The first time I watched Japanese animation was so early in my childhood that any memories of that time are bound to be at least partially fabricated. I was born in January of 1997, mere months before “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” was shown on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block for the first time. Years later, my elder brother and I would would become dedicated Toonami viewers, tuning in on weekend nights to watch shows like “Samurai Jack” (an American animated science fiction story of a samurai forever trying to change the past) or Inuyasha (which follows a girl falling through a well into feudal times and befriending a half-demon).
Through Toonami, I found a way in to the strange and wonderful world of Japanese animation. I always watched many shows, but cartoons stood apart, and the best of them seemed to always be Japanese. To this day, some of my favorite stories to witness are told through animation. “Ping Pong The Animation” is my favorite anime to recommend because despite what seems like a backward animation style, there is an artfulness to this 11-episode series that is completely unexpected. It is truly unique, and its simple and seemingly crude art style is a large part of why it is so refreshing.
And there is a whole world of animated shows and manga (Japanese comics basically) that exist apart from the Western world’s mainstream culture. The Ghibli Studios production “Spirited Away” was my first introduction to the world of anime movies. I watched it for the first time for free back in the early days of YouTube. The wonderful thing about anime (from a consumer’s perspective) is how widely available it is for free online.
“It’s kind of nice knowing that other people like anime near you because I feel like a lot of people don’t really talk about anime even if they do watch it,” said Plamedi Makelela, a sophomore in graphic design and member of Northeastern’s Anime Club. “I’m not really outgoing, so like that’s why I like anime, because it’s something you can do alone without needing other people.”
If you disregard worries of paying content creators and providers for streaming, the internet becomes a treasure trove of content. The lack of strong international copyright laws or enforcement makes finding Japanese anime even easier than traditional media. Of course, one can always pay for a subscription to Crunchyroll to get a majority of shows thirty minutes after they air on television in Japan and without any advertisements. Though this service costs almost $7 per month and the site offers its content free of charge after a week or so, Crunchyroll has over a million paid subscribers as of February 2017.
“Anime is no different from any other text, just like comics are no different from any other text,” said Kristopher Cannon, a professor in media studies at Northeastern University. “The complexity of comics and anime I think allow us to engage with not only text but the textual-visual relationship in a rather nuanced way. The storytelling mechanisms shift… I think it’s a unique mode of narration.”
Over the weekend of May 31 I stopped by Anime Boston, the city’s annual animation convention. Hosted in Hynes Convention Center, the three day event provided a place for fans of Japanese animation and manga to attend panels, cosplay and mingle. Now I was only there for the last day of the festivities, but I saw many awesome costumes and even bought a poster. While wandering the halls of Hynes, I spotted and chatted with many convention-goers who donned costumes from their favorite shows and manga. This is known as cosplay (a portmanteau word which smooshes together costume and play into one concept). When asked, most were happy to pose for a picture or two and explain their character, though a scant few did not want to be associated with their real name. Below are my favorites (click on the bubbles for a larger image).
What I saw got me thinking about Japanese fan culture in America. So, I talked to some students and a professor from Northeastern, and asked what they thought about it all. The question “Why anime?” quickly became the focus of my discussions. After talking to many people, I didn’t really get an answer. But I don’t think the question really made any sense to begin with. You might as well ask “Why newspapers?” or “Why stand up comedy?” At the end of the day it’s just a medium.
“I find it really easy to find something I’m interested in since there’s such a large variety of shows and manga, so I think almost anyone could get into as long as they keep an open mind,” said computer science freshman at Northeastern Ateev Nahar. “As long as you want to find it you probably could.”
All photographs taken by Bradley Fargo.