In 2004, children and young adults all over India woke up to a revolution. For 13 years after that, Animax — an initiative of Sony Entertainment — lit up tv screens and the imaginations of every would-be young weeb with the best Japanese animation, i.e., anime, in the country. Sadly, in 2017, it was ripped off-air due to a continuous loss of profits, much to the dismay of thousands of Indian anime fans. But perhaps the channel had yet a few cards up its sleeve, a few more incredible, heartening, and awe-inspiring stories to tell.
Six years after its apparent demise, Animax has returned to the screen with renewed enthusiasm. After going through a trial run, hand in hand with Jio TV, at the beginning of this year, it is now also available on demand through Amazon's Prime Video. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The channel may have been taken off air for low viewership, but such problems will soon be redundant. According to its execs, its viewership ratings are off the charts and well beyond expectations. And, chances are, it will only get better from here.
But the question is, why all this hype around a decades-old channel in the era of streaming giants like Netflix and Disney Plus? Is it mere nostalgia? Or does Animax signify something more than just a remnant of the good old times?
What's With All The Fuss Surrounding Animax's Return?
As Animax makes its triumphant return to India, many might wonder about all the fuss surrounding its return. Is nostalgia the only reason behind such an ecstatic welcome? To answer that, one must travel back almost two decades. In 2004, when Animax first appeared in the country, barely anyone knew of the Japanese animated media referred to as anime. In such an era, Animax boldly started simulcasting anime in India in the same week as Japan.
It introduced the watcher to the classics and the contemporary in the world of anime. It's where one discovers works like Hell Girl, Inuyasha, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Black Butler, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and so on. The result? The rise of an entire generation of entranced otakus who would probably never have had access to this beautiful, horrific, and magical universe otherwise.
Unfortunately, though, anime was still seen as children's cartoons for the longest while. This severely limited its audience. Many households also barred youngsters from watching the shows because of depictions of violence and sensual undertones. So, with the rise of streaming platforms, it makes sense that the channel — with its limited audience — would become obsolete.
A collective gasp of despair rose the day Animax announced its departure. After all, while it may not have achieved the popularity it needed to continue airing in India, those who grew up with the channel knew its worth. Thankfully, now it has come home as if from a long-drawn-out war, and fans are more than set to give it a hero's welcome.
But Will It Survive This Time?
After all, it was forced to pack its bags due to lacking popularity. What's so different about this time?
The most significant factor that will come into play here is a massive change in perspective toward anime in the country.
The genre's popularity surged during the pandemic, with many drawing inspiration and hope from the shows during a time of mental and physical tumult. But as it has gathered more fans, there have been a rising number of complaints about the limited anime content on popular streaming platforms. The collection is also rather haphazard, and shows are added and taken off platforms as if on a whim. Dedicated fans are, thus, forced to resort to dubious streaming platforms to access their favorite shows.
The return of Animax obliterates all such problems. It will continue to simulcast the best of contemporary anime simultaneously with Japan. And it offers a curated experience to its fans, with the latest shows being featured along with the greatest and most classic anime of all time.
“Streaming platforms certainly have limitations regarding what anime they are willing to show and where. I have always liked the variety Animax offered, from Tears to Tiara and Nodame Cantabile to Hell Girl. I am honestly excited for people new to anime to check out Animax again. It's a perfect introduction to the world beyond the more famous shows and provides a very good insight into the immense variety, even within specific genres”, says 28-year-old Ph.D. scholar Sambhabi.
Today, people in India are quickly waking up to the realization that anime isn't just children's cartoons. Anime often deals with complicated themes, from queerness to childhood trauma and grief.
Anime Is Important For Adult Viewers In India
Angana, a 30-year-old avid anime fan, and Ph.D. scholar, pointed out this very thing that sets anime apart from general children's cartoons.
“I would like to point out something very important that I realized as a child. That was the generous depiction and representation of queer characters in anime that I saw nowhere before or didn't encounter in reality as a child. And these characters were not presented as caricatures or comical or something unusual,” she says, “The most significant example of this would be Isabella, from Paradise Kiss, who is depicted as this beautiful, elegant, and gorgeous woman, and younger women wish they could have her poise and grace. More than halfway through the anime, you discover her backstory where it's revealed that she was amab and is actually a transwoman and how as a young child, she always knew who she was and what her identity was.”
“Paradise Kiss gently showed a lot of things, how all the characters unconditionally accepted Isabella, how it was Isabella's femininity that was something to aspire to for other cis women, and not seen as lacking or suspect, and most importantly, through Isabella's discomfort at being deadnamed, that you don't call her anything else. For a thirteen-year-old, this was a defining moment of my life. I don't identify as anything else other than a woman, but I remember crying buckets that day. I was so happy for her,” she adds.
According to a report by JetSynthesis on World Anime Day, 73% of people in India watch anime, and over 80% prefer anime over any other animated content. Naruto, Attack on Titan, and Death Note reign supreme as the top three favorites.
Classic anime like Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Berserk also have their dedicated fan base in the country. There's a lot of interest in up-and-coming shows, with people clamoring for the release of new seasons of Haikyuu!! and Spy x Family with unbridled enthusiasm.
The recent Makoto Shinkai film festival also proved that the interest in anime content in India will only grow, especially with studios and platforms focusing their marketing efforts on capturing the Indian imagination. Shinkai's Suzume no Tojimari was released on Indian screens to much acclaim, with thousands of fans flocking to the theatres to catch the show. Shinkai himself was present for the film's premiere in Mumbai and was blown away by fans' enthusiastic response.
V, a 24-year-old writer whose art often draws inspiration from their experience growing up with Animax, says, “Perhaps I won't go back to it myself, but will always encourage others, esp[ecially] the younger generations to watch it. It's great for beginners to develop a taste for something fresh and culturally important today.”
Ultimately, it is perhaps safe to say that this is not the country Animax had to leave behind. India has since woken up to the realization that anime is not to be trifled with. And this will, we hope, work in Animax's favor. After all, the young otakus it so lovingly shaped into being are all grown up now. And they won't let their hero go down without a fight. Not again, maybe not ever.