Anime and UK TV

One of the most frustrating things when you associate anime with Britain is the lack of TV exposure it’s been lumbered with since it exploded onto our shores in the mid-80s with Akira.

In fact, it makes pretty disappointing reading when you compare our situation to that of our counterparts in the USA. You see, while they’re happily arguing amongst themselves about when the first 12 episodes of 2003’s “Last Exile” will be shown, we’re still stuck with little more than re-runs of Dragonball Z and Pokemon. It really shouldn’t be this way, and I can’t help but think there have been some seriously incompetent decisions made when it comes to anime on British TV.

It’s not like there isn’t a market for anime in the UK. The continual growth of fledgling anime publishing companies like ADV UK and MVM is surely a testament to this. I mean, why would they continue to pump out and improve monthly releases if this wasn’t the case?

Thinking back, anime has been given a few small chances to shine in this country, but just when we needed the companies behind these ideas to show faith in their decisions, the anime is either completely cut off from the channel or just banished to some pointless hour in the dead of night.

The Sci-Fi Channel and (the now defunct) CNX are prime examples of this.

Sci-Fi, to be fair, are probably amongst the oldest supporters of anime on UK TV – but now, even they seem to be pulling away. This apparent reluctance to show anime at decent times probably dates back to when they first premiered Evangelion on the channel along with Nadesico and Blue Gender. At its peak of interest, I clearly remember them attempting to show Evangelion (coupled with Nadesico) at 5pm on weekdays. Yes, this sounds like a totally different world – but it really happened. Sadly though, it wasn’t meant to be.

As should have been expected for something that is still almost completely foreign to the British mainstream viewers, the initial ratings for this anime block were obviously poor and it was quickly decided that it should be returned to its graveyard slot – 1 night per week at about 1am.

What we needed here was someone with influence at the channel to show a little guts and perseverance and give it an honest run of at least 2-4 months. The potential to grab viewers is there in a series like Evangelion, it just needs a good amount of time to enable people to shed their preconceptions of what they think anime is all about (either cute little Pokemon or demon-tentacle-ultra-violence movie).

But no, instead of this, they closed down their internet forums, effectively saying they don’t give a crap about what we are thinking, and more recently, removed the anime section from their website all together.

CNX is another example of a poorly managed attempt to push anime into the limelight. Launching with a lot of fanfare & expectation from UK anime fans, CNX’s apparent ace was Cowboy Bebop. However, just as Sci-Fi continues to make mistakes with Evangelion, so CNX made one with Bebop.

You see, Cowboy Bebop is very insular in its nature and lacks a coherent storyline that will instantly grab you from one episode to the next. Had they lined it up alongside say, for example, a series like Inuyasha (showing in USA right now alongside Bebop), I’m sure they would have eventually reaped the rewards.

But again, initial viewer ratings were obviously poor and Bebop was dumped by the channel faster than you can say “space cowboy”. Along with it went another chance of bringing adult anime into the spotlight and it was no surprise to see the actual CNX channel soon follow it into oblivion.

More vital opportunities wasted thanks to poor decisions made by people that obviously don’t understand their target audience.

And thus, this brings us to the current day and the future of anime on our TVs.

Sadly; I think the days of anime on Sci-Fi are nearly all but finished. With them premiering their new Excel saga shows at 5am, I can’t help but get the feeling they are trying to push anime totally out of their schedule.

Toonami, the channel that replaced CNX, has at least shown us some potential. Alongside standard fare like Dragonball, they’ve been showing Gundam Wing and Outlaw Star for a fair few months now. This coupled with the good news that they have acquired the highly rated ‘Big O’ series makes me feel a little more optimistic about how they will progress in the future.

Honestly though, if this is all the anime we have to look forward to on TV in 2004, someone needs to be given a big kick up the ass. Being such an avid anime fan, it’s painful to see it being wasted like this. The potential is there for it to explode in the UK, just at the moment there doesn’t seem to be anyone brave enough to actually invest their money and then give it a consistent run.

With us entering the age of Digital TV and all, I can’t help but imagine that an all-anime channel wouldn’t be totally out of the question. Just imagine what we could watch in one day! Makes the mouth water, doesn’t it?

Well, we can all dream, can’t we?

Until that happens (and I wouldn’t hold my breath), all we can do is just keep investing in the DVDs and hope that one day, anime is given the limelight that it justly deserves.


Washed up on the good shores of Anime UK News after many a year at sea, Paul has been writing about anime for a long time here at AUKN and at his anime blog.

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