If you want to know what type of a fan I am, you don’t have to look further than this blog. I do stats, I do quasi-intellectual con panels. In other words, I do the boring shit.
Cosplayers on the other hand are the life of the party. It’s no wonder that they are front and center of all news reports on anime fandom. Cosplay is one of the rare few real social activities that this hobby offers up. The armor-plating of a character getup empowers introverts to engage other people, maybe even helps them gather the courage to take a pose for a photo. It’s an attractive proposal.
I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday who is involved in organizing a local anime con. She said that cosplay, video games and vendor booths are the three pillars of positive feedback the con receives. The con does have a space for fan panels, but you can guess it’s not the most popular attraction. Panelists can do more to put on more interesting presentations, but if we’re thinking in terms of popularity they don’t stand a chance against cosplay. They can be popular for completely different reasons.
My distaste for cosplay hasn’t developed solely out of jealousy though. I’m not sure about cosplayers in other places, but around here cosplay cliques are weird as all hell. The bits and pieces of cosplay drama that reach my ears instill fear in me that on a given Sunday news reporters are going to take a peek behind the cosplayer. When they do, they are going to see a world full of random teenage bullshit that projects an image far worse than adults watching Japanese cartoons in the solitude of their dark rooms. But I digress.
Maybe the following isn’t as visible in the global English community, but what is at stake on a micro level is the erosion of smaller fan communities. Social media has done a number on them, mostly because fans realized that what they truly want from fandom is the social. So cosplay has in this sense been very honest on what it has been offering since the dawn of time. Cosplay is popular precisely because people want to socialize. Internet forums and other forms of internet communities operate with an underlying promise of a more social fandom. They promise you that if you post frequently, you’ll get reputation and more people will like you. It just so happens that most countries are smaller than the U.S., so the proposition of meeting up with someone from your local internet community isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
This approach is dishonest and has backfired in a big way as a result of it.
When social media arrived, forum activity has steadily started decreasing. Most fans realized they can watch their anime without doing anything for anime. For most of them, anime was only a function for social self-fulfillment anyway. In the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, fans in the 80’s and 90’s had to socialize to get anime. After the dawn of the new millennium anime got more popular. Consequently, a bunch of newtypes landed into the realm of fandom and realized that if they want to socialize they have to watch more anime and do more anime-related stuff, such as discussing anime, fan translating or fan authorship. But in the current decade, in which social media corporations and conventions organize fan spaces for us, anime has taken a back seat. Fans have no more obstacles to climb over in order to reach other fans. What is left of anime in such fan spaces is the superficial–imitations of anime character gear and clothing.
I’m convinced very little can be done to reverse this trend of anime discussion becoming less relevant in fandom. What needs to happen is a shift in mentality in younger fans to start giving a damn about the material. That, or another layer of fandom scarcity is introduced.