Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Being Otaku

I'd been thinking about something new and interesting to write about that wouldn't sound so similar to my usual smattering of posts when suddenly inspiration struck me - I hadn't written a single thing about anime fans themselves. Now this is a rare topic to address as most bloggers I've come across do not devote any posts specifically to this issue, but rather mention attributes of otaku in general. I'd like to take this opportunity to establish some trends that I've seen over the past decade or so that I've been an anime fan, and what they mean for the future of anime.

Now, what this means is a lot of text, and very little in the way of as a distraction I've placed a smattering of images from various anime series, such as: Fate/Stay Night, Blood+, and Ergo Proxy.

I remember my first time attending the Anime Expo in Los Angeles like it was yesterday (in fact it was ten years ago). I was eleven years old, and had just discovered what anime was a few months prior. My experience with the art form was limited to Robotech, Ranma 1/2, and a smattering of other titles I happened upon at the local video rental store. After some begging, I persuaded my mom to take me to LA for the expo (a forty-five minute drive from our house). When we arrived, after I got over the initial excitement of actually being at an anime expo, I realized something...I was the youngest person there by at least seven years. The second youngest person at the expo was at least eighteen, easily topping my eleven.

Fast forward six years - I'm attending my fourth anime expo, and once again I'm standing in the same ridiculously long line, waiting to pay my way in (you'd think by that time I would have figured out to pre-register). My second and third attendances were much like my first, in that I was the youngest person to attend (2nd time: 13 years old, 3rd time: 15 years old). This time I was not. Even more disturbing was that the youngest kid there was probably, at most, eight years old. What happened in the two year time span since my last expo? A few things...for one, Pokemon.

As time has passed, the average age of an otaku has rapidly decreased. In the past it wasn't uncommon for the average to be in the mid to high twenties range, if not even the thirties. Several key events have opened up the fanbase, and rapidly decreased the age of the average otaku down to the teenage level: the advent of highly popular anime TV shows, the influx of manga, and the digitization of fansubs.

Three anime series in particular hit it big on American television: Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, and Pokemon. The third of those shows had the greatest impact of the three. Kids quickly became attached to the "monsters" of the quirky Japanese series. This attachment translated into huge sales success - Pokemon has the distinct pleasure of being the only anime series to ever succeed at the box office (the first movie grossed approximately eighty-five million USD). And as these kids grew up, they found they wanted more of what Pokemon gave them.

Surprisingly, the medium through which the newest generation has found anime is not the television medium, but rather through print: manga. Tokyopop's introduction of the graphic novel on a nationwide scale brought about an amazing transformation. Where there used to be a small section devoted to roleplaying games, American comics and Japanese manga, suddenly there were shelves specifically for Japanese manga. The appeal of manga to teenagers has spawned an entirely new generation of fans, and captivated the interest of girls, who traditionally have been the most opposed to anime. The introduction of yaoi manga in America on a broad scale is evidence of the high numbers of girls now interested and involved in the otaku world.
Finally, there is the digitization of fansubs. This ties into the larger issue of overall digitization throughout the world. Online communication has already become the method of choice for most people, and many people prefer to get their information from online rather than print sources. The distribution of fansubs online has sucked many people into the anime scene, as people reacting to: "hey, free (albeit illegal) stuff," have over time come to love the art form and what it has to offer: appealing and moving stories.

A lot of hardline otaku have condemned the new crop of otaku for many reasons. However, the teenagers and children represent the next generation of otaku who will carry the art form into the next generation, and hopefully bring greater acceptance into the American society at large.


At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So very different from where I'm from. We are the opposite. Otakus are getting older and older. Print (manga) is normally the first means of contact with Japanese stuff since it is readily available everywhere.

Then, as the kids grow up and learn how to download stuff, they upgrade to anime.

The US scene is a bit skewed really because you guys had access to these very late. The only reason why in the past only older people were fans was because they were the only ones with the means to obtain those VHS fansubs, right?

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Exactly - in the US, print manga has only become readily available within the last five years or so.

And yes, the reason many of the fans were older was because they were the only ones with enough money and the means to continuously ship vhs fansubs around the country.


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