Have you ever had a guilty pleasure that makes people look at you like you’re weird when you admit it? That was what anime was to me.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, anime is just the Japanese word for animation. Most often, viewers read subtitle translations or listen to the dubbed versions. I started watching anime in high school, but it didn’t take me long to realize that my interest was not shared by a majority of my overwhelmingly white peers.
Just because anime is foreign and foreign is considered different, I was also thought of in this way.
Until then, I had always watched American cartoons with the reassurance that everyone else had grown up with and loved them too. When I started turning away from television to anime on my computer or phone, there were no limitations for where I could watch. That’s when friends would come up behind me to ask what I was watching. The first question always: “What is that?” Never a pleasant exclamation at something they also recognized, but an accusation.
After that, I started to hide the fact that I watched anime at all like I was doing something wrong.
I could no longer relate to talks about the popular new shows on Netflix and I would face my computer at the wall so no one would see the screen. Only a few of my close friends knew that I watched anime, but none of them watched it themselves. Anime was such a big part of my life and the identity I was creating for myself, I hated to think that no one would ever get to know that side of me.
I begged my mom to take me to AnimeExpo in Los Angeles that year, just her and me. My mom grew up in Japan where anime is part of the culture; a lot of which anime also features. Anime has been more than entertainment for me as well. It has allowed me to practice a shared language with my mother and her family. When she saw the number of people celebrating it at the convention center, to her, it was the appreciation of an art.
That year the attendance consisted of over sixty thousand people; all the people that had only existed to me online before then. Several attendees cosplayed as their favorite characters, and I went around picking out the ones I recognized. Photographers and even regular fans were eager to compliment costumes and give an added ego-boost by taking pictures of their favorites. No one cared about your gender, race, or affiliation when the characters we emulated were all the same. The general air of acceptance was the first experience where I truly felt I belonged to a community larger than what I had been exposed to. It was also an experience I was excited to share when we returned for the new school year.
Once I mentioned it, there were more people at my school who also watched anime that thought it was cool I had gone. I was excited to attend AnimeExpo the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Each time the number of people had increased, to the point where the line to get inside took over three hours. And each time, I had new friends to attend with.
— Anime Expo (@AnimeExpo) July 8, 2016
The idea of keeping it a secret seemed even more ridiculous as I got older. I had seen first-hand that there were thousands of people just like me who also enjoyed watching anime. But it also occurred to me, it was ridiculous to let myself feel judged by people who had never tried watching it before. Everyone has different interests and hobbies. New experiences are something we should embrace, not criticize.
The friends I have now don’t think it’s something I have to be ashamed about. For any guilty pleasure, you should always find people that accept you regardless. Truly, the only people that should feel guilty are the ones that haven’t tried it. The more I say it aloud, the more confident I feel that this is just who I am. I like anime, got a problem with that? I like anime, got a problem with that?