Chicago's Anime Scene
Chicago's Anime Scene

The Future of Anime in Chicago

The rise of legit anime streaming online indicates a new type of viewer has arrived on the scene. One who is unfamiliar with ways of old. No longer purchasing a series disk by disk as released by the local media store. Missing the connections made from borrowing VHS tape by tape from friends. Scripts? Forget it.

Many celebrate this new-found liberation from the underground, appreciating the accessibility and quality of the final product. Production companies are no longer tied to the burden that is physical distribution of DVDs and manga, but opting for alternatives such as iTunes, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Viz’s Shonen Sunday and even mobile devices. The anime industry has matured. But this also comes with a price: the dynamic interaction of anime fandom has declined.

The anime industry worldwide is suffering and the effects are showing in all aspects, so innovation is key to keeping the boat afloat. And really, we love anime and we love innovation. But fandom isn’t an entity that can easily embrace change, nor can it be restructured. It morphs slowly and patiently. It knows the industry needs it to support sales. So our solution? Personally, I feel fandom must mature as well. We need to support the efforts of creators, producers and distributors, such as watching Naruto: Shippuden on Hulu or Crunchyroll over downloading off of popular fansubber sites.

More so, we need to make real connections and participate in our community to push beyond just being viewers to being whole as fans. Chicago is a second city in many ways, and it shows with the absence of A-list convention guests, fancy cosplay balls, and film festivals. But this doesn’t mean Chicago fans aren’t appreciative of current efforts or aren’t capable of planning such lofty events. We demand a lot, so when a struggling convention like Reactor declines or ACen bursts at the seams with attendees, we feel the pressure. What can we do to actively strengthen fandom in Chicago?

For one, we can help provide these conventions with constructive criticism and feedback to assist with the planning process. And while some of us (me included) dream of Japan-town, patronizing local karaoke clubs, sushi restaurants and other Japanese venues like Mitsuwa can help boost revenue during this recession. The biggest obstacle, however, is encouraging leaders to embrace these changes, to cultivate new leadership among the new viewers, and to actively converse and collaborate with other clubs and organizations. Joining efforts is our best means of staying afloat ourselves.

How has this dynamic shift affected your fandom? What other methods and actions can help our cause? Let us know in the comments!

UPDATE 11/29/09: The Wall Street Journal published further evidence of the anime industry’s decline.