When I registered AnimeChicago.com in 2006, it was a small dream. Chicago lacked a central guide for all the anime clubs and Japanese events around the city, and I wanted to solve that. Never did I imagine it would become the 800+ member club it is today.
The collapse of Borders in 2011 and scarcity of anime at Best Buy was a dark omen: either anime would fully transition to digital channels or the door would close on a small industry with a hardcore fanbase. This didn’t stop my friends and I from talking about anime, nor did it curb our desire to be apart of something bigger. I formed a discussion group to explore that desire. Anime groups formed outside of colleges are fairly experimental, so I had to tackle difficult questions alone. How does my simple website transform? Where would we meet and what do we offer? Can I fund this out-of-pocket? How do I get the word out?
The solution was: start small.
A handful of friends attended our first discussion on FLCL at Next Door Cafe. People kept coming back and started inviting others along the way. With 12 Round Tables under our belt, interest in expanding the discussion group grew serious. I invited like-minded members to join me in solving this problem and future problems to come, forming our core team.
In the last three years, the team created 4 events per month, committed to weekly planning sessions, incorporated as a non-profit, created an academic symposium series, hosted 20+ panels at conventions, travelled to Japan, and improved my humble website far beyond my abilities and expectations. Many of our attendees have become our closest friends, and we get to meet new ones with every passing event. AnimeChicago wouldn’t be here without the team formation in 2012, and I’m grateful for the their enthusiasm and support of my endless experimental project.
What we accomplished in 2016
Membership: Attendee Dues rolled out in March with an exceptional response rate and we broke the 800 member mark! We’re absolutely floored. Nearly 100 attendees have pitched in $12 which raised over $1000. This is the sustainable cash flow we’ve needed for years, so we could transition focus from revenue generation to improving the quality of meetups overall. We hosted a total of 65 meetups this year – that’s roughly 18 cents per event! Thank you to all our members for believing in this fundraising effort.
Education: One of our core tenets is to educate anime fans and outsiders on the quality and depth of our favored medium. We increased academic efforts via Anime Central’s panel programming, hosting a symposium entitled Not Our Final Form: A Discussion on Transformation in Anime and Manga at the Japanese Information Center, speaking about media literacy through anime at a Chicago Public High School, and at a few other presentations throughout the city.
We also educated our members by hosting a 10-day adventure across Japan. This trip was one of our greatest accomplishments as an anime club, and we returned to Chicago with renewed focus and a better understanding of anime within the context of Japanese culture overall.
Advocacy: This year also offered a chance to establish stronger ties with Meetup’s staff, the Japanese Culture Center, and the Japanese American Service Community. These relationships allow us to create mutually-beneficial programming for both members and Chicagoans-at-large as opportunities present themselves.
Operations: Some of our biggest gains this year were reflected in our newly established revenue sources – in addition to attendee dues, we also opened an online store for club merch and created some smaller side projects. This allowed us to really invest in the much-needed infrastructure and signage the team was footing since day one.
I’m also proud to announce… we’re a fully established 501(c)3 non-profit! We celebrated with a full brand redesign which launched back in November. Stay tuned on ways you can support AnimeChicago under this new nonprofit structure after we wrap up some final paperwork.
Team: Shaun went on to greater things on the West Coast and Jason took her place. Board member Ruben stepped back for 2017 but will be around for future events and writing assignments. The rest of us are still going strong.
What’s coming in 2017
Membership: Three new programs launch in January! This officially brings us to EIGHT recurring events a month.
Light Reads: a discussion group on light novels
Art Circle: a gathering of artists to practice and learn
Asobimasho: Japanese-inspired tabletop game sessions for all skill levels
Education: Panel prep for Anime Central is already underway, as are speaking engagements at other events such as Uchi-con, and planning for our next Symposium. We’re also creating a section for advocacy and statistics on the website, to supply new fans and educators with a reliable fact-based resource.
Operations: Two priorities right now are 1) creating an alternative cash flow to fund education, advocacy and business needs, and 2) increasing our know-how on dietary restrictions, emergency training, and other preventative measures. Both of these goals will greatly benefit Meetup membership.
Team: I’m happy to announce that our content manager JPod will be taking the available seat on our board! He’s already hard at work analyzing reports to find some easy improvements.
State of Chicago’s Anime Scene
2016 brought more of the same stuff – namely films and conventions – with bigger attendance numbers. American anime distributors have made large gains with new marketing strategies and startup-savvy tactics, and conventions all over have been seeing results of that renewed energy and revenue through increased attendance.
One might even argue that there are too many low-quality anime conventions around Chicagoland and people are slowly burning out from the same con formula, the same panel content, the same dealer’s room swag. Anime fans are maturing and wish to enjoy their fandom in respectable ways, without the embarrassment of identifying as a con-goer to their peers and employers. AnimeChicago has been filling the gaps here with more academic programming and further exploration of Chicago’s nightlife. It’s been successful to date, so we’ll ramp up these efforts in the coming year.
The number of anime and Japanese films that screened here at the Music Box, Siskel, and Century Landmark is absolutely astounding – 34 films in total! That’s a record-breaker for Chicago. We’re extremely excited for the releases to come and any promotional efforts we can provide to make it happen.
And holy crap! Both Hatsune Miku and Perfume performed here and we were blown away! They were amazing experiences for new fans and veterans alike.
A number of our usual hangs have leveled up their businesses by doubling-down on their thriving communities. Mitsuwa has been undergoing a slow revitalization and the improvements are very exciting. Local cosplay good supplier Arda Wigs is approaching its 8th year and Nakama Toys is halfway through its 3rd year and we’re happy to see these business’ continued success. Rotofugi had a rocky Autumn and so far, it looks like they pulled through and have announced gallery openings next year.
There is also a revolution among a number of Japanese-focused service organizations including the Japanese Information Center, the Japanese American Service Committee, and long-time partners, the Japanese Culture Center in Lakeview. Expect new and exciting programs throughout the year from these established outlets.
Despite the growth, we were sad to see the closing of Itto Sushi, Ani and a handful of other anime-friendly restaurants. We can only hope that others can fill the void they left behind.
So — what are our predictions for Chicagoans in 2017?
- The Takashi Murakami exhibit is gonna be a big deal.
- We’ll see a slight increase in anime films and Japanese pop performances.
- Anime-focused artists will become more prevalent and connected.
- Something’s gonna give in the Midwest anime con circuit.
- More anime fans will sign up for traditional Japanese art lessons.
We meet every Sunday afternoon to bring you a better AnimeChicago week after week. We’re young professionals who cut loose with fellow diehards and newbies who appreciate good anime. We’re not ashamed of being an anime club while achieving the impossible. Celebrating anime, making friends, and teaching others comes naturally to us, and we’re proud to elevates Chicago’s fandom while pursuing something greater.
Thanks for your support, Chicago. You’ve shown me even small dreams can make it big. Expect bigger things as we plan for the next 10 years to come.