Anime in America, for the last several decades, has been playing the long game, slowly but surely crawling closer to the mainstream. As someone who was a fan back when it was still significantly more niche by orders of magnitude, this has been gratifying, yet also weird. Jump Force has brought those sentiments on especially strongly.
It does not necessarily have to do with what it is as a game; in fact, the fact that it’s not so different from past efforts is part of what fuels the strangeness. What has been shown of the gameplay thus far does not seem that much different from the earlier Shonen Jump crossover brawler J-Stars Victory VS or the numerous other Naruto or Dragonball-based fighting games. In other words, this is thoroughly an identifiably anime game. What surprised me, therefore, was the manner in which this ended up being shown off for the first time.
Take ourselves back to last Sunday for a bit, when Microsoft is doing their press conference for E3 2018. A little more than an hour in, the head honcho of the Xbox division himself Phil Spencer announced that from that moment onward, everything shown “will be world premiere games no one has seen before.” So what ends up being the very first trailer to premiere after this throwing of the gauntlet? Complete with Phil Spencer saying a few lines to hype it up?
It’s Jump Force.
This blew my mind. Sony, with their series of Playstation consoles and handhelds, has always held the reputation as the de facto gaming company for Japanese titles! Microsoft, on the other hand, is the gaming company with the comically terrible penetration into the Japanese gaming market. More importantly, however, thanks in large part to their success and hold on the public consciousness with the Xbox 360 in the past console generation, they have positioned themselves as the thoroughly western/American gaming company.
Sure, Dragon Ball Z is so ubiquitous in the States that it practically transcends anime status, but Naruto and Luffy, and Light and Ryuk even moreso, still fly the anime banner high; they’re some of the most well-known and iconic characters from well-known and iconic series at that. And Microsoft got Jump Force to premiere at their conference, NOT Sony’s. Sharing preview space alongside the likes of The Division 2 and the latest Halo and Gears of War entries. And doing so while shirking the more cartoony artstyle and comically long titles of past games for something more photorealistic-esque and concisely titled.
These are exceedingly numerous signs all pointing to the same thing: Both Microsoft and Jump Force itself are squarely positioning an anime game for a more mainstream western audience. They consider anime to potentially be seriously bankable. And that is just so wild every time I think on it!
This just seems like a serious case of night-and-day compared to how things were in the past; back in 2004, I would have never expected anything to take a turn such as this. It’s surreal.