If you’ve been reading the comments, I had been eluding to a future post in regards to Zombie Consumerism, and the Capitalists taking advantage of it. It’s a little unusual for me to talk about sensitive topics, but I think that many of us have reached a point where this topic is relevant, both to the anime community, and for consumers in general. What I’m talking about is clutter, and the commercial industries that are causing them. Caution: Wall of text ahead.
Lots of stuff
I’m angling this topic specific to the interests of my readers, but this very much applies globally to all markets. Please note that these are mere observations, and are by no means any attacks on anyone.
You walk into a store nowadays, and you’re bombarded by a plethora of options. You’ve got a virtually unlimited choice of anime genres for any niche and fetish, and spin-offs of series targeted towards niches within niches and the merchandise it creates.
All this creates clutter, both in the stores, and at home. I remember an era long ago when you had one brand of medicine – Aspirin. Now, you’ve got Tylenol/Panadol, Extra Strength Tylenol, Tylenol for cough and cold, Tylenol for pain relief, and hundreds of other options and brands.
You used to have one choice of orange juice. Now you’ve got with pulp, without pulp, from concentrate, not from concentrate, with added calcium, with vitamin B+, and every combination of these.
Let’s not forget anime figures with insane amounts of variants and versions. Searching on myfigurecollection yields a mind boggling FIVE HUNDRED different Rei Ayaname figures.
How did this all come about? Well, we have to first start with us:
We are proud to be collectors. We love our hobby. We love owning things that make us happy. In all this, we end up accumulating massive amounts of stuff. It almost becomes a blinding wall. But we continue to look, and continue to admire our stuff. We also like to share with others our collections for various reasons. It makes us happy as well.
Heaven? Or Hell?
Does it really make us happy though? Every time I buy a figure online I am giddy in anticipation for it to arrive. These figures are all amazing works of art. But as more and more figures arrive, my satisfaction is diminished slightly from the last one. (the law of diminishing returns. It’s basic economics)
I remember how incredibly amazed and overjoyed I was when I received my first Max Factory Ignis, Burst Angel Jo, and Xenosaga KOS-MOS. This was when I first started heavy collecting.
While the figures that I get now are much more impressive, they don’t have nearly the same impact when I receive them. I eagerly unpack my figure, glance at it, maybe say “holy shit this figure is awesome”, and on the shelf it goes, with the rest of them. This is hardly how I want to enjoy my figures. Yet with every new and interesting figure I see that meets my criteria, I hit that preorder button faster than a gazelle on fire.
I just can’t wait to get the latest and greatest figure! It looks so much better than the figures I currently own! I had posted a previous article asking why we buy, and I had pretty much reached similar conclusions. This is reinforced even more when people are attached to a particular series.
There’s a reason for this though… that reason comes from the companies that make these wonderful figures.
I’ll have to generalize a bit in order to envelope the whole definition of what companies do, rather than actually point at any anime company.
What is a company? It’s an entity who’s primary reason for existence is to make money. (this differs from an Organization).
Most companies, especially small businesses, will try to make an honest living by providing goods or services to be consumed in exchange for money.
A lot of big companies (not all), will try many different tactics in order to make money. I’ll talk about the more unscrupulous methods here.
One way that companies try to convince consumers to buy their products is through awareness (advertisements, viral marketing, etc). What many of us sort of fail to see nowadays is the advertisements try to make you want their products because you are inadequate or incomplete without it.
“Buy this facial cleanser so you can look pretty. Buy these clothes so you can look cool. This is what’s in now, what you’re wearing is no longer in fashion. The bank you’re with right now is ripping you off, so come to us instead. The product you own is no longer good. This innovative new product will change your life. Drink this beer to be popular and have fun.” etc. etc.
Try it someday. Watch the commercials and see these tactics in action. You’ll be surprised at how many of them deliberately try to make you feel bad in the most implicit way possible.
Here’s an example to start you off:
Fortunately, the figure industry hasn’t resorted to that kind of tactic. However, we’ve become so used to these adverts that when we see a new figure preview, we immediately bring up the same feelings of how “it would be nice to own this figure.” and “this version is so much cooler than my version.” etc. etc. My Clalaclan post pretty much proves the latter.
I remember when Evangelion first started, there were like, two figures of Rei and Asuka you could buy – from Kaiyodo, and a couple of Evas. That eventually grew to an entire army of a thousand strong versions of these two beauties, sitting, standing, lying down, turning left, turning right, loligoth, diving, ballerina… I wouldn’t be surprised if they released Pizza delivery versions.
The same has been happening with other series like Black Rock Shooter, Haruhi, and K-On.
So why are there so many versions? This goes back to the basis of a company’s existence. In order for a company to continue to make money, it has to continue to sell products. When one product’s demand/life-cycle has expired, the company must produce another product. One way companies do this is shown below:
image from Kodomut
Ever heard of the term “They don’t make them like they used to”? Well, this is true in the most shocking and unrelenting way possible. What do you think would happen to a company if they sold a product that never ever broke? Eventually, everyone that wants to buy one will own one, and nobody would buy anymore. The company would then go out of business.
Here’s the reality: Companies deliberately build products that break so that when new models come out, you’re ready to upgrade. There are R&D departments that test products to be fragile. This may be hard to believe, but it is true.
Figure manufacturers of course, don’t and can’t resort to that kind of evil tactic. But, they do have to continue to sell products to remain in business. They use something else, called Original Intellectual Property (original IPs).
Intellectual Property (IP)
Intellectual Property, or IP refers to a creation of any form. Usually, an IP is used to generate products for consumption. Sonic games are an IP. Mickey Mouse is an IP. K-On is an IP. When an IP gathers enough interest and demand (potential install base), companies see the potential of people buying merchandise based on that IP. The IP creators profit from this by licensing the IP to these manufacturers.
This is the reason why Evangelion, K-On, Haruhi, and Fate have so many figures and goodies. It’s because we keep buying them. There is a market for them. It is us the consumer that drives this force. The same thing is happening with Black Rock Shooter.
This leads me to a more sinister topic called Manufactured Demand.
I’d like to first stress, this is very specific example towards companies outside of the anime industry. The anime industry doesn’t use these kinds of tactics but there is one thing to take away from here.
Just what is manufactured demand? It’s when a company uses various forms of consumer awareness to “create” demand for a product that otherwise wouldn’t have demand.
The biggest culprit and most obvious example of manufactured demand is Coca Cola Corporation’s “Dasani” bottled water.
Does it sound absurd that you’re paying money for something that is essentially free? You’re shown advertisements of beautiful glacier mountains, crystal clear and clean water. Do you know where Dasani water comes from?
Dasani water is actually filtered tap water. That’s right. Coca Cola created demand for bottled water by instilling fear into consumers, claiming that tap water (which is relatively safe in most countries) is dirty. Even though I was raised with the understanding that the tap water in my country is safe to drink, I’ve become wary and boil my water.
Check out this video I found:
This opened my eyes so wide, they popped out. Check out their other videos too. It will blow your mind.
How is this related to the anime industry? Well the only parallel I really see is right here:
Several years ago, this was never a problem. I know a lot of you fear seeing this. I do. Figure companies have found a way to manufacture demand by releasing a limited number, and by using the pre-order mechanic. Remember the Shiraki series? I was up camping to get mine. I was fortunate that I won one of them from Danny Choo’s contest in 2007.
From this point on, figure manufacturers and retailers found a way to manufacture demand by creating a preorder shortlist. This gets you to commit faster. The chances of you canceling are lower than the chances of you not clicking “buy” in the first place as well.
All this preordering and getting the latest news is pretty easy. Why is that?
I don’t know what this chart means, but it’s probably relevant.
The above chart shows a convergence of capitalism and socialism and what is in between. The way I interpret this is a complete symbiotic relationship between the consumer, and the provider. On the socialism end, we have web2.0 such as blogs, facebook, and youtube, where we love to share our info to as many people as possible. This is our way of telling companies what we like. It’s a treasure trove of information that companies have been digging for with great difficulty before, but is now so readily available.
The middle section is where these companies are able to make us aware, using a blend of web socialism such as viral marketing and facebook pages.
Which brings me to the bridge between the anime industry and the consumers, the center of it all: Danny Choo. You could consider him the ambassador of otaku the world over, and you can also consider him the mouthpiece for the anime industry. However you decide to label him, he is most definitely the bridge between the gap.
Is he “at fault”? Of course not! You’d be silly to think so (and probably a hater). That’d be like saying he forced you to buy that Saber Nendoroid.
Let’s look at Danny for a bit – he’s very passionate with what he does. He loves his anime/games/figures, and he loves to share it. Just like us bloggers.
He also feels that the anime community needs a place to get together and communicate, and to essentially let the anime industry know who we are, and what we like.
Finally, he is a businessman. And like any businessman, becoming successful involves forging trusting relationships. He works hard to help anime companies come to light, and bring the attention of the community to them, especially if he believes it’s good for the community. He provides a centralized venue for the community to make their say on what they like and don’t like.
All this is both symbiotic, and parallel to business and his passions. A blogger just like us, with a bit more business sense. A piece of the puzzle among all the other pieces.
So where does this all lead? Like I had said before, this is merely observations to make you more aware of your surroundings, to know what’s going on around you. The relationship between the consumer and the provider is always a push and pull. It only becomes “Zombie” consumerism when the consumer shuts down and lets the provider spoon-feed them, and this is happening A LOT in ALL industries.
Bottom line, companies try to make money. If they see an opportunity to do so, they will. So, it’s up to you, the consumer to voice your opinion. Don’t like Black Rock Shooter? Make it heard! Really want a Mirai Nendoroid? Make it heard! But if you just mindlessly consume the next “latest and greatest” figure that manufacturers spit out, all you’re doing is being a zombie.