To state the obvious, I haven’t been blogging lately. Trouble at work, too many projects, and a nasty cough have all contributed. But an experience I had on Sunday reminded me one of the reasons I make my voice heard in our community.
Yesterday, I spent three hours with a local meetup group called Quirkster Kids, a group of “quirky, unique individuals” from age 7-16 and their parents. A lot of the kids are interested in anime and manga, so the organizer invited me to present on the many ways I’ve tied my passion for anime to my career—a topic I am super enthusiastic about.
I spent three hours with the group during which we discussed the kids’ favorite anime, the creative and interpersonal skills they are picking up by participating in anime fandom, and watched and reviewed two anime clips as a group (I asked Twitter for help but ended up picking five-minute snippets from Saturday’s Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto and Flying Witch. I had no idea which shows the kids had already watched, and I wanted to show them new stuff). I was really impressed to discover that the kids were already benefiting hugely from anime—from drawing their own fanart and writing fanfiction to founding anime clubs at school.
When I came home, I knew I needed to return to Otaku Journalist.
As a young anime fan, I benefited hugely from older role models. At twelve, I idolized my best friend’s older sister, who was hugely confident in her anime fan identity the way I wasn’t. In college, I was able to feel safe at anime conventions because of the older fans who volunteered to organize and run them. Now that I’m an established, even professional anime fan, I’m in a position to help younger fans the way older fans helped me.
During my visit, these were the main takeaways that I realized I want younger fans to experience in anime fandom today.
Anime helps “outsider” kids belong
If you’re an anime fan, that probably means that on some level, American shows on TV didn’t resonate with you. Just like Justin observed in his Why do people love anime? post, anime helps people express their individuality when they don’t feel like they belong anywhere else.
It didn’t surprise me that the Quirkster Kids group, which is designed for kids who are a little different, whether gifted or shy or on the spectrum, had a lot of love for anime. Not only is anime supremely different from anything else out there to watch, but it’s also a great community for people who march to their own beat. Since it’s a fairly niche interest, fans are accepting of each other’s differences while embracing that one commonality.
Anime can be a unifying force. Cartoons are considered stuff for kids, but the complex stories and detailed art styles of many anime are definitely aimed at older kids, teens and adults. It was fantastic to be in a room full of so many different people of all ages who all had this one thing in common. Even if you’re one of the few people at school/work who likes anime, it’s hard not to feel like you belong in a room full of passionate fans.
The primary reason I enthusiastically agreed to give this presentation was because I was told the kids’ parents would be there, and said parents were a little confused about their children’s passion for anime. I was almost more enthused to talk to the parents!
I wish there had been someone like me to talk to my parents when I was a kid. My parents were sometimes confused, sometimes a little terrified by my spiraling anime obsession. I think they were worried I was going to become a social pariah. Anime conventions were absolutely forbidden for being too dangerous, so I didn’t attend one until college.
It was immensely satisfying to be able to dispel these myths. No, your anime fan kid won’t be a loner or a weirdo. In fact, they might make lifelong friends (I’m still close with my anime fan friends from high school) or learn valuable professional skills that help them in their careers later on! And, with a chaperone, anime conventions are perfectly age appropriate.
Of course, you might cut my parents some slack if you knew just what an awkward young anime fan I was. I wanted to tell everyone about my passions, whether they were interested or not. And in my own way, I wanted to be “cool,” by showing people I only read subtitled anime, and absolutely never watched dubs—effectively putting down the many people who watch dubs for any number of reasons, including being dyslexic or blind.
So when I talked to the group, I wanted to save them from this kind of behavior before it began. During a particularly heated discussion about whether Yokai Watch and Digimon are just cheap rip-offs of Pokémon, we ended up entering the territory of which anime is “bad” and “good,” and even which anime is legitimate or fake, like for example, American shows that mimic anime style, like Legend of Korra, but definitely aren’t made in Japan.
“I think it’s fantastic that American shows are acknowledging and borrowing from anime,” I said. I pointed out that people who like shows similar to the ones we like basically like the same things we do, and instead of snubbing them we should welcome them as fellow fans.
Our anime community is always growing. There have always been anime fans old enough to be my parents, but now (it’s hard to admit!) there are fans young enough to be my children, too. In a time when the Internet can be toxic and other subcultures (gaming, especially) can be unsavory, it’s always relevant to think about how we can keep anime fandom a welcoming place for everybody. I’ll do my part by teaching, speaking, and blogging as helpfully as I can.