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Anime and Teen Culture... Uh-oh.

by Justin Sevakis,
Moonies. Akira-heads. DBZ Addicts. In other words, newbies. In the past, these were merely people to whom you showed Marmalade Boy to and turned them around, hopefully into full, functioning citizens of anime fandom. In their larval state, they were disgusting enough, but utterly harmless, and with time and the right care from us anime missionaries (for lack of a better term), full of potential.

But now as the newbie population grows to unmanageable levels, they are starting to attract more attention than the otaku that have been maniacally following this stuff for years. Worse, those not in the movements can see anime as purely the fodder of the desperately fashionable: a fad. Name one teenybopper fad that has survived for any length of time.

This isn't a new phenomenon: the first signs of impending trouble came neatly published in Newsweek magazine a few years back.

Those that remember the article do so with great disdain. This was back before Moonies and DBZ Addicts existed, and the style of what I like to refer to as "Akira-head" was even more damaging to the anime movement. The title of the article was "Holy Akira! It's Aeon Flux," and in it was probably the worst painting of the anime-obsessed that I've ever seen.

The article started off not with a mention of, say, Osamu Tezuka or Hayao Miyazaki (as more well-written pieces in the New York Times and a few others have), but with a description of a 20-year-old mowhawked heroin junkie with a microchip tattoo. While it admitted that the notorious MTV show Aeon Flux wasn't REALLY anime, it did insinuate that fandom for the two were one and the same. And it associated all of us with this beautiful person who, truth be known, is probably dead or is sucking bottom in the American cultural food chain. Certainly MY role model...

Luckily, Akira T-shirts have gone out of print and are no longer to be found in shops that sell bongs in white upper-middle class suburbia, but now we have a bigger problem. With the advent of the DIC release of Sailor Moon to American television (which is still being rerun on Cartoon Network's Toonami segment -- another high point for the anime movement), anything bearing the classic anime "look" (i.e. big eyes/small nose/small mouth/etc...) has been branded as either Sailor Moon or what has become skateboard culture.

Let's start with Sailor Moon. Let's face it: no matter how loyal the following, Sailor Moon (the part that was shown here, anyway) is the pinnacle of little kid shojo anime. Most of the magical girl knock-offs (the most obvious of which is Nurse Angel Ririka) are much better in terms of plot substance and appeal to both genders. So, here is this new "cartoon" on syndicated television in various markets, and kids can't get enough of it... when they can see it. (Individual markets had it scheduled at weird times or not at all.) It's different than what they've seen before, mostly because American animated TV shows are, as a rule, incredibly lame. Even the mediocre Sailor Moon seems like a masterpiece in comparison.

So here comes this generation of teeny-boppers waiting for something just a little bit different so that they can climb on the band wagon. Moonies are everywhere, associating everything they can with the show. I've heard of at least once instance of a real otaku girl bringing a Fushigi Yugi artbook to school, only to be asked by a moonie, "What sailor is that?"

Now, don't get me wrong: these aren't necessarily bad things. Heck, we were all new at this at some point. (I admit, my first anime experience was a commercial dub from Blockbuster.) But instead of being easily assimilated like they were in the past, this new strain of Moonie is resistant to trying new anime, or worse, even cocky that they know as much as they do about Sailor Moon.

But probably most frustrating in the long term are T-shirts that come from a company known as "Hook-Ups", a skateboarder gear manufacturer that makes common practice of lifting anime art from wherever (I've seen everything from Ah! My Goddess to Iria on these things), give it a stupid name (Iria was renamed "Hunter" at one point), and selling it on overpriced T-shirts and skateboard paraphernalia. Not only are these products completely bootleg, but they are essentially raping the art form just to use its marketable "look." Can you imagine a Japanese skater teen wearing a Terminator II T-shirt as skater gear, except renamed as "Buff Dude"?

Hook-Ups, in all fairness, started when Akiraheads were the biggest concern, and they have started using their own (horrible) art, and to some extent, manipulating the stolen art to be less recognizable. Also, as the skater fad starts losing popularity, I'm hearing fewer stories about teenyboppers identifying anime as "Hook-Ups."

It's an improvement, I suppose, actually being known now for the content of the anime more than the look of fandom's most notorious, but its latest move has made for even worse associations than Aeon Flux.


Could somebody PLEASE tell me why anime is being associated with hip-hop! What the two have to do with each other is beyond me. But to see evidence of this, one needs look no further than Mixxzine. Until Ron Scovil's departure, every single cover was intended to have "hip-hop influence," and now the inside is filled to the brim with the latest in poser-content, complete with AOL skater talk ("U R 2 kEwL!!!!!!!!!!") and attempts at popular music. (Of course, being in LA, they aren't really familiar with many other scenes.) Worse, their spin-off, "Smile," is targeting the "gurl" demographic, and one glance at every hormone-drenched page reveals encouragement to little girls to be a bit more like Apollo Smile.

So powerful is this demographic now that Madison Avenue is starting to listen. In a recent issue of AdWeek, one executive was actually quoted as saying, "how can we use Japanimation?" (But I digress... this is another rant for another column.)

Really, the only newbie group left that is somewhat manageable is the DBZ Addicts, but more and more they seem dead-set against anything that isn't mindless fighting.

I'm hoping that with next year's theatrical release of Mononoke Hime, Vampire Hunter D (new), X: The Movie and Perfect Blue, a new group of fandom will pop up that at least has a modicum of open-mindedness and won't act as an excuse to pigeonhole all of anime, but Ghost in the Shell didn't do that either.

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