Fans, YA Librarians: 1

I’m going to talk a little bit about anime fandom and briefly mention anime and manga in libraries. Next time I’ll look at the quiet demise of the University of Texas’s UTopia Project. Anime fans are an interesting bunch, and I’ll try to write more about fandom in the blog.

Holly and I were at HEB, a local grocery store chain. The largest version of the store carries books and DVDs, including an anime section. Holly stopped me when she noticed this last week, stopped me, and asked, “Could you have imagined that ten years ago we’d be seeing anime at HEB?”

I understood why she paused. A decade ago anime and manga were gaining in popularity, but nowhere near as ubiquitious as they are now. Back in ’94- and don’t I feel old now- some friends of mine and I started the anime club at Syracuse University. Anime was already making appearances in the U.S. and already had it’s first mainstream anime magazine (Animerica, in ’92) and was the topic of a few conventions, although a given college student might not know what the word meant. At the time, with a few American-released exceptions shows were still mainly obtained by sending tapes to fansubbers, who copied shows for people from their master copy (which still may have been a fuzzy 5th generation copy) and mailed them back for the cost of shipping. Fansubbing, in which fans subtitle the show, was a step up from the earlier method of sending tapes and obtaining scripts to read along with as the show played. There were ethical rules involved that still persist in modern fansubbing. They’re a topic for a later post, but at their heart was not to do harm to your community and industry. There were copyright discussions as the practice grew, but for the most part this became an established norm, and I believe helped to popularize the medium and several individual shows.

Anime and manga took off. The Internet was a huge part of this process, as it allowed communities of fans to find one another and made finding fansubbers and distributers much easier. The Anime Web Turnpike and the Big Anime and Manga Resource List provided links to fan pages with information about the show, however tangentially. At the time, you could write to the presidents of anime companies and expect a serious and prompt response. They were fans, too.

Things have changed, naturally, for the better and worse. Fandom has changed. A convention in 2006 looks very different from a convention in 1994. The conventions are bigger, the audience tends to be younger, and far more people cosplay (“costume play,” or dress in costume as various characters, a term popularized in Japan). (For a scary example of cosplay that has at least partly made public view, if you catch the “Who wants to be a Super Hero?” commercial for the reality television series, you can catch “Man-Faye,” a male dressed as the female character Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bepop. Most cosplay isn’t quite that disturbing.)

The companies have changed as well. They’re a great deal larger and many are far more impersonal. Some of them frown on the practice of fansubbing, some of them turn a blind eye. Some company representatives have reportedly said that fansubbing was all right when they were fans early on, but now that the market is established it should be discouraged (which really rings hollow to me). Some companies reportedly watch the activies and distribution of fansubbers to determine which licenses to acquire. Conventions have to worry about fanart and copyright infringement. Anime is also much, much easier to purchase and find online. New anime acquisitions are announced at by companies at conventions regularly, and P2P has played as big a role in the fansubbing realm as it has for other cultural exchanges.

HEB made us pause, but we’ve seen other signs of how popular these things are. Libraries appear to be playing a role. Viz media had a booth at the last Texas Library Association vendor room. The Houston Chronicle recently ran an interview with a Young Adult librarian, who noted the popularity of manga with the young adult crowd, mentioning Fruits Basket as popular with girls (a truly cute show involving the interactions between a girl and people who are possessed by animal spirits of the zodiac) and Fushigi Yuugi as popular with boys (an older title full of fantasy and magic, originally published in a girls’ comic in Japan. Shh.). Manga has also been challenged in libraries, and that’s a subject I’ll talk about later.

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