As I read “Networked: The New Social Operating System”, a book about how the internet, mobile, and network revolutions have created a networked individualism that makes us all nodes of different social groups, I couldn’t stop thinking of all the times I have volunteered at anime conventions and seen old friends or the time I convinced people on Animazement’s Facebook page to cosplay Kool-Aid Jesus.
For reference, Animazement is a Raleigh, North Carolina memorial day weekend anime convention that has taken place annually since 1997.
Did anyone dress up as Kool-Aid Jesus? I don’t think they did (I would not expect them to), but that never mattered.
The point here is that in our social network of anime fans and convention-goers, the internet let us share an experience in our niche that we would not otherwise have: complaining about people desperately hitting on cosplayers and fellow anime fans with people we may not know on the convention’s Facebook page.
This moment is only one example of how anime conventions are a solid example of the triple revolution mentioned in “Networked” and how it has transformed our lives and made being an anime fan in the Western world much easier.
As the mobile revolution has allowed convention volunteers to communicate more flexibly, the internet revolution has galvanized the anime fan base, and the social network revolution has caused anime fans to become more interconnected through better transportation and communication, Japanese animation conventions have been able to thrive in ways they have not been able to before.
Here, I will use Animazement as an example because I have personally volunteered there for three years and have taken on all sorts of positions while doing so.
The Growth of the Otaku Social Network
To understand how crucial the internet revolution is to Animazement’s existence, we need to understand how North American otaku (in the American understanding of the word, enthusiasts of Japanese culture) found it much harder to enjoy anime before the advent of the world wide web.
The otaku of North America form a social network by connecting with each other over cultural exports from Japan, most notably the nation’s anime. Each otaku forms a node in the network and they are currently linked over the internet, traveling to conventions, or meeting each other through work, school, or other organizations and social situations.
In the past, it was harder to connect with other North American otaku because there were less of them to form their network. There were less otaku because it was harder to be one.
Before the early 90’s, most of the otaku in the United States and Canada had to resort to expensive imports in order to watch most of the shows since it was rare for any Japanese animated show to be released outside of the land of the rising sun. When they were, multiple episodes were mashed up to meet episode minimum quotas according to RightStuf and as YouTuber HappyConsoleGamer recalls.
In addition, dubbing had to be done via fan-made bootlegs before television stations started broadcasting and professionally dubbing more anime in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The increase in anime on television extended the North American otaku network because it was now slightly easier for people to become otaku and for otaku of all ages to bond over a common interest in now cheaper to watch shows.
However, the programming blocks they were in targeted young children and the companies dubbing the shows thought that Americans would not understand that a rice ball is not a jelly doughnut or that they couldn’t understand anything that was not explicitly American.
This caused the overall otaku social network to grow more slowly than it should have because many associated these shows as being only for kids. I would know because I remember the rampant online discussions about this from the mid-to-late 2000’s; these conversations continue to this day.
I grew up watching the heavily Americanized dubs released by companies like 4Kids, but I wasn’t aware of how hard it was for the North American otaku network to watch many anime before the 1990’s until I saw it covered during Animazement’s 20th Anniversary panel in 2017.
However, this all changed when Crunchyroll and other anime streaming services emerged during the late 2000’s and gained millions of users according to the Chicago Tribune.
What was once an expensive, niche hobby for the few was now cheap to access on-demand and could be seen on almost anything that had a screen or could be hooked up to one thanks to the internet. The world wide web has made Japanese animation more accessible than ever, but that isn’t the only reason the audience for it has grown.
The groundswell created by many the networks of people who grew up watching shows like Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon has exponentially increased the North American otaku network to where it contains tens of millions of people, from kids to celebrities like Michael B. Jordan according to Nerdist.
The internet revolution has also made it easier for those who would otherwise previously shared bootleg dubs of hard-to-find anime or not be able to share their thoughts on anime with many people to evolve into content creators; these creators do anything from re-dubbing anime with satirical dialogue or reviewing new shows. Many famous examples include Little Kuriboh (maker of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged) and Mother’s Basement (anime reviewer).
One of the older memes from the North American otaku network, spawned from Little Kuriboh’s Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged series. (Video uploaded by xXRuaChanXx)
All together, these platforms and creators form a positive feedback loop that increases the size of the otaku network as more creators are able to introduce more people to more anime. These fans then join the North American otaku network and they search for more content creators to connect them with more network members and further their fandom of the anime they watch.
This has been majorly beneficial to conventions like Animazement.
Animazement and the Three Revolutions
The convention, at the start a three-day anime marathon thrown by North Carolina State University students according to the News and Observer, was able to explode from 735 attendees in 1998 in the North Hilton Raleigh Hotel to over 14,000 in 2018 at the Raleigh Convention Center (the 1998 number was found on AnimeCons.com).
The very existence of Animazement relies on having a healthy social network of otaku within North America to encourage anime voice actors, writers, and Japanese performers and university representatives to host panels or promote their institutions.
That network is thriving thanks to internet publicity and anime streaming services, thus most years I hear the staff say that we have gained more attendance than the last and we have a steady flow of notable guests.
Also, Animazement’s mission statement states that it is a non-profit convention aiming to educate people in the Raleigh-Durham area about Japanese culture in general. The ability to use the North American otaku network to encourage the building of new social networks with significant people from Japan keeps our convention sponsored by the city while giving people reasons to go.
The internet revolution has also combined with the mobile revolution to change communication between volunteers and staff members as we communicate over messaging apps such as Discord and Slack on our smartphones.
By communicating with these devices, we are able to discuss what needs to be done at the convention and who needs to be where in a more flexible and fast manner than we would have in 1997 (more accurately “they” because I was a fetus during the anime marathon that started it all).
Weak Ties and the Conclusion
In connection with the social network revolution, “Networked” also talks about weak ties, ties that are still valuable but would be more difficult to have without acting as a member of a network and having mobile or internet technologies due to how little weakly tied individuals see each other.
The significance of weak ties in the social revolution is apparent every time I see someone I used to know from high school at an anime convention.
Each year, I run into some old friends at least once while volunteering. We catch up with each other (they’re usually cosplaying characters from Hellsing), I compliment their cosplay, internally question how I know so many people who are studying blacksmithing, and we part our ways.
I can also safely say that many volunteers and staff are linked to each other in the Animazement volunteer network via weak ties.
Some have very strong ties and see each other a lot outside of the convention (I have this tie with my sister), but many have weak ties with other volunteers and staff members because they mainly communicate during the convention and do not do so as much during the rest of the year.
That being said, relationships built with weak ties are still important to our well-being due to how their flexibility makes work situations more efficiently according to “Networked” and they also make life more worthwhile in general (I personally love catching up with old friends at Animazement).
No matter how one is connected to their personal network or any network made of social links built on one’s interests, we all are connected or connect ourselves to ideas, works, and cultures that are larger than any one of us alone.
The internet, mobile, and social network revolutions have only made us more aware of that, with anime conventions and how they are run being a firm reminder.
Above: Before I took this photo, the person cosplaying the Colossus was surrounded by a few Assassin’s Creed cosplayers, the Mecha-Godzilla cosplayer and the Shadow of the Colossus cosplayer were both posing for pictures (their cosplays are always very popular), and the Blastoise cosplayer hugged Mecha-Godzilla. (Photo taken by me at Animazement 2018)