3 Fears For The Future of Anime & Manga

AI generated spam

I am no Luddite, let’s be clear about that. I personally feel that AI has a lot of potential for supplementing existing skillsets. It could help people boost their productivity by automating the most boring parts of their work. This is a slippery slope, however. Why help supplement someone’s work if you could replace them entirely instead?

PHOTO: Usagi stands back awkwardly as Luna uses a computer.

This is what we’re already seeing in the art market. For clients big and small alike, it is irresistibly cheaper to generate an image using the myriad tools available than it is to hire actual artists. This is only the tip of iceberg. Right now it’s newsworthy when an anime, a manga, or a video game uses AI as a shortcut. Eventually such headlines will cease to be tantalizing to audiences and the practice will become normalized. Then you can escalate.

Why stop at AI generating backgrounds when you could have it generate animation too? Why hire a character designer if you can just feed directions into the machine and have it shit out a marketable character on the other end? This will further serve to drive actual artists out of making art so that the medium is increasingly steered by corporate money-men.

PHOTO: Copies of Cyberpunk, the first AI generated manga.

I am also concerned that we’re going to see parties appear that will use the technology to effectively generate spam. Right now it’d take considerable fiddling and skill to put together a fully AI-generated product, but it has already been done successfully. It will only get easier from here on out. Imagine a future where somebody could generate dozens of manga or light novels or doujins and then spam those unto platforms. They don’t have to be good individually because you have a theoretically infinite amount of alternatives. Just drown out the competition and rebrand anytime people catch unto you.

This hits close to home because it could also affect me. Websites about geek hobbies like anime live by the passion of their creators. Running these passion projects could become nearly impossible due to AI spam. My platform already has an AI assistant available. I could have generated this entire article and put it out in a fraction of the time. Profiteers could create a new website and publish a tidal wave of reviews and articles all generated through AI. Then play the SEO game and watch the ad revenue roll in. Hell, why stop at one site? Just make dozens of them for every niche hobby imaginable.

Who gives a shit about being morally bankrupt when the actual bank account is steadily filling up? It’s not like they feel any of the consequences of rendering these markets and communities unusable.

Leading creators passing away

Unfortunately, people die. Just one of those little facts of life that we are obliged to deal with. And as people pass away, the void they leave behind is often impossible to fill. Especially in an artistic medium like anime and manga.

PHOTO: Takao Saito next to a picture of Golgo 13.

Many of the most influential creators in this field have been active in it for decades. Creators who have all had a tangible impact on the industry. They made iconic series, started trends, popularized genres, you name it. Every day we benefit from their legacy and ongoing work alike. When they inevitably pass away, it’ll be devastating. First and foremost emotionally, of course. Both for their family and friends, as well as their fans from around the world.

However, their passing would also mark a loss for the culture of anime. It’s insensitive to put it that way, but it’s unavoidable. These are visionary creators and icons of the industry that we all look toward. Many continue to innovate within the medium to this day, voice beloved characters, or have a pivotal roll in the production of major series. Theirs will be immense shoes to fill. The impact of their loss will be felt for years to come.

PHOTO: Guts from Berserk staring at the night sky.

We have already seen this happen a number of times. The death of Kentaro Miura devastated his millions of fans and cast the future of one of manga’s most venerable franchises into doubt. Mitsuteru Yokoyama passed away in 2004 and nobody has quite managed to mirror his style of autobiographical manga. Sayla Mass, one of the most beloved characters in the Gundam series, had to be absent or mute for years after the death of her voice actress, Yō Inoue. How about Satoshi Kon or Tezuka or Takao Saito?

As time marches on, we’re going to lose more and more of these amazing people. The mark they left will stay with us, of course, but it’s tragic to consider what ambitions they will leave behind unrealized.

Continued lack of preservation

I can not understate the importance of preserving the history of anime & manga. It would benefit everyone if there were an accessible library of every work that was ever published. Well, almost everyone. It wouldn’t benefit the shareholders and other businessfolk. They have no incentive to keep the media they publish accessible beyond its shelf life nor to let other preserve it in their stead. As a result, more and more of our history fades into obscurity.

PHOTO: Yōsuke Shibazaki cries while pointing at his computer screen.

This too is already happening as we speak. A lot of series that predate the rise of the internet are very poorly preserved. Physical copies are exceedingly rare and threaten to deteriorate. Any digital copies, if they were even made to begin with, are in archaic video formats, have low resolution, or suffer from other issues. These problems become less pronounced with later anime, but the issue of accessibility remains. Hundreds of series are not legally available and illegal alternatives present entirely new problems into the mix. Torrents can die out or the sites hosting them are taken down. Maybe a show was never translated or subtitled, or only in languages you can’t understand.

My current manga challenge has shed a light on just how big of an issue this is. A lot of series that I wanted to read were thoroughly lost. Not available on any site, not sold anywhere, not even available as raw scans. Manga that can now only be enjoyed as records in databases. This is a tragedy. And as years go by, it’ll be the fate of more and more stories.

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