For more from AM2, read the latest installment of my Cult Stars column for L.A. Weekly, “Top 5 Things You’ll Find in an Anime Convention Exhibit Hall as Seen at AM2.”
Last weekend, I went to AM2, an anime convention out in Orange County. While I was there, I stopped by a panel hosted by the team behind the fan-centric website Ani.me. Their talk had to do “10 Commandments” for anime fans. It was funny, insightful and further proof to me that anime fans and music fans are more similar than they will acknowledge.
I grew up a hardcore music collector. I bought import albums and import music magazines, hunted down rarities, carefully made mixed tapes for my friends, studied the ones they made me. I became a DJ, the nerdiest job that people think is cool.
Though I have been watching anime since I was a kid, it was just a passing interest until grad school, when I got hooked on Fullmetal Alchemist and went to my first convention. Anime cons fascinate me for a lot of reasons, particularly in how much anime fans remind me of the lives my friends and I led as music obsessives.
It’s a sad fact of life that music fans are frequently perceived to be hip. They aren’t. I wasn’t. I’m still not. But music geeks are into something that’s known, something that revolves around a lot of easily recognizable trends and involves these very uncool people who are quickly elevated to the level of rock star.
Anime fans, let’s face it, get the supergeek tag thrown their way, and not in a nice way. They’re portrayed as socially awkward, hopelessly unfashionable guys (because, even though girls make up at least half the scene, no one sees them unless they’re wearing a sexy costume) who get obsessed with 2D ladies. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, more often than not, it isn’t the case.
Music fans are associated with clubs, concerts and festivals, i.e. large, social events. Anime fans are associated with television sets and internet forums. In truth, I’ve seen some rowdiness at anime cons that could rival nightclubs and concerts. And I know a lot of music fans, myself included, who have spent countless hours chatting in fan-based forums.
The thing that ties the music kids and the anime kids is the absolute seriousness with which they take their passion. I get it. But, seriousness can quickly turn into self-parody. If you want an example of that, look no further than U2 and Metallica. Do you want to end up like a less rock star version of Bono or Lars Ulrich? I didn’t think so.
Ani.me’s 10 Commandments are pretty simple. I’m only mentioning the highlights here. The tenth item on the list is “It should be fun.” Every time we get into a stupid War of the Animes or Battle of the Bands debate, the fun dies a little.
I love cosplayers regardless of their skill level, because they are obviously having fun. The same thing goes for the teenage girls running through the convention center screaming out the names of Hetalia characters and the college guys who dress as female characters, but don’t bother to shave. Is it really that different from the Sleater-Kinney air guitar routines my friend and I devised or that time another friend and I turned a certain new wave ballad into the worst duet ever? Not really. We were just having fun.
That brings us to number 5 on the Ani.me list, “stop puking on other fandoms.” I’ve seen this in anime and music. Take any subgenre of anime and you’re going to find someone ready to not just rip apart the media, but completely bash the fans. Music is identical. It’s never enough for fans to say, “Hey, this isn’t for me.” There’s a need to insult everyone else in the process. I’m guilty of this too, more with music than with anime. I’m trying to be less of an ass though, and am currently reserving my rage for sleazy weekend warriors and their sexual harassing ways.
Combined with Commandment #4, “have real opinions,” I understand this to be that it’s absolutely okay to despise something, just be cool about it. For example, I have very “real opinions” on U2 and Metallica. Frankly, I think they should have broken up before many in this audience were born. Yet, I harbor no ill will towards anyone who genuinely likes those bands. You’ll defend them, I won’t. That’s cool.
Ani.me’s first commandment is “your fandom is yours.” You can take this a lot of ways. For me, I think about music. Specifically, I think of what happened with music during my own adolescence. I grew up in the 1990s and, pretty early on in the decade, there was this band that got pretty popular. They were called Nirvana. What happened after Nirvana got big was that people realized there was serious money to be made off of weirdo kids in the suburbs. Suddenly, it seemed like every crappy band with a big budget was being shoved down our throats as the next big “alternative” thing. Right now, a similar thing is happening to comic book and sci-fi fans with the “geek” label thrown around loosely that it’s been rendered meaningless. Anime is probably a little safer simply because it isn’t U.S.-centric, but if the Akira fiasco taught us anything last year, it’s that anime really isn’t completely safe either.
You can rebel against marketing types co-opting everything you love, but that doesn’t always worked. At the end of the 1990s, I worked at a college radio station. We didn’t play any band that was being played on commercial radio. That was policy and it served a purpose to give a voice to the real underground. As fans, though, I doubt that any of us were willing to deny that plenty of artists– Bjork and Radiohead immediately come to my mind– did their best work after they reached a certain level of mainstream success.
Similarly, there are a lot of big Hollywood movies and very successful TV shows based on comic books, sci-fi and fantasy that don’t suck. We can’t write off everything. I’m also convinced that there is hope for a really good U.S. adaptation of a manga or anime, it just has to be the right property that falls in the hands of some creative and thoughtful people. Point being, if you love something, that’s a part of you. Whether or not some faceless entity screws it up is beyond your control and shouldn’t really matter. A bad remake doesn’t change the original. A slew of horrible copy cat bands doesn’t alter the album that changed your life. Just chill.