In the past, organised clubs, be it in school or standalone, were integral to one’s enjoyment of anime. Weekly screenings would be the only source of anime for many a member, and fellow club mates would be the only people one could discuss and debate related issues with. Physical meet-ups facilitated the trading of anime tapes or discs. Working together as a club, organising activities to promote the then-uber-niche anime culture, and gaining huge satisfaction from getting more people interested was a common goal for many people.
But times have changed, and with it, the role of the club. There are quite a few factors which have catalysed this change, mainly the advent of Bittorrent, Youtube and other means of file-sharing, and the increasingly user-contributed content nature of the web and its pervasiveness in developed society.
There is no longer a need for the club to be the main source of anime-loving friends, because you can easily make friends on Internet forums, social networking sites (Livejournals) and anime blogs. The cool part about the Internet is its ability to filter out the crap. There may be trolls and retards on the net, but you can just ignore their posts, ban them or laugh and move on. In real life anime clubs, you’re probably stuck with everyone regardless of whether they have AIDS or the Ebola virus.
You can find better, more like-minded friends through specific interest groups online, rather than in real life. For instance, if I were a Gintama megafan, I would join some Gintama forum where I can talk with fellow Gintama megafans about the beauty of Gintama. Conversely, in real life, nobody, not even anime fans, would be interested in talking about Gintama if they don’t already like it. So why would I talk to a bunch of people who don’t like Gintama when I can choose to spend my time with a bunch of mega Gintama mega fans?
In the same way, you can not have to interact with otaku subspecies which you are weak to. Anime is such a broad hobby because it encompasses a huge number of subhobbies including cosplay, fucking little girls under the age of 12, masturbating to figures, drawing, singing Japanese anime songs and so on. But you will not be interested in all of them, and even hate a few, such as men having sex with other men while looking like girls. In a club, you cannot avoid having to deal with people whose interests are your hates. For example, if a lot of the members love cosplay and are hellbent on organising a cosplay event, you as a member of the club will feel undesirable pressure to follow suit and dress up as Japanese cartoon characters, even if it feels more painful than watching an episode of Kanon.
A club involves a fixed schedule, which may be an alien concept to many who are used to doing things as and when they feel like. This is unlike an online platform of discussion where you can just pop in and interact when you have the time. University students are also rather busy and would thus find it difficult to dedicate premium time (def: peak hour time, where lots of stuff are going on, generally in the day and evening) to a club which does not apparently contribute to your career prospects.
One of the main reasons for anime clubs to exist was the need to get new anime, and that role has been largely taken over by BT and Youtube. There are people who still are oblivious or pure lazy, preferring to leech in person, but such laziness means that they probably won’t even show up for club meetings or activities. The change in anime dissemination methodology has also affected the traditional anime club activity of mass screenings. Mass screenings are a pain in the ass to organise, because showing rights must be obtained from the licensees here, and we all know who the main licensee of our anime here in Singapore is. Such administrative load is a deterrence to organising such screenings, and there is no tangible reward for it as well. Mindsets have changed, people now tend to watch anime (or other shows) when they feel like it, rather than when it is showing. Would you rather see an episode of say, Gurren Lagann, in a mass screening with lousy sound and questionable video quality thanks to the projector, noisy people talking all around and an inhibition from crying, screaming or unleashing the pure emotions in public? I always cry at sports anime and it’s quite ridiculous for a 21 year old macho man with rippling muscles like me to cry from watching Japanese cartoons, so I refrain from seeing such series in public. And my home speakers and monitor are far better than what mass screenings can offer. As mentioned with licensing, school clubs can only show locally licensed series which means a big NO to the latest, instead having the likes of those aired about a year ago in Japan. Everyone has seen those already, which defeats the purpose of screening in the first place.
Perhaps the most important factor in the decreasing role of anime clubs is ironically, the popularisation of anime. In the past, a majority of anime viewers joined the anime club. Now, with anime being watched by one in three of young Singaporeans, there is far less of a need to join a club to make like-minded friends. It’s like, why join something so restrictive and rigid when you and your friends can just do the otaku things together, at your own pace without regards to the school rules and regulations? Furthermore, most anime club activities are geared towards introducing more people to anime and getting them interested. But nowadays, there are so many people who have some semblance of interest, that the club’s efforts seem to be adding a cup of water to the ocean. Another factor is the stratification of anime-fan classes, with Narutards and Bleachbitches at the bottom. Never in any prior era of anime history has there been such a large gulf between the hardcore and the casual, and currently the two do not seem to mix well. So hardcore types organising activities to promote anime may end up feeling empty because the main recipients of their work are low level Narutards.
The above factors highlight why I feel the role of the anime club has diminished much recently. In a local context, my university is totally not conducive for club activities. Most clubs don’t even get a club room or even a space, they are just organisations of people. To gain access to the use of lecture theatres or seminar rooms, prior booking must be made and MONEY (enough to buy at least 4 manga an hour) must be paid to the student union. I find this ridiculous, why do we have to pay them when we already cough up so much in school fees? A club without a room is like a elephant without a penis. Even my junior college has a nice large room for my club where we used to hang out and play guitar. There are also draconian rules regarding lots of activities. To set up a booth selling food or drink, the club must apply for a license from at least 3 different agencies, one of which is from the government. To screen anything, a license must be obtained from the show’s rights holders and then an application made to the uni’s office of student affairs. After which there will surely be complaints about noise level, and subsequent black listing.
Of course, the concept of the anime club still has its merits. It is an outlet for student activity involvement, for those who are interested in anime. Club activities help stave off the monotony of studying and attending classes. It is also a chance for many to meet new friends in the same college, across faculties and majors. Finally, it is a means for friends who do not go to the same modules or are even in the same faculty, to meet up often.
So in conclusion, I do think the tried and tested anime club, which has been around for decades, needs a major overhaul, in order for it to meet the demands of the digital age and still retain its traditional benefits and values. As for how, that’s the big question isn’t it?
I would like to ask you guys the following questions:
- Are you in an official anime club?
- What do you guys do in your anime clubs?
- What kind of activities would you want to do in an anime club?
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