I figured I should write at least one update this year, so today I’m going to talk about reaching my mid thirties as an anime fan.
Long ago, there was an incident that made me think about age discrimination in the anime fandom, and what that meant for me as I was departing my teens: a 43-year-old wanted to attend an anime meetup at a library, but staff denied him because he wasn’t a teen. While my gut reaction was to think the guy should have quietly excused himself, it left me wondering what growing old means for the fan experience.
Most of my contemporaries didn’t think much about the topic, but it was an an existential question for me back when I was left inside my bubble filled with anime and not much else.
How much has my everyday changed, really? Even though the mediums of engagement differ, my anime experience is largely the same: watch some shows, communicate, and prosume. I try to keep up with weekly anime shows, I co-host a podcast with friends who are also still big on anime. I keep up with the news, and every so often I write this blog. As the years went on, I have been discovering new ways to engage the hobby, so it never became boring for me. Most importantly, I never stopped thinking about anime.
But I do feel that there are differences in being engaged as a teen, as a young adult, or as a wizard. The number of fans which I can gain valuable insights from has been on a downward trend. This has largely to do with the fact that as the years go by most fans find other priorities and interests to occupy their time with. Whenever I’m interacting with opinionated fans these days, they tend to be younger holding flawed argumentation. They also love to talk in hyperbole because social media is a horrible thing.
Back in the day I could always find fans to compete with in either knowledge or output. Sadly, you can’t find many people like that any more. As such, few in recent memory have challenged my views or opened up new perspectives with regards to the hobby. The people that do I worship and cherish as God’s gift to mankind.
Apart from the fans, I have come to terms with the fact that I had been born too far away from Japan to satisfy my passion for the subject. As a teen I had a lot of plans to change that. I wanted to study the Japanese language and translate anime to my locale. I fantasized about living the otaku dream in Japan. As a young adult I have spent most of my resources to experience that dream right here in Slovenia. I was wrong.
First of all, Japan as a country overall kind of sucks. I have visited it twice as a tourist and I’m eager to return – as a tourist – but it’s definitely not a place that shares my values, nor do I want to live in a country that’s headed toward serious economic and societal decline.
From my trips to Japan the photos I’m mostly fond of picture exposed concrete, and rusty rooftops, and shattered patios belonging to failed hotels. Have you ever visited the famous Hakone-Yuumoto hot spring resort town? If you fancy displays of urban decay, the scenery becomes more and more indulgent as you go up and along the stream of Sukumo river, which serves as an ugly reminder to the dangers of optimism in a capitalist society.
Anime is in a similarly precarious position. We can see the slow rise of Chinese animation with every new anime season. Quite recently it was brought to my attention that South Korea’s webtoons are becoming a hot new trend within western audiences. Competitors from the rest of Asia are starting to stack up, giving the impression that global focus is slowly shifting away from the American-backed Japan, inching closer and closer toward China.
I feel very similarly about anime as I do about Japan. The medium is in decay. Rather than be depressed by that realization, it means a new opportunity for the medium and the hobby to reinvent itself. It means an opportunity for new people in discovery of it to inject new values into our fandom. Change has always been a net positive for anime.
Fantasizing about preparing myself for a life in Japan, when I knew nothing about the place, was an escape from the stressful reality of my teenage years. Even though I liked the idea of translating anime, I didn’t particularly enjoy doing it even as a fan translator. When the time came to enroll into college, I picked a computer science course. I thought it was the smarter career pick, plus I didn’t hate working with computers.
I also met people from where I live who gave me reasons to believe home ain’t all that bad. If I get a job offer from Japan today, sure I’ll think about giving it a try for a year or two, but in my mind Japan is simply not a place where I would like to raise a family. I enjoy it as a “home away from home”, but I don’t worship it anymore as a place where I can become myself.
I’ll face up to the fact that my motivations for doing what I do are fickle. But what I think makes me an otaku is that I continuously manage to tie those changing motivations back to my hobby. And I’m proud of that.