A Short Commentary About Anime and Russia

(Illustration by はれぽれ)

This is the contributed article from Fenrir Deimos. JapanAnimeMedia always welcomes contributed articles, If you are interested in, please check “Writer and Editor Jobs are available on JAM” page.


Greetings, visitors of JapanAnimeMedia!

Since I’m going to be a contributing writer for this website, It seemed like a nice idea to introduce myself first.
You can call me Fenrir Deimos. I come from the not-so-snowy land of Russia in pursue of my interest for Japanese entertainment industry and animation.

Formerly I was an editor for Russian website with the similar theme kagayaki.ru, and now I decided to expand my horizons and move onto working internationally.

I believe I have quite a few things to tell here, but I’m going to start right now with the subject most close to myself.

Anime and Overseas

It isn’t news to anyone, that in recent years Japanese animation has made it really big outside of its motherland. Previously known only to a particular niche in the west, this segment of local ethnic culture has now became an international pop-culture phenomenon.

But the world has borders still, and when some element of foreign culture crosses one, it becomes something quite different.
It’s no surprise that even though everyone knows and agrees at what “anime” is, most of the countries have their own perception of it. And of course, most of them have it’s own story of accepting anime into their own cultures. Russia has such a story too. Though, as it is a story of acceptance it is also a story of repulsion.

The Russian History of Anime

Japanese animation came to Russia as early as the 70-s, when it was still USSR. Due to the high level of censure, the selection was limited to few family pictures, such as Prince of the Sun (太陽の王子 ホルスの大冒険) and The Flying Ghost Ship (空飛ぶゆうれい船).

Later, in the 80-s the VHS-boom happened in Russia that affected animation as well and made it a very limited niche.

It wasn’t until the middle of the 90-s, when Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン) appeared on Russian television, that anime become massively popular in Russia.
It wouldn’t be an overestimation to say that Sailor Moon inspired the whole generation of anime-lovers in Russia. Sometimes this inspiration drove them to do great things.

As a vivid example, you can name a Russian-Japanese seiyuu Jenya Davidyuk, known as simply Jenya (ジェーニャ), whose first encounter with Japanese culture was exactly then.

Development of Russian Anime Culture

The decade between 1996 to 2005 was the most prolific for the development of anime culture in Russia. These was the time when the first anime related circles and gatherings started to appear, as well as the time for the first “anime-festivals”, such as the “Voronezh’s Anime Festival”, which is currently held every year and is the biggest and the most famous one.

Businessmen also noticed the potential of “anime” as a brand and started to refer to Japanese Animation with that word, purposefully distinguishing it form other Animation for marketing reasons. This is when first distribution companies specialized in anime started to form, such as MC Entertainment, who licensed quite a few popular titles on DVD, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hellsing and many others.

It’s during that time that Russian anime-fans enormously grew in numbers. Anime in Russia became so popular, there isn’t nearly anyone who wouldn’t have at least heard of it by now. With the spread of the internet people gained nearly unlimited access to all kinds of animation.

The Dark Side of the Development

But such a rapid development has it’s downsides. One should not forget that cultural borders aren’t physical as much as mental.

Different approach to art and different cultural standards made anime in Russia stand out in a bad way too.
Because of this, there are number of occasions when anime, especially mainstream anime, was branded a bad influence on children and gained itself quite a bit of infamy for it’s oversexualized female characters that look underage, occasional dark themes and violence.

In 2013 a high school student from Ekaterinburg committed suicide. The fact that she was a fan of anime and manga “Death Note” caught parents’ attention and was blown out of proportions. The strange and unfamiliar cartoon with such grotesque themes was just too good a scapegoat for girl’s grieving parents.

Controversies such as this spoil the reputation of anime in the eyes of Russians still not very familiar with it. Which, in turn, is one (but not the only) reason for anime losing it’s attractiveness to official distributors.
In such environment, the digital piracy becomes the only way for many Russians to enjoy animation that they so like, which harms distributors, producers and public perception even more.

For the future of Anime and Russia…

It’s unfortunate to admit, but while it had a great start, nowadays anime industry is getting in a vicious circle in Russia. But it’s not the reason to give up, of course! There’s no reason to believe this circle won’t be broken, because people are willing to fight for things they love. And there’s no doubt that anime lovers in Russia are in great numbers and possess a great desire for popularizing anime. I myself am such a person. And this is also why I’m here: because of my love for animation and the desire to make Russian anime community to be noticed internationally. So, nice to meet you! I hope to make many interesting contributions here, so please look forward to that.

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