"Robotech" "Robotech"

Anime is booming: the market was valued at a record $19.9 billion in 2018, according to the Association of Japanese Animations. Much of that is being driven by soaring demand from overseas — not least the U.S., where the anime streaming market now finds itself dominated by corporate titans like Netflix, AT&T (owner of Crunchyroll), and Sony (owner of Funimation).

With these companies carving out vast new audiences for anime and stretching the definition of the term itself — you’ll increasingly find it applied to non-Japanese productions — it’s a good time to ask how anime got big here in the first place. Enter Anime in America, a new podcast from Crunchyroll that chronicles “the rise of anime and its journey from Japan to Saturday-morning cartoons in America.”

The six episodes released so far each focus on a chapter of this history, from the wild-west early days of VHS tapes and fansubs to the place of conventions in the pandemic. One episode focuses on the popularity of hentai (erotic anime and manga) in the U.S., challenging the received idea that this genre reflects some unique Japanese depravity. Another unpacks the byzantine rights issues surrounding early anime series Robotech (image at top) — a story that involves both Italy’s clownish ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Cartoon Brew co-founder Jerry Beck.

The podcast is well informed, drawing on interviews from experts and industry players like Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis. It also manages to stay above the doctrinal squabbling that sometimes mars anime fandom (dubs and subs are both endorsed here, for example). Narrated with deadpan humor by actor Yedoye Travis, it’s fun, too.

Crunchyroll is the largest of the dedicated anime streamers, with a library of over 1,000 licensed titles and an audience spanning more than 200 countries. Its own history resembles that of anime fandom in America: starting out as an illegal video-hosting service, it has evolved into a major player in legitimate streaming and a producer in its own right.

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Alex Dudok de Wit

Alex Dudok de Wit is Deputy Editor of Cartoon Brew.