Are the Anime Awards Broken? – This Week in Anime


Nick and Steve are here with your after-awards banter. What were the biggest snubs of the Anime Awards, and did they earn their rightful place as one of the best? Or is the whole thing a cover for marketing and business relationships?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

The Crunchyroll Anime Awards ceremony is streaming on YouTube.


Steve

Nick, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for salty Twitter posters: awards show season. And gosh darn it, we weeaboos are just as good as those Hollywood bigwigs and record industry fat cats. We have prestige. We have celebrities. All the stars are here! Look, Chi-Chi is dragging Goku past the paparazzi. Luffy is stuffing his face at the buffet. Your favorite anime character (yep, that one!) is tearfully accepting their trophy as the orchestra plays them off no more than seven seconds into their speech. All the stars are here! Let’s cinch up our ties, take our seats, and bask in the reassurance that, when it comes to anime, we’re all winners.

Nick

Sorry Steve, we all know there’s only one winner that matters. I’m just glad the Academy has finally seen fit to make up for their grievous mistake from nine years ago:

And luckily, that was the only embarrassing thing to ever happen at the Oscars, so their slate is now wiped clean.

No, they still have to answer for crimes they committed by letting Crash win Best Picture, but that’s a sin that might only be purged in the eternal flames of hell. In the meantime, Crunchyroll just had their annual Anime Awards, and for what feels like the 50th time, they have managed to make everyone unhappy.

Oh, the Anime Awards. Where to start? Since their humble beginnings at a San Francisco event venue in 2017, the awards and ceremony have since hopped across the Pacific and ballooned into a fancy Tokyo-based gala where all the big names in the industry get to mingle.

It’s odd to think that what was once a relatively humble marketing swing that was filmed in the company’s office – from the times before Warner Media purchased Crunchyroll, even – now has celebrity guests and presenters, and takes place in a time zone so out of the way of US audiences that most people just woke up Saturday morning and found out they happened.

It brings a tear to your eye, honestly. Through years of hard work, gumption, and being bought out by one of the largest multimedia conglomerates on the planet, Crunchyroll‘s Anime Awards have evolved into the final form of all high-profile awards shows: an industry patting itself on the back so loudly it becomes deaf to all else.
That’s just the nature of these things. The more successful you are, the more you put into the presentation, marketing, and refining of the selection/voting process until, eventually, your awards ceremony packs some real punch. However, it’s nostalgic to remember the days when this was just a hastily assembled popularity contest where one show took half the awards through sheer fandom presence. I’m sure glad that doesn’t happen anymore.
That’s right, Nick. Through careful trial and error, they’ve honed their voting process enough that season two of Jujutsu Kaisen only won a mere third of the available categories this year. Now, that’s what I call democracy.

Before we get into any other particulars about the CRAAs, that’s the elephant we can’t avoid. Since their inception, and almost every year up to now, the story of these awards is that one show inevitably sweeps most categories. Everyone can see it coming before voting even opens. It is the exact opposite of intriguing.

Every single one of these industry awards is plagued by controversy in one way or another. In that sense, the Anime Awards are lucky to be young enough that their only major points of contention so far have been the largely pedestrian nature of their winners. That’s rookie stuff. They need to get on the level of the most recent Hugo Awards. There’s so much room for growth in the future.

Half of what makes the Oscars exciting is seeing the screw-ups. What beloved movie is going to get snubbed for bland garbage? What favorite will get robbed of a big win? Who is going to mispronounce a foreign name on live television and look like a jackass? Meanwhile, the only burning question of the CRAAs is which Shonen Jump adaptation will get its name announced ten times minimum.

What amplifies this problem in the CRAA’s case is that every single category is open to public voting. I’m going to be blunt. This is bad and dumb.

I’m not entirely there with you – I think public voting is fine in theory. There isn’t an anime equivalent to the MPA or the NARAS, so letting average Joe have a say is fair enough. The problem is that if you want your big, fancy awards show to have even a smidge more credibility than a random Twitter poll, you need to take steps to account for it.

There’s undoubtedly a place for public voting, but I don’t think it fits here to this degree. For one, it inevitably skews the results towards the most popular shows. Crunchyroll says they account for this by weighing the jury/public split 70/30, but giving the masses 30% of your pie is still a huge slice. And towards my second point, even if the public voting bloc is adequately accounted for, its presence lends to the perception that popularity, not artistic merit, is driving the results. Don’t get me wrong, popularity always drives the results no matter how prestigious the award is, but most other ceremonies employ more subterfuge to obfuscate that.

I get that, but I think the answer here isn’t to scrub public voting but instead to incentivize the jury that makes the nominations in the first place to pick a broader field. From what I’ve gathered, the exact method of nominations has changed over the years, but implementing some kind of system to keep the judges from putting the same handful of shows in every eligible category would create a more diverse lineup. It’s a lot harder for Jujutsu Kaisen , Chainsaw Man, and Demon Slayer to take home 60% of the awards if they don’t get nominated in 26 out of 32 categories to begin with.

That would help, but I think the problem there is even more fundamental: 32 categories get way too granular for the general public. I do not believe the average anime Joe is thoughtfully distinguishing between art direction and cinematography when making decisions for those categories. They’re just picking the show they like the most. It makes sense to have public voting for the “fun” categories like best character, and maybe they should add a “people’s choice” award that only the public votes on, but most of these categories belong to an informed jury.
I should put big air quotes around the “informed” jury because I’ve read those testimonies from Oscar voters who picked the animated film their kid liked the most.

I was going to say I don’t know that the judges’ picks would be meaningfully different, considering they’re the ones that put the same handful of titles in every category, to begin with. Again, maybe that is just a problem with how the initial process works. Maybe those judges do think Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen are so transcendently perfect in every aspect that they deserve to be in the Best categories for every sight, sound, and narrative category imaginable. Regardless, when your winners slate looks like this:

You either have a bug or a feature, and most people aren’t going to care which it is at the end of the day.

The smoking gun here is that out of the nine VA awards, four are for the dude who voiced Denji, three are for Jujutsu dudes, one is for a Senku, and only a single woman won for voicing Power. It’s remarkable, in theory, to have this recognition for the work put into localizing all those different languages. Still, the results celebrate the same series all the other categories do. And most of these get shoved to the pre-show anyway.

Now THAT is classic Awards Show shit.
My point is that, at the very least, with the Oscars, Grammies, Golden Globes, etc., if an average person were to look through their list of nominees, they would likely find at least a few pieces of art or artists they weren’t already familiar with and perhaps be encouraged to seek them out. What in the hell is somebody looking through the CRAAs going to find that they haven’t already marketed directly into their eyeballs for the preceding 12 months?

Ahem, Nick, you mean the specific 12 months from fall 2022 through summer 2023, which, as we all know, is the standard anime calendar year.

Somehow, it is still less confusing than the Grammy’s eligibility window.
Usually, the only results I brought myself to care about were the ones that the big shonen titles could not be nominated for. This is a great Best Original Anime lineup! I like over half of these titles! And I love the mental image of a bunch of dudes in bowties and starched collars looking at footage from Akiba Maid War and Birdie Wing. That’s what these ceremonies should be about.
That’s what I’m talking about! There are at least a few titles in there that somebody who mostly follows big titles might discover for the first time. There’s a broad range of genres that includes things besides Action. Purin is there!

I am baffled that The Marginal Service is there, considering I don’t know a single soul who watched it, but that also means somebody loved it enough to push it into that sixth spot.

Regardless of its quality (because I sure as heck didn’t watch it either lol), that’s what you want out of a list of nominees. Would I have watched Maestro if the Academy hadn’t nominated it for Best Picture? No. Did I like it? Not particularly. But it made me seek out and critically examine something a tad orthogonal to my usual interests, and I wholeheartedly believe there is intrinsic value in that.

Speaking of DIY, can we talk about how bonkers it was that this show didn’t at least get nominated for Best Character Design or Best Art Direction? Are you telling me we couldn’t have nudged out one of the three big shonen titles to at least acknowledge stuff this charming?
You are preaching to the DIY choir. That show was a nonstop delight to watch, review, and retweet fanart of. Purin singlehandedly relit the torch of the classic tsundere love interest trope. Serufu is the patron saint of airheads everywhere. The whole show is a slice of a quintessential, archetypical slice-of-life. So naturally, it lost that category, too.

At least that category went to Bocchi the Rock!, a show I wouldn’t consider slice-of-life but was at least equally charming and impactful in its overall vibes.

But I don’t want to sit here and nitpick the winners one by one because I can do that with any award show. The larger problem is just the total dearth of viable options for anything that isn’t a blockbuster action title, preferably from the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump. Of the 32 total awards, exactly three went to titles that aren’t adaptations of shonen manga: Bocchi, Buddy Daddies, and the latest movie from the biggest name in anime filmmaking.
It’s the dearth of upsets, I think, that is the endemic problem. I don’t know what the golden ratio is, but you need some winners that go against the grain to keep an audience emotionally involved in your awards narrative. If Crunchyroll continues down this path, people will just stop caring. And I think the last time you could argue that an upset happened was with DEVILMAN crybaby in the 2019 ceremony. Moreover, look at this AOTY lineup and how much more interesting it is than this year’s.

There is original anime on this thing!
It was honestly weird to go back and look at the results through all the previous years because there were at least a couple of times when they had figured this out. Even when I didn’t agree with every nomination or winner, it didn’t feel nearly as homogenous as these last few years. For 2018, the show with the most nominations was Megalobox, with a total of eight (8). Chainsaw Man this year had more than three times that!
To be fair, there are double the categories now, so some inflation is to be expected. But not that much. And I like Chainsaw Man! It should have won even more awards if you ask me (No shot that Jujutsu Kaisen had better cinematography. Or at least give that to Heavenly Delusion instead). Still, it should have also had more honest competition from a more diverse crowd.
There’s also the, let’s say, less than stellar feeling of seeing more than half the awards go to a single studio that became synonymous with crunch and awful working conditions on the show that took home 11 wins. That sort of thing’s not unique to these awards (If you’re down for a bad time, check out how many awards Roman Polanksi’s gotten post-1977), but it’s not a great look either way.

Kind of doubly sad, too, because it’s not just the studio but the exact show involved in that controversy that took home the grand prize. In the sense that it so nakedly embodied the rot at the heart of this industry, Jujutsu Kaisen is truly the anime of the year, but I doubt that’s how they intended it. And presumably, since Jujutsu Kaisen spilled over into the fall, it will also be eligible in the next ceremony. That’ll be fun.

If they crunch out that Chainsaw Man movie before October, we may be in for the same thing next year. This makes this whole enterprise feel even less attractive from an audience perspective. For all their faults, the Oscars aren’t liable to keep nominating the same franchises for the same awards every year.

So do we have any other options? Ignoring, of course, the obvious one that no awards ever need to exist. Because, like it or not, we yearn to have our tastes validated and yell a lot when they aren’t. Anime, unfortunately, doesn’t have a Golden Globes that can compete on the same level as its Oscars, but there are smaller celebrations out there. The main one that comes to mind are the r/anime awards, since those were also broadcast over the weekend, and have picks that are surprisingly not terrible.

I waffle on these types of awards because while they’re neat as community interactions go, they’re also mainly for a single community within the larger anime fandom. As somebody who doesn’t frequent this specific subreddit, I’m unsure what to glean from the Jury or Public picks, even if they align slightly closer to my tastes.

That’s the paradox of these things. The more insular the community is, the more interesting the results are, but the less those results matter as a point of discussion. Yet I also had MyGO as my 2023 favorite, so who am I to cast stones?

I dunno man. I see stuff like an anniversary Aikatsu! movie being the Jury pick for Best Slice-of-Life, with a summary that makes it clear the selection was thanks to its connection to a larger franchise that is inaccessible to somebody who didn’t watch all 178 episodes of the original TV show, and wonder how big the jury pool for that category was.
Probably small enough that I’d prefer a feature like the one we run at the end of every year. I get a lot more out of reading commentary from individual critics I trust than from consensus choices, anyway. But that’s a fundamentally different beast than awards shows. Nobody is moderating a December office pool trying to guess my third favorite anime of 2023.

They should be, and the smart money is on whatever show features a woman who both carries guns and smokes, possibly at the same time.

See, I’m predictable too! But in a based way.

At the very least, there is a broader range of choices. If you voted for those categories and your taste spans beyond The Big Action Title of a given season, you could probably find something that you felt good voting for. I still somehow missed putting DIY in Best Character Design, though, so I feel comfortable calling them invalid and excommunicating them from the main church.

Get ready to eat every word you’ve ever uttered about the Reddit community because DIY did win their jury award for best character design last year.

Oh, right, I forgot these guys know how a calendar works.

Try as Crunchyroll might to convince us otherwise, DIY did indeed air in 2022.

Purin’s pout transcends time and space.
But that insularity can’t help but make stuff like this feel a little like playing King of the Playground. It gives the same feeling as if your local college’s anime club rented out the banquet room at Red Lobster to hand out their awards straight from the library printer.

Honestly, even the Anime Awards, adorned with all the pomp, circumstance, and celebrity presenters afforded to them by the producers at Sony Music Solutions, a division of Sony Music Entertainment Japan, Inc.—even all that accouterment can’t completely wash off the stink of this:
The answer to that demand is the same as any awards show: you’ll be taken seriously when you can prove you’re not a clown show. The Game Awards have a couple of years on Crunchyroll. They still haven’t managed to escape the legacy of Doritos and Gamer Fuel, so good luck to the people at Sony trying to buy credibility via celebrity endorsements.
I doubt they care, though. Because the Anime Awards aren’t for us. They aren’t for the animators doing thankless, impossible work for sub-livable wages. They aren’t for the underpaid translators who are core to Crunchyroll‘s business model yet threatened with the boot of AI. These awards are for people like this guy so he can look good in a suit and feel important because of all the money he’s making. If some of the winners get some fulfillment out of their trophies, then that’s great, but it’s ancillary to the whole hollow, chintzy thing.

Putting the awards in Japan despite Crunchyroll not streaming anime over there kinda gives away the game, huh? There’s a reason most people found out the winners with their morning coffee, and it’s not because the marketing department bet big on anime fans having insomnia.

That’s a decent bet. I’m semi-frequently awake at those hours. But LMFAO, if you think I’m spending them watching a three-hour ceremony in which only ten seconds are devoted to Birdie Wing.

In the end, you can certainly say the same of other more “legitimate” awards ceremonies, but part of the artifice of these things is how they can make you forget that. The pageantry, narratives, and surprises are part of the package, and that’s something anime just has not managed and probably never will. But if they’re going to keep trying, I’d like them to at least put a little more effort into the actual process.
Barring that, I’ll settle for somebody slapping the President of MAPPA on stage.
Now that’s how you honor your anime roots.





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