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Where Do We Go From Here?

by Justin Sevakis,

And so, we've come to the end of the road. After six years of answering your questions, this will be my final Answerman column. My life has gotten increasingly busy, and to be honest, I was starting to reach the limits of what I could answer here. I mean, seriously, go look at that archive page! Almost anything you could think to ask is in there. It seemed like a good time to move on to some new projects.

The column is not coming to an end. Like Zac Bertschy, Rebecca Bundy and Brian Hanson before me, I am merely stepping aside, to let new writers and a new format continue the tradition. I'm looking forward to reading along with you all, and perhaps, learning some new stuff, myself. You can still find me on Twitter (@worldofcrap), and I'll still be spending most of my time making anime Blu-rays.

In preparing to write my final Answerman column, I put out a last call for questions, and I got a handful of good ones. But only one seemed fitting for my last installment.

Kyle asked:

Where do we go from here? This year has absolutely sucked, both outside the world of anime, but plenty inside of it too. With so much rocking the foundation of the industry (between bigger companies coming in, the scandals, the attacks), what's the work that needs to be done from here?

Saying this year has sucked is the understatement of the century. It's been a traumatizing, fractious, mournful year. Some of us are just fine, others are quietly wondering to themselves if they even still want to be here, particularly after seeing the behavior of some other fans in the face of all that's happened. And, as with most things, the more "online" you are, the worse you probably feel.

I settled on that question, and started writing a few times before the enormity of what was being asked really hit me. Where DO we go from here? Do we try to rebuild our community as we remember it, back when reality wasn't constantly crashing into our world of escapism? How do you even do that? And while it's totally valid to take a step back after getting frustrated by people and internet drama, surely I can't advocate walking away from something you love, even if you're one of the people that got abused, attacked, or doxxed.

But then, I thought about the summer I'd just had. I was having those thoughts too. I was thinking, "do I really want to spend more of my finite life dealing with an increasingly abusive and toxic fandom?" I remembered how it used to be, how exciting it was to hang out with the cool, nice nerds, and how much fun it is to actually be able to bond with other, similarly obsessed people over a shared love of something. Yeah. That was pretty great.

I hadn't gone to a con for fun in literally years. In fact, I'd spent the last few years spending as little time at Anime Expo as possible. (AX is just too crowded to feel comfortable to me anymore.) But this year I spent a little longer there, hanging out with some friends and working the Discotek booth for a few hours. And I felt a little better. So, I thought, to hell with it: I shelled out some bucks and made a last minute trip to Otakon, which seems to have more of my particular tribe -- the old timers -- than most of the other big shows. I reconnected with old friends, and I made new ones. I got to see how great fans actually can be. It was an important reminder of why I'm here, and why I work so damned hard. I'd already booked my trip when I heard the awful news about Kyoto Animation, and the big, sweaty, nerd group hug felt more than comforting. It felt downright necessary.

There's a certain spirit to the cool fans. There's an engaged helpfulness, and a gratitude for the stuff they like that just doesn't come across on social media as often as it should. But it's this attitude that built fandom into what it is today. Despite being far smaller than mainstream comic book and video game culture, the anime community is far more organized and structured. We've built journalism outlets and databases and volumes and volumes of writing on places like Wikipedia and elsewhere. We've cross-referenced credit to our favorite creators across two very different languages on opposing continents. We have a more robust and developed convention circuit than nearly any other fandom. We even have important preservation work being done (maybe kinda sorta illegally) on media that might otherwise be lost. We did that.

That spirit is still there. Trust me, it is. It might be hard to find, so you have to look for it. It's buried deep in online forums and Facebook groups and in sub-sub-subcultures, like the ones dedicated to developing some esoteric piece of software to catalog old Laserdiscs, or sharing fan art of one specific series. When you narrow your focus that much, you get to see and meet the individuals, and you end up finding some pretty good ones without too much effort. Drama flares up everywhere from time to time, of course.

I can't tell you why you should continue being an anime fan, going to cons, reading ANN, watching new shows. Everyone's reason is going to be different. Maybe some people would be better served by walking away, or maintaining a healthy distance. But I can tell you why I'm sticking around. I'm sticking around because the people that are dedicated and decent and interesting are just too damned dedicated and decent and interesting to ever walk away from. There's always some amount of kvetching and jerky cynicism, and sometimes it really grates. But to me, they're worth putting up with for the good stuff.

Being a nerd is who I am, and I suspect it's what you are too. Being around nerds and engaging in the community has enriched my life in ways I can't describe. More than that, it has defined me. I've had my moments of wishing I wasn't one, and I've tried to reinvent myself a few times, but like a young Amish adult on their Rumspringa, I always end up coming back.

But it's essential that we become the right kind of nerd. There are the ones looking for a fight, who take out their self-loathing on other people. And then there are the ones that help. That share the resources they have, and build new ones. The anime scene might be very different today than it was 20 years ago, but socially, there are a lot of aspects that haven't changed at all. It's just gotten a lot more crowded in here.

There are certain battles to be fought, certain things that need fixing. That much is obvious. But the most important thing to be done is not to freak out too much. The world has a way of making everything go awry at some point. Things are going to suck sometimes, whatever we do. But we do have some control over the company we keep, over ourselves and what we pay attention to. Most importantly, we control what we bring to the table and what we contribute.

It has been my privilege.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

We are no longer taking question submissions. However, over the years we've answered THOUSANDS of your questions, and probably already answered yours! Check our our complete archives! Below are a few of the most popular ones...

Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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