I was like, "yo!" when I saw this piece on Wired by Patton Oswalt about geek culture and how it's swallowed us all up. Depending on how old you are, you might not even realize how mainstream the culture's gone from where it was before. (Mind, I'm not really talking about anime/manga culture here: Shonen Jump aside, that stuff is all buried really deep in a niche fandom.)
We have all really gone crazy about geek genres and styles: hell, Disney just revived silly old Tron as something with a very serious mythology and everybody was totally fine with it. A large portion of the country-- not people who feel the need to self-identify as gamers, mind you-- is addicted to a gigantic videogame about making friends with and being noticed by other players, and a large portion of those players are addicted to this other videogame about making numbers go up on a farm that is inside the other videogame. In ten years we'll all be walking around with the Scouters from Dragon Ball Z on our heads. The whole mode of our entertainment has shifted to geek in a way that geeks ten or fifteen years ago could never have predicted themselves and perhaps would not have wanted. Like Patton says: we are all otaku now, whether we realize it or not.
Ten-or-so years ago, I'd been an anime nerd for just a little while. My post-Voltron education was limited to the stuff that was airing on TV and the wide range of VHS fansubs I'd been shown in my junior high anime club, from kid's soap opera Kodocha to Combustible Campus Guardess to stupid, stupid Dragon Half. Thank you so much, anime club at Hunter High circa 1998. I might not still be doing this if you hadn't shown me all the different kinds of things there were to see.
At this point, even though we had seen quite a bit of it, anime fans in the West regarded the material we were in love with as a treasure. There was precious little on TV, and if you wanted to go any deeper you had to venture into the rather expensive world of $30 VHS tapes. Evangelion used to cost $400, you know! As a high-schooler who sure didn't have $400 on hand and knew enough about high school not to talk to anybody about this kind of shit, my anime experience could perhaps have been called desperate.
It meant that I rented the entire Blockbuster anime section, indiscriminate of quality, one weekend at a time. I scrounged up change, bought tapes based on how many minutes of running time they gave me (helpfully listed in every mail-order catalog), and I watched my Slayers tapes-- just the first half of the first season-- over and over again.
It was also a natural consequence that because the material was scarce, it became inherently elevated. Anime felt special to the American anime fan in large part thanks to its scarcity and its cost. The more naive Western fandom myths helped here: even when the show was completely terrible, people would say things like "it's still so much better than the crap we get on TV here!" (this one has lost all of its merit in the last decade but that didn't stop people from using it). I think the real reason that expensive direct-to-video market disappeared was that when we had so much (even on DVD, never mind what happened on the Internet in the coming years), we realized that the material wasn't so special as we'd thought: not "8 $30 DVDs"-special, anyway.
So the internet hit. There were good and bad things, but the floodgates are open and there's no looking back. Oswalt says that the wealth of information we're privy to has made for "weak otaku". I get what he's saying-- nobody is obligated to walk ten miles to school uphill in the rain anymore, and most consumers of entertainment don't have the bizarre drive that forces otaku onward-- but I think he overlooks something. The internet has made strong otaku stronger.
Getting online exploded the amount of material I was exposed to in my niche, and it vastly accelerated the speed at which it was happening. It put me beyond the Blockbuster aisle and it sent my constant, desperate hunt off in so many other directions. Heavily discounted online shopping made it reasonable (but still expensive, good lord) for me to buy full series on DVD. When I got broadband, my access to video (and thus anime) completely exploded, and suddenly I was watching more than I could have ever imagined in the past. The target of my obsession was no longer treasure, and that was fine. I loved it anyway.
I didn't think to stop comfortably at this point, I just wanted to go deeper. I looked for the things I couldn't easily find (and you'd do the same if you'd just watched Noir and Love Hina in their entirety). Exposure and availability made me buy more. I still dig today: in the dollar asle of my favorite used book store and out in the distant reaches of the Internet. I have found things that I would not have imagined, and I continue to find them. I never stopped hunting. I just got a bigger field in which to do so.
What I'm into is pretty niche, and the Internet gave me community. It put me in contact with more like-minded fans than I realized existed, and it introduced me to a lot of amazing people who have become good friends. Starting this site, working on Colony Drop and all that just accelerated the process. I wish I'd done it earlier, if anything. There was so much under my nose! Blogging gave me an audience, it got me out there. It's been invaluable to me. And about a year ago, I really lucked out and got work doing something I love. Astro Toy is no full-time gig, of course (I'm waiting on something right now, wish me luck!), but I never would have imagined at the start of my hunt that I would eventually find myself on the front page of one of the first anime sites I ever looked at. This trip I've taken has been wonderful, and I'd like to thank everybody who's been following it.
Going forward, Patton says we need to run the otaku engine faster, and I couldn't agree more. I mean, I'm not sure it really does anything for us, but we need to do it anyway. Whatever it is you do, this year I want you to do more of it. Make something. Give something back. Do not stop at excellence. Spin that fucker until it turns to light.