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A Growing Anime Fandom in Zambia

by Dennis Banda,
Artwork by Rhymeswithfate

Anime is a globally revered medium, it's huge in Europe with countries like France even co-producing some anime and hosting the world's second biggest anime convention. It's obviously massive in North America and Australia as they have vibrant industries and communities and of course it's big in Asia. We very rarely, if at all read about the anime industry or culture in Africa. I will attempt to rectify this by highlighting what the anime fandom has been like in Zambia, how it has grown, and where it can go in the future.

The fans closer to my age mostly got into anime in the mid to late 90s thanks to shows like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Pokémon and Voltron being shown on national TV and cable TV. Most of us didn't really distinguish the shows as anime up until the early 2000s when popular series like Cowboy Bebop and anime films like Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away hit critical mass. Local enthusiasts who had access to VHS tapes shared them around and those with a good enough internet connection downloaded series. This was a very niche group which I only joined in the mid-2000s.

Thankfully, DStv, our local cable provider, launched ANIMAX in 2007 and this led to an explosion of brand new fans as well as old getting access to a whole lot more anime, both old and new. Standouts include Eureka 7, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tenjo Tenge, Hellsing, Angelic Layer and many more. However, this would not last very long as the channel was eventually shut down in 2010, leaving a gaping hole for anime accessibility in the country. This small window of access was the spark needed to ignite the burning passion in the small clusters of anime communities around the country, most of which centered around university campuses. Thankfully, just around the time that DStv shutdown ANIMAX, a burgeoning Facebook group of like-minded anime fans begun forming a community that would later on become Nerd Otaku.

Nerd Otaku is a community, and now organization that I help run and has held a number of community events over the years promoting and celebrating anime culture. In 2014, we held our first convention that mainly focused on gaming, but had many other subcultures involved as well. In my experience, the overlap between gaming and anime is almost a circle. We had an Artist Alley and even a Maid Cafe. We also started hosting an online anime simulwatching event called #OtakuMovieNight which at its peak would trend locally on Zambian Twitter. Thanks to the success of our biggest convention Lusaka Comic Con, we decided to also branch out and have an anime only convention called the AniMeet in 2018. We had anime screenings, thanks to a partnership with Crunchyroll, anime-based video games, panels, a maid cafe, anime inspired artist alley, karaoke and cosplay.

The cosplay scene has been growing slowly. For a clearer perspective on the subculture I got to interview one of the prominent local cosplayers @laluna_otaku and asked her how she got her start.

"After watching Sailor Moon, which was my third anime series, I started admiring the girls, telling myself if only I could be one of these girls even just for a day. One day I went with mom into town where I saw a poster of the Sailor Moon live-action [series] and I was like 'Wait, people dress up as these characters? People make costumes?' Then went back home and Google searched for Sailor Moon as humans and costumes and it just took me to different cosplayers and characters. Then the idea of me dressing up us as one of those characters was born."

Laluna_Otaku said that local cosplay scene is still a bit weak currently, but she hopes there can be more cosplayers to fill up the few convention halls with color, skills and performances.

I also asked her what the reception to her cosplay has been like since she started.

"Oh, on my part it has been amazing. To get these amazing people both on social media and locally to see my work and appreciate them and encourage me to continue doing what I love…it's an honor. Makes me wonder why I had to wait so long to show the world the little things I can do."

Anime has also inspired some local Zambian artists to start creating their own animation. I got to speak to Muko from Tsubasa Animations about how he got started and how his journey making animation has been.

"I started my own animation journey around 2012. I made a few silly animations but only picked it up seriously in 2016. Reception in the beginning was more on the low side when I tried to make projects that would tick all the boxes of what I thought would be popular with wider audiences. It got some attention but it was more passive and forgettable. So we decided to change our approach and rather than make more cardboard cutouts, we let the projects guide themselves instead and found a slow growing audience that appreciates it for what it is."

Tsubasa Animations video titled Scuna Girl is streaming on YouTube and is based on a popular Zambian urban legend.

"I'm also really fascinated with African history and frequently borrow from it," Muko said. "But I'd like to adapt more of those stories true to their source. There's a fortune of lore and stories we've been sitting on just waiting to be told."

It has also been encouraging to see many Zambian artists upload their comic books online thanks to Webtoon. Artists like Tabs Kun who has a romantic short story called When It Hails and Mazuba Q's Holding On are both part of the short story contest on the site and see regular updates and a growing number of readers both locally and internationally.

The anime fandom in Zambia had grown from nonexistent to one with creators of our own in such a short period of time thanks to the passion of the community. Even though access to legal streaming sites is usually met with region-locking, the availability of Netflix shows and cheaper access to the internet has helped grow the subculture.

Local clusters of communities on Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp are mushrooming everywhere and Nerd Otaku has plans to continue growing the convention scene to match the demand.

About The Author

Dennis 'Kidd' Banda is an architect, writer and COO of Nerd Otaku. He has been an anime fan for about 15 years and can often be found watching long form video essays or watching VTubers online. Follow him on Twitter @Kiddtic

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