I recently visited a department store near Kyoto station, hunting for a power converter so I could charge my laptop. The store was split into 7 floors, each selling different products. Most were immediately recognizable: “Men’s Fashion,” “Women’s Fashion,” “Books,” and so on. One floor, however, was mysteriously labeled “subculture.” Of course, I had to check it out.
As expected, the floor was full to the brim with anime, manga, trading cards and arcade games. Interestingly enough, there were also a few clothing stores with a rather hipster feel. Also, for some reason, about half the designs on the clothing seemed to revolve around asserting that Alice from Alice in Wonderland was actually just on drugs. Not that I’m particularly inclined to disagree, but it’s certainly a…unique motif.
Anyways, I want to pose a question to the reader. What do you think about anime and manga fandom being viewed as a “subculture?” I was thinking about this quite a bit myself, because despite the “subculture” sign I saw today, anime and manga are very mainstream here in Japan. Take a ten minute ride on the subway, and you’ll see anime characters on signs advertising all manner of goods, and people from all walks of life reading manga on their way to work or school.
In America, however, anime and manga have an extremely niche status. More importantly, they have a strong negative stigma of both the content and the fans being “weird” or “abnormal.” Why is that? I suppose one could argue that it’s because the media itself is inherently foreign and therefore less interesting to more westerners.
However, I have two objections to that. First, many products of Japanese pop culture have achieved immense success in the states (Pokemon, for example). Second, I’d like to note that American pop culture is by no means “niche” in Japan. Quite the opposite in fact. So what makes America’s response to Japanese culture so different?
I’d like to suggest that maybe it’s the fans. Western anime fans certainly have quite a reputation for excessive enthusiasm and a certain level of obsessiveness for their favorite series and characters which makes the community, and thereby the media itself, much less accessible to potential new fans. Of course, it’s not like everyone is a rabid fan. But the stereotype certainly exists for a reason (I’m a living example, myself).
That said, I’m not implying this is necessarily a huge problem that the community needs to fix. Personally, I quite like the bubbly enthusiasm I encounter both online and at cons. I love the feeling of meeting a fellow fan and going a little crazy together.
What I am implying is that it’s important to consider the multifaceted views of our community and understand how we’re presenting ourselves to the rest of society.