If growing convention attendance and streaming catalogues are any indication, the anime fandom is growing. Somehow, more and more people are getting into anime, which contradicts some of the paranoia I see around the notion of ordinary people being exposed to anime.
When it comes right down to it, anime is just like any other medium. It has its own genre-defining masterpieces, its own midlevel, average-grade works, and even its own subsection of adult media. It’s just like film, books, and videogames in that sense and this is where I think people trip themselves up. The notion that anime is special and the desire to set it apart from other media can be off-putting to newcomers and make the medium seem inaccessible. The fact is, anime is simply a sub-medium of animation distinguished solely by the fact that it’s produced by Japanese studios for Japanese audiences and originally released in Japan. As a result, de-mystifying anime is the first step.
The second step is to appeal to their existing preferences. The beautiful thing about anime is the fact that there’s a wide array of very different works in various genres within it. Unlike a lot of other animation, it isn’t pigeonholed into being either kids’ media or comedy. As a result, it’s easy to recommend shows based on people’s existing preferences.
The third step is where a lot of people stumble. Many are quick to recommend old standbys like Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist, Akira, or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. In my perspective this is a misstep. While it might seem like a good idea to recommend classics, it’s a skewed first view of the medium. Anime has changed since the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s. For someone on their first foray into anime, their first show lays the foundation for their concept of the medium. Whatever someone watches first is “anime” to them. Starting with something from eras past, only to soon after get curious about more anime to watch and peruse the titles out now could be a huge shock.
That’s the reason I believe it’s important that anyone’s first anime be relatively contemporary. While some might question how the uninitiated might react to some of the weirdness going on in today’s anime, it’s important to acknowledge all aspects of the medium, especially when introducing someone to it. In today’s anime world, we get most shows simultaneously with Japan. Past eras were curated by what licensing firms could get the rights to, and time-shifted by waiting for VHS or disc releases. Now we get practically everything. There’s no reason to limit ourselves or our newcomers.
In any fan community, it falls upon the more experienced fans to guide newer fans’ engagement with the medium. That is to say, the older fans must cultivate interest and engage with the less experienced in order to help the fandom’s growth.
As fandoms grow, however, they change. It’s equally important that the “old guard” not grow jaded. It’s easy to recommend one’s own old favorites, or to hold the medium up as something super-special. The goal, however, isn’t to create a clone. It’s to give the new fans a jumping-off point into their own adventures as anime fans. Anime is more accessible now than ever, and we should embrace that, rather than cling to old titles or portray anime as less accessible than it really is.