Surrounded by a bunch of neckbeards
The ideas of subculture and pop culture are wide and multilayered. What is “anime”? What counts as “anime”? And numerous other questions rise as the years go by. Tonight, the Inverseman shall investigate.
Last week, yours truly attended Otakon 2014, it was a grand old time. During the con, a curious query came up, “I don’t get it, a Disney cosplay gathering? Isn’t this an anime convention?” Yes indeed it is, and it’s something more of us invested take for granted. In a single anime convention, you see not “just anime” but video games, Western animation, Western comics, and even live action. There’s actually a cornucopia of different mediums of entertainment all jammed into one hall for a weekend and contrary to the old goat who remembers when “comic book cons weren’t full of weeaboos,” it’s a perfectly normal phenomenon.
To understand the present we must first understand the past, and to understand anime, we must understand animation and entertainment in the West where it all began. Needless to say, animation and comics were very intertwined from Mickey Mouse to Superman. It only made sense that people wanted to enjoy the escapades of their favorite cartoon characters even off the silver screen, and the comic was the perfect medium to deliver those visual gags of anvils and onomatopoeia much better than say a printed novel or a radio drama could. Later on, as comics gained popularity, people wanted to see their favorite comic heroes on the big screen so an animated series was the logical way to make a “motion comic.”
As time went on, more ways to play and entertain sprung up. Video games began rising in the 80s, as well as boons in all types of fantasy and fiction. New forms of entertainment were being conceived and the generations that enjoyed them were being exposed to all of them at once. If you liked comics, chances are you liked cartoons. If you liked tabletop RPGs, there was a decent probability you enjoyed Magic the Gathering and so forth.
Now here’s where Japan comes in. While anime and manga came pretty linked, other new innovations came out of Japan, such as the visual novel. Based on “choose your own adventure” books, this digital medium often incorporated drawn art like that of anime and catered to many of the demographics of people that enjoyed anime, even though by all technicality it was not anime. The same would come with the light novel boon around the mid-2000s. Meanwhile in the West, media mixes more and more. Just look at Marvel, where animation, comics, and live action all meld together from a single unified “cinematic canon.” Nothing is “just movies” or “just comics” anymore, ideas and mediums are blending. So many things that were “not comics” and “not anime” were being brought under the umbrella, and most of these “non-anime” ended up getting an anime adaptation, blurring the lines even further.
Cosplay, something that originated in American scene, exploded in Japan and became inextricably linked with nerd culture, much to the point where it co-evolved into its own thing, even with people making a business out of it. Does this “count” as part of being an anime fan? With the passion and dedication that goes into every stitch down to the last detail from every reference picture possible, I’d say wholeheartedly yes. Not only has the definition of “what is anime” been expanding but also the forms of passion, dedication, and fandom, if you will, have been expanding and taking on new forms.
Humans have a long history of “fandom,” of reverence. In fact some of our greatest pieces have come from the inspiration of others. Sonorous hymns, majestic paintings, and timeless plays have all come from being a fan of something or someone. Centuries later, things have actually changed little, but access has increased. These days, not only do we have people representing their appreciation for art by discussion but also through art of their own (doujinshi, cosplay, etc). With the advent of the internet, word spreads of a hot new doujin circle’s newest arrangement or which Pixiv artists are coming out with an amazing artbook at the next Comiket, and therein lies the killer app.
The final piece to this puzzle is the gradual convergence of all things. As the internet became more advanced, people with similar hobbies and passions would gather and collaborate to show their appreciation for the arts they loved. At first there were many fansites for certain series and works, but as time went on and social media became more centralized, ideas converged. If you were a fan of X, you were probably a fan of Y, and if you weren’t, you’d probably would run into someone who was on a site like 4Chan, Reddit, Tumblr, and so on. No longer were we hopping island to island from one dedicated forum or IRC chat to another, but ideas were being exchanged at a rapid rate among the young ones. With each exchange definitions broaden and methods of manifesting one’s passions became more varied, making the individual patches of geekdom a more cohesive tapestry.
Ultimately as people connect and people expand and share more ideas, our working definitions of “what counts” keeps expanding and growing. I for one am excited to see what comes next in our global connected society. Join me next time when I snort ground up paper.
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