Anime fans are picky about who they accept into the community – at least the more vocal fans.
There are two extreme sides in the community. On one side are fans who lament how anime is ignored by the mainstream and stereotyped as a hobby for perverted, socially inept loners. On the other side, there is a gatekeeping group that condemns and attacks people new to anime for jumping on the bandwagon. You’ll find that the gatekeeping side has gotten louder as more celebrities and athletes share their love of anime on social media.
It’s not uncommon to find young actors, musicians, and athletes talking about anime on social media or incorporating it’s imagery into their works. Rappers Lil’ Uzi Vert and Tyga have released anime music videos, NFL player Mike Daniels visited San Diego Comic-Con 2017 cosplaying as Raikage from Naruto, and Britney Spears proudly shares her sons’ anime fan art on social media.
These are just a handful of celebrities that have recently shared their anime obsession and it makes sense. Many of them were teenagers during the Anime Boom of the ’90s. They would have been exposed to Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon during after school hours on Toonami, plus would have had access to mountains of manga at the now-defunct Borders chain of bookstores. It’s not absurd to think that they could still enjoy the fandom as they’ve gotten older.
But things have gotten a little crazier now that actor Michael B. Jordan and reality TV personality Kim Kardashian West are out of the otaku closet. Both celebrities have been flamed for jumping on the bandwagon and cries of new fake fans are everywhere.
Kim Kardashian is like the girl who used to bully you in school for liking anime and then says shit like this because it's now popular. https://t.co/OnEBVPmXUt
— ✨KINGDOM HEARTS 3✨ (@SailorSlob) February 28, 2018
wow… i‘m looking forward to see all those fake anime and manga fans treating it as a fashion trend as they did with marvel and dc.. smh 🙄
— Kevin Pantellaro (@PantellaroKevin) February 28, 2018
Ya’ll are hopping on the anime wave just coz michael b jordan likes it but the gag is that some of us BEEN watching anime since we were 2 years old
— keeks (@oopskiana) April 2, 2018
Responses like these follow the trend of treating anime like it’s an exclusive club and trying to push out new people who are interested in it. The ending of this 2015 video from College Humor sums up how people new to the medium can sometimes feel: “Anime is great, it’s just the fans who suck”
It’s happened to the comic book and video game industries. As celebrities entered the fandom and the market embraced diversity, self-declared “real fans” have fought against the mainstream co-opting their sanctuary. Negative terms like “fake geek girl,” “casul,” and “trendy sheep” have been used to attack the influx of newer comic fans and gamers. The same backlash may be brewing within the anime community.
For the longest time, anime has been a bastion for “real fans” – partly because everyone else thought it was weird and partly because of anime’s scarcity. Before the 90’s anime boom, fans would watch anime by buying/trading VHS tapes that had just a few episodes on it. Fans would band together in clubs to trade VHS tapes to save money or finish a series that wasn’t selling anymore. Then Toonami, Blockbuster, and not-quite-legal anime download sites jumped on the anime train and made it slightly easier to watch a series.
That extra effort allowed “hardcore” and “casual” fans to be filtered, but now anyone can access streaming services for an instant anime fix. Anime seems to be going mainstream and old fans, some of whom have been ridiculed for their anime fandom, aren’t 100% excited about these new celebrity shout-outs to the medium.
As new Hollywood anime adaptations come out and stars say their pink-hair fashion is inspired by Trigger anime, we’re likely to see a big storm brewing on social media as some fans try to protect their territory. The upside of all this new media attention on anime is there may be an influx of investment that could help animators work toward earning a livable wage, but only time will tell.