This may be a bit of an odd post. I have written before on the subject of Gatekeeping in the anime community. In very broad terms, I’m one of those people that are in support of anime becoming as popular as possible and I just don’t really see any reason to get down on people for their tastes.

Not too long ago, I reposted an article I had written for 100 Word Anime evocatively called Are Otaku the Worst? Originally that post got a very tame reaction on Karandi’s site. People were polite or amused but no one got particularly emotional about it. It got a bit more heated when I republished it here though. Nothing bad, people just had a bit more feelings this time around.

the feelings, they are bursting out of me!

One of the last comments I got on that post was from Paulo. I don’t believe Paulo has ever commented before so I don’t know them very well. This is what they had to say:

Aggressive gatekeeping is a necessity to protect any niche in this age of instant accessibility. Should the human wave that crowds the gym in January decide the future of the business rather than the regulars who stick with it all year round? Should the basics of grammar and spelling be changed to accommodate the errors of the illiterate masses?

Anime is a hobby with a big turnover of teenagers who dabble in it for a few short years before moving on and casuals who are only ever interested in a couple of shows. It’s the core otaku who have been responsible for keeping anime alive and relatively unchanged for decades, and they are the ones who will remain after the casual viewer has forgotten all about that Japanese cartoon they used to watch during college.

Anime otaku don’t live in a bubble, either. They can see what’s happened to other niche hobbies all around them due to casualization and the actions of certain lobbies, and no one wants their hobby to be the next one to fall.

Oh, and one final note: anime youtubers can go suck a fat donkey dick, the whole cancerous lot.

this is my only image for people speaking – I should find a better one

I’m not sure what exactly the argument is but I believe it may be a free-market argument. I.e. that the audience is the otaku who stick around and watch consistently and not those that watch only one or two shows. Therefore, if the industry wants to keep its audience, then it should cater to those long-standing fans rather than the new ones.

Like I said, this is only my reading. And it’s an argument I’ve seen a lot. Of course, I’ve often seen it made by people who also lamented the disappearance of anime pirating sites so I’m not sure the integrity of the market was really the first concern.

But that’s a bad faith argument on my part. First, just because a few individuals on one side of an issue don’t in fact act according to their arguments, doesn’t mean all those who argue in that vein are the same. Second, even if every single person who made a specific argument made it in bad faith, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The logic or validity of the argument isn’t tied to the person making it.

I just reread that paragraph while editing and gave myself a headache…

So I was being a bit of a dumb douche. However, that’s my excuse for never really thinking about this argument too seriously. I would like to do so today.

Let me just say, I’m not saying that Paulo is one of those people who support piracy at all. I don’t know Paulo other than their support for gatekeeping. I have a feeling they’re not a huge fan of anime youtubers.

To address the specific examples though, I would say that English grammar (and most languages) does change to accommodate the masses. Slowly but very definitely. In fact, that’s pretty much the entire basis of French as a language. There is no gatekeeping in languages that include the words: googled or youtuber.

As for the free-market arguments, I think the gym example works against it. Most gyms make the majority of their revenue from those spontaneous resolution seekers that sign up in January and go for about two weeks. I understand that it seems foolish to cater your services towards clients that are not there to enjoy them. However, they do need to hook them, whatever else the gym decides to do for the rest of the year. And if their established client base scares off any potential new customers and manages to severely reduce that new year’s influx, that particular gym is likely to go out of business.

I would go to this gym… well no but I would watch it from outside

Personally, I’m not all that worried about the free market optics. Anime as an industry is (along with video games) the entertainment industry that has seen the most impressive growth in the past decade. I read that it doubled in the last 5 years. Doubled! And the numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Now the industry itself does have a number of major issues. The dearth of new talent and unreasonable working conditions to name just two. But from all I have read, the problems in the industry have much more to do with the ingrained work culture and worth perception, than with the ability to attract and retain audiences.

And there is no denying that a big contributor to the industry’s explosive growth is the sudden availability and accessibility to huge libraries of anime to a much wider audience. So like the opposite of gatekeeping.

One side note, I’m not sure how old Paulo is but anime has changed sooooo much since I started watching it. You can clearly see the trends and fashions according to the era in which a show was made. So many tropes have risen and so many others have bit the dust. When was the last time I saw a season that was 90% mecha, a shoujo entirely from the shy unassuming heroine’s PoV and a remake of a classic European novel? It’s been a while. But that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s great that anime can adapt, evolve and get better with time.

If I have an excuse to post anime dinosaurs…

So this is where I’m at. I don’t think restricting the consumer base for anime is likely to help the industry that much. I also think that it’s been doing a great job, specifically in these last 5 years, at increasing its market shares so it should keep doing whatever it was doing. And there’s the silly logistics of gatekeeping. When are you a “real” fan? Is it a matter of time? The number of anime, episodes, type of anime???

But there is one argument I can make for gatekeeping. And I don’t know if it’s what Paulo was feeling as well. I picked up and kept up with anime because it offered me something I could not find in other media. In general. If anime starts to cater to the same audiences that were enjoying the media I was not, it might change to become more like that media. It might lose those weird unique little aspects that I love. And that would suck. Like a lot. I don’t want that to happen.

But the thing is, anime doesn’t have to create shows that I like. It doesn’t owe me anything. In fact, it’s probably the other way around. It has been entertaining me for decades now and my life is definitely more fun because of it.

perfect party!

I wrote before how the smaller audiences for anime created a lack of oversight and why that’s great for me. My favourite anime are for the most part not that popular. It’s not a big deal when that means a show making 10$ instead of 15$ (imaginary numbers) in a small market with an unfocused audience. It becomes a much bigger deal when the difference is 10$ to 100 000$. That’s how markets get more homogenized and in my opinion, much less interesting. So keeping the market smaller through gatekeeping could be good.

However, I’m not basing this on anything concrete. It’s a feeling I have. I would say, look at Hollywood but let’s be honest, I haven’t really seen a big Hollywood movie in years so what the heck do I know. Not that long ago they gave an Oscar to a movie about a lady falling in love with a fish monster. So it seems the mainstream also likes some kinky stuff.

Basically, I think I have odd tastes when I look at MAL numbers but I probably am not that special. In all probability, there are enough people out there with the exact same type of weird as me to make it worth creating some anime for us. And I also think that as the industry grows it will get better equipped to create specialized programming to suit specific fan bases.

there’s a reason for this!

I also mentioned video games as the other entertainment industry that has grown a lot lately. In similar ways as the anime industry but even more casualized. And yet, all sorts of games are still available and still get made regularly. It has not homogenized the market at all. In fact, indie games are more varied and more readily available than ever. You just have to bother actually playing them. I’m hoping that’s an indication that anime will eventually become easier to make and thereby open up a lot of possibilities.

So how does any of this change my views on Gatekeeping? Well, I still don’t think gatekeeping in anime is that great a practice. After more careful thought, I fear it could even reduce the potential customer base which would hurt the industry I love. But I also don’t want all anime to become romantic comedies with cute girls and isekais. Those are the most popular genres of 2020 apparently. Losing weirdo titles like World Conquest Zvezda would in fact make me very sad. So I get it.

I sympathize with people who are scared that anime will change into something they don’t like. And I don’t know how to make sure that won’t happen. All I know is that anime has changed a lot throughout the years and I have also changed, yet we still like each other. So I’m going to have faith. When you’ve watched anime for a long enough time, you start to realize that every year has bad or boring seasons and occasionally there are bad or boring anime years. That the same old controversies will come up in slightly different get-ups every 6 months to two years. And that anime will slowly change and evolve and try new things throughout all of it, regardless. And maybe a time will come when it’s no longer my thing. It will be someone else’s though and that’s fine.

then again, sometimes keeping people from gates is for their own good….

30 thoughts

  1. As someone who tends to like niche things and knows how toxic the Internet is, I can see both sides of the coin. I usually want the stuff I like to become more popular, but at the same time, it seems that popularity is proportional to toxic fandom. To use a music example, all the Facebook comments that Iron Maiden gets are really rude and demand a new album even though the band has been active for forty+ years and has an extensive library as it is, while a newer, unknown band like Eleine (a Swedish symphonic metal band I like) doesn’t seem to get rude replies on their Facebook posts whatsoever. So yeah, there are pros and cons to popularity (P.S. make sure you watch Vladlove because the OP is being done by the best metal band in Japan).

    1. I understand what you mean but since I’m not active in any fandoms and don’t really look for them, I haven’t experienced anything like that yet

          1. I use Facebook because you can control what you see, even if it means you have to dig through a lot of menus. I like a lot of bands Facebook pages, and I’m able to look for news about them without having to see any posts by general people I follow.

  2. Interesting. I still don’t care for gatekeeping either, though I’m kinda viewing this through the lens of a different industry.

    To explain my thoughts here, I worked in all parts of shows during the ten years I was active in pro wrestling. I wrestled, I was an on screen manager, I was a referee, I ran merch stalls, I booked events, I acted as a road agent and a trainer, I did advertising and negotiating with venues. In short, I saw it from all ends. One thing was consistent though: casual fans are important.

    When it comes to entertianment, hardcore fans will tend to watch anyway. Sure, you can put something so bad out that they won’t necesarily come back to you specifically, but they won’t tend to turn against the product as a whole. The casual market is what brings in the extra money because, by nature, hardcore fans tend to be smaller in number than the potential number of casuals available.

    When it came to wrestling, we worked to put on the best wrestling events we could, but paid attention to trends too as a way to see what would draw in extra people. For me, that meant when running shows, I had specific people that I placed on posters above others because they had a look that would not onyl fit the modern aesthetic, but also grab the attention and make non-hardcore fans think ‘Oh, wresting, cool.’

    Anime is, I think, the same. Hardcore fans will always been catered for, but you simply have to keep an on expanding your audience, even if it’s a temporary expansion, because that’s how you survive. Even more so in industries that are oversaturated.

    Anime ahs changed a lot over time. The character designs, the aniamtion techniques and quality, the types of story that are focussed on at any given time… I mean, when i started watching it was via VHS tapes of Akira, Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star etc. They are way different to the stuff I’ve seen more recently. And that’s not a bad thing.

    The thing is, I could understand gatekeeping in terms of ‘person x is a convicted [insert terrible crime type] so shouldn’t be allowed at [insert fandom name] conventions.’ That’s a safety thing. When it comes to the actual popularity of the medium though? I don’t see a point in it. Hobbies that were once shunned by the masses don’t have to stay as niche forever. They’ll go through cycles of popularity and that’s fine. Let people enjoy their entertainment. If that makes something we like even more popular? That just means more people that can appreciate our love of it.

  3. “Should the human wave that crowds the gym in January decide the future of the business”

    In short, yes. There isn’t any other option. I’m going to say that gate-keeping is an exercise in futility.

    Anime is a business and will always go where the market is. Complaining about the masses is as useful as trying to stop the incoming tide with name calling. The market has hit a tipping point/critical mass and it ain’t a goin’ back. Even though the newcomers are where the real money is made, there will always be niches for old timers.

  4. Casuals will come and go by themselves so there is no need to worry about them. That’s why they are called causals after all. If they stay they will be assimilated into us once they watch enough animu.

  5. “It’s the core otaku who have been responsible for keeping anime alive and relatively unchanged for decades, and they are the ones who will remain after the casual viewer has forgotten all about that Japanese cartoon they used to watch during college.”

    I can’t say for past but now it is not true.

    Nowadays Anime target all range of audience with wide variety of genre and no anime fan watches all anime that airs every season(and why should one even do?)

    Almost everyone can find his/her taste in Anime(if try to find)

    While Anime industry keep growing overall but in Japan(core otaku ) picture is reverse. Anime BD/DVD sales and TV broadcast in Japan is decreasing every year(main source of income in in Japan). These casual new watchers are the ones who are contributing in Anime industry growth.
    Of course not every new watcher will going to stick around but many will(stats prove it) . And even those who decide to ride for a while did their contribution and may end up baiting someone else in anime community.

    A “real” anime fan should always warmly welcome a non-anime(don’t force anyone) with open arms. It’s always feels great when someone else find it entertaining what you enjoy.

    No market will stay forever with a bounded range of consumers.

    I’m also afraid that this growing market with new consumers will shape anime industry (probably not in best possible way)
    But hopefully, as long as Japanese manga & culture is alive, our familiar anime will be there along with evolved one.

    1. II think we’ll come out even. Like some things will be for the worse in some viewer’s eyes but others will be an improvement. But I hope for a small net positive at the end of the day.

  6. “But there is one argument I can make for gatekeeping. And I don’t know if it’s what Paulo was feeling as well. I picked up and kept up with anime because it offered me something I could not find in other media. In general. If anime starts to cater to the same audiences that were enjoying the media I was not, it might change to become more like that media. It might lose those weird unique little aspects that I love. And that would suck. Like a lot. I don’t want that to happen.”

    This, absolutely. This is the one time I feel that “gatekeeping” (if you really want to call it that) is acceptable — basically telling outsiders not to mess with anime for their own purposes.

    And by outsiders I don’t even mean casual fans, however they would be defined, but the small group of agitators who dig through anime, games, and other media trying to find something, anything, to get offended over. The types who would have all our favorite anime series (and games, manga, etc.) cleaned up and made “respectable” to suit their own views, and who take to Twitter and YouTube making sensationalist tweets and videos about how such and such is degenerate. Speaking against those efforts really shouldn’t even be seen as gatekeeping in my opinion, unless you’re using a very broad definition of the term.

    I just feel people should be left to like what they like without interference. I don’t care if an anime watcher or gamer is “hardcore” or “casual” or any of that. We’ll always have the niche stuff we like that goes mostly unnoticed, and that’s fine too.

    1. I completely agree. Mind you I’m not sure what type of influence they would have.

      The two anime that come to mind that to me most drastically represent both western and feminist influence in anime are Watamote and most of all Recovery of an MMO Junkie. And I like them both.

  7. Paulo: “They can see what’s happened to other niche hobbies all around them due to casualization and the actions of certain lobbies,”

    I don’t see the relationship between casual viewers who might, if their interests are nurtured, turn into a long term fans, and the lobbies who attempt to impose their will on an industry.

    I’m not sure those are even the same people, or what the intersect is. Seems to me that the danger comes not from casual fans, but from special interest groups/lobbies.

    “I sympathize with people who are scared that anime will change into something they don’t like. ”

    I try to, too, but I wonder if the question should be how to be more brave rather than to remove the source of fear?

    I think the key is in making new fans feel welcome and encourage them to experiment. Suggest they watch “World Conquest Zvezda” or “Aria” or “Kyousougiga.” Get them hooked and turn them into fans.

    BEFORE lobbies recruit them and make them feel more welcome.

    It’s all about building communities. In our case, it’s about showing people that almost whatever their interests, from “High School DxD” to “My Hero Academia,” anime likely has something to capture their imaginations. Sure, going on a rant about the fanservice in “High School of the Dead” is fun and might earn a YouTuber lots of views. But in the long run, it’s more fun to seek out new, varied series. The former is subject to the law of diminishing returns; the latter satisfies human curiosity.

    You’ve give me a lot to think about with this post. I’m going to be processing this for awhile…

    1. You ae more than welcome to make a response post. This comment was already great and I would love to read more. Especially on which lobbies you think could interfere and how. The MPA already has its say, it always did on the legally distributed stuff as far as I know.

  8. Anime is in intersection of many things, at one hand it’s an art form and comes from a certain cultural background and ever-changing traditions in said form, but it’s also an industry and dependent on money. The same discussion is going on in the ‘world literature’ domain where at one hand you have globalization and some feelings and issues that most people ponder on, and at the other you may be losing cultural background, language and specifics that may not be as relatable to the rest of the world. We also have to add Westernization into the equation.

    I agree on what you say, especially on being afraid of losing something that we spend a lot of time, energy, money on and have found a place to belong. However, it’s such a diverse and wide area that I’m sure we’ll never run out of the ‘original’ works. Change in trends may be hard to adapt but it’s not so bad I guess ~

    1. Like I’ve said, I’ve already seen anime change so much and for the most part, it’s been for the better as far as I’m concerned. More variety, more risks, better production…

  9. I think poor Paulo is suffering from a classic case of “extremely online”, like so many of us suffer through, especially right now.

    With niche media fandom, we all search for connections. It’s a part of human nation. I was looking making my way through all sorts of inappropriate fanart to talk about Gundam Wing twenty years ago. The good, bad, ugly of anime conventions, and yes…youtube.

    Unless you’re a complete and total misanthrope, I’ve always believed the biggest joy is finding people who love something just as much as you do, even if they don’t love it EXACTLY the same way as you. The only positive to gatekeeping is a sense of self-superiority, and all that does is turn you into the stereotypical anime otaku that nobody even wants to be around anyway. And then what will you do?

    Either that, or Paolo is just a troll who found your blog and wanted to be a jerk.

    1. You know I think were all suffering form a little online sickness and a lot of 2020 sickness… Can’t blame anyone for getting a bit edgy

  10. I think the person making this argument is missing the fact that most of the time, it’s the mainstream stuff that brings in people enough for them to become dedicated fans and check out the obscure stuff. Most people are casual fans, that’s true, but even the hardcore otaku don’t get that way overnight. If you ask most of them what the first anime they watched is (or the first one they really enjoyed) they’ll probably say something super popular like Pokémon, DBZ, Attack on Titan etc. So IMO, it’s pretty hypocritical for people to then turn around and say newer casual fans can’t be a part of the community for liking, more or less, the same things they did when they started.

    I do worry about anime’s mainstream success causing some problems, such as an over-saturation of mediocre shows or big corporations buying up all the good indie studios. That’s what happened with Hollywood: 10-20 years ago, there were a lot more great indie movies, but then Disney and other huge corporations snatched up indie studios and directors left and right, and now there are pretty much no good indie or even medium budget movies coming out anymore. But that’s not really an issue with anime as much as it is with, uh, capitalism.

    Anime youtubers can be kind of snooty and annoying sometimes, but there’s a lot of good ones out there! I prefer the more niche, in depth ones, rather than the guys just trying to get clicks and hot takes.

    1. I’m afraid I’m completely uneducated when it comes to anime youtubers. And I agree capitalism does have it’s drawbacks and it cold become a genuine concern. This said there are a lot of amazing indie films made in the US and now that filming is cheaper than it has ever been and distribution can be accessible to most through the internet, their are a lot of possibilities for the lone filmmaker that were never there before. Heck even the doomed (and sorta dumb) quibi project had that amazing series with Anna Kendrick becoming friends with her boyfriend’s sex doll… It was so weird and that was a mainstream Hollywood project accessible to all that even I heard about and I don’t go looking for that stuff at all. By the very nature of anime production it will probably never be light and streamlined enough to be accessible to all but I do think that the industry has room to grow and injecting more funds into it might not be all bad. I could be wrong but I’m hopeful.

  11. So much yes to almost everything you said..

    I have already told you once I also fear anime becoming a bit more generic due to catering to mass media.. however since then I have come to realise that it’s unlikely that we will get less anime we may like in whatever niche.. it’s more likely to happen that we will just get extra anime. So I might have to look harder for my new Kyousougiga.. but it will be there as well. It might be hard to find a hugging pillow for a niche character because all shelf space is “wasted” on Kirito stuff or Midoriya.

    But there is always online, there is always that Etsy store. In a similar vein their will always be a Gainax Anime, or trippy Trigger visuals one they might just be hidden deeper down the pile of anime. I think.. the more people watch anime.. the more anime the more anime the bigger the chance there will be something for me… Plus even in a weak year I think even the biggest anime fan has huge mountain of older material to pull from..

    Gatekeeping.. I think leads to the following.. “Right now Anime is Anime… but if people like Pablo have their way we get labels like “fake” anime and “real” anime. If he succeeds.. in creating the split.. and split the niche up in flavours.. all we will get is stuff like “Fake Anime like Naruto made millions in sales of games and figure ” Real Anime” like Natsume has much lower sales.. we should focus on “fake” anime. So honestly I think people like Pablo are more inclined to destroy what he loves than the people who include people.. because in the end. .anime is still about sales.. diversify your niche to much and people will see thats not where the money is at.

    I agree with you that anime evolves and it should. If we would get the exact same stuff we would get 10 years ago.. would we really linger this long? Sure there will be a period where we might like things less. that doesn’t make thing less worth it or less real. The industrie has to make money and be healthy so we can enjoy it for years to come.. it doesn’t have to cater to you specifically .. like you said no one owns anime.. no matter how much they spend on it.

    Also I do not think Pablo is a very smart man, if he prefers a certain Niche the one that can keep that Niche alive is the YouTube or Twich community! That is a place where people can gather and people can see… “Well look at Irina’s YouTube Channel.. she has a million followers.. I guess People do Care about Natsume.. let’s make 10 seasons and a movie.. and make some combini prizes for it as well”

    Fighting to for a Niche is fine.. show people you won’t just except Super Hero Shonen.. show we want something else as well.. but Gatekeeping I still think will destroy the smaller niches in anime.. as long as it’s succesful so Pablo.. I do not think you could be more wrong.. I respect your view.. but I think you will do more harm to anime, than a random Naruto fanboy

    1. I’m always amazed by people who don’t think anime has changed or who don’t think it’s mainstream. It’s the second biggest film industry in the entire world. It’s enormous and already super popular. I’m not sure how one would even gatekeep at this point.

      1. Calling someome a Gatkeeper is cool term for a person who doesnt want connections in the awesome community

        Like the Seto Kaiba of anime fans, we all know he kind of wants to be bro’s with Joey but he doesn’t know how .. so frustrated he just calls him a third rate duelist with a fourth rate deck.. and he keeps self justifyng this however he can..

        Those who gatekeep live in the past or under the belief that 90% of anime is not anime…just their taste is anime.. like no cards in duel monster are good in kaiba’s eyes.. just Blue Eyes and Obelisht

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