You know, it’s amazing to watch the growth of otaku culture and anime as a medium. I remember nearly twenty-plus years ago when anime was treated as, as my friend “H.H.E” puts it, an exotic art wonder from this mysterious faraway land called Japan. If you were a kid during the 1990s, you knew that the only way to view anime was on Kids WB, Fox Kids, Fox Family, Toonami (Cartoon Network), or – if you parents or older sibling had the money – buying an $30+ VHS tape of an anime series at a geek or video store at your local mall. Commutations between otakus, as well as sources for anime news and anime conventions were limited. If you wanted to talk with fellow anime fans online, you best knew how to use a BBS (Bulletin Board System) or know about websites such as Geocities/Angelfire or Anime Turnpike.
The New Millennium brought innovation and advancement in internet technology. With broadband internet slowly killing the inferior and soon-to-be obsolete 56k dial-up internet, it was easier for anime fans to upload fanart and fan animation based off their favorite series. One would be pressed not to find a Dragon Ball Z fan Flash animation on a NewGrounds page. Infamous otaku images boards 2channel and 4chan provided a space for anonymous otakus globally to talk about anime. Although still going strong in the early 2000s, Geocitites and Angelfire would give way to anime related message boards, indie websites, anime internet databases, and blogs. In the real world, Sci-Fi, Tech TV, and Cartoon Network would air anime geared towards older demographics; exposing a generation of anime fans to more “adult” anime series.
Still, despite the growth of anime in America, anime was still treated as a weird exotic trendy commodity for children, degenerates, and perverts.
Fast-forward to the mid-2000s. Further achievements of internet technology gave birth to YouTube and Nico Nico Douga: two websites that allowed users to upload video content. With this, otaku had near superior space to share their interests and creativity relating to Japanese pop culture. It was common to find teenagers and young adults from both America and Japan to dress as SOS-Brigade performing the Hare Hare Yukai dance from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya at schools, a friend’s house, or at an anime convention. You didn’t have to look hard to find otaku performing and covering songs from otaku driven media. Social media platforms such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter helped created spaces for anime fans to find and connect with one another. As a much needed bonus, anime slowly became popular with the mainstream; causing the medium to lose its unfairly earned stigma.
The 2010s is what I like to call the “Golden Age of Anime”. Anime massively boomed. No longer did you have to go online to talk and meet up with anime fans: finding an anime fan in your city was a easy as finding a sports fan. Internet video streaming media companies CrunchyRoll , Hulu, and Netflix made it easier than ever to access anime with their on-demand video services of anime. Two unlikely companies, Arby’s and Wendy’s, marketed their products to consumers of anime with anime-related ads and social media posts. Dominos ran a collab ad campaign Vocaloid with Hatsune Miku as the face of the company. Speaking of the cyan hair virtual idol, she infamously appeared on the David Letterman Show (it was awkward for everyone). Established anime conventions saw an unexpected rise of attendees while newer ones spout up nearly every week in major cities.
Anime characters and characters from iconic otaku driven media would appear in mainstream news. An image of Suika, the alcoholic oni girl of Touhou Project fame appeared as a drunken camerawoman in an ESPN reporton the infamous Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight. An printed photoshop image of Zombieland Saga Lily holding a gun threatening feminists was shown to the U.K Parliament in May of 2019.
Memes relating to anime were a driving force during the 2016 elections and could have inspired Donald Trump’s presidential win. At the end of 2019, Taiwanese politician Lai Pin-yu started cosplaying as Asuka Langley Soryu hit classic anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.
It’s safe to say that anime has found its place in the mainstream and lost its unearned stigma.
We are now in the 2020s. It’s a bit early to say what changes, trends, and shifts we will see with anime and otaku culture. Of course, I could comment on how anime fans are using anime characters as memes to cope with the possible start of World War III between America and Iran after American air bombed Baghdad: killing top Iranian general Hossein Salami. Of course, that is to be expected in this era of anime pop culture and memes.
Outside of politics, we’ll see anime shining strong in the mainstream limelight through collaboration with major companies in various fields of entertainment. Example: Hatsune Miku, the virtual idol of Vocaloid fame will be performing at Coachella this Summer 2020. Something like this could open the door for Japanese virtual idol music producers to collab with Western artists. Perhaps one day in this decade we will see Miss Hatsune actually performing alongside Big Boi, Killer Mike, and Jeezy at a concert this decade (hip-hop artists sampling from otaku related media is nothing new of course).
The mainstream entertainment industry won’t be able to deny the presence and power of otaku culture and fans – especially given the children of the 90s and 2000s anime fandom are entering the entertainment industry itself. Soon, it’ll be consider normal to see anime characters and otaku culture used and seen in mainstream culture. Yes, there will be bitter soy milk drinking otaku cornballs who believe that Shinji Ikari and Tatsuhiro Satou are personality types that will be upset that anime has become popular.
I say this: fuck them – let them be bitter while you capitalize on anime’s everlasting growth this decade.
New decades bring forth new trends, ideas, and themes that will define them. Anime and the culture surrounding it are no different. What will never be different are the fans of anime willing to see and help this culture grow. What will always be the same are the fans whom seek to find other fellow anime fans, may it be online or in real life. Regardless if this is the 2010s, 2020s, 2030s or 3030s, people will always love anime. People will always be otaku. People will always be willing to bring forth change to this medium.
Until next time