An anime enthusiast strikes an impressive Chainsaw Man cosplay pose at a small anime convention, showcasing the immense popularity of anime culture. Photo by: Brianna Contreras

“More people are open about liking anime because a few years ago it was deemed weird. Suddenly, it exploded and now everyone talks about anime,” said Aaron Elias, a previous student at CSUSB. 

The pandemic helped increase anime’s popularity, and create cultural changes: How has the rise of popularity fostered creativity and sparked new conversations on social media? How have these conversations impacted the stereotypes associated with the anime community?

An anime influencer, a professor, Japanese exchange students, and grassroots community members discuss the impact of anime.

 Professor view

Within this sunlit room, a shelf filled with books surrounded Susan J. Napier, 67, a professor at Tufts University Ph.D., she expresses in the Zoom conference her studying and being a part of the anime community for over 30 years. She believes the pandemic has improved the popularity of anime and inspired creativity in its audiences. 

Napier believes that people grew more of a connection to anime post-pandemic because of the environment that was created. She explains that the pandemic created this space where you must stay home and need to find ways of entertaining yourself. During this time, people look for stories to watch that will intrigue them.

“Anime is created to draw you in and entice you with the characters. It’s perfect to watch during the pandemic because you want something that’s gonna keep you going for the next couple of weeks,” said Napier. “Anime like Fruit Baskets, Cowboy Bebop, and Samurai Champloo have a definite narrative arc.”

Napier describes how the anime community is different compared to other pop culture communities. She stresses the grassroots aspect affiliated with the organization of conventions and not belonging to a corporate machine. 

“The anime community is very grassroots, and the strings aren’t being pulled by some big organization,” said Napier. “There is still a great deal of individual autonomy and effort coming in to create the community.”

Content Creator view 

A 29-year-old content creator, Janna Macatangay known as Janna Mae on social media, shares in a Zoom call her experience of getting sick with COVID-19, and her remedy was watching cozy comfort anime.

Macatangay released her first comfort anime recommendation video to watch when you’re sick and sad on TikTok which got over 300 thousand views and 1.8 million views on Instagram. 

“At the time, I was sharing what was going on in my life because people may resonate with it. So, that was my intention for sharing my first comfort anime video which took off, and I did not expect it. That’s one of the ways that [anime had] an impact on my life,” said Macatangay.

All these comfort anime recommendation videos are under the umbrella term Janna Mae calls the “cozy anime genre”. 

“I define cozy anime as making you feel comforted and warm. Almost like drinking a nice warm cup of tea, if that’s what evokes comfort in you,” said Macatangay. 

Macatangay believes the anime community on social media is reciprocal by giving back their recommendations in the comment section of her videos.

“It makes me very happy, and it shows that there’s a community out there that loves the same things. That in itself is very comforting,” said Macatangay.

Macatangay, along with other artists and creators exemplifies the influence of anime on social media, leaving a notable mark on online content.

Anime Fans View

Anime Fans share their experiences with the anime community and the impact that rising popularity has had since the pandemic. 

Small Pokémon figures were positioned behind Aaron Elias as he shared in a Zoom conference three words that describe the anime community. “Fun, because of the conversation you have with people about your favorite anime or a new episode you’ve seen.  Crazy, because I feel like the community is always arguing online over which anime is the best. Interesting, because they do things that people wouldn’t normally do like cosplay.” 

Elias describes the rising popularity of anime as an explosive effect.  “The pandemic got people, no one could leave their homes so they would watch anime on their laptops, phones, and [TVs]. I feel like anime reached out to a lot of people in that way, and people are open to liking anime” Elias continues” People are voicing their feelings and opinions for anime through social media.”

With rising popularity in the anime community, it leaves room for possible commercialization. 

Gaming headphones around the neck of Tyler Romero, 19, graphic design student and discord moderator in a Zoom conference he shares that anime can be an escape from reality, but not from commercialization. 

 “I relate to [anime because] it’s not exactly reality, it’s something else, a getaway for me”, said Romero. “Even though it’s not reality, the characters have something that I am familiar with, in that I can see a part of myself in them. Anime is bouncing off that. You can’t escape [commercialization] it’s everywhere. Especially in anime. I’ve learned in one of my classes that once something gets popular or has a community, it breeds more merchandise, [ more profit] that you can’t escape it. Some creators are bouncing off of this, making hats, body pillows, and other things.”

Other fans suggest that not everything in the anime community is for profit. 

The sounds of pans hitting the kitchen stove echoed through a Zoom conference as Rudy Velasquez, 26, Structural Engineer, cooked dinner. He explains that the community isn’t all for-profit and offers a place for grassroots.

“I would say it’s mixed. I think a huge part of it is for profit, but most animators want people to enjoy their work. As for the conventions, I feel it’s not always [commercialized] because some are free entry with the exception of parking but it’s all for [community] enjoyment,” said Velasquez.

As its popularity continues to surge, questions of commercialization arise, but it’s clear that for many the community lies in a shared passion for anime. Whether through conventions or lively online discussions, it’s still a place that can offer entertainment and belonging.

Exchange Students View 

The pandemic’s impact on the anime community has shifted anime’s reputation from weird to popular is happening globally. 

A navy New York Yankees cap covered a shy-ish smile from Kyoka Miyake, 22, a Japanese student previously at the CSUSB exchange program, who shared in a Zoom conference that in Japan the stereotypes associated with the anime community have shifted. Miyake believes that the younger generation allows for conversations regarding anime.

She explains that the older generation believes that people who read manga and watch anime become addicted to it. Yet, in Japan, the community still expresses their admiration for anime by gathering. 

“Older generations believe that girls that read manga are bad for their image,” said Miyake, “[However,] people who love anime meet as a community for しょうがない komike [anime convention] people dress in cosplay, can buy manga, and talk about anime.”

Miyake shares her experience with how anime has impacted her life since studying in America. Miyake explains that she has encountered many people in America who like anime. 

“I think Americans love anime and manga more than Japanese people,” said Miyake, “It makes me happy to share and talk about anime and manga with other people. I’m able to make friends here because of anime.” 

A kind smile invites warmth and enthusiasm as Chihiro Usami, 23, a Japanese student previously in the CSUSB exchange program, explains how the pandemic allowed for a change in Japan toward the social stereotypes given to the anime community. Usami explains that anime is more popular than it has ever been, and it’s had an impact on Japan socially and economically. 

“Before COVID-19, people who watched anime were [described] as オタクotaku [nerdy or weird] because anime is for children or teenagers. Adults shouldn’t watch anime,” said Usami. “After COVID-19, many people started watching anime, especially Demon Slayer.”

This impact sparked so many conversations that it’s spreading outside of social media and into interpersonal relationships, like family. Usami stressed that before the pandemic conversations on anime would never happen. After the pandemic, the shift allowed her to talk about anime with her parents.

” [When I was] in the U.S. I couldn’t watch certain anime. My mother recorded them for me and she started watching anime. Then, my father started to read the manga of Demon Slayer, and he bought the entire collection of Attack on Titan,” said Usami. 

The days of anime being dismissed as “weird” are slowly fading, making strides toward a new era of acceptance and celebration.

Future of Anime 

The pandemic has impacted the rising popularity of anime, a global phenomenon that is transcending cultural boundaries, and challenging stereotypes. It has become a source of comfort, creativity, and connection for people of all backgrounds. 

Moving forward, there’s a collective hope that the reputation will continue to shift because anime can bring people together and celebrate passions and experiences.

 “My hope for the future is that it won’t be associated as something weird or pervy, as it often is by those who don’t watch it, “said Velazquez, “I wish for it to be seen as an artwork that offers something for everyone, captures the imagination, and wonders.

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