B.Side delves into the growing community and speaks to anime fans to find out how it has changed their lives.
I vaguely recall seeing an episode of Bleach once when I was still a primary school pupil.
Remember all those “48-in-1” or “56-in-1” CDs? Yeah, it was one of those, and while skipping through all the movies on my way to Shrek 2, I came across it. I remember thinking that the animation style was engaging, very different from what I was accustomed to. But I was not hooked enough to abandon Shrek because, even though it was visually attractive, something seemed off about the audio, and I could not explain it. Years later, I would come to understand that what I had seen was anime, and the version I had seen was dubbed in English, which explained the off-putting audio.
The next time I would come across anime was in Secondary School. As you might have guessed, “Naruto” was the rave amongst my classmates. At that point in my life, my taste in visual media was restricted to novels and newspapers; TV shows and movies bored me (as they still mostly do). So all I did was listen to their exaggerated and overhyped description of fight scenes and larger-than-life characters. As I got into University, the story was the same: I had friends and classmates who were crazy about anime and who at various times attempted to shove it down my throat. I acquiesced at first and gave in to their urging. In 2018, I finally sat down to watch Shigurui/Death Frenzy with a couple of roommates, and I enjoyed it.
Now, it is essential to note that Shigurui is not a particularly good anime. I would not recommend it to a first-timer as there were various plot holes in addition to a lot of unnecessary violence and incest. But I love it because it reminds me of when I decided to try a new thing, plus it had the added experience of seeing something with my friends and labouring to the end no matter how wild it got. In 2019, I attempted anime again after a couple of months. This time, I saw One Punch Man, a story about a superhero so strong, he only needs one punch to finish villains off. It was okay to watch because it was (is?) funny and did not have a very complex plot. After that, I saw Mob Psycho 100. It was done in the same style and had similarly amusing characters. However, despite watching three different anime shows from start to finish, I still did not feel like watching anime was something you could say I did or an aspect of my personality. It felt like they were just fun shows that happened in passing.
2020. Pandemic. Lockdown.
Due to lockdown restrictions, I was stuck in Lagos when we had the first Covid-19 outbreak. I left school to stay with an uncle, and like everyone else, I enjoyed the first month of lockdown because I severely underestimated the amount of time the virus would be spending with us. After a month of enjoying “solitude” and exercising like crazy, I began to notice several things about myself that felt weird and sometimes outright dangerous: intense boredom, a weak attention span, intense absent-mindedness, and constant mental breakdowns. These “symptoms” were not new to me, but the intensity was frightening. Going to the hospital at that time for anything that was not Covid-related seemed excessive at the time, so I figured the best way to erase these things was to invest myself in something else, you know? Typical Gen-Z solution.
I stopped exercising (don’t judge me, you stopped too) and tried to learn code. I achieved some success creating my first website, but it got boring, so I moved on to cooking (this was fun for a while and making coconut jollof rice remains a highlight of my life). However, the monotonous activity finally drove me crazy and disgusted me so much that I stopped eating because of how irritating it was. I became obsessed with finding the perfect distraction that I ended up even more stressed out than before. One night, while mindlessly looking through my laptop waiting for sleep, I decided to check my anime folder. It had just one episode of Bungo Stray Dogs, so I decided to watch it. I mean, why not? It was just 20 minutes, right? Wrong. By 3 AM, when my body had had enough, I had downloaded the second and third seasons and was well on my way to finishing season one. When I woke up the next day, I had finished it, and the rest is history. When I felt overwhelmed, animated characters speaking Japanese gave me comfort when I was getting frustrated by the uncertainty of the pandemic, anime was there with new characters and plots. When my increasingly short attention span started getting in the way of my watching, I discovered the joy of watching anime at 4.00x speed – thanks to VLC – the greatest media player of all time and the fifth-greatest invention of all time.
In December 2020, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Doctors informed me that the boredom, absent-mindedness, and the constant fear of running mad were associated with ADHD. Further personal research showed that people with ADHD usually stimulate their minds with different activities, and it occurred to me that anime had played that role for me. However, I didn’t realise it back then.
Watching anime served as a coping mechanism for me, distracting my ever-wandering mind from the disrespectfully intrusive thoughts I’ve been cursed with from birth. The characters and their complex, colourful lives provided alternative paths for my brain to explore, a relief from the usual overwhelming and depressive stuff. Following Gon and Killua through Greed island and watching Dazai attempt to outwit the Port Mafia in Bungo Stray Dogs released the dopamine and serotonin I was missing and desperately craving. Even sad shows like Akame ga Kill! – where everyone’s favourite character died – were good because the sadness was different from anything I’d felt before and I liked that.
Through my foray into this new realm, I discovered anime is a big community builder. On social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, entire communities are devoted to discussing anime and fans get to connect, share theories and anticipate new releases in unity. In a way, I have found community, too: anime has now become a unique point of connection with my friends, a new common ground of sorts. And even though I’m not too keen on tweeting, it’s immensely satisfying to understand references and laugh at jokes I wasn’t privy to before. These communities especially thrived in the pandemic. As the world was forced into lockdown-induced solitude by a raging virus last year, fans found solace and refuge on internet chatrooms and Twitter threads discussing their favourite anime and discovering new ones to consume.
This is how Remi, a young Nigerian living in Ireland, found his anime tribe as well. “I was on Twitter for some time and started searching [for] anime terms. I eventually found accounts that talked about it a lot and started a following from there,” he says. For him, anime communities are a means of getting recommendations and selecting his next watch. “We usually connect on Twitter most of the time. People livetweet what they watch or read, allowing others to get a sort of preview on certain anime/manga. From there, you choose what you like.”
For musician Rylie (donttouchrylie), anime is immersed in every part of her life. Apart from being a means of escape, it influences her interests and aesthetic choices, even up to the music she prefers to consume. However, the most significant impact was anime helping her cope during a transitional period. “I also remember when I just started university in a new country, and I didn't know anyone, so I had no friends,” she recalls. “It was pretty lonely but watching anime helped me immerse myself in the stories; watching the characters as if they existed in real life and watching them evolve as individuals was a great distraction for me.”
Anime also helped Rylie find community. “Watching anime is so much fun, but having people to talk about it with and just exchange theories and ideas and even share excitement and dissatisfaction or disappointment, that’s something special,” she gushes. “And it’s not only friends but even family; my baby brother actually, we bond over talking about anime and manga and all that fun stuff. Also, most of the people in my tiny anime Twitter community that I have among my followers support my music, so I guess that’s some kind of transcendence.”
The sheer appeal of anime has made it become a global phenomenon: from the regular kid in Lagos to superstars like Megan Thee Stallion, the Japanese cartoons have spread across the globe sporadically. In a way, anime is owned by the world while maintaining its Japanese roots. People from different countries and cultures are all connected by anime because they can relate to the various themes and tropes. Adrian is a musician who moved to America from Nigeria in 2018, and although he began watching anime in Nigeria, his perception of anime and interest in it was boosted by the buzz it had over there. “Originally, I didn’t think it would be something I’d be into, but when I travelled, I had easier access to it and started finding more and more animes I like, especially when I got into college. Even online, they had clubs and things like that, which helped because it made it easier finding people into things I liked.”
Remi agrees, echoing that this resulting interaction with people from other cultures broadens your perspective: “I learned that different people from around the world think differently, based on their cultures, backgrounds and whatnot. Applying this to their opinions on anime and manga is always fascinating and brings new inspirations to discussions.”
This URL interaction through anime has set off a global interest in the Japanese language, including here in Nigeria. A quick check reveals that on social media sites like YouTube, Reddit and Quora, interest in Japanese is full-fledged, with numerous language websites offering different courses and classes to help anime fans learn to speak fluently. Martin, a Lagos-based student, started using the Duolingo app to learn Japanese so he could watch anime without subtitles.
Events have always been a cornerstone of anime communities, providing avenues for fans to connect physically sometimes. Anime conventions, a spin-off of comic conventions – which are already a huge part of pop culture due to the world’s obsession with Marvel and DC superheroes – are a great way to bond and have fun. Fans cosplay as their favourite characters, buy and sell manga, and sometimes participate in panel sessions led by their favourite anime writers. For fans who cannot attend events in person due to cost or distance, there are plenty of online events and gatherings hosted by official sources for releases as well as watch-along streams for specific hyped releases. In the thick of the pandemic last year, many of these conventions went virtual and platforms like Twitter served as avenues for members of these communities to live-tweet during these watch-alongs, giving their thoughts on anime release announcements.
Art mediums are also a key feature of anime communities. Fanfics involving characters are popular on social media. They are a way for writers who are anime fans to showcase their gifts and share their preferred trajectory of a storyline. Artists, both digital or the traditional paintbrush-and-canvas types, are some of the most vocal and famous members of anime communities. Since most popular internet platforms are visually based, drawings and paintings of anime characters in different art styles are hugely popular. Tadé, a 20-year-old Nigerian artist, often creates anime-focused art, which he shares on Twitter and Instagram. “I got into anime by watching Pokemon with my brother,” he shares. “I read manga daily, I play video games daily too, so they all inspire the art I create.” He also often creates sticker packs or wallpaper versions of his art for people to use and share.
Interestingly, the anime community has transcended social platforms like Twitter and Reddit and moved into the podcasting space. With podcasts like Tee Talks Toons, hosted by 25-year-old Wole T, anime fans can tune in and listen to him share his thoughts about anime, manga, cartoons, and comics, have discussions with friends and give recommendations based on some of his favourite anime. “I started the podcast because I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts on [anime] I’ve consumed,” he shares. “So far, I’ve met a couple of new people via replies on social media posts for new episodes. I'm currently trying to get a proper work/life balance to make the podcast as constant as possible (I'm sort of on a hiatus). I’m also exploring how to make it more interactive and get guests on [the show].”
Forging digital friendships from anime has been a lifeline to many young people dealing with mental health disorders. In fact, many speak of it as though it saved their lives. And while some people may find this strange, it’s essential to understand that everyone deserves a sense of community somehow. Atinuke, a writer and law student, admits that she cried so much and had anxiety because of how attached she was to the characters while watching Naruto. For Wunmi, anime is one of the reasons she doesn't want to die. “One Friday, I watched that episode of Jujutsu Kaisen where Gojo was so powerful and amazing,” she says, “and I started to think of death and whether our soul will be able to retain consciousness even when we die; and I immediately thought ‘oh wow I’m going to die and not be able to watch Jujutsu anymore, that sucks.’ It was funny to me when I thought about it out loud, but it was important. I knew I was going to miss watching anime that’s always there for me. That’s it. Watching anime makes me happy. Not all the time but most times, yeah.”
Sometimes, though, anime may not be a coping mechanism. Sometimes, a film is just a film – nothing too deep or psychologically stimulating. For music producer Jason, anime is not something he watches to cope with life and its challenges. To him, it’s just entertainment; “I wouldn't say it’s a coping mechanism; I’d just say I use it as an escape from when I want to turn my brain off from everything. It hasn't transcended into other parts of my life; it’s just a community of people who also enjoy anime and just do fun stuff.”
“I was about seven years old, and I started watching Naruto on TV as it started airing. I followed it for some time, and I could instantly tell it was different from regular cartoons,” Remi says of his anime origins. Now, thanks to the internet and digital platforms, he’s able to communicate with other fans worldwide who have shared interests and norms. As the world recuperates from the effects of the year-long pandemic, these communities will continue to thrive and serve as safe spaces for people who seek a sense of belonging.