Fans of any media that come in long-form incarnations — TV and comics, for instance — sometimes seem unaware of how much of a commitment they've made to their franchises of choice. If you've been buying a volume every couple of months for five years, you've filled an entire shelf with a series without ever feeling like you've spent upwards of $300 on it all. It's only when someone who's not a follower of said series looks at the shelf and says "Jeez, how much did this cost?" that the investment — of both time and money — really hits home. It hits home doubly hard when you recommend to someone else a series that you know cost you a great deal, in more than one sense of the word. Will they ever be able to afford it, let alone finish it? Why, then, recommend it at all?

The short answer, and the one that seems to work best, is that it's an act of faith — something we do out of our love for the material first (and our respect for our friends' tastes as well). Whether or not anything comes of it is not the point; it's more about the act of choosing to keep the fire alive. But with a long-running series, it seems on the face of it problematic to suggest to people they make a commitment to something that may remain forever incomplete, whether because of their budget or the series' own limitations.

Long may you run

Long-running anime and manga titles break into roughly three categories vis-a-vis their availability. "Perennials" — the AA- and AAA-list titles, the Narutos and Fullmetal Alchemists, never go out of print, and the shift to digital means it's getting easier to get caught up on them en masse. (The manga equivalent of the season pass or all-you-can-read license hasn't quite reached us yet, but it's getting there.) Below are the "contenders", or other long-runners that have received a full or substantial run, but which due to their length or lack of sustainable success have fallen out of print almost immediately. Eden: it's an endless world! and Case Closed fall into this category. And beyond that are the "never-rans" — the stuff that either never got licensed at enough length to be considered readable, or never licensed at all. Light novels often fall into this trap; you can read the first five installments of Guin Saga in English, but what about the other one hundred and twenty-plus? Best of luck.

Perennials scarcely seem to need the recommendations — if they sell that well by default and have that much of a toehold in the public consciousness, there's little need to evangelize on their behalf to begin with. It's the contenders and never-rans that I stump the hardest for, with the former getting slightly more of a boost than the latter if only because those doing the seeking are likely to get a more tangible payoff. For never-rans, most of the pitching there seems best saved for, say, the managers of boutique labels like Discotek, who have cultivated an audience devoted to such out-of-the-way goodies.

With every pitch, though, I always feel the end result should be to reward the person being pitched, not frustrate them. The sense of frustration seems most acute when you're dealing with something that runs long, requires a good deal of financial investment to complete, and doesn't have an easy alternate mode of consumption, e.g., legal streaming for video. Why let people have a taste of something they might not be able to take a full bite of?

My original way to temper this was to develop some sense of how much homework the prospective audience is willing to do. Casual fans not in the habit of going crate-digging probably aren't going to respond to talk of something that went out of print years ago and might only be sitting in a warehouse somewhere. (I'm also skeptical of the idea that a casual fan can be transformed into an obsessive crate-digger by way of just the right title, if only because most of the folks I've run into who had that obsessive's glint in their eye have always had it in some form.) But even such a refinement of attitude on my part doesn't really address the underlying problem, which is the whole motive for making recommendations in the first place.

Prescribe or cultivate?

It's taken a while to step back from what I could term the  "prescriptive" state of mind, where the point of a recommendation is to result in a complete viewing/reading of a piece of work, and replace it with one that for lack of a better term I could call "cultivational". The main motive behind the prescriptive attitude, where you measure success by whether or not you've managed to entice (or induce) someone else to see something, is to have someone else to talk about it with. Not a bad motive by itself, but a flawed one: do you need them to see the whole thing to have a coherent conversation about it? Sure, it helps, but I'd wager there's as productive a conversation to be had about something that has only been experienced in part as there is something that has been experienced in toto.

The "cultivational" attitude, by contrast, is one where the general impulse to share, with or without tangible payoffs, takes precedence. It doesn't matter if you can't even get the whole thing; what matters most is awakening interest in it, talking about it, getting curiosity stimulated generally. Reaping payoff isn't as important as stimulating conversation, in whatever form, to whatever end.

When I asked a friend of mine about whether or not it was a good idea to recommend things that were outside the window of availability, he gave an answer that I wasn't prepared for, and one that forced me to rethink my position along the lines I've just described. With something of genuine quality, even if it's of massive length or if there's a high barrier to availability (he said), "I feel like not sharing something [of that kind] is a disservice." To him, just getting the word out about something was by itself a net positive, whatever the availability of the material.

With the anime market — and now the manga market — tilting that much more towards digital editions and streaming, I feel like I have good reason to worry about how available certain things can be. Streaming licenses don't last forever; digital editions are hard to share (legally, anyway). Physical media can be loaned, but that implies having a copy to loan in the first place. No ideal solution that pleases all sides — consumer, creator, licensor, distributor — is likely to exist.

But perhaps I should worry more about those specific things, and less about the resilience and curiosity of fandom as it exists under their restrictions. We've survived worse, and only come out all the better for it. Curiosity — and evangelism — never completely die. You couldn't kill 'em if you wanted to.



About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@GanrikiDotOrg) is Editor-in-Chief of Ganriki.org. He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for Anime.About.com, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.