Anime fandom’s move to YouTube as its primary discourse field

The notion of anime fandom moving from forums, Tumblr and dedicated blog thinkpieces to YouTube as its primary creative platform is one I’ve been considering for a while. To give a little background, around a year ago – having watched the vast majority of the anime ‘canon’ of ‘good’ shows, I found myself spending more time delving into the anime YouTube community. Instead of watching anime, I was watching people talk *about* anime.

The burgeoning success of a number of key anime review/analysis channels, as well as the ‘YouTube anime community’ as its own sub-sphere within popular anime fandom is one that has become increasingly fascinating to me, and I was further spurred on to write this post when I saw a comment from Lauren Orsini where she discusses this very same issue of the community ‘moving’ to YouTube. It’s also something further echoed by a ‘traditionalist’ web outlet like Anime News Network rolling its long-running podcast feature onto YouTube as its distribution platform, as well as beginning to generate more video content themselves.

A dedicated post on my own favourites amongst the YouTube anime community and why I feel they succeed in an increasingly crowded market is something I feel I will inevitably get round to at one point. But for the time being, it feels worth saying that amongst the community, there has recently been a degree of drama or friction between those that operate primarily as ‘lifestyle’ YouTubers or who ‘game’ the system in search of higher view counts (and thus, monetary return) and those that offer a kind of more free-spirited ‘gonzo’ style of ‘serious’ journalistic/academic approaches. Just like wider anime fandom itself – the YouTube anime community is one occupied by a variety of fan ‘types’, each consuming and analysing anime in a variety of ways.

At the centre of this discussion though is one – inherently – of creation. By its very nature, YouTube presents a higher degree of ‘creative’ capability or technical know-how. One cannot simply load up a free blogging platform like WordPress and hash out a few hundred words on a subject. The most successful anime YouTube channels reach arguably professional-TV levels of quality – producing immensely capable documentary style pieces that combine well-edited footage with both synched audio and well-recorded voiceover work. From a time vs. end product framework – they inevitably suggest a higher degree of investment than a purely ‘written’ kind of fandom creative process.

Why this is important is that it creates a kind of ‘gated’ system that does not exist to the same degree in the written anime community. While anime blogs of various scale and reputation exist, YouTube’s inbuilt recommendation system naturally inclines toward a more centric, focussed kind of consumption – where one might reasonably suggest around ten or so ‘key’ channels or personas that dominate the medium. In essence, the gap between the ‘best’ and ‘rest’ is perceivably larger on YouTube than in the written medium.

While this might suggest a kind of ‘cabal-like’ monopoly of key voices – I would argue that it also creates a higher focus on quality. One of my current favourite anime YouTubers, Super Eyepatch Wolf, very rapidly began gaining subscribers over the past twelve months – precisely because their videos (from the off) were of a far higher quality than many other ‘young’ channels.

All this brings us to the question which I think lies at the heart of why the discourse around anime is moving onto YouTube as a platform – and why this is so important. Anime – as a visual medium – is one inherently at home on YouTube; and while copyright claims vs. fair-use law may still disrupt the production of this content to some degree, the added dimensions of visual and audio arguably present YouTube videos an inherent advantage over purely ‘written’ anime analysis.

Recently, I’ve come to theorise a kind of ‘euphoria’ effect around the very best of these anime analysis videos. And while it’s perfectly fair to argue that a very well written essay on anime could perceivably achieve the same effect, in my view, instigating this kind of worked ‘euphoria’ is far easier to achieve in the form of a YouTube video essay, where voiceover, well-cut visuals and accompanying audio work toward a kind of crescendo in which euphoria is achieved via some kind of ‘Oh yes, I absolutely felt that too when I watched that…’ elicitation from the viewer of the video.

It is this notion of inclusiveness that I feel YouTube absolutely nails as a medium – via subscribing to a YouTube channel (and by extension, often becoming a monetary supporter of said channel via Patreon), we achieve a kind of one-to-one relationship with a YouTube content creator that goes above and beyond a writer/reader relationship. In the singular experience of sitting down to watch a video on a screen and hearing the words of a narrator via voiceover, we are offered a distinctly personal experience that taps into a powerfully unifying element of fandom – that of unity-of-opinion.

Over the past year I’ve already observed shifting currents in the make-up of anime YouTube video-essays – from the aforementioned friction amongst the kinds of creators operating in the space, to shifts in the kinds of videos made by individual channels. Some of my favourite creators have ‘gone quiet’ – lowering their output of content, while others have ‘stepped up’ with an increasingly ‘gamed’, overly-sleek approach, which has arguably decreased the quality or integrity of their productions.

I have no doubt the medium will continue to evolve over the coming year or so, as other players look to encroach on the medium in search of the vast viewer-counts and immediacy the platform offers.


3 Replies to “Anime fandom’s move to YouTube as its primary discourse field”

  1. This is an interesting post. I’m going to be honest and admit that I prefer reading reviews to watching them because I can read at my pace rather than having to wait for those pauses, laughs, transitions and all the other things that videos insert that actually slow down the speed of information. What they say in a video over 5 minutes can usually be read in about 1 minute and there’s little loading time and no buffering on a text based site. If I’m going to watch a video, I’d rather actually just watch the anime.
    Still, I am looking into audio and video content as a supplement to my very text based blog mostly because both do appeal to different audiences and they allow information to be conveyed a little differently and, as you’ve pointed out, anime is a visual medium. Regardless, I will probably stick with a mostly text based approach, but it will be interesting to see how the trend continues on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely think they can co-exist, but the shift to YouTube is part of a wider internet movement which is seeing shortform video becoming more popular on all platforms – not just YouTube, but also Facebook, Snapchat etc.

      I don’t expect many anime writers to shift to YouTube – after all, it’s an entirely different skillset. I still read a lot of the reviews on ANN because I enjoy particular writers there – but I’d still argue that a really well done YouTube video will always have more instant ‘WOW’ factor.

      Really, if ANN wanted ‘in’ on that space, they would have set up YouTube ‘voices’ earlier – much like Crunchyroll have started doing. But it’s interesting to see how the conversation is evolving on YouTube – and to observe how key voices there are presenting themselves in different styles and for different audiences.

      Liked by 1 person

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