Otaku Culture in the United States
In 2009, American rapper Soulja Boy tweeted, ‘I’m a fan of Anime ^_^.’ In a video made by American actor Samuel L. Jackson he openly admitted that he is a fan of anime… and hentai too (was he joking?). Also, WWE icon John Cena said in an interview that he loves anime and that his favorite anime movie is Fist of the North Star. What is being said here exactly? America loves anime!
The otaku culture in America has obviously sparked the creation of anime and manga heavyweight companies such as Funimation and Crunchyroll, with the latter reaching one million paid subscribers as of February 2017. Perhaps the best indicator of the otaku culture in America is its anime conventions. Anime Expo is one of the oldest anime conventions in the United States; it premiered in 1992. It has now grown to over 100,000 attendees and is the largest anime convention in North America.
The Otakon and Anime Boston anime conventions also receive widespread attendance and attention from otaku all around North America. With so much focus toward anime and manga, American producers have reportedly become jealous of Japan’s growing presence in American culture.
Television shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teen Titans have both incorporated anime style art and elements which can be entirely attributed to Japan’s unique animation style. Although it’s debatable if Avatar and Teen Titans can be considered anime, there are many Japanese anime shows that are popular in the United States: Dragon Ball Z, Naruto Shippuden, One Punch Man, Blue Exorcist, Inuyasha, and Death Note, just to name a few.
Cartoon Network streamed anime shows such as Naruto and One Piece on its regular broadcasting schedule in the early 2000s. It helped instill anime into America’s younger generation. Toonami, which debuted in 1997, introduced many Americans to Japanese anime and Japanese pop music for nearly ten years until its decline in 2008. The popular media company relaunched in 2012 on Cartoon Network’s late night broadcasting slot, Adult Swim, and has since become very popular with American audiences.
Manga sales in the United States have grown exponentially in recent trends. Publisher’s Weekly reports that ‘Total U.S. manga sales in 2007 rose about 10%, to more than $220 million, and about 1,468 titles are estimated to have been released last year.’ Even American singer Courtney Love got in on the action by co-writing a manga series titled Princess Ai.
The otaku culture in America has been overshadowing established pieces of American popular culture like the popular American comics of Marvel and DC. The comic book industry in North America is only worth $1.03 billion. The anime industry in America is worth $2.74 billion, twice as much as the comic book industry on the entire North American continent! This is probably due to the fact that American comic books are generally aimed towards male audiences. There are thousands of women who are comic fanatics, but traditionally, comic books have generated strict male audiences since their inception.
Anime is geared towards all genders and features many genres that far outclass the limited themes of comic books. Comic books are usually about superheroes and the villains they face. Anime is much more broad, featuring genres such as romance, comedy, slice-of-life, action, and fantasy. Although the people in the United States are very fond of Batman, Superman, and the X-Men, One-Punch Man has become a beloved manga and anime series in America as well. Besides, Saitama can surely kick Superman’s butt any day. This trend not only proves that the otaku culture in America is the real deal, but it makes people wonder how much it will grow in the future.
The anime industry in America is still growing, although it isn’t as high as it is in Japan or China. Just this year, the Ghost in the Shell live action movie adaptation premiered in America. According to thousands of Americans and film critics, the film managed to get the incredible visuals and effects right but it wass heavily ostracized for its lackluster storyline and character development. Many American fans were disappointed and hoped that the film would be a direct translation from the manga to the big screen. Despite the backlash, that kind of attention meant that many of those fans had read the manga in the first place, which just goes to show how popular and familiar the title is in the United States.
The Otaku Phenomenon
There is no doubt that the otaku culture in Japan is the most active in the world. However, the otaku culture in places like Germany, the United States, France, and China all validate that the subculture is rapidly growing. It is amazing how the presence of Japanese culture has grown in the last 40 years. Millions of fans all around the world share one thing in common, their love for anime and manga. They all have taken a somewhat derogatory term such as ‘otaku’ and bent the meaning into something meaningful. Otaku is now just more than a word, it is a way of life. With all stereotypes aside, it is an enlightenment.
The otaku culture around the world can be summed up in one word: shocking. As animation and media become more sophisticated, these trends will just keep growing. The question is: Which country will get otaku fever next?