I’ve been reading a lot of ‘older’ books about anime recently, mostly short, populist hardback tomes from the early 00s – an era when the medium was emerging from its more ‘cult’ overtones of the 80s and 90s and into full-fledged social phenomenon. This was the age of Funimation and ADV’s rise to ascendancy, of all the ‘classic’ series everyone still remembers today. Of Naruto and DBZ, of Tokyopop and the all round general construction of the trappings of the Western anime industry and fandom we recognise today.
And the thing that struck me most about these books (epitomised by 2004’s Cruising the Anime City: An Otaku Guide to Neo Tokyo) was how much their tone and writing style seemed aimed squarely at a sexed-up teen male audience. It was all shock-jock ‘WOW! Isn’t this just so darn cool!’ proclamations and a fixation on ‘experiencing’ the sexier side of fan/cosplay culture, about visiting maid cafes and chatting to hot female cosplayers. Of wheeling and dealing in the busy streets of Akihabara and grabbing all the gatcha prizes you could afford/carry. This was late 90s gaming magazine speak via Loaded/Nuts – an evolution of Manga UK’s tits n tentacles furtiveness into a new, glossy 00s laddishness for whom anime was simply part of a larger consumption of burgeoning geek culture.
And it all made me wonder about the evolution of how when we write about anime, in populist terms, it so overtly shifts with the times. These days, ‘intro to anime’ style books are arguably passe – anime no longer needs an introduction; those ‘in the know’ are already sated on the whole wealth of media the internet has to offer. But back then, there was this kind of wider affirmation of media culture. You subscribed to (a physical) Shonen Jump, you were part of physical mailing lists and mail order catalogues, you read physical books about physical anime releases. Everything was physical. Tactile. Consumptive. You touched. You felt.
These days, through the wealth of information available online, and the wealth of other fans we’re able to converse with via Twitter etc, anime fandom has arguably become a more open, equalised domain. But in looking back, I remain curious about how we’ve come so far from the zany, thrill-ride tone of the early 00s, when DVD blurb’s were plastered with tongue in cheek references to the sexual content.
The irony is that in wider media discourse, it’s my belief that the laddish tone of (youth culture) gaming and music mags of the late 90s and early 00s birthed what became the current style of intelligent but chatty, unformalised tone that now dominates liberal publications like the Guardian and a whole host of discourse blogs. Crystalizing in the mid to late 00s as a generation of journalists and writers brought up in the media climate of the 90s came of age and began dictating the leading edge of how we talk about media, the style soon came to suffuse the media itself. But in this process, there was evolution – and as such, looking back at works of the early 00s, we see an arguably ill-formed, incarnation not yet streamlined and and sublimated into the smooth, easy breeziness of what was to follow. Here, there remained off-taste jokes and a jocularity that still shifted between the triumvate of Playstation, lads mags and Babestation. An age where ADV could release an anime like Najica Blitz Tactics with an actual pair of panties with it.