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 love being 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.

individualism in anime!

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!

I’ve only watched one fishing anime and I liked it

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…

everything is going to be daijobu

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?

15 thoughts

  1. This was a good and interesting read!

    I will say, coming from someone who married a guy who does not like anime, it would really upset me if a significant other pretended to like it but actually didn’t. Because I would initially be so happy I could nerd out about something shared and then find out that was a lie.

    Also I do think repping something you’re not into is pretty lame and poser-ish no matter what it is, sports or bands or whatever. Not that it actually matters – people can wear whatever they want!

    1. I hear you. There’s definetly something just a bit odd about associating with a fandom you don’t actually enjoy

  2. The painting vs anime thing: It’s because you have a personal connection to anime (a time, money and emotional investment), but not those paintings.

    For me, if people don’t know they’re wearing anime-themed stuff or have a flawed understanding of it (“Oh, this is a character from an American cartoon!”), it ain’t appropriation. That’s pure lack of knowledge. With all actual appropriation, it depends on /intent and circumstance/ – you’d expect people at a con to have relevant merch, but if someone wears merch at a con specifically to go, “Your taste in [this anime] sucks,” that’s…a lot of effort to go for gatekeeping, but it’s gatekeeping nonetheless.

    Personally, because I’ve been consuming anime and manga since basically forever, the only trend I’ve seen over the years is it’s a lot more common to see anime-themed items when you don’t expect them, such as…charity stores. (Then again, I volunteer in a diaspora which is more commonly acquainted with anime than most.)

    1. As I mentioned, the issue only becomes relevant when used by media figures to seemingly appeal to a specific fanbase.

  3. Ultimately, capitalism finds a way to monetise and market all things and all people. Look at Che Guevara – a more fierce opponent of capitalism you couldn’t find, and yet his image has become an iconic marketing trope. And that’s ultimately because capitalism is a co-opting paradigm, taking and appropriating human desire for it’s own ends. I remember a decade or so ago, when tatts and shirts with Chinese characters were all the rage – those funsters at Red Molotov produced a t-shirt with Chinese characters that translated as “dumb white guy who can’t read Chinese”! I laughed at that – and insofar as anime is concerned, I think we should treat this phenomenon with the same ironic humour.

  4. I’ve not seen his with anime, but as a rock/metal fan it always irked me to see people like Victoria Beckham or Paris Hilton or some equally vacuous poseur wear a Motorhead or Iron Maiden T-shirt when you know they haven’t heard a single note of their music! >:(

    In fact, the sister of mate of mine once had a patch on her jacket of a dragon which was a mascot for the band Dio, but she thought it was “Dio the Dragon” !!

    People… <_<

  5. It’s kinda funny because this is the same conversation I had with a coffee shop owner awhile back. Both he (Japanese) and I (American) like the same band, Grateful Dead. And when we met, we had that awkward ‘do you actually like the music or just think the merch/aesthetic is cool?’ Ultimately it was very exciting moment of ‘OMG you’re a fan like me!!’. And talked extensively about the music, tours, swapped stories, etc. It was so much fun. Especially since we were the same type of fan so to speak.

    The thing is, Grateful Dead has a shit ton of merchandise official and not, of dancing bears, turtles and skeletons that have over the years (the band started in the 60’s) just became cute mascot characters. I see tons of high school/college age girls with them on their bags/shirts whatever in Japan. And I could bet about 98% of them had no clue those characters are for a band, and just thought they were cute. While it’s fun spotting them in the wild, I very rarely ever strike up a conversation with those girls about it. I already can guess that they’re not a fan ‘like me’ so to speak. A moment of disappointing but not surprising.

    With anime at least in America there is that layer of distain since a lot of us were made fun of for wearing our merch proudly. Now that it’s trendy, there’s probably some lingering resentment, in my case at least, of people who use to mock me all the sudden pretending they’re so cultured. I do understand the disappointment of thinking ‘a kindred soul in the wild!!’ and then realizing they just thought it was cool/borrowed it from a friend not present and have no idea what you’re talking about. At least that’s something that’s happened to me more then once in the past lol. At least now anime merch is easier to buy though?? And it’s becoming more acceptable to wear it in public??

    Also, your friend sounds pretty cool when it comes to anime/video games/etc. I appreciate that she’s at least looking up what it’s about so she can follow along when her partner is talking about it. It might be ‘nerd stuff’ to her, but she’s putting in the effort to try and understand verses just writing it off. She does care about it… just not in the same way ‘we’ as anime fans might.

    1. Anyone that makes an effort is awesome. And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out to be for them in the end. We can’t all enjoy the same stuff.

  6. I must admit, this would have made me blink. Here in Las Vegas we have a pretty diverse community. Within this community, however, (and I know I’ve said this before) when I wear an anime t-shirt – or even something subtle like the crunchyroll black tshirt that has just a small logo – I’ve had total strangers run up and excitedly start babbling away about anime. We seem to still be well in that stage of OMG another anime fan!!!! BTW, I love it when this happens.

    At least it was clearly a properly licensed product, so the money went to the appropriate people rather than dishonest people.

    And last but not least, I can see this happening. Because it happened. I was in a thrift shop, and my hubby the ultra spotter man discovered a pair of hand painted Tokyo Ghoul Converse tennis shoes…for $4. In like new condition. I mean, the white parts were sparkly white. Never worn, I’m sure. I can only think that someone bought this – why I can’t imagine – for someone who didn’t know or care about Tokyo Ghoul who simply dropped them into the thrift box. Now, they were $4 boys Converse. Had we not seen then and pounced like rabid ghouls on them, someone would have come along and thought “that should fit my son” and bought them, again, without a care for the HAND PAINTED (i’m an artist, it’s a thing for me) Tokyo Ghouls and again, given them to someone who quite likely wouldn’t care. I guess that falls into “shit happens”. I generally won’t buy something that seems to be licensed merch if I don’t recognize the reference, but even I once had someone come up and say “OMG, it’s blablahblah” They were excited. I gave them the shirt off my back. I just liked the dragon or whatever it was (it was a whiles back)

    So for myself, although it would make me go “hmmm” then I’d just go, well, that’s nice. That franchise got a little money and maybe that will encourage them to make sequels or more merch and at least pay royalties to the appropriate parties. You know, overall a good thing. I wouldn’t wear merch I didn’t – what – “endorse” the makers of but that’s me. And even I make one exception… I like alligators and all crocodillians and there’s a football team in Florida called the Gators…I have some of their merch. I couldn’t possibly care less about any football…but I like alligators…

    1. I do have strangers talk to me about anime once in a while as well.
      I think it’s adorable that you have Gator merch because you like alligators. I hope you wear it and have people excitedly come up to you talking about alligators!

  7. I think it makes sense to feel a bit upset when you expect to be able to make a connection with someone, to then find out that connection isn’t going to exist. I also think that for a lot of older anime fans, this reaction is going to be more severe because we are used to being mocked for presenting ourselves in the same way. In my case, people who used to bully me for liking anime ten years ago, now use anime-style clothes and/or filters on their social media pages. I don’t know whether to be smug or angry about this. Smug that they finally got sucked in, or angry that they’re such slaves to popular opinion–enough to have bullied me back when it wasn’t popular. Maybe they always secretly liked it, but were too cowardly to say so? Or too cowardly to try it.

    I’ll never know, but I’m glad that liking anime isn’t the serious offense that it used to be for the younger fans. I’ll be honest, if I see a young person wearing a anime-branded item without really understanding anything about it, I’m probably going to be cheering about how popular anime is now. If it’s someone from my age group, however… I guess I have some unresolved trauma lurking, but I’m gonna struggle to avoid asking myself the question, ‘is this the kind of person who used to bully others?’– and that’s kind of ridiculous, but those are the types of feelings where gatekeeping comes from, I imagine.

    In the moment of finding someone wearing an anime article, but they don’t actually realise it until I point it out: I start to feel anxious that the other person is going to be judging me for being a true nerd, meanwhile, I worry that I’ve made them feel a bit weird for outing them as both ignorant AND essentially telling them that they look like a nerd. The whole thing just feels like a huge conversational mistake.

    I also miss the days when seeing someone with an anime item was a 100% guarantee that you could have a great conversation with them for a few hours, but at least we have more anime conventions to meet people at?

    1. You now, I have met a lot of people at anime cons that don’t really watch anime. They just like cons or maybe cosplay. It’s a whole community. I think that’s a rather interesting phenomenon. Hoe being a fan is now a thing unto itself, regardless what you are a fan of.
      And it is great to see just how popular anime has gotten. I hope it means we’ll keep getting great shows!

  8. I’ve been an… Heh… I’ve been an Otaku so long (the 80s) I remember when Otaku thought you were insulting them by calling them Otaku. Look I’ve been around a long time. And let me assure you that safekeeping is fine. Your just not closing the gate on the correct type.

    Merchandise exists for three purposes, and this is legit for both sides of the Pacific divide in terms of fandom. It helps introduce your series to new fans who might not normally read or watch the source material. It keeps that series in the public mind long after the series ended. And it must importantly brings in fresh streams of revenue that makes the series well worth doing to its studios doing said series. And probably the Creator too.

    People sometimes forget that it was merchandising of Anime and Manga years ago that helped feed a young western fandom, when translated and readily available product from Japan was few and far between. Without merchandising? As well as OG companies like Antarctic Press and Sunbow? It might have taken longer to get where we are today.

    The thing is? The only people who worry about cultural appropriation are the very people you don’t want in the fandom. That’s Cancel Culture logic. Only they and Puritan Culture think in such toxic mindsets as Cultural Appropriation. Look. It’s possible to appropriate things, maybe even in a bad way, but whoever said appropriating things culturally is bad? Look at my fellow Hawaiians. Thanks to the wide melting pot of Asian and Western people who all relocated here? And became part of our Ohana? We have a very rich and varied cultural palette to draw from. Our favorite foods, our entertainment, our Island personalities across the board of genres, all come as wide a cultural field as the cultures represented in the islands. And we never, unless you count the crazy Fullbloods and we don’t do that… Much… Worry about that or cultural appropriation. That’s nonsense.

    No Irina. The ones you want to lock out are those who litterly want to appropriate Anime and Manga. And change it to suit their tastes. Because to these people it’s not about being a fan, it’s about control and power. Their mentality is very Corporate Raider, or to take a religious term, very Seven Mountains Dominionism… Don’t ask. It’s to entirely remake an entire group in their image. Complete with fans who share the same hive mind mentality, and lock step believe the same things… And demand the same of everyone else if they are yo be allowed to be part of their Collective.

    That is who you need to lock out. Not the casual and their first tentative steps towards understanding, and learning about Anime Manga. No. You want to lock out those whose only goal is to remake Anime Manga in their image. No more or less. And you won’t be alone in this endeavour. The Japanese doesn’t want anything to do with these people. And from my understanding neither do the other two main cultures of the Asian Comic Triad (The Koreans/Manhwa and the Chinese/Manhua). So your in good company in this regard.

    …now where’s my Tama-chan, or Osaki-chan, or Tenko hoodie? It’s always Demon Slayer this or Demon Slayer that! Come on! Throw me something I can work with here!

    1. Well it was an insult originally. It still is in Japan after all. The word does not have flattering connotation but foreigners simply didn’t grasp it.
      This said, I’m not sure I want to lock out anyone. I still think there is a strong business incentive to encourage consumptions regardless of motive. If you remember anime the 80s you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those few movies that made international impact had tons of people talking, a lot of them had not seen the movies at all. And that interest was a big part of what opened up the international market. Which is why the question is a little more sticky. The fraction of the market that we would consider not really fans, have already a track record of creating opportunities for anime and manga that would not have been present otherwise. If Tenko is the Danganrompa chara, I have a hoodie. Danganrompa hoodies are super common. Sot are Uzaki-chan ones, I’m sure you can get a nice collection.

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