Because I like beautiful girls.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Is Pokemon anime?" Musings on fandom

Tokyopop, a company that used to be a large and successful manga publisher, is now making a reality show about anime fans. This prompted me to think about the fandom at large and naturally being the web 2.0 Gen Y label-of-the-day nerd I am, write a blog post:

This is about the anime fandom as a whole NOT anime itsself, or individual fans. Yes you are all special little snowflakes and noone fits the generalization perfectly just like no-one looks like Betty Crocker.

The first anime I watched? Pokemon.

So lets start with Pokemon, its a good spring board right? Probably the most internationally successful anime ever and a keystone of a franchise so hugely popular, that Nintendo has set up a multi-national affiliate company just to manage the brand (株式会社ポケモン).

Yet the obscure, Japan-only late-night show Kodomo no Jikan likely occupies more space in the collective consciousness of the anime fandom than Pokemon does. Its not that anime fans don't know about Pokemon or dislike Pokemon its just treated as something related to the fandom but not really a part of it. Anime forums are not full of screaming fans demanding the lately uncut episodes or even subbed episodes. Where are the simulcasts? The box sets? (Pokemon has its own separate fandom that would appreciate such things but they are more video-game focused)

These things are not going to happen because fans and publishers alike do not consider Pokemon as "anime".

And when publishers do attempt to market these popular franchises as anime (rather than as non-origin specific cartoons) strong hatred emerges from the fandom. Naruto fans are universally lambasted, YuGiOh and Bleach receive similar treatments. Though still considered anime to some extent, one must admit any show that has shown a chance of success in English has become excluded and hated by many fans on a matter of principle.

So what is the anime fandom actually a fan of? Anime as a whole, some particular subgenre, "the good stuff", or something else entirely? What makes the shows we blog, tweet, or write about on facespace/geocities different from the other animated shows Japan (or any where else) produces?

To me it seems the anime fandom is desperately trying to be "not mainstream" without being freaky. Like Hot Topic or Lady Gaga it enjoys a comfortable "rebel" status without straying too far into actual taboos. And in this quest to carve out a niche it has become so over bogged with group spirit and identity that it has become something that exists to consume its self. Anime conventions are full of non-anime related events. Maid cafes, costuming workshops, rum parties, dances, art shows, webcomics, video game rooms, lan parties, board game workshops, concerts, and more. These are not bad things (I enjoy many of them) but these are also exceedingly NOT anime-related. While some variety is fine, one could easily go to an anime con tomorrow, spend the entire day there and not do anything anime related at all.

When you go to an anime con there is a coming together reunion feeling to it; much stronger than at other cons/meetups I've been to. Its mostly pleasant. People are nice to each other for the most part, they see each other as more than random strangers. This is a good thing but I wonder if fans are addicted to this sense of belonging and group spirit more than they are to the media it supposedly stems from.

I don't hate the fandom, but I barely even consider myself part of it anymore. I purchase the same DVDs, watch the same shows, but I don't particularly feel an attachment to any of these people. I dislike most of the individuals I've met at cons, they tend to be loud and rude. In fact, I only started following other anime fans on twitter recently and was suprised to find that I liked talking to these people (unlike in my other interactions with the fandom). Maybe its the 140 character limit but I've managed to avoid the worst offenders that fill forums and con halls. I can discuss anime without being reminded how exclusive and special I am for "being a fan". Its refreshing.

I like discussing shows with others. But do we need such strong fandom spirit?

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