On gatekeeping in the anime community

Recently, anime YouTuber The Anime Man tweeted a sentiment that rubbed some people the wrong way…

Before you say “but it’s a joke,” well duh. Yes, this is framed in context of the ever-popular “pics or it didn’t happen” meme. Further, bagging on the elitism of “real anime fans” tracking every series they watch on websites like MyAnimeList and its contemporaries is in itself a running gag to many. But why is this? It’s simple: this is an attitude that is staunchly held by many who see anime fandom as an exclusive club, and The Anime Man’s tweet plays directly into that mentality. It may be intended as a joke but its sentiment of gatekeeping is real and requires discourse.

Now look, I get the mentality of “I was bullied about this and now it’s popular.” I too was bullied in school to a significant extent and for a while after held this same resentful attitude (in many ways it’s even still a kneejerk reaction I have before rationalizing it). Being demonized by others for the things you enjoy understandably makes one develop disdain for the bullies and want a space free from them. However, this is a narrow way of approaching the situation as anime becomes more and more accepted in the pop culture mainstream. Instead of holding a grudge, what if we instead decided to view society’s gradual acceptance of the medium as people finally understanding why we love this art form? People scared to talk about anime publicly may soon find themselves able to open up to others free of stigma. Those who once felt alienated by society could actually have a means through which to feel comfortable striking up a conversation!

It’s important to look at what sparked this whole uproar in the first place. Below are social media posts from Kim Kardashian expressing that she enjoys anime.

My hair inspo

A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

The issue many take with this– as is a common response to celebrities expressing enjoyment about niche mediums– is that Kim is exploiting said niche for her own gain. I’m not here to debate whether or not this is the case because we just don’t know. What I am here to say is that it doesn’t matter. Whether she watches DARLING in the FRANXX or not is irrelevant to why this and other celebrity sentiments like it are a net positive for the anime community. After seeing this tweet and Instagram post, a fan of hers who might’ve once thought “lol anime, it’s for those weird people” may now stop and realize “well someone I admire likes it so maybe it’s not as strange as I thought?” Thus, they’ve just come not only to accept the medium but also the fans of it. It breaks down a barrier that has been stigmatized ever since anime came into popularity in the West. Might they have been tricked into thinking this? Who knows, but does it matter? How they respond to the interests of others is what’s important. (If there’s one beef I have with Kim’s Instagram post, it’s that she didn’t credit the artist!)

Other concerns some hold are that the popularity of anime will lead to the disappearance of the types of series they like and that it’ll be commercialized along the lines of Marvel/DC, Star Wars and the like. Let me hit this latter point first: this is an understandable fear. I myself have a distaste for the commercial culture around those franchises and would probably dislike anime going in that same direction. I’m also not a big fan of Hollywood adaptations of anime films as they often lose the spirit of the source thanks to cultural gaps (something that’s less of a problem with comic book adaptations because the source material was created for Western audiences to begin with). I don’t see this widespread commercialization happening to this extent, though. Said cultural gap will always exist in anime as Japanese ethos is deeply embedded into the art form. For this reason it won’t be quite as popular as the mediums expressing Western values. You’re not going to see Spike Spiegel replacing Captain America at comic conventions.

As for the types of series you enjoy disappearing, this is a fallacy. Just because new types of anime is being made doesn’t mean that it has to replace your favorite genres. It’s worth remembering that as a different culture’s art form, creators will still make it a priority to appeal to its native fans. Japanese otaku won’t simply be abandoned because fandom outside of the country is on the rise. Your slice-of-lifes, your mechas, your art houses, heck even your harems will still exist because the (arguably) most relevant audience remains for it. And new anime fans might even find themselves enjoying niche genres as well! Kim Kardashian picking out DARLING in the FRANXX of all things (for arguments sake, even if just from a visual perspective) is testament to how not only your My Hero Academias and Yuri!!! on ICEs can appeal to outsider audiences. In short, I wouldn’t worry about the anime industry shifting to solely cater to Western values and in fact I’d bet that instead, Western fans will come to appreciate Japanese values instead.

Fresh-faced fans bring new tastes and wants to the table that require creators to innovate. To quote my Shirobako post, “for any artistic medium to stay alive it must constantly be pushing towards new frontiers or else it’ll fall into stagnation.” It’s actually critical that fans and creators of different persuasions enter into the anime space in order for it to continue to evolve. If things never change, what’s interesting now will eventually get stale as recycled ideas become the norm. An influx of fresh ideas means that creators can find new means through which to tell stories. Even if the old guard of the industry doesn’t adapt, young up-and-comers with modern sensibilities will steer the medium in exciting directions. Different can be good if you have an open mind! I once again use Kemono Friends and its kin as an example as I did in that post: a fully-CG series on a shoestring budget was able to garner a massive audience while bucking tradition. We could use more of this.

One last thing I want to touch on in response to The Anime Man’s tweet is MAL elitism. Whether you’re an anime fan or how much you enjoy anime is not measured in how many days you’ve watched. Someone who’s seen only a few series can appreciate them just as much as the person who’s 100 days deep. Having knowledge is by all means a good thing but knowledge is only useful if you’re willing to impart it upon others. I greatly dislike the mentality that one’s extent of fandom is decided by their MAL list (or even need to obsessively track what they watch) because it’s at the core of the gatekeeping that only further alienates anime. Myself, I enjoy the tracking as it’s a critical reference point for me. However, the judgement that comes alongside it is why I keep my list private on principle alone. My appreciation for anime comes through the way I talk about and engage with it, nothing more. Nobody’s had to see my MAL profile to confirm that. The same should go for everyone.

If you’re one who’s wary of outsiders then please know I understand your perspective and my only intent here is to offer another approach for you to consider. Anime is great and I want the world to know that. While there will always be drawbacks that come with popularity, the positives will very likely outweigh them. I think anime is in a particularly good spot for this to be the case given that it’s a foreign art form. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for anime as new ideas enter the arena.

I see this topic as a discussion so please give your own thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

31 thoughts on “On gatekeeping in the anime community

  1. The ‘westernisation of anime’ is something that definitely has me worried, but on the other hand I’d love to see anime grow more popular. People simply becoming aware of what anime is would already greatly benifit all those who have to explain the medium if they decide to bring it up in everyday conversation, which I know I myself am almost always hesitant to do since anime can be quite difficult to grasp for those who have never heard of it, and also because there’s a good chance that if they have heard of it, they view it in a negative way. The stigmatization of anime is a serious issue, one of my friends hates anime with a fiery passion. He’s a big fan of comics, and I’d wager that there are a lot of anime he’d absolutely love if he just gave them a chance. That said, I’m sure my frequent posting of obscene anime memes is not helping the situation. Maybe one day anime will grow large enough for him to accept it, but anime being a niche also has its perks.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I totally agree that there are perks of having the medium not go mainstream, such as a more concentrated analytical dialogue for dedicated communities (I mean, that’s not always the case and won’t cease to be the case but having more people who are disinterested in such discourse may in turn make it harder to come by). But yeah, there are also many positives that can come from the exposure and I think being able to openly talk about it with friends can help said analysis too. Right now, a lot of analysis is coming from people with very like-minded outlooks on the medium and I think new walks of life could shake things up in a positive way.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. This is absolutely true, when I first started watching anime I didn’t try to join discussions on the internet at all, because I felt I was underqualified to do so. I only felt confident enough to start writing after I had watched a fair amount of anime, but the truth is, my opinions from then are still very much the same today. I missed plenty of oppertunities to write about anime that I’d just watched at the time, because I didn’t think I’d fit in yet. The idea that you need to have a full library if you want your opinion to be valid is stupid, and I wish I’d realized that sooner.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There’s so much I haven’t watched too. Sooooo much. But I still feel like that isn’t the qualifier to be able to talk about anime, y’know? Expecting everyone to be an encyclopedia before they open their mouth is unrealistic.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent post. There has always been, in all art forms and their ‘fandoms’, a misconception that the essence of what the fans like somehow can be contaminated by the quality of the fans (what that ‘quality’ even means is in the eye of the beholder). I don’t want to go into more details in a post reply, but I have deeply enjoyed your post and I find myself in agreement with your POV. It may sound a bit zen-bubbly, but we could all benefit from more acceptance and kindness, especially in the anime community.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Elisabeth O'Neill

    I love the friendships and meaningful discussions that grow around anime, and I’m sure the people throwing shade at ‘fake’ fans must feel the same. So I just find it sad that they’re cutting themselves off from new people and new perspectives coming into the fandom because of some sense of superiority. I want to keep meeting new fans and reading new blogs, it’s a part of my life that makes me happy. Shutting down to that is only going to encourage anger, misery and a narrow mind. I know which I’d rather.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Wow, I mustn’t be an anime fan because I don’t have a MAL. That’s kind of plunged me into an existential crisis this morning.

    All joking aside, I think we’ve already seen anime evolve because of new fans. I think a lot of what we are seeing coming out on Netflix with Devilman Crybaby and now B are kind of targeting those newer fans. That said, an expanding fan base is a good thing. The shows older fans have loved are still getting made but now other shows are also finding funding and a service for streaming and are finding fans.
    Besides, being able to talk with people about anime is a joy so the more people there are to talk to about it, the better really.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Perlem has already voiced quite a few thoughts here that I feel very much in-line with, if not, appreciative of for having been mentioned. Nevertheless, I continue…

    It’s good to see people recognizing how absurd *gatekeeping* hobbies is. Not to cast judgment on anyone who engages in such behaviour, as I do sympathize with the view of wanting to keep anime niche and as far away from the mainstream as possible. I don’t wholly agree with this sentiment (as it would be detrimental to the industry), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the days when discovering anime and knowing only a handful of people who were into it; experiencing this weird and wonderful thing (“Japanese animation”) seldom other people seemed to watch or even knew about. But gatekeeping wasn’t a thing in my experience, because it was always exciting finding someone who shared an interest in this strange and peculiar hobby. That’s what made it feel special back in the day.

    That said, I also understand and agree that the medium should be evolving and attracting more people. It’s already become significantly larger in terms of both audience and anime produced each year, and (arguably) more accepted in the past five years or so (though I’m sure people far better than me at following trends and doing research could identify more precisely when the “anime boom” really started). So, anime has come along way since the 90’s/early 2000’s in many regards, most notably and relevant to this discussion, the community size. I welcome it, but with a degree of caution, as inevitably once things reach a certain level of popularity it will be challenged by outsiders who see it as something indecent, unacceptable, or harmful in some way (look back to how music was seen as a bad influence by many, and how video games are being blamed in just the same way).

    Not sure how to conclude this…

    I’m glad you made the effort to shed a light on this point of discussion. If I have anymore thoughts on the matter, I may do my own write-up (though now that I’ve said it, it probably won’t happen).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a teriffic post that genuinely made me rethink my position on the subject, I had the same knee-jerk reaction to Kim Karsashian’s post too (though mostly because I hate Darling in the FranXX). But I can now see why it’s a positive thing for the community.

    As for further “Westernising” of anime on the whole, I don’t see it happening. Yes Hollywood is influential and has lots of money but who but the Japanese are willing to pay $50+ for a blu-ray that contains only two episodes of a show’s season?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. terranceacrow

    The older I get, the more I see these patterns repeat! I remember the uproar when Star Wars made science fantasy movies “cool” (or at least cool-ish). I remember the horror among some X-Men fans when the comic made a successful transition to the big screen.

    Elitism is just a colossal waste of time.

    “I too was bullied in school to a significant extent and for a while after held this same resentful attitude (in many ways it’s even still a kneejerk reaction I have before rationalizing it).” It’s this kind of self-awareness and honesty that enables you to write a post this insightful. I could stand to read more posts like this.

    It’s also a great call to action. Too many of us know how it felt to be bullied. That’s our cue to insist it never happens anywhere we have a say.

    Thanks for writing this!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Like Karandi, I don’t have an MAL. I have issues with how their community runs, which is why I’ve never joined.

    I think it’s the fact that Kim chose a particularly hot-topic anime of the season to call her “inspo” that’s setting people off, since there are lots of anime girls with pink hair that she could’ve chosen. (I don’t use Instagram, so I guess evidence of this being/not being the case would also depend on photo limits given by Instagram posts.)

    In the case of new fans, the people who grew up with the anime boom of the 90s – 2000s are getting older, getting Other Important Priorities and dropping out of the scene, so there’s an inherent need to replenish the fanbase in order to produce demand and fuel the supply.

    Otherwise, I think pretty much everything I’ve wanted to say has been said already, because aside from the other comments, I had a post come out a few weeks ago which does have some overlap with this one. Here’s the link: https://animangaspellbook.wordpress.com/2018/02/27/should-one-have-to-quantify-whether-they-are-an-anime-fan/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just to clarify: I have zero problems with MAL being used as a tool. It’s been incredibly useful as a reference guide for me and I think it’s totally a cool thing that people want to track what they watch. There are also alternatives if something about MAL specifically bugs you (since I don’t engage with any sort of community on there it doesn’t factor in for me). It’s entirely the way that a subset of its users treat it that’s the problem here.

      Also, I’ll give your post a read! Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. When a “celebrity” whose “value” derives from their notoriety (read: “lots of likes on social media”) suddenly praises one of the most controversial shows this season… My default response is to be suspicious.

    That’s not gatekeeping. That (IMO) is a healthy response towards modern reality, which is driven by notoriety and trends-of-the-moment. We, as a community, will not profit from such notoriety. (Anime is already notorious enough. Public opinion will not be improved by watching Darling or three quarters of what hits the screen each season.) We, as a community, will not profit from flash-in-the-pan “fans” that are here this week and gone next. (The effects of Big Business trying to capture and retain those fans will persist far longer than the fans themselves.)

    To me the call for a MAL is not gatekeeping – it’s a symbolic question: “Are you actually one of us? Or are you merely momentarily exploiting us for our reputation?” To me, that’s a fair question.

    As to “they’ll stop making shows I like” and “a medium must evolve”…

    We’re already seeing the effects of a Big Business trying to capture a larger fanbase… of shows being trapped behind an additional set of paywalls (that is having to pay for more services, I.E. Netflix, Amazon (even without Strike), HiDIVE). With Netflix in particular, we’re seeing the utter destruction of the week-by-week culture that is the bedrock of American anime fandom and culture.

    Someone mentioned SF fandom reactions to Star Wars… But they fail to mention the actual effects. Take it from one who lived across the divide – there have been effects, and they haven’t all been positive. For instance, SF fans (fans of a medium/genre) have largely been replaced by Star Wars (or Star Trek) fans (fans of a franchise). When something new comes along, it isn’t measured by it’s intrinsic worth – but by comparison to existing extruded plastic corporate products.

    SF publishing has gone from a broad variety of stories to a business narrowly focused on blockbusters, franchises, and sequels. So have other genres to be fair – but it hit SF earlier and harder.

    Today, SF as a business is exponentially larger than it was before Star Wars and reaches an incredible number of people – but those hundreds of interesting and different mom-n-pop places have been replaced by tens of thousands of McDonald’s. The evolution of SF as a genre has largely been halted in it’s tracks… replaced by the quarterly profit statement.

    I am quite aware that anime is a business as well… But anime is largely built on the LN and manga markets. These are cheaper and easier to produce, and serve as fertile and constant breeding grounds for new ideas (as well as recycling older ideas endlessly). Western media largely inverts this – it’s built on the expensive products (TV and movies) driving the sales of tie in materials and fan capture by franchise creation. Anime is driven by the production committee, large groups making a large number of small bets. Western media is driven by the individual investor putting all their money on a single turn of the cards. Anime is driven by the quarterly cycle (with deleterious effects on those on the bottom of chain). Western media is driven by the annual small screen cycle and the bi-annual summer-and-holiday-blockbuster big screen cycle. All of these things lead to deep difference in the kinds of productions that see the light of day.

    We accept shows like Shirobako and Sound Euphonium as par for the course, practically every season brings something surprising and new. Western media does not value the surprising and new. Western media values predictable and profitable. There’s a reason why increasing numbers of people are cord-cutting and questioning the bean counter driver “Hollywood Blockbuster Formula”. A huge part of why anime is increasing in popularity (aside from increased availability thanks to streaming, legal and not) is that it’s *different*. That difference will not long survive with modern western media behemoths in the driver’s seat and gatekeeping what will be accessible to the mass market.

    When it comes to gatekeeping, I’m not bothered by folks like @TheAn1meMan. Every community has their like, and in actuality they have very little effect on the larger market or public perception thereof. When it comes to gatekeeping, I’m far more worried about corporate boardrooms and accountants bent over their profit-and-loss statements.

    Far more people subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video than to Crunchyroll – and those behemoths will shape what the mass markets views as “being anime”. We as a community should be very careful what we wish for – because we just might get it.

    (Jeez. I should have just made this an entry on my own blog… Might yet now that I think about it.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. terranceacrow

      “But they fail to mention the actual effects. Take it from one who lived across the divide – there have been effects, and they haven’t all been positive.”

      I didn’t mention it because to do so would be to condone the tendency I was speaking against. Positive and negative? Bit subjective, I think. The community watching these movies changed. I may like it or not, but unless the changes involved objective wrongs (racism, inciting violence, misogyny, and the like) can I really claim that it’s positive or negative — without trying myself to become, in a sense, a gate keeper?

      Like

      1. “Positive and negative? Bit subjective”

        Certainly there’s subjective parts, and there’s also objective parts. But neither changes the underlying nature of the event – that there were massive changes wrought by the entrance of bog business into the community. (Which changes you seemed to be dismissive of, my apologies if that wasn’t what you meant.) There were changes to the genre and how it’s marketed. There were changes in the nature of fandom. There are _always_ changes when a niche goes mainstream. It can irrevocably change the nature of a fandom, as Star Wars did with SF. It can essentially kill entire fandoms, as happened subsequent to the comics explosion (and subsequent implosion) of the 1990’s. (Current fandom is movie fandom, not comic fandom – which is neither good nor bad, only different.) Bad business decisions on the part of the comics industry isn’t the only reason why comics aren’t available practically anywhere anymore.

        Discussing those changes isn’t gatekeeping. Dismissing individuals because of those changes *is* gatekeeping. I tried mightily to keep my discussion of fandom to reactions to changes in the commercial landscape without judging the fans for events largely beyond their control – if I failed to convey that, maxima mea culpa and my apologies.

        Though for all practical purposes, you can’t discuss a fan community without “gatekeeping” to an extent. If you don’t follow sports, you’re not a sports fan. If you don’t follow football but do follow baseball, you’re not a football fan you’re a baseball fan. Defining the differences between communities and sub communities is neither gatekeeping nor intrinsically bad so long as you don’t use them to judge individuals. It’s the foundation for meaningful discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Nyard

    I would sure like to see your MAL though, just for understanding your perspective more by watching all of your favorites.
    Thats the reason I urged all my friends I talk about anime with to join MAL. I am obsessed with the opposite idea of gatekeeping: recommendation and “getting someone into it” by carefully selecting content for people according to their current taste in order to ease them into the medium.

    Every MAL profile of a blogger, YouTube analysis channel or celebrity or whatever that I find is helpful research so I can broaden my taste and my general understanding of taste.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How about I just give you a few series I love that I think represent me well? Evangelion, Bebop, Non Non Biyori, Shirobako, and Lain. For something more recent, Girls’ Last Tour meant a lot to me.

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      1. Nyard

        Thanks! That for sure is better than not knowing at all. 😀 – To be honest handpicked shows are of course superior to just going by scores given on MAL by that person. Its just that going to MAL and reading the favorites of someone can be a much more passive process, that would not necessarily involve asking a person who might not answer (depending on how big the blog/channel is).

        Non Non Biyori, now thats something I haven’t heard about yet at all. Which intrigues me even more! 😀 Will watch it soon.

        Liked by 1 person

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  13. This was an interesting read. I don’t have a whole lot of insight to add to the conversation as a newcomer to the anime community myself, but I can definitely see where Joey was coming from in that tweet. It’s just like when someone says they’re a fan of a band but they only know the singles.

    Like

  14. Wonderful post dear ☺️☺️ I get where Joey is coming from. Some people even cosplay a character and have never watched the anime or don’t even like anime haha, and there are those who claim to be anime fans but stick to liking only a few (or even one) of the mainstream anime x x

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  15. I don’t really see anime becoming that different for now. Japanese otaku’s pockets are simply too deep. That said more and more anime is being animated outside Japan because it is cheaper I wonder if that will change anything so long as the target audience remains in Japan. We must also not forget manga and light novels which are cheaper to make. A lot of anime is basically advertising with “read the sauce” endings.

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  17. This just prooves we all need to stick together a lot of anime fans were bullied so we should not turn this anime community which was originall about escapism to turn into a riot we need to restore peace and enjoy and respect woman and cosplayers.

    Like

  18. Adam

    I’ve mostly used MAL as a tool to track which chapter I’m up to with ongoing manga series. I generally find it a hassle and seldom update my page, and I’ve never tracked what anime I’ve watched with it. I certainly have not seen as many shows as more hardcore enthusiasts, as I typically watch two or three different anime a year these days (mostly just series I think I’ll like, or sequels to series I liked). Gatekeeping in general is fairly stupid. I’m not above feeling superior to newcomers, I admit (oh, you like the One Punch Man anime? I’ve liked the series for years since it was just a webcomic! My passion is much stronger than yours!), but I’ll never begrudge people for enjoying the same series or media that I do, since it means creators I like will get more well-deserved money.

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