Fans are known for being a bit, well, fanatical about their chosen shows but what happens when the show in question doesn’t even exist? Well, they make it up as they go along instead! A short commercial released by Kyoto Animation managed to inadvertently spark some reactions among tumblr members that could only be considered explosive:
The fandom that popped-up in a matter of hours consequently went to town fleshing out the characters and the story. As the Daily Dot reports:
In the 2 days since the 30-second spot landed on YouTube, Tumblr has been in a frenzy of yearning for what it has dubbed “the swimming anime.” Tumblr fans have given the nameless boys in the videos character identities and backstories, they’ve picked favorite relationship pairings, drawn fanart, made GIFs, created character roleplaying blogs, confessionals, and Texts from Last Night parodies. They’ve written fanfic.
Want more swimming anime? Here’s a Tumblr theme. Want your swimmers genderswapped? Got that too. There’s also swimming anime cosplay in the works. This parody of the “swimming anime” has over 11,000 notes, while this PowerPoint slide deck on how to ship characters of a nonexistent anime has over 22,000 and counting.
What has prevented the entire saga from being swept under the carpet has been the decision by the studio to announce an official series based on the short to be called Free.
Is This Good Or Bad?
Ultimately, there is nothing necessarily good or bad about something like this. Sure Tumblr has a reputation for juvenile stunts such as this, but its harmless for the most part and at least spurs some creativity on the part of the users rather than keeping them in the passive state.
The notion of pop-up fandoms is nothing new since the internet has attained widespread usage. PBS’ (quite excellent and highly recommended) Off Book took a look at whether fandom can change society and concluded that it could; citing numerous (including one infamous) cases where fandoms appeared out of thin air after major events and noted that they can create both good and bad results.
The case of swimming anime is fairly benign although one has to wonder why people would even devote such effort to something that doesn’t even exist?
Short Term Effects and Pitfalls
Swimming anime/Free highlights a number of issues with its rapid rise to public consciousness. Firstly is the fact that it became so widespread so quickly; 48 hours after its release and the internet had proliferated with creativity. Secondly is the fact that such a rapid rise could harm it in the long term.
Starting with its rise, social media, YouTube, frictionless sharing and so forth all contributed to getting the show as much coverage as possible. Long gone are the days when you maybe had to search out something on the internet after the fact. Tumblr’s dashboard means that you are likely to see the same thing pop up over a prolonged period of time as people you follow gradually reblog it. (The service also encourages, and has, a high percentage of daily users.)
The second issue is much more troubling. A rapid rise is great, sure, but we all know that animation is not a race. Shows take time to develop, create and distribute. Six months for a decent half hour is the norm so even if the show was begun today, we wouldn’t see any completed episodes until the leaves have fallen from the trees (see below). That in and of itself is not what’s problematic though, that lies with the very fans that made it a success in the first place.
You see, as rapidly as fans attached themselves to this show they will also attach themselves to the next one that comes along. The initial explosion of interest will naturally fade as those on the periphery fall away, but even the core will shrink until new content is available when it will increase again. The issue, and question, is how big will it expand again?
Shows with large following such as The Legend of Korra have relatively stable fandoms but still see rises and falls in their activity between seasons. Those shows though, have devoted followings that have built up over time. Swimming anime/Free is starting from scratch, and the possibility that fans who came for the fun of creating something won’t stick around forever (see below) and may never return once they leave. That’s a major pitfall and is something that studios need to anticipate and mitigate.
Shifting Development Efforts to the Fandom?
Another question this raises is whether or not studios will consider the benefits of essentially having fans develop the show for them. The benefits would certainly be there:
- vastly reduced costs to the studio
- content that is proven to resonate with fans
- may be much faster than undertaking it in-house given larger numbers contributing
- Promotes greater interaction and communication between the studio and fans
The disadvantages though, are equally obvious:
- Copyright issues and the legal thicket large-scale creativity can create
- Compensation-related issues (who did what) and how much they should receive
- Rebellion of fanbase to studio-issued ideas, even if they are best
- Loss of structure that in-house development provides
While many studios would love to shift the costs of development away from themselves, the reality is that the current business model prohibits it due to the many legal constraints surrounding creativity and artistic creations. Identifying and compensating every creator would be a nightmare and once you factor the cross-border nature of the internet, you’re in for an impossible task.
That means that as much as the fandom would like to see their ideas incorporated into Free, the reality will preclude it.
A Model To Follow?
While its certainly likely that Kyoto Animation considered the possibility that viewers would overreact, it’s interesting to note that they made an official announcement quite soon after the initial release. Five characters now have names and traits that have been disseminated throughout the fandom and the official launch date is in July; an indication that the studio has had this in the works for a while and completely negating the notion that fan efforts caused an official pickup. Given such circumstances this model isn’t really one to be followed.
Current internet rumblings consider Little Witch Academia as a prime target for similar moves given that it is already a fully-fledged 23 minute short with fully developed characters.
As desirable as it is to see that short receive a more substantial treatment, Kyoto Animation clearly sees a profitable opportunity in what it has, whether Trigger sees the same in their property is something that only the studio can decide. Simple outpouring from fans is not match for the numbers that studios will run, and you can be sure they all do, not matter what fans think of their efforts.