There was a time when all the good stories were being written in France, and later a time when this was true of England. Eventually, with the invention of Hollywood, all the good stories were being told in America. But all of these cultures faded away and now the dominant producer of entertainment is Japan. How did this happen? Why did this happen?
Japan is a barren island with virtually no arable land or natural resources. It makes sense to export solely mental, intangible products to the outside world. Entertainment is a great way to make something out of nothing. Its far northern position also gave it the jackpot in IQ scores, as Japan has the highest or close enough average IQ in the world. This means there are a lot more geniuses in Japan capable of writing good stories, and also a more appreciative audience that can keep up with the geniuses' thoughts and enjoy them properly. This combination of a more refined audience plus a better cadre of talent than any other country on Earth has to offer makes Japan the shoe-in for the role of #1. Any intelligent person outside of Japan will find themselves having more in common with the intelligent Japanese entertainment world than their unintelligent overseas alternatives. Bollywood musicals? Mexican soap operas? American sitcoms full of pre-cued laugh tracks and vulgar/physical humor shock tactics just to get a rise out of the audience and keep their attention? Episodic crime dramas, hospital dramas, court dramas, etc that have all been done a million times and have nothing interesting to say or do themselves no matter how many years they are serialized? Artsy French movies nobody even watches before they win a plethora of meaningless prizes?
Hollywood today is a dying industry with no standout cultural icons. Superhero movies are decent but formulaic, they're about on par with cop dramas at this point wherein 99% of the story is predestined just by the genre alone and there's no interesting content left for a creative writer or reader to express themselves in or relate themselves to. It's been over a decade since Lord of the Rings came out, and the Hobbit is shit in comparison to that high mark. The new Star Wars likely won't live up to the old ones either, just like the prequels failed over a decade ago. There are no Willow's, no Princess Bride's, no uniquely thrilling movies of any type left on offer. Go to an American theater and all you're likely to see is explosions followed by dubiously witty wisecracks by some gritty looking muscleman. You won't get to know anyone or fall in love with any characters or be confronted with any interesting dilemmas/settings/situations at any point in the story. Everything will be simple, repetitive, and pointless, like Fast and Furious 5, or Transformers 4, or whatever.
American video games are also short on plot and characters and high on action. Multiplayer, combat-oriented games like Call of Duty don't even bother with the single player campaigns. Western RPG's just allow you to wander around doing whatever, so there's no plot or characterization in these games either. Since you play as the main character, you rarely have a party that might actually strike up, God forbid, a conversation with you, nor will your avatar ever be affected by interactions with others, since ultimately all the decisions will still be left up to the player.
The book publishing industry is virtually impossible to get into but falls into two general categories, something PC schools would approve of in the hopes of becoming a new mandatory reading material in the classroom, or something insipid like Twilight that satisfies peoples fantasies but provides absolutely no intellectual challenge to people who grew up liking actual literature. Just a few decades ago, great writers were writing great books like Heinlein, Asimov, Orson Scott Card and Robert Jordan. But there are no new good writers, and the old ones are dead or past their prime. Ender's Game was a much more revolutionary and creative story, with a lot more insight into what life really is like, than any of the Ender's Game sequels ever managed to be. To make matters worse, Speaker for the Dead was the 2nd best book in the series, and was also the second book in the series. Xenocide was the 3rd best book in the series, and was also the third book in the series. It just got worse and worse as time went by. The same is generally true of Piers Anthony's corpus of literature. The early Xanth books, the Apprentice Adept books, and the Incarnation of Immortality books were much better than his later Xanth books and other series. Virtual Mode was much better than the remaining Mode stories that came afterwards, and of those remaining Mode books, Fractal Mode, the 2nd Mode book, was the 2nd best. Everything is always on a downwards trajectory.
Even American music used to be better than what is being made today.
What happened? Political Correctness put a stranglehold on all good ideas, because its 'nurture-only' world is so far from reality that everything written on its premise comes across as phony and shallow. There's no way characters can move and feel and think in a way that reflects people's real experiences in life when they're constrained by ideas like adopted siblings would be the exact same if parents just treated them similarly, family has no intrinsically strong ties but is just a sort of make-believe relationship with no real value, anyone can achieve anything so long as they work hard, men and women aren't genuinely different from each other and won't respond differently to the same stimuli, etc. Ancient story tellers, like Jane Austen, grasped the basic truths of human nature and wrote from that perspective. She didn't know that telling the truth was 'wrong' or that it would lead to another Holocaust, so she called things as she saw them and loved human beings, foibles and all, anyway. Dostoevsky could write freely about evil haunting people's inner lives like a shadow always creeping up on them from behind because no one had taught the public there was no such thing yet and that all people were really just misunderstood/culturally relative/forced into their actions due to an oppressive invisible system/blah/blah/blah. After multiple generations of brainwashing, even the geniuses who would like to write the truth like their predecessors once freely did can't find an audience for it anymore, because their audience has all been taught to be morally and aesthetically repulsed by anything hinting at being True anymore. None of the great works of the past could be published anymore, they are all politically incorrect and all trip over some stupid taboo or other. Shakespeare, Tolstoy, anyone you want to name is at least to some degree sexist, racist, homophobic, Eurocentric or whatever the current hysteria is. Their works now must be handled with careful 'trigger warnings' where the cover says that those who are faint of heart should never look inside the contents because these ancient writers still say upsetting things that challenge the current standard orthodoxy on reality and might make you think for once in your life.
The average IQ of the western world is naturally dropping like a rock due to dysgenic birth trends (lower class individuals who can't be bothered to use birth control have a higher birth rate than college graduates who wait until they're married) and massive immigration from the third world. Neither of these trends is true of Japan, which alternatively has maintained its high quality gene pool since time immemorial, never once being conquered and occupied in war, its Emperor still from the same divine bloodline that began Japan's primordial history. The IQ of the west is no longer capable of appreciating good art anymore. In a few years America and Europe will be majority non-white. Muslims chop off anyone's head who even tries to sing or dance, so good luck with entertainment being made in Europe. Meanwhile, America is slated to become North Mexico, or perhaps North Central America, or perhaps North Haiti, but in any case judging by these respective region's artistic achievements up until this point there's absolutely no expectations of our nation being worth anything to anyone in the future.
Japan's demographics and geography give it another advantage. Coming from a nation surrounded by tragedy -- the land of tsunamis, earthquakes, nuclear bomb fallout, defeats in war and volcanoes -- they have the same soulful insight into the very core of human strength and frailty that happy-go-lucky people could never understand. Russia had great writers all throughout their turbulent period of 1800-1950. Japan is blessed with the same misfortune in their recent past. Losing the war, building back their economy and government from scratch, and then losing it all again in a decades-long-depression, simply isn't something American writers can compare to. Steinbeck could write Grapes of Wrath because the Great Depression happened. Without the Great Depression, there is no Steinbeck, and no one would have cared a whit what the Leave-it-to-Beaver type Steinbeck would have ended up writing. The people who most endure misfortune in America tend to be stupid losers who can't get their lives together. In Japan it's mostly down to luck, since the weather itself toys with people's lives, businesses that were previously booming suddenly go bust, and competition for the best positions in sports/career/college/etc is fierce because everyone's born virtually equal to begin with, which allows for a variety of sympathetic characters undergoing adversity but miraculously rising to the top after all. Even if a black criminal were smart enough to tell his story by putting pencil to paper, it would just be the story of a thug acting like a thug that no one wants to read. But when a Japanese person who tried to do everything right but ends up unfortunate anyway pleas for your understanding, ears perk up because clearly something of interest went wrong here that needs fixing in order to achieve our future utopia.
On top of Japan's natural advantages, it has developed a system of nurturing talent and delivering content to the audience which no one else has attempted much less matched in scope. Manga-kas can be as young as 14 and still get published and treated seriously as adults. Singers can do the same, as can idols. People of all ages are encouraged to pursue an artistic career that has no arbitrary barriers to entry based on licenses or degrees. If you're a good voice actress, you can be hired, even if you have no formal training. All you have to do is pass the audition for the role. The same is true for new debut singers, idol groups, etc. No one cares what your education level is when you submit a manga. An editor will read your work and review what's good or bad about it no matter who you are or how many times you try. They are always open to solicitations and always giving new authors a chance to succeed. Manga publishing magazines have constant competitions where they seek amateur entrants and reward them with serializations and massive advertising should they succeed. Present just one good story to a few editors and you suddenly have a captive audience of over a million people ready and willing to flip through your first chapter in a magazine full of other established popular works that originally made them want to buy said magazine -- but now you may as well read the rest of the authors too to get the most bang for your buck, right?
Light novel publishing companies likewise have competitions that promise to publish the winners that likewise any amateur can enter and win without any background requirements. By sticking their powerful brand on the new author's work they guarantee its worth and it has a quick route to fame. This was how Sword Art Online was dragged out of obscurity.
Visual novels are cheap, fast, and easy to make. They have far lower budgets than video games and can be made by a far smaller team. And yet, all the important elements are still there. Voice acting, story, plot, music, art and animation are all provided up to the necessary level to get the experience across to the reader. The visual novel industry is enormous, to the point that no one could possibly hope to play them all. Meanwhile western video games are lucky to release one version of their franchise per console generation.
Likewise, anime is cheap and easy to make compared to live action shows. With lower budgets, the barrier to entry is lower, and yet the audiences are still ready to watch and enthralled by your products. Fifty new shows featuring entirely new stories can be found across the various Japanese television channels every season. Multiply that by four seasons and every idea has a good chance of seeing a nationwide debut with millions of viewers. Even incredibly obscure manga like K-On! can suddenly hit it big when adapted into an anime.
Japan is scooping up virtually every single one of its creative, talented, intelligent artists and actually giving them a career in art. It has so much opportunity available for anyone with the ambition and the drive that there are virtually no neglected chances that went to waste. Everyone who is anyone can find a publisher or game developer who will bring their idea to life. This is one of the reasons I don't think Naruto is going to be surpassed anytime soon. All the current talented people in Japan have already tried their best to beat Naruto and come up short. The only people left who could possibly rival the work are people age 13 and below, who haven't tried yet. There are fewer and fewer Japanese in this age bracket because they have a below replacement fertility rate, so by default there's going to be less and less competition Masashi Kishimoto has to worry about as time goes by. No golden eggs are going to suddenly jump out of nowhere and take the nation by storm like Athena popping full grown out of the head of Zeus. For golden eggs like that, the ones companies refused to take notice of, all they have to do is publish a doujinshi and sell their products at Comiket, an amateur festival where yet again an audience of millions is available to be persuaded by the quality of your endeavor every six months. This is how Ryukishi07 brought Higurashi to fame and success, or the maker of Toho project. Even the completely ignored Japanese artists will eventually become pros due to amateurs electing their own winners between each other.
In Japan, there are no PC fetters and people can still largely say or do anything they like. If they want to include sexually titillating content, they're free to do so. They can also write main characters who are terrorists, revolutionaries, reminiscent of World War II villains, criminals, etc and nobody bats an eye. The villains can be of any religion, any race, any creed, any class, and no one insists this is spreading negative stereotypes or inciting hatred and must be taken back out again. Men are allowed to be masculine and women are allowed to be feminine. Not every story has to reinforce the dam of liberal lies.
The Japanese audience is patient enough to follow a long and convoluted storyline no matter how long it takes to convey. One Piece's Dressrosa arc can be said to have begun over 100 chapters ago and it's still far from over. That's multiple years that have been invested into setting up and describing a situation before ultimately solving it. Compare that to the attention span devoted to a 24 minute tv show cop drama or a two hour long movie that handles the introduction, complications and conclusion all in one swoop. We are talking patience on a whole other scale than any works outside of Japan. Even if Game of Thrones takes a long time to write, when you get down to it there isn't a whole lot of material, just five books as of yet. Even the most 'epic' Western works could probably fit into a small story arc of One Piece. It's impossible to tell a good story in a short amount of time. Requiring that everything 'reset' at the beginning of each new television episode or movie butchers all hope of artistic creativity. Only continuous storytelling yields results, and as a result, only Japanese entertainment yields results, as every other show has long since abandoned this storytelling model.
The amount of Japanese entertainment coming out these days has surpassed the speed of light. Or in other words, there is more good art coming out of Japan now than is possible to take in on a second-by-second basis, even if you devote yourself to it as a full time job. Just this November, four new visual novels from highly esteemed artists have come out simultaneously -- Harukaze Sensation, Kimi no Tonari de Koi Shiteru!, Koisuru Kanojo no Bukiyou na Butai and Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm. (Not to mention Cocoro@Function Neo. . .) Even if you exclusively stuck to reading visual novels, you could never finish them all in a month, and by December there's already a new slew of releases. There are tons of manga magazines publishing tons of manga series, tons of light novel companies publishing tons of light novels, tons of anime series airing all week long, tons of video games being published by Japanese video game makers, and even some decent live action movies/tv shows to go with them. This light speed barrier has not been crossed by the outside world, however, because translators simply can't keep up with all the constantly newly arriving content lapping up at our shores. This bottleneck has kept out most of the good material Japan is getting to enjoy as we speak, but even that small trickle of entertainment that manages to get through manages to take up a princely sum of time. There's enough Japanese entertainment that if you just add in a few things like sports, news, or World of Warcraft (coming out in a few hours with a new expansion) you can easily make up the difference.
An entertainment culture which can provide more quality life experience than a life can possibly live through is pretty much the definition of heaven. Japan is living that dream right now. The rest of us, thanks to the efforts of Japan, aren't far behind. For dumb people, entertainment is easily found in hedonistic activities like sex, drugs and alcohol. Thanks to Japan, intelligent people can now live just as fulfilling lives without ever having to forcefully alter their body's chemistry. Every minute of their day can be slotted in to something good happening -- a new Fairy Tail chapter, a Jpop song playing on itunes, an episode of anime coming out, another hour long grind through an epically long Tales game, or whatever suits you at the moment. Far from having to blast your brain in order to forget about your daily life, you can nurture and develop it instead by communing solely with good hearted intelligent soulmates every minute of your waking day. It's like Plato's Academy except with air conditioning.
If everyone adopted Japan's system for finding and publishing talent, and everyone adopted Japan's ideology of fearlessly saying what people really thought and felt regardless of who was offended by it, the artistic level of the world would be a degree of magnitude higher than the 'Japan-only' situation we have today. Even though Japan tries its best, the translators can't keep up, so it would be better if most art were to come from English speakers in the first place. Then the whole world could understand what was being published immediately. Furthermore, instead of being once in a century or once in a decade gems like Clannad, with a wide enough net, we would treat that as our meat and potatoes and have even fancier stories as our full course lobster Christmas holidays. With billions of people supporting millions of artists, there's no reason to believe that even the likes of Clannad couldn't become commonplace. Then we wouldn't even need stuff like Prism Ark. At that point we'd be moving faster than faster than light speed -- replacing our already entertaining content that covers every minute of our day with even more important content that takes priority until it's all completed first. We're talking degrees of infinity here.
It's a shame Japan didn't conquer the world in WWII, then we wouldn't be needing this conversation. But at the very least we could learn from them and adapt their code to success for ourselves. Since we're the ones who spoiled their ambitions, it's our duty to create a future better than the one we ourselves destroyed. If we aren't making as good art as them, if our patents per capita trail far behind them, if our average quality of life is below theirs, why are we even alive? The food and other resources we're wasting on ourselves could be going to the birthing and nurturing of another generation of Japanese instead. If we aren't going to add anything to the equation, if we're going to insist on lies and flapdoodle nonsense as our intelligentsia peak, then we may as well get out of the way and go extinct like the Amerindians had the good grace to do before us. Cannibalism and human sacrifice weren't worth preserving, and neither are we.