciting moments of my childhood, it's all anyone in school could talk about the next day. Dragonball Z retained its glory for many years to come, until about the Majin Buu Saga where it kind of lagged a bit. I have to point this out because I'm Canadian, but we always got the short end of the stick when it came to DBZ. We were always way behind Cartoon Network, and halfway through the series YTV decided to switch from FuNimations version to some cheap Canadian production with crappy voices. Thankfully there was internet at the time so I didn't have to put up with that crap.
The Rise and Fall of Anime
Anyway, Dragonball Z escalated a whole new trend of anime, not only in Japan but also in North America. Let's face it, Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach, Naruto, and all those other shows would not exist if not for Dragonball Z. They owe it to Akira Toriyama for creating what he did. And the only reason any of those shows even came to North America is because of Dragonball Z.
Shortly after Dragonball Z ended, a stampede of new anime flooded onto TV. It was the peak of anime in North America, around 2003 I would say. Even though Canada yet again got the garbage for the most part, we did get Inu Yasha and Gundam Seed which were quite popular. Those were followed by many other anime such as .hack//sign, Death Note, Naruto, Bleach, and a lot of other stuff that was popular at the time. In the USA Cartoon Network wasn't the only network playing anime anymore, it was on a bunch of other channels as well. Basically, everyone and their uncle was trying to cash in on the success of Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, and Pokemon. All the popular anime and manga titles were licensed. You could pretty much go into any bookstore to buy manga, and any video store to buy anime.
It was quite a time, the short few years when anime was mainstream and pretty much everyone at some point watched something related to it. As such, it was a really big part of pop culture in North America. Even singers such as Gwen Stefani and Kanye West jumped on the wagon. Let's not forget the internet, it played a big role in catalyzing the popularity of anime. It wasn't until around late 2006 that the storm began to die down a bit. The only explanation was of course, over saturation. The North American market was too indulged in anime. In fact, many people even began to embrace Japanese culture. Nothing wrong with that... except that we're North American. But that's besides the point.
Anyway, pirating probably played a part in the destruction of the anime market as well, but I doubt it had any major impact. Pirating had always been around, and still is, while most other media markets have survived. The downfall of the Economy of course had a role in this too. Frankly though, I'd say people were just growing tired of anime. That includes me, my friends, and many other people across the continent. It was more of a phase that most of us went through, and now we've grown over it. When it all comes down to it, the only anime I ever really liked were the 3 major ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. I did watch a few more, hell I even bought a bunch of manga, but I've outgrown it and haven't had any real interest in a couple of years now.
So, to those people asking, will anime ever revive in North America? Not anytime soon. Maybe some day, but we just got out of the Japanese invasion, we're not ready for another one. Anime has subsided back into a special interest, a hobby, and a niche market. In my opinion, it's best it stay that way.
Jefferson McKorky on October 28, 2015:
It has died. The Only problem is that a bunch of cancerous fans are spread more infection of this so called Anime.
Anime Is cancer on October 28, 2015:
My name explains everything folks. Thanks for taking the time to read. ;)
Yuriy Roman Mokriy on December 03, 2014:
Anime is certainly not dead but it isn't in-your-face big as it used to be during the turn of the century. I also want to add that aside from the popularity of Dragon Ball Z (which I personally think is being loved for all the wrong reasons), the anime clubs and the tape traders and buyers shouldn't be ignored for their contributions towards the medium's success in North America. Hell, these people
MysticalOtaku on November 30, 2014:
I miss it, but the days of going to Video Japan or Western Market to get my Japanimated VHS tapes are over.
I don't like the new breed of pathetic otaku. I am the true hardcore Mystical Otaku. I am the old Japanimation watcher with a palace bricked with phone book manga! You find me, you will find anime.
Robert Clyde Allen on November 26, 2013:
"One thing anime is not dead! "I run anime group in North Carolina called NC Rowan County Anime Group . This year we are celebrated our 10th Anniversary on Dec 15th 2014 . We are help out with anime convention called Ichiban Con on Jan 9th -12th 2014. That is our first home convention. We been helping out this convention as back 2010. Our second home is What Hell Con in Greensboro North Carolina . We help out with Triad Anime Convention. We also celebrated Asain Heritage Month in North Carolina. In 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of Katsushika Hokusai manga. We have plans celebrated has manga with a display showing history in September 2014.We already done over 470 podcast in Youtube. Our Yahoo internet website base will be celebrated 10th in May of 2014.
Dan on November 14, 2012:
Good read, man. Also, it's team Plasma not Galactic in Pokemon B/W.
Geofferson Dean Sexton from Nowhere Land, Ontario, Canada. on August 28, 2012:
Thanks for a great article, I voted up!
I must say though Anime will never be dead in my eyes as I haven't jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of the world. DBZ and Sailor Moon will always have a special place in my heart!
Ryan on July 31, 2012:
First of all Anime is not "dead" in north america any more than Kung-Fu movies after the 1970's. For one thing they finally show them uncut and we get them at the same time as the Japanese. furthermore you comments about Power Rangers sound like you live under a rock. First you claim it was the only exposure kids got to "real action" blithely ignoring arcades, Ninja Turtles and shows like V.R. Troopers, Batman the animated series and X-Men. then you claim it " died" after the original series despite being on the air for 19 years as of this writing. My overall impression is you conflate "dead" with becoming mainstream, as if things only matter when they get constant news exposure. That's kind of like giving up on sex after you realise that it no longer feels as good as your first time, or saying that you became irrellevent after high school because people expect more but praise you less after graduation. Get a sense of scale man.
sasadara from indonesia on June 25, 2012:
Dragonball Z ........... yeahhh
JBrumett on June 23, 2012:
The creator of Cowboy Bebop actually had an interesting interview about this subject. He noted that over saturation led to studios outsourcing content to studios in other Asian countries that had no idea what they were producing (this is for video games as well) to speed up the production of shows. This led to watered down plots, character development, and animation that was less than high quality. He also mentioned it made people like him who required good series to be written, drawn, and produced to lose potential jobs for anime series over other contractors that would do the work faster for less. Either way, I have a feeling a few studios learned their lesson after the fall more notable ones such as Geneon. This could lead to a better development process for studios over the next few years and some new (higher quality) anime to hit the market.
Radikum from Maryland on May 23, 2012:
Great Hub dude, but I hope you've gained a little bit of optimism since you wrote this. Naruto and Bleach have crossed over, but its still a far cry from the amount that we had several years ago. I also understand what your saying NightmarePhantom, definitely unfortunate that anime is protested by some parents, especially when those same parents allow their children to watch PG-13 rated movies and other seemingly adult rated content. Awww, the hypocrisy kills me sometimes.
Nightmarephantom from Columbia, MD on May 10, 2012:
The problem is that in America, people are very one sighted. They know something, and that's it. Anime are cartoons, and parents think "oh hey cartoons are fine for my 7 or 8 year old." Then they see the violence, the girls who are drawn a little sluttier, and the general adult nature, and they immediately make their kids stop watching and protest it.
djh1991 on March 19, 2012:
Pokemon was the anime show I watched when I was 7 yrs. old back in 1998 when it debuted on Kids WB. Also some other anime shows I watch as well when I was little including: Digimon, Dragon Ball Z (I started watching it in 1999 and return watching the series (after 3 year absence) in 2003 when I first saw Toonami when I was 12 yrs. old), Sailor Moon (a couple of episodes I watched, but I didn't watch the rest of it. Although I do remember the main characters (except villains)), Yu-Gi-Oh!, Monster Rancher, Yu Yu Hakusho, InuYasha, and Naruto. But still Pokemon, Dragon Ball (re-runs), Yu-Gi-Oh! and few other anime shows are still alive in North America. I just want Sailor Moon and Digimon to be back in North America. Because I haven't finish watching Sailor Moon (the original, season 2, season 3, and season 4) on television for a very long time since the late 90s. Also for Digimon, I want to watch the two new seasons of Digimon (Xros Wars) on television when the Digimon series return in the United States.
Onlera on January 06, 2012:
Um, anime isn't dead in North America. There are still conventions going on, new series being brought over, and new merchandise being created and sold in the states. It may not be "mainstream", but that doesn't mean it's dead.
Chris Qu on December 22, 2011:
Interesting... Personally, I view piracy in the anime market as slightly different than piracy in other media markets. When an English-speaking person illegally downloads a Hollywood movie, it can be hard to argue that it's for reasons other than monetary gain. However, with Anime, things are different. True, that is probably a major contributing factor for the piracy, but there is another -- and one that may garner more sympathy.
The English voice acting industry is not particularly good. We have a handful of talented individuals, but as a whole it is not up to par with Japan's industry. Localization efforts also often inflict upon the integrity of a series. And furthermore, and perhaps most importantly... many series just don't get picked up here. It's hard to flaw someone for pirating a material that would otherwise never be translated for them. Because, as you say, Anime is something of a niche hobby.
I am not sure why you seem so defensive towards the idea of the merging of culture between Japan and America though. You drifted towards this area twice in your article...
Rachael Lefler from Illinois on November 14, 2011:
I don't think anime has died or gone anywhere, I think the market is still growing and evolving. Conventions I go to do not seem short on attendance or staff or artists and dealers, and the internet allows people to sample stuff they might not get to see on TV in North America and buy rarer DVDs, so more anime is reaching more people because of it. It's not about Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon any more, or even Pokemon, even though that series still continues to survive on TV in America. I would say it's about your Shounen Jump magazine shows, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, etc. A lot of Studio Ghibli movies have had appeal and popularity here in the states, almost everyone I know owns or has seen Ponyo, for example, which was widely popular here. Maybe for some it was just a phase but for me it's a lifelong obsession. :D
AnimeHime2011 from Greensboro, North Carolina on October 14, 2011:
I like your Page and some people do think that there has been a fall in Anime. I've noticed that a lot of Anime Fans aren't fans anymore the people that I know of and everything. But to be honest there are a lot of Anime that's out, you'll definitely find that out just by looking when you're at an Anime Con and seeing how many Characters are being Cosplayed. There has been a delay but I think that things are starting to get back to normal when it comes to Anime in North America.
Gotta admit though, I want the toys that the people of Japan can get easily of all of our favorite Animes. I mean like the Sailor Moon Wand or the Clowbook from CardCaptors, what I mean to say is that there are still some stuff in Japan in which North America has not seen yet.
Nigel Kirk from Calgary, AB, CAN on August 19, 2011:
A very interesting article, though I would disagree pirating played a role in the decline of anime. Most anime fans - especially the hardcore - take pride in having hardcopies of their fave TV series and movies DVD, as well as many manga translating sites voluntarily remove content once it becomes available in North America.
I just think the anime fans from the 90's grew up, and all the anime shows still around continue to target younger audiences. I watched Sailor Moon and Pokemon as a kid, but I've kind of outgrown shows like Yu-gi-oh and Beyblade. Shows designed for High School or Adult audiences, such as Love Hina or Azumanga Daioh, never made it to TV in America and can only purchased as DVD collections.
SEOjoe from United Kingdom on August 19, 2011:
good hub, i remember back in like year 4 i used to watch pokemon before i went to school and then dragonball z when i got in and at the time there was nothing else quite like it. i live in the uk and most of the major ones managed to take off and get a big following here aswell, since watching it when i was about 8 ive since gone back and looked at a couple of the old animes and i think one of the reasons the trend didn't last longer was possibly cause of how bad most of the dubbed voiceovers were (search youtube for dragonball z and scroll through the thousands of immitations and edits). still i think that had they not censored them as much and if they'd set a channel up to watch the series as they were in japan it would have stayed a big thing for a fair bit longer, i know a fair few people now that still watch the stuff but only ever subtitled.