A few months ago, I met up with a friend and noticed that she was wearing a Demon Slayer hoodie. A really nice one. I didn’t make her strip in the middle of the street so I could check out the tag, but I bet it was an officially licenced product. A nice heather gray with a large embroidered Demon Slayer logo. I was pretty jealous.
I did ask where she got it and unsurprisingly she said, oh, I’m not sure, I think my boyfriend gave it to me. It’s cool right. I don’t know where it’s from... I’ve known this friend for a while. She does not watch anime. In fact, she brands it as “nerd stuff” (I joke that she’s 70) and is very vocal about not being into “nerd” stuff. I’ve told her many times that I probably qualify as “nerd stuff” as well, but happily, I’m the exception!
I bring this absolutely fascinating story up, not only to excite and titillate you but because it was the catalyst for this post. You see, aside from all the warm feelings, I have about my friend and how happy I was to see her after a long while. I also had the stray thought: “why is she wearing a Demon Slayer hoodie, I guarantee she has never seen the show”. I was right of course, but what does it matter. Why did the thought even cross my mind?
When I see people wearing shirts with famous painting reproductions on them, I don’t think, these guys probably don’t even know about Klimt’s Vienna Secession period, why do they have The Kiss on their t-shirt? But this time, I couldn’t help myself.
It’s not like me. I once wrote that I don’t think there really is such a thing as a fake fan. Even if someone hasn’t watched a lot of anime, as long as they have an appreciation for the medium, I don’t care if they can’t name the 10 biggest shonen or something. I firmly believed that I was that type of person. But was I wrong?
I hope you guys have a life that’s comfortable and boring enough that a hoodie can send you into an existential crisis. Talk about not having any actual problems!
The core of the issue was, that I am actively opposed to the aggressive gatekeeping I sometimes see in the anime community. I think it can hurt the business of anime and also it often brings out the worse of us. And I just personally don’t have the energy or interest in policing other people’s media preferences. But I guess I can’t deny that there is an instinct towards it somewhere in me. And I wanted to figure out why.
Lonely in a Crowd
For me, personally, I think part of it is disappointment. I’m not disappointed that my friend has bad taste in entertainment… maybe I should be. It’s just that for a long time, I was very isolated in my love for anime. I literally knew 3 people who watched the stuff besides me. So seeing someone in the wild with an anime shirt or something meant I had an ally. Suddenly, I had something in common with someone I had never met before. I was part of a group. And that’s a nice feeling even if I would probably not become friends with that person.
I should say that a decade ago or so, anime merch wasn’t all that easy to come by in my neck of the woods. So if someone had it, it means they had sought it out and probably paid an unreasonable amount for it.
Nowadays, anime branding is pretty much ubiquitous. It’s quite possible that someone would pick up something with an anime character on it just because they thought the character was cute and had no idea there was a show or anything. Heck, I wouldn’t put it past my friend to think Demon Slayer was just some cute branding and was supposed to mean that now she was going to slay demons without even thinking there was anything else to it.
But some part of me hasn’t adjusted to this new reality yet. Somewhere in my brain, when I see someone with a Haikyuu keychain, I figure I could just go sit next to them and chat about Haikyuu for a while. And when I realize it’s not the case, I,m a little disappointed. Now that there are so much more people wearing the anime shorts, well they don’t seem like secret allies anymore. And that’s a shame.
But that can’t be all of it. Not by a long shot. I just wrote that sappy little paragraph but the fact is, I know a heck of a lot more people that watch anime than I used to. I have a No Hero Academia coffee cup at the office and there are at least 4 people that now regularly send me short BNHA themed emails now and then because of it. There are more anime fans than ever and it rocks. If you guys read my blog, please keep sending me those emails. They make my day!
Fishing for Otaku
I guess I omitted one important part of my story. I want to really stress that I like this friend. She’s sweet, very personable and caring. She’s good people. Also, despite the fact that she calls anime “nerd stuff” with some disdain, she does actively wear merch and lookup wiki plot synopsis of shows, if she’s trying to win over a guy who watches anime. I told her once she was nerdbating. We laughed and she told me it works. I have to admit, in our early conversations she would bring up video games all the time. I found out later she has only played two, with her boyfriend at the time. I guess I was being wooed as well. I sort of like it! Damn, it does work!
What I’m saying is my friend is nice and I like her. But I also know the feeling of getting your hopes up about having found a kindred spirit, only to realize it wasn’t quite what you expected. And if you translate that to a business level, it becomes way more frustrating.
What I mean by that is that the anime-watching audience has had a huge boom in the past few years. It was (and may still be) one of the fastest-growing markets worldwide. This has not gone completely unnoticed. Like I said, brands have started slapping anything vaguely anime-themed on whatever they can find, in the hope of selling it to this new large fandom. It doesn’t even have to be official anime, just anime-looking characters or Japanese writing on a water bottle, and you have an exclusive product for some reason.
This also takes the form of media celebrities and online influencers suddenly wearing anime hoodies on camera all the time even if they have never mentioned anime in the past. Or actively mentioning anime (and k-pop!) every chance they get while getting the names wrong. One Man Punch is a personal favourite of mine! This is people trying to lure a larger audience by simulating having something in common with them or insinuating that they could make anime content. I can’t entirely blame them, because this is their job. But there’s something about that idea that sort of sucks. Maybe just the fact that I think anime is great and they should just watch it for reals. Maybe they’ll like it…
It’s Not that Deep Bro
I used a clickbait post title. Please don’t think that I’m losing sleep over this. All in all, it’s just not that important. However, I think there is a distinction to make between people that like anime but haven’t watched all that much, people, that enjoy anime among a lot of other things and just watch it once in a while and people that have no interest in anime, maybe even actively dislike it, but still want to use the aesthetics of it to appeal to the group that does like anime. Did that sentence make sense? I feel like I got a little lost while writing it.
Terms like Otaku appropriation are way too intense though. After all, someone could probably argue that otaku are appropriating Japanese culture in the first place. And some might be. So that appropriation of appropriation. I’m not even sure what to call it by then. Even nerd baiting is a bit much. Although it’s fun to say. Depending on how you look at it, there’s something almost flattering about anime fans being considered important enough to be pandered to. That’s certainly a change from how things used to be.
But I also understand that some anime fans may find this intrusive. Especially the younger ones that don’t have much else to compare it to. I’m rather curious about how other people see this. Do you guys get a bit irritated when people who don’t like anime walk around like they’re advertising for Crunchyroll or do you like the fact that anime is getting more attention regardless of how it comes about? Have you ever noticed this sort of thing at all?