2010 is now here and the season of top manga and anime lists is now over! Most of these lists are on the fanboy quest to figure out the most important anime series of the last few years. And to me this isn’t a trivial quest: Looking back allows us as critics to pick out the overlooked titles that deserve a second chance, and by contrast to acknowledge the fads that have faded. In fact it always interesting to me how an amazing film or television show can receive lackluster box office receipts or poor ratings, only to be recognized in retrospect as important. And thus I submit to you that the most important anime show of the last five years was Bakugan Battle Brawlers.
Now at this point 90% of you are no doubt laughing, but I’m dead serious about this pronouncement: Bakugan Battle Brawlers (爆丸バトルブローラーズ) has been nothing less than a phenomena has spawned 52 episodes, a sequel series that’s currently still running, a best selling videogame and dominating the toy market. Simply put this show is introducing a generation of kids to anime, and in the decade to come Generation Bakugan will emerge and be heard.
Above: Having killer toys for kids is critical for a show to take root.
The fan base for Bakugan Battle Brawlers is of course very young — and that’s because the show is unapologetically a kids show. However unlike Ben Ten it’s unmistakably anime, and the kids who watch the show realize it as such. Or at least they’re cognizant that the show isn’t American, i.e. that’s there’s something different about this show — and that’s the first vital stepping stone to becoming an anime fan.
Now serious anime fans will start to pipe up that Brawlers is at best an unoriginal series to say the least: There’s quite a bit there that’s just too similar to Pokémon or Dragonball Z. But frankly while I’ll grant you that’s true when it comes to the plot, that this emerging generation would point out to you that the production values in Brawlers is good while Pokémon and Dragonball Z look pretty crude by comparison. And of course they’re right!
Above: By 2020 Haruhi will seem old school to Generation Bakugan.
It’s going to take some time Generation Bakugan to be heard, but it’s an inevitability: If you were seven years old when the show hit Cartoon Network in 2008 you’ll be nineteen years old by the year 2020. Sadly at this point many of the twentysomething anime fans of today will be in their 30s: My guess is that many of them will still love anime, but only the hardcore will still be going to conventions and keeping tabs on the latest from Japan. Of course the flip side of this is that Japan needs to produce anime shows that will engage Generation Bakugan, but my personal bet is that they’ll go where the money is over time.
The funny thing for me as an early anime fan is that I’ve watched this cycle several times before. My version of Brawlers was Star Blazers which I started watching at the old age of fourteen. There were a hardcore of anime fans around back then who had grown up with the likes of Astroboy, Kimba and Gigantor — but fandom was microscopic compared to what it is today. However through the years a series or a movie would come up that would earn new fans for the genre: Robotech, Akira, Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z and then Pokémon. While Robotech and Akira appealed to older fans the other shows were kids shows. And as such serious fans of those era might be amused that Pokémon was anime, but it wasn’t what they were watching at the time.
Above: Pokémon was “after my time” and I still cringe when I look at the quality of the show, yet I’m happy that it brought in a new generation of anime fans to pump life into the genre I love.
And much the way that most anime fans of today can’t imagine the era of getting VHS tapes from Japanese pen pals Generation Bakugan will look back on this era of DVD as something quite primitive. Not only that but the very concept of cable television may seem old fashioned to them when they come of age.
Postscript: I should also add that although it dates to the 90s as a manga that Naruto might be a good runner up to being the most important anime series of the last ten years. Although unlike Bakugan I wouldn’t say that it’s overlooked as it appeals to an older audience.