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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.