The anime landscape is changing, and merchandise is changing with it.
Since it’s triumphant smash into the anime world back in 2016, “My Hero Academia” has stolen our hearts as the latest shounen darling. A combination of explosive action, exciting characters, and an original, unique world have given it an extraordinary success not only in Japan but here in the United States as well. This is in no small part to its dub, which has earned high critical acclaim and cemented it as the must-watch simulcast in Funimation’s expanding anime empire.
The latest addition to the success of “My Hero Academia?” Merch, merch, and more merch. Funimation is aggressively partnering with numerous companies to flood the markets with a boatload of goodies from the “My Hero World.” Though anime in the United States has always had some degree of merchandising involved with it, mostly in the forms of manga publishing and certain cosplay goods, this is a rare instance where the licensing is pushing forward on many fronts. No doubt, this is Funimation knowing exactly just how valuable this anime is, and that this is the time to move their lead property from the niche world of anime into the mainstream television market.
So, what are we talking about here? Well, you’ve got the usual suspects: figurines, accessories, small toys, but also some expansions into otherwise untapped areas of merchandising as well. Culture Fly will be introducing some “My Hero Academia” collector’s boxes to its box subscription service, and Ground Up will be unveiling it’s “My Hero” footwear as well. We’re also going to be seeing a lot more small trinkets and things and some new candies and soft drinks from Boston America. The list goes on and on, but what surprised me was news that there is to be a variety of beauty products based on the series. Here’s hoping I can get some deodorant with All Might’s face on it.
You’re going to be seeing a whole lot more stuff with “My Hero Academia” on it, but this means more for the series and the anime environment than just an increase in anime-themed toothpaste. Funimation already had merchandise agreements with 13 partners but is now pushing that number to 31, an over 200% increase in its distribution. Such a dramatic increase means that the series is doing well with more than just typical anime fans, but families and mainstream viewers as well. The separation between “Anime fans” and “Normal viewers” is growing thinner and thinner, and “My Hero Academia” is the premier property to advance that dynamic with.
Anime has always had a barrier to entry; certain eccentricities and weaknesses that have demanded a lot of patience from the “uninitiated.” I think most anime fans can remember a moment where they tried to sell someone who wasn’t into anime on a show, only to fall flat when they realized that what’s normal to them isn’t normal to most American viewers. Not to mention, bad dubs and obnoxious amounts of fanservice have often stigmatized those that watch anime as being deviant or immature.
However, “My Hero Academia” doesn’t have those problems. Its setup is far more grounded and structured than what you usually see with anime, and it’s focused on character-driven storytelling in a comic book inspired world gives it a quality that is indisputable. Furthermore, it’s not entirely Japanese, and not entirely American, so it occupies a cultural middle ground that’s more accessible. It can be hard to explain what a “Soul Reaper” is in Bleach, or that the pirates in “One Piece” aren’t the shiver-me-timbers types people are used to, but everyone knows what a superhero is. All this show needed to be was a good dub to bring it to American shores unharmed, but not only did Funimation do the dub well, but they also knocked it right out of the park.
That means the market is ready for more “My Hero Academia”, and Funimation knows it. Their product line is something not just geared towards your typical nerd audience, but families and younger kids as well. I’ve little doubt that Funimation wants to sell “My Hero” goods in the same way that “Spiderman” can sell everything from notebooks to hand soap by slapping on a logo. There’s money to be made, and Funimation would be foolish not to make it.
The only question is how the brand will fare now that it’s spread out to so many markets. Will Funimation be able to preserve it’s product quality? Or will we start seeing an over-saturation of cheap, landfill goods like with “Star Wars?” It’s too early to say, but, from this reviewer’s perspective, I’m happy to see anime become a bit more normalized in the United States. At the very least, it’ll make it easier to get people to watch “Cowboy Bebop.”