Anime as a Boundless Art Form

A feature on different ways anime has reshaped or influenced fans

Kyoukai no Kanata courtesy of Sentai Filmworks

Memories of my childhood weekends were some of the best moments of my life. Waking up to the morning sun peeking through my curtains was the only alarm I ever needed then. The excitement of watching my favourite TV shows was enough to propel me out of bed and start my day on the right foot.

My family didn’t have many channels back then, probably a little under 30, so there wasn’t much variety to choose from. I wasn’t bothered by it at all, especially considering I only had my sights on a certain channel, the one channel to perhaps have had the most influence in my life then, YTV.

The morning weekend schedule was not something I could afford to miss. Every Saturday and Sunday, I’d park myself in front of the TV to watch. Up until noon, YTV would televise these brightly coloured, action-packed animated shows I simply could not get enough of. Watching children my age embark on adventures with friends while fighting monsters as tall as skyscrapers was an experience I relished.

Grade-school me didn’t realize the origins of these shows, but even back then, I knew they differed somewhat from the animations I’ve seen in other cartoons. The faces were sharper, eyes much more detailed, the fight scenes were better choreographed and the soundtrack was completely unrivaled. I would eventually learn the proper name of these animated shows I spent my childhood with — anime.

Originating from Japan, anime is a Japanese term derived from the English word animation. It involves drawing in a distinct art style many believe originated from traditional Japanese artworks as early as the 17th or 18th century.

Anime’s earliest concepts arrived as comic books, or more commonly known in Japan as manga, and were eventually adapted into moving animation. Since then, anime’s popularity has grown outside of Japan to the point where certain shows offer dubs in several different languages.

Anime’s international success and recognition across the globe make it too prominent to be considered an underground outlet. Just last December of 2020, Demon Slayer: Mugen Train overtook the previous record holder and critically acclaimed 2001 movie Spirited Away for both top grossing anime film of all time and Japan’s overall highest grossing film ever at nearly $400 million USD. A testament to anime’s continued growth in popularity and a telling sign of its improved production.

No genre felt out of place for me and there was no character or plot with which I couldn’t relate. Anime was comforting no matter how I felt or what I was going through. As anime became more readily available to access, and with the eventual rise of the internet, I found myself more enveloped in the medium.

Before I realized it, I was no longer choosing which anime to watch based on recommendations or ratings, which was my preferred method for many years. Instead, I selected anime based on a certain emotion or feeling I wanted to experience, or an emotion I was missing.

When I was younger, friends were hard to come by, so I decided to watch a lot of light-hearted anime that portrayed strong bonds among friends. It was great. As the adversity and challenges they came across increased, so too did the trust and feelings they had for one another. Although nothing could substantially replace the array of human emotion through authentic, first-hand experiences, anime served as, and continues to be, the closest alternative I could find.

Living vicariously through works of fiction certainly has its drawbacks, but after years of watching anime, I can openly admit it has gradually enlightened the perception of myself and those around me.

Friendship is an important theme in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (Courtesy of Funimation)

One aspect anime seems to do so well, and perhaps a major factor in why people start to watch in the first place, is how they implement scenarios or characters that we, as the viewer, can’t help but relate to or put ourselves in that position. Not only does it offer a chance for us to reflect on our own decisions, morals and ethics, but most anime tries to answer life’s questions that don’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer.

For instance, should you prioritize yourself over others? Is violence justifiable? When should you confess your love to someone? Even with context, these kinds of situations aren’t so easily solvable, which is why I’m grateful anime has provided me a platform to learn more about the type of person I am and to discover the kind of person I want to become.

The anime world is now composed of a multitude of different fandoms and subcultures. The community continues to expand in what seems like an endless creation of interest and niche groups fueled mostly by certain genres, characters or series.

Anime fans may have started watching the medium at different points of their lives and for different reasons, but one thing remains certain, their passion for anime is one they hold near and dear to them. If I haven’t already made it clear by now, no two anime fans are the same, and yet they are all connected through the shared interest of animation works from Japan.

I wanted to know more about those with a strong interest in anime culture and what kind of sentimental value they’ve gained, as I have, from the shows they watch or their anime communities. This project allowed me to glimpse into the lives of fellow anime fans as they guided me through their perspectives and lived experiences of anime and, to an extent, Japanese culture.

Over the past few months, I’ve met a range of anime fans willing to share their beloved stories. For the first time as a journalism student, my interviews felt more like a conversation between reunited friends rather than an extraction of information.

From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank those who took precious time out of their days to talk with me. Hopefully, my stories accurately represent and describe who they are as consumers of anime culture, and perhaps more importantly, the significant role anime has played in their lives, how it all began and what it truly means to them.

Andrea Carter, from Toronto, Ont., would be the first person I interviewed and the initial domino piece to start my journey of interacting with anime fans of various subcultures.

As someone who started watching anime long before it was considered mainstream in North America, Andrea said she was a lot older than most anime fans at 32, which was quite surprising for me because I never thought someone in their 30s to be part of the older demographic of anime fans, let alone old in general.

Andrea started our conversation by recalling the time anime was becoming a popular medium to watch when she was in high school. Andrea said she grew interested in anime because it encompassed a style much different from the other animated shows in Canada.

Instead of waiting for TV channels to air her favourite anime, Andrea went online where she could watch at her own time. “The internet was booming. I stopped watching anime on TV and switched to just downloading everything. It all happened very quickly,” she explained. “Why would I wait to watch the dub when it could be years later than when it aired in Japan?”

Evangelion (1995) was Andrea’s most-watched anime when she was a teenager (Courtesy of ADV Films)

This discovery would expose her to more anime and introduce her to lesser-known shows that weren’t popular in North America. For Andrea, there weren’t many animated shows in Canada that young adults would enjoy watching with children.

“In North America, cartoons for adults and teenagers are more potty humour and slapstick. And then cartoons for young children are especially not that enjoyable for adults. It’s like a minimum amount of entertainment for adults watching with their kids.”

Anime, on the other hand, is known to make diverse shows where there is no targeted demographic. Much like myself, Andrea was hooked on this foreign product that appealed in so many ways.

As a longtime fan, Andrea says she wanted to be more involved with the anime community, to experience the culture beyond just being an avid watcher. Her curiosity and passion led to a staff position with Toronto’s Anime North, Canada’s largest yearly anime convention.

Although she says she enjoyed her time at Anime North, she admits her introduction to the scene wasn’t the easiest. “I was kind of weirded out by the Beyblade World Championship tournament they were having there,” she says.

The heavy focus on Beyblade, a spinning top game made popular by the anime with the same title, deterred her from attending Anime North early on. After the Beyblade tournaments stopped, Andrea says she decided to take part in the convention. “The year right after that I went for the first time. And I’ve pretty much been going every year other than last year because of COVID.”

Anime in Canada has become so popular over the years that attendance numbers for Anime North have skyrocketed significantly, with the past seven years averaging more than 30,000.

“When I first joined, I don’t even know if there were 10,000 attendees. After the 2010s, I found that there was almost this explosion of people bringing in their families,” Andrea says. In addition to Anime North’s attendance numbers increasing year by year, the diversity among the people grew as well.

“As time went on, it became more acceptable for people who weren’t white and Asian to be openly interested in anime, so you started seeing people of any colour, any culture, any religion coming.”

A group of con-goers at Anime North 2018 (Courtesy of CGMagazine)

As Andrea became more involved with Anime North, she says she began to be more active on the online forums and panels. She says her panels were mostly based on social issues like sexism within anime.

Andrea’s passion and hard work would not go unnoticed. She would eventually be asked by an Anime North staff member to join the team. “Maybe seven years ago I was asked to join staff, so I did. It was a sort of position where I could do it on my own time, on my phone or computer. It was all year round,” she recalls.

“I liked it. I would find myself spending more time in the panel’s office and chatting with guests and I found that really enjoyable as well.”

Despite being grateful for the opportunity, Andrea says she wasn’t fond of the direction the organization was headed in nor did she find any room for career growth. She ultimately left but tells me her departure was for the best.

“I wouldn’t mind going back, but I was getting so stressed with a lot of things that my inside voice wasn’t in check anymore and I think I started being rude to people,” she confessed. “When something gets to me and I can’t pretend to be calm, it’s time to move on.”

Andrea says she continues to watch anime and can confidently say the once underground medium has blossomed into mainstream media. No longer should it be perceived as content made solely for children.

“Nowadays, there are so many more adults who know about what anime is, and it’s not just because their kids were into Pokémon cards. They know about anime because it was recommended for them to actually watch,” she explains.

Andrea says she is more than welcoming of anime reaching a wider audience and says she believes it will spark an animation standard where anime’s distinct style and sophisticated storytelling become the norm, regardless of the country of origin.

Andrea says she understands in the past anime fans have been marginalized and stereotyped for liking shows exported from a different country. “Going back to the stereotypes, they’re seen as people who don’t have good social skills to understand just what is acceptable to talk about and also not having the self-confidence or will to brush off people making fun of them just because they like anime,” she says.

As anime continues to grow in popularity, Andrea insists the stigma associated with anime fans be dropped and to never shame someone else for being different.

“I think people need to just be more open to try media from any country and any style, whether it’s live action, anime, podcast or YouTube videos. It’s all about enjoyment.”

Toronto’s Anime North seems to be a treasure trove of memories for a lot of anime convention-goers. Not only does it offer an event to interact with anime and Japanese culture, but it also allows attendees to express themselves in a creative light.

Avid cosplayer Lindsay Barker from Acton, Ont. is no stranger when it comes to costuming as her favourite anime characters. Her passion for anime started on a similar trajectory as Andrea’s. Lindsay grew up at a time where anime was scarce and fans needed to rely on pirated DVDs to watch shows not aired on TV.

“Back in, you know, the early 2000s most of the anime that people watched were bootlegs or, like, crummy files that you got from your buddy and stuff like that,” she says.

Lindsay continued to watch anime as she grew older and told me it helped shape her personality by encouraging her to become more outgoing and social.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. And then I sort of just got introduced to anime, and I don’t know if it was necessarily the anime itself, or just being part of a group of people that were really okay with everything, but you could come out of your shell a little bit more,” Lindsay says.

Lindsay (right) cosplaying as Katara from Avatar: Last Airbender

“And I find that, at least, with my introduction, and my experience with the anime crowd, convention crowd and stuff like that, everyone’s very welcoming. Or at least I’ve always felt welcomed. It’s been a huge game changer for me in terms of personality, like, I’m a lot more outgoing now. I can’t explain why, but it definitely did.”

Although she couldn’t quite find the right words to say, I understand why anime had this effect on Lindsay. From my experience, anime has a mystic ability where fans can seamlessly mesh together even over the most trivial of things.

Fans bonding over an anime character or song is not uncommon within the culture. Just as anime includes the most bizarre premises and scenarios imaginable, like Earth-sized robots or Jesus and Buddha becoming roommates, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine anime fans also exhibiting these peculiar characteristics.

“I think it’s because you’re not worried about having anyone call you a geek or nerd or anything. Like that level of derogatory stuff. I have the badge that I wear that I’m weird with honor because I’m hanging out with all you other weirdos,” Lindsay says.

Since attending Anime North for the first time in 2004, Lindsay has become an avid cosplayer, dressing up as fan favourite characters from Pokémon to a full-body sized dinosaur from Digimon.

“It started off as me just wanting to run a costume contest and it sort of spiraled out from there,” she told me. However, like Andrea, Lindsay was hesitant about going to her first anime convention. Her friends from university gave her the push needed to overcome her discomfort of being in a public gathering full of “nerds.”

Lindsay says she enjoys creating her own costumes and spends a lot of time on each and every one of them to ensure they are accurate and detailed in every aspect. Her cosplays were so well crafted that she decided to enter a highly renowned costume competition called The Masquerade.

“So, we have a masquerade, which generally happens at anime cons, and sci-fi cons and stuff like that, where you have a panel of judges that judge costumes on stage, and they’re judged on either workmanship, which they do behind the scenes, or they do stage presentation on the actual stage,” she says.

Lindsay’s usually oversized cosplays have won her numerous awards over the years while achieving the highest Masquerade rank possible, master.

“I’ve done the masquerades at Fan Expo and Anime North and went up the different levels. You start at, like, level one, and you work your way up to level four. And so, I’m a master level costumer, based on awards that I’ve won at Anime North and Titan Expo.”

Although the success and recognition Lindsay received from competing in Masquerades are gratifying, she continues to cosplay simply because of the joy it brings her.

“It’s just fun to wear a costume and run around and not necessarily be someone else. But it’s like, you can put on a slightly different persona or have fun or just be you know, be silly and be silly with other people who are dressed in the same type of costumes you are. It’s a very surreal experience,” she says.

As a veteran cosplayer, some of Lindsay’s most memorable costumes throughout her accomplished career are Guilmon from Digimon Tamers, Tiger of the Wind from Monster Rancher and Katara from Avatar: Last Airbender.

“I sort of tend to like the big creature mascot costumes. Just because they’re much more challenging to build, at least, I shouldn’t say they’re much more challenging because some people are very good with a lot of technical detail. I’m just not a super technical sewer. I’d rather bring up my hot glue gun than my sewing machine,” she says, laughing.

Lindsay’s big cosplays usually attract smaller children simply due to their larger than life structure, a repeated experience she cherishes every time. The last thing Lindsay wanted to address about cosplay culture was the need or validation of creating your own costume as opposed to buying it.

Lindsay enjoys it when children are thrilled with her costumes

“I think some of the politics around some cosplay stuff where people think that they have to have these perfect costumes in order to do conventions because that’s all they ever see,” she says.

“You don’t have to do that. It’s all about having fun. You’re going to have the same level of fun going in the costume that you put together in your closet, versus spending six months making. So, it shouldn’t be about how perfect your costume is.”

Lindsay says she continues to watch anime, but admits to not cosplaying as often because she is a mother of two children. She is a co-founder of a local anime convention called Con-G based in Guelph, Ont..

Due to the coronavirus, and the cancellation of Anime North for both the 2020 and 2021 year, Con-G looks to serve as an alternative online convention where anime fans can interact and partake in virtual panels and Masquerades.

Lindsay talks more in-depth about the history and origins of Con-G over at Guelph Politico. More of her cosplays can be found on her official Facebook page.

Lindsay’s message of not worrying too much about the detail of cosplay and instead focus on the enjoyment of being in costume with like-minded people sets up the stage well for my interview with Nicole Oliva, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley.

I was curious to know how Nicole started getting into anime considering they were born in a generation before my own, Gen Z. As an active member of their university’s anime club, Cal Animage Alpha, Nicole, who uses the pronouns they/them, is perhaps the very definition of a die-hard anime fan.

Aside from watching a ton of anime, the Bungo Stray Dogs fanatic enjoys cosplaying, contributes to their anime club’s monthly magazine, Konshuu, indulges heavily in anime memes and culture, recently took a liking to modern Japanese literature, and lastly, does not shy away from showing their fondness over popular characters.

Their Twitter feed, filled with content related to some of anime’s most popular heartthrobs, is quite a sight to behold. Our interview lasted close to two hours, but felt more so like a fraction of that time because it genuinely felt like a conversation with a good friend.

Nicole cosplaying Osamu Dazai from their favourite anime Bungo Stray Dogs

Nicole was initially recommended to watch anime from a swim club teammate in elementary school and hasn’t stopped since. They say one of their earlier memories is staying up past 3 a.m. to watch the highly iconic anime Death Note.

Unfortunately for Nicole, they were spoiled about the anime’s ending and did not like how it panned out for the main character. Instead of accepting the true ending, Nicole would try to create an alternate one they preferred.

“I would go on YouTube and watch, like, different scenes or read the fanfiction. But I would never finish it. I was creating a false reality for myself.”

Despite anime shows not always ending to their liking, Nicole says they were drawn into the medium at a young age and stuck with it ever since because of the endless direction each show encompassed.

“I’m a really creative and artistic person, so that definitely appeals to me. I don’t know, it’s nothing that I’ve really experienced before. Even in other action genres, I think there’s so much you can do with animation that you can’t do with live action.”

Nicole says they found the characters relatable, a feeling I know all too well. “It’s super inspirational. I don’t know, the characters just really speak to me on a different level. I could see myself in a lot of characters.”

Becoming involved with anime has granted Nicole an opportunity to socialize with others who have similar interests while also providing inspiration to express their creative side. They have formed many relationships with others over anime and tells me most of their friends are fans as well.

“Almost all my friends. I don’t want to say it’s a prerequisite to be my friend, but it’s how I connect the easiest with people now. While making new friends, you kind of want people to be able to talk to you about the same things. So yeah, I’m grateful I have a lot of friends who are into anime. Otherwise, I’d just be like, you know, keeping it in. And I don’t know if I can deal with that.”

Here is Nicole continuing that train of thought, by explaining why bonding over anime comes naturally for most people.

As someone who started dressing up in costume before they knew it was called cosplay, Nicole says they were introduced to a world full of vibrant atmospheres and colourful characters through anime.

“I really liked dressing up as characters from movies. Yeah, actually I used to get my mom’s help to do my makeup and do my costumes. We kind of mix pieces together.”

Unlike Lindsay’s way of cosplaying, where her costumes are usually handcrafted and as accurate as possible, Nicole takes pleasure in putting their own unique creativity into the character they portray.

“I’m not really talented enough to sew my own patterns, so I rely a lot on closet cosplay. Sometimes I do buy the actual, like the actual outfit, but I like to kind of put my own spin to it. It’s like, what would this character look like if they were a normal person? Especially because I’m kind of into streetwear too, so it’s kind of like mixing all my different personality traits into the character.”

By combining their own sense of style with their cosplay, Nicole transforms characters in a stunning yet subtle way. In other words, you can tell which anime character is being portrayed right away, but at the same time appreciate the distinctions. This allows Nicole to cosplay as any character, regardless of genre, and pull it off with absolute conviction.

Nicole uses makeup to enhance their cosplay; here they are as Ryomen Sukuna from Jujutsu Kaisen

Some of their recent cosplays include Sukuna from Jujutsu Kaisen, Yumeko from Kakegurui and Osamu from Bungo Stray Dogs. Unsurprisingly, Nicole shares the same sentiments as Lindsay in that cosplaying is not always about the accuracy or detail of the costume, but rather the overall experience of dressing up as fictional characters and having fun with it.

“Just experiment, honestly, you don’t have to feel like it’s 100 percent accurate. Just do anything, like you can be original and do your own rendition of the character. Sometimes it’s not really about appearance, but kind of, like, vibes I guess,” Nicole says.

“If you want to be perfectly accurate then go for it. It’s just not always about that, you know?”

With the rise of social media, Nicole actively shares photos of their cosplay online and further contributes to the ever-growing fandom of anime pop culture.

In addition to contributing to Cal Animage Alpha’s monthly magazine, Konshuu, Nicole also volunteers as an officer ranked member for the club’s official Discord server. They help set up events and interacts with fellow club members, even if they’re not UC Berkeley students. Anyone is allowed to participate in the club’s weekly online activities and Nicole encourages more people to join.

Nicole cosplays as any character regardless of genre; here they are cosplaying Yumeko from Kakegurui

Despite living alone in a one-bedroom dorm for school, I could tell Nicole was not deprived of social communication or company. That’s simply because of their outgoing personality and their involvement with a multitude of networks full of people who are just as, if not more, obsessed with anime as them.

Nicole’s love for anime has expanded not only into an art form where the range of creativity is endless, but has also created countless opportunities for them to become part of a community they truly admire and adore.

Discord, the online messaging platform, is host to many servers that unite anime fans online. In these servers, members can communicate through text, voice and video, which has made it a popular messaging service choice for younger people.

From my use of Discord in the past three or so years, I always thought servers with a member count of 100 were a lot, massive even. I could not fathom how a server of 1,000 plus members would be maintained without chaos erupting every minute.

To my disbelief, I would come to discover an anime focused server with nearly 200,000 members. Chillbar, a public server where making new friends is as simple as pressing a button, would be the next step in my journey of meeting anime enthusiasts.

Overwhelmed with how fast messages were being sent in any given text chat, my requests to find an interview subject were clearly given no visibility at all. Despite the absurdly fast rate of discussions, I noticed a handful of the conversations were about the blockbuster anime Attack on Titan, one of my personal favourites.

If the thousands of anime profile pictures and anime related usernames weren’t enough of a welcoming sign, it was at that moment I knew I had found the right place to find anime fans for my project.

Chillbar is an anime based social server dedicated to making new friends

As luck would have it, not only did I get to talk with someone from Chillbar, but I had the gracious opportunity to chat with one of the moderators, Hunter Capreol, from Denver, Colo..

Before joining the moderation team for one of Discord’s most popular anime focused servers, Hunter says he was just a regular anime fan who worked in e-commerce while finishing his international business degree. After living with Japanese neighbours and almost moving to Japan due to his father’s work, Hunter says he became interested in the culture but never pursued it any further.

That continued until his cousin from out of town came over for a visit, where the two would eventually talk about anime. “I’m hanging out with him and he decides to put on a very old anime. I can’t remember what the name was. And he was like, ‘hey, man, are you interested in anime? Do you ever watch?’ And I replied kindly with no,” he laughs.

“Well, a month later, I signed up for a Japanese course. And I already had a bit of Japanese knowledge at this point. This was about four years ago. Long story short, I ended up taking the Japanese course about history and as a language. And from then on, I got into it.”

In addition to anime being a supplemental source for learning Japanese, Hunter attributes his quickened maturity, overall growth as a human and the priceless opportunities he’s earned from simply watching anime and becoming more involved with the community.

With a deepened passion for the culture, Hunter says he took to social media where he could interact with more anime fans who shared his interest. Discord would be the platform where he found a community that was genuine and he enjoyed.

“I began to interact with people being very blunt, but at the same time, very empathetic. And I guess I kind of solidified myself as a figure that people felt comfortable talking to,” he says.

“And that was part of my aim, that people became open to being more open in the server. And as time went on, back in December [2020], there was a staff promotion to which I was promoted to staff later on down the road.”

What started out as Hunter’s genuine nature to really empathize and associate with others soon turned into a fulfilling position where he saw himself as a good fit to help orchestrate the community.

In addition to ensuring Chillbar remain a safe and active atmosphere, along with the rest of the moderation team, Hunter says he does whatever the server needs of him. Although he might not be as active on Chillbar as he once was due to school and work, he says he ensures his time on the server is efficient.

The Chillbar server is neatly organized where rules are clearly explained and channels are easy to access

“I might not be on all the time, but when I am on, I do what I can for the community. And that involves a variety of things, like taking requests from community members, figuring out what areas you need focus, updating embeds [policies], so when new members join, they have a clean, clear, funneled layout for them, so they don’t get confused,” he says.

Hunter has seen too many unorganized Discord servers with no intention or goals posted anywhere far too often, which is why he has become so adamant on making Chillbar, along with other servers he moderates for, well-structured and defined.

One of the main perks of working as a moderator is the different people he interacts with daily. He says the conversations are refreshing and the individuals are authentic.

While it’s true every member joined with an incentive to talk about anime, the discussions and interactions, especially in voice chat, take on a life of their own and move beyond anime. Once again, with Chillbar having close to 200,000 members, the chat rooms are usually filled with users on any given day.

Since becoming a member of Chillbar’s moderation team, Hunter says he has been grateful for the responsibility and privilege given to him in a server he holds near and dear.

Being a substantial part of a platform that enables and encourages meeting new people, even beyond just an interest in anime, is a priceless experience he literally does not get compensated for financially.

“This is completely voluntary,” he says. “It’s something that I really appreciate doing voluntarily. And I don’t know how I would feel about being paid for this. While I do have other sources of income, it feels better not being paid. If that makes sense.”

Chillbar earns money from member donations. All proceeds gained from donations are then spent on advertisements to promote more visibility in order to maintain a high member count.

Hunter says he never expected an interest in anime would offer him friendships and opportunities he will likely carry with him for a long time. As an avid traveler, Hunter hopes to move to Shinjuku, Japan shortly after his graduation this year with an e-commerce business in mind.

Virtual YouTubers, otherwise known as VTubers, are live streamers and content creators who use virtual avatars to communicate instead of their real image. Although YouTube is associated with the name, VTubers don’t necessarily need to stream on that specific platform to be labelled as such.

The main component is having a digital avatar be the main representation of the content. Avatars are usually created in the style of anime characters with some of the more popular ones actually speaking Japanese.

Hololive Production, a talent agency known for creating a well-received group of VTubers has definitely played a role in the industry’s rapid success over the years. The agency boasts more than 50 active VTuber talents with 11 of them having more than one million subscribers on YouTube.

When I watch VTuber streams, I feel as though I’m watching an unrehearsed, unscripted anime episode unfold. This provides a sense of authenticity between the VTuber and their audience.

It’s not quite the same as watching anime, but it’s an immersive feeling fans of the culture like and have adopted. The similarities between the two make it easy to transition between one and the other, with each having its own charms.

OCAD student Winnie Su, from Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont. has recently become a fan of the growing phenomenon of VTubers. She credits her newfound interest to the influx of Hololive members, which made it easier for her to become more interested in the medium.

Winnie’s rendition of Mercedes from Fire Emblem

As a long-time anime fan, Winnie says she was always attracted to its distinct art style. Her attachment to Japanese animation even led her to pursue a career in art. “It did definitely push me to pursue a more artistic career because I used to draw random anime stuff in my notebooks,” she says.

“I wanted to replicate some of the style, stylization and really get into animation as a whole because I wanted to replicate that kind of action scene you’d find in Inuyasha or something, like really nice stuff.”

As an animation student in her final year of undergrad, Winnie’s work shows the style of drawing she has developed through years of practice. Her inspiration from anime is still faintly present in her creations.

The social benefits of becoming involved in the anime community are shared by most of the fans I’ve interviewed. Winnie says she is thankful it helped her to come out of her shell.

“Ever since I started attending my first convention or so, I’ve gotten more social in a way. Even joining [anime Discord] servers did a lot for me and just communicating as a whole, as I got to go out and talk to people, for once in my life.”

The Hololive member who piqued Winnie’s interest and started her descent down the VTuber rabbit hole was none other than the beloved canine girl, Korone Inugami. She says she started watching Korone last summer and soon became familiar with the rest of the Hololive team. Korone’s bubbly persona and lengthy endurance streams would be a captivating combination for anyone to tune in at least once.

VTuber Korone Inugami is known for her cute, energetic and cheerful personality (Twitter @inugamikorone)

After that, Winnie says she began to watch other Hololive members to see what kind of personalities they have. It became such a lighthearted source to watch that Winnie would even leave them playing in the background while she focused on other commitments.

One reason she says she is so drawn into certain VTubers is because of the genuine personalities they share with the audience. “Some of them definitely just follow an act,” she says.

“But in some cases, you can really see the real person come out.”

Although Hololive members were originally labeled as idol groups in the form of pure, proper, and pristine maidens, most of them gradually grew into their own personalities and characteristics unbecoming of a traditional idol.

Instead of losing audience appeal, Hololive gained even more support because their talents were unpredictable, humourous and even downright crazy at times, an unexpected development fans did not only seem to mind but preferred.

Winnie’s rendition of Usagi Tsukino from Sailor Moon

The polarizing cast of Hololive provided an array of different VTubers for preferences of all types, which is a huge part of the corporation’s sudden popularity. Since the group’s creation in 2016, Hololive now has members who speak Japanese, English and Indonesian.

The live stream format sets a tone for a new type of immersion where fans can interact with the VTuber and somewhat dictate what goes on during the stream. By typing comments in the chat, the VTubers can read the audience’s questions, take prompts and even read donation messages if they choose to do so.

It adds an entirely new element of connectivity by allowing the watcher to directly influence the stream and see their reactions. “There’s just some sort of real time kind of perspective. Just seeing stuff for the first time. So, just seeing them react to stuff. It feels like a weird reality TV show in a way,” Winnie says.

As more VTubers originate from various countries outside of Japan, language barriers become a problem for most fans. Luckily for Winnie, she has a few methods to understand VTubers who speak a different language, primarily Japanese, in almost real time.

VTubers are another example of how expansive anime culture has grown and Winnie is a testament to how borderless the medium has become. VTubers are a fairly new trend that smoothly blurs the line between an anime character and a real-life person.

The experience is unlike watching a traditional anime or live stream, but a splendid combination of both that highlights the best features of their respective mediums.

When the pandemic is hopefully no more, Winnie says she is excited to reunite with her friends and make up for lost time. After graduation, she hopes to work in an industry job related to her art profession, preferably at a studio, somewhere in Toronto. More of Winnie’s work can be found on her Instagram.

One of anime’s redeeming features is how vastly different two shows can be. Although they both look and sound like the same thing on the surface, as mentioned before, the directions of which anime can be taken are endless.

In a medium packed with monsters, magical girls and superpowered beings, there is one particular genre that stands apart from the rest, and for good reason.

Slice-of-life, otherwise known as SOL is an anime genre based primarily on the everyday lives of normal characters ranging from teenagers to adults. There is no supernatural element or action involved with most SOL anime.

The slow pace and relatable aspects of SOL is what makes it so enjoyable for some anime fans. Common themes found in SOL anime are usually centered around school, relationships or work, which are all inescapable parts in our lives. To put it in other words, SOL is more or less a reflection of society through the eyes of another ordinary person.

The relatability and relaxing atmosphere SOL anime provides is a refuge for anime fans to take a calm breather from whatever might be going on in their lives.

AJ Cava from Brampton, Ont. says he is especially fond of anime’s slice-of-life genre because of how closely it resembles the outside world. “I think I really enjoy slice of life because it’s so close to, essentially, real life that it’s kind of like you’re getting to know a friend or something like that,” he says.

“You get to see people that you can relate to. And then that can kind of connect with what’s happening in your life or your outlook.”

AJ says he bonded most with Mizore from Sound! Euphonium and Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya because they’re both shy, quiet and reserved protagonists, which are characteristics AJ embodies himself.

AJ says he relates to Mizore from Sound! Euphonium because they have similar characteristics (Eleven Arts)

However, as more development is given to these characters, viewers begin to learn more about their personalities beneath their suggested surfaces. As it turns out, they are every bit human in that they are complex beings who have their own interests and struggle with unexplained emotions as well.

“You get to see Nagato evolve from this quiet monotone, alien character who’s super powerful to a legit person who has her own way of expressing emotion and feelings,” AJ says.

“She has interests, she has feelings, in the sense that she can feel happy, she can feel sad, she can feel lonely, she can feel angry towards a situation.”

Watching these characters from a predominately SOL anime taught AJ he was more similar to people than he thought. He says he took comfort in knowing his feelings weren’t isolated instances, that deep down inside he was more than just a shy person.

The nursing student says Adachi to Shimamura and Welcome to the NHK were also extremely relatable to him. He empathized with the characters from Adachi to Shimamura because he too felt anxious and worrisome, which made forming relationships with other people a nerve-wracking experience.

Welcome to the NHK taught him about the importance of mental health and the devastating side effects people are susceptible to when they neglect taking care of it.

Sato from Welcome to the NHK struggles with mental health issues (ADV Films)

“Welcome to the NHK was important for me because it primed me to be extremely interested about mental health. Because in my personal life, I’m someone trying to become a nurse and the nurse has to try and understand people and understanding their mental health, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting and important aspects in that field.”

The setting for a SOL anime is typically a high school environment because it’s a step in life that most fans experience. “For people in high school, it’s very relatable because it’s characters just like them. And for older people, it’s because it’s more of a nostalgia type of thing,” AJ says.

The slice-of-life genre is usually criticized for its slow pace revolving around ordinary characters living out their mundane lives. Those who don’t prefer SOL most likely find the genre boring and typically move on to other anime geared towards heavy plot or plenty of action.

While AJ understands why SOL might not be for every anime fan, it still serves the same purpose as a source of entertainment to get your mind elsewhere.

Willy Ryan, also from Brampton, Ont., says he doesn’t have one particular genre he prefers. Instead, Willy says he is an extremist when it comes to all things One Piece.

The long-time running anime, which began airing in 1999 and continues to this day, has been the mid 20-year-old’s favourite show throughout most of his life.

After a friend told him about it in his freshman year of high school, Willy says he has been entranced with One Piece and has made it a priority to watch the show’s weekly releases.

One Piece is about a young pirate boy named Luffy as he sails the seas yearning to one day become the pirate king. In his adventurous journey, he assembles a crew and together they search for the legendary treasure left behind by the most notorious pirate of all.

The show has made 14 movies and has been referenced in other anime on numerous occasions. It is one of Japan’s most beloved anime series and is the best-selling manga of all time with nearly 500 million copies sold.

Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece is known for his goofy antics and unrivaled bravado (Funimation)

Willy says his initial encounter with anime started similarly to my own, which makes sense considering we’re about the same age and grew up nearly a town over from one another. He says he was exposed to anime culture on the local television channel YTV, where he learned about Naruto and Bleach.

“When I first started, it was more so an individual thing just for me to learn and expand my imagination on what the world around me was.”

He says he realized early on that anime was noticeably different compared to the traditional cartoons he watched. Aside from the art style, the stories were more sophisticated and immersive.

Although One Piece has aired for more than a decade and includes nearly 1,000 episodes, the story and characters remain as compelling each time. “I think there’s no redundancy at all on the show,” Willy says.

“Even when it comes to fillers, you wouldn’t really feel like their fillers because it could just be another perspective for a longer, bigger story on the outside. Or more detail to something else you didn’t realize about later on.”

Willy says One Piece has helped him throughout his life, especially during rough times, by giving him an exciting incentive to look forward to each week.

After being involved in a car accident last fall that left him with lingering nerve issues, Willy says watching his favourite anime has helped ease some of the burden.

“I wouldn’t personally say it helped in any particular way. But it gives you something to look forward to when you’re in those pressing times, and you can’t really do the things you used to do,” he says.

“It gives you a way to live or take an adventure when you can because they’re in there seeing the whole world from a different perspective.”

Willy credits the anime to its author Eiichiro Oda for creating a well written story.

It doesn’t matter if it’s his first or third time watching an episode. Despite One Piece’s large episode count, Willy says he enjoys it every time. “No matter who I’m watching with at the time, or when I’m watching, it just makes me feel wholesome,” he says.

“Like I’m complete in the universe.”

Even if the show were to end, Willy says he would be alright because of the countless joyful memories the show has provided him.

“I would be okay with it ending after 20 plus years,” he says. “I might feel empty inside for a bit, but I can always re-watch it and get full re-watch value because everything is there and I can’t finish it in a day.”

After learning more about these anime fanatics and hearing their stories about a particular interest or fandom within the culture, I couldn’t help but appreciate how a Japanese originated medium can offer more than just entertainment.

It’s grown to the point where anime can quite literally forge friendships, kick start careers, offer new perspectives, serve as remedies, and even change how we act.

Anime has always been a big part of my life, so I felt relieved to find so many outspoken people who feel the same way. While it’s true anime, at its core, is intended to be a form of entertainment to pass the time, it has also blossomed into a culture where new communities and subtopics are being created at unprecedented rates, transcending both distance and language barriers.

If you’ve learned anything from reading my story, I hope it’s that the boundless art form called anime holds a deeper meaning for most fans, a sense of connection best experienced firsthand.

Thank you so much to the following people for helping me throughout this project, without them none of this would be possible.

Andrea Carter, Lindsay Barker, Nicole Oliva, Hunter Capreol, Winnie Su, AJ Cava and Willy Ryan.

An academic thanks to Professors Siobhan Moore, Steven May, and Dan Rowe for overseeing my project from beginning to end.

Bachelor of Journalism student at Toronto’s Humber College and avid anime fan. Contact me at wrence@live.ca

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