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.
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!