Partly inspired, somehow, by Omo’s latest industry-based post, I’m going to talk about the sort of moral code and unspoken laws that exist between hardcore fans, how a fad can make people confused, and how three corners of the industry triangle might be completely misunderstanding each other. It’s all speculation.
I know I really shouldn’t bother, because I don’t think I’ve accrued the proper intelligent audience who can actually make a meaningful reply, but whatever. Maybe I’ll get some Omo trackback hits.
I admit, I was confused and a little insulted when some people, Omo included, were saying that if you weren’t willing to pay 4 dollars for the HD version episodes of Xam’d, even in spite of the fact that they are a bad deal, you weren’t much of a fan. However, I realized later just what they meant by that, and how I am a special case. I’m not a person who bought my own PS3 and plasma TV, they are things my parents bought, I don’t have a bunch of money. If you own a PS3 and an HDTV that you bought, and you have the money to pay 4 dollars a week, but because it’s a bad deal, you don’t buy them, then, indeed, you can’t call yourself a fan. Because if you’re an otaku, what the hell is your spare money going toward besides anime? Are you really obsessed with anime if you’re ready to spend our money on something else instead?
Among anime fans, there is an unspoken (and, occasionally, spoken, or even misspoken) code of ethics. There are certain things that define you as a fan, and, in that way, will define you as less than a fan if you break the code. There is no way of ‘putting your finger’ on what is or isn’t worthy of the title of ‘fan’ but it’s the kind of thing where ‘you know one when you see one’ so to speak. It doesn’t make me more of a fan than my buddy Shin that I have over a hundred anime DVDs and he only has 2, but when you look at my collection, you won’t be thinking ‘oh, that guy isn’t an anime fan.’ Every fan has their own way of defining themselves as a fan, and there are certainly different levels withing those ways. A lot of those levels and ways can be defined by the reasoning behind them.
Let’s give a definitive example. I would consider myself a high-level anime fan. I spend a good amount of my time (over 80 days of the past year and a half apparently) watching anime (or reading manga of course), and most of the rest of my time talking about anime, writing about anime, thinking about anime (fantasizing about anime?), or anything else relating to anime (perhaps the occasional video game?) The space on my hard drive is all taken up by anime-related files, the links in my favorites bar all go to things regarding anime and manga, the posters in my room are of anime characters, the things I display in my room are anime and manga and related paraphernalia. The money I get, when I do, is spent on anime and manga and related things. You could say that my life revolves around anime.
Shin’s life also revolves around anime. He has the posters, the mindset, the activities, but he doesn’t have the anime and manga. He has a hell of a lot more hard drives than me, though, and all of them are filled to the brim with anime and manga. So here’s the question: am I more of a fan than him because I buy the licensed merchandise?
In Shin’s case, he comes by a lot more money than me, but in a less steady form. Like me, he is an unemployed hikikkomori, but unlike me, who gets 25 bucks a week for doing some chores, his income comes from random odd jobs he finds on the internet. He can’t say ‘I’ll have 50 bucks by Friday’, but at any given time he might be able to say ‘I have 50 bucks.’ As far as money goes, our situations are not entirely dissimilar, as neither of us has a definitive income. However, our lives, obviously, are not the exact same, and therefor even with our equal status of living, there are other reasons we won’t be the same kind of fans.
Unlike me, shin understands Japanese. For me, subtitles are a necessity, meaning that I am required either to watch fansubs on the internet/via download, or to purchase the DVDs. Shin, however, is required to do neither, as he can watch anything when it airs – if he had the money, he could move to Japan and watch anime on TV like they do. Even though he is an anime fan, he cannot be considered in the market for DVDs, because he has no purpose for them unless he wanted to build a collection. However, because, like me, he has a limited income, he has to keep his priorities in order about what he needs in terms of collection, fandom, and just seeing what he needs to see. As a person who watches virtually everything, and is very picky about the quality of his video, he needs to have high-end technology so that he can acquire his anime quickly, watch it at maximum settings, and have room to both store the anime and store all the programs he requires to facilitate whatever it is he needs to have a comfortable fandom. All that shit takes money – all the money he has – money he can’t spend on anime DVDs or manga volumes. If he had more money, and believe me he wishes he does which is why he’s trying to get a job, he’d expand on the number of things he bought, purchasing the DVDs of all his favorite series, the manga volumes, the figures, the wallscrolls, or whatever it is that floats his boat. He just can’t right now.
Unlike him, I’m not a techno-junky, I don’t need the high-end technology, I’m fine with watching streams, wiping things from my hard drive, and because I’m a newer fan, I have a massive back-catalog of anime to watch, whereas he has seen everything that isn’t new (plus I don’t play video games, and he does). My money is better spent on things I care about, like anime DVDs, manga, artbooks, what-the-fuck-ever. With my limited income, I can’t necessarily buy all the things I want to, and I do which is why I’m trying to get a job, but if I could, I’d be buying more DVDs, more manga, more artbooks, more figures, and those fucking HD episodes of Xam’d (which, I should note, me and Shin are actually buying and splitting the cost).
Both of us are high-level otaku within our own boundaries, and with the extension of our boundaries, we would continue to be high-level otaku. What makes someone ‘not a fan’ or simply a low-level fan depends on how far they are willing to go within their own boundaries, which brings us to the meat of this post – the fanboy code of ethics.
Taking all the above into consideration, it should be obvious that if it is within your capability to buy the HD episodes of Xam’d, but you do not, you cannot be considered as much of a fan as someone who does. Now, obviously, if you’re Wildarmsheero and you vehemently hate BONES, or if you can’t stand anything that isn’t balls-realistic or whatever, you’re exempt from this because you’d just be buying something you hate. However, if you genuinely would enjoy Xam’d but won’t pay for it just because you don’t like the fact that it’s a totally fucking retarded price, you aren’t a fan. How can you deny yourself the viewing experience if you’re a real fan? you can’t, by definition! And as some have said, you honestly at least have to give it a chance – 3-4 dollars is well worth the first episode if just to give the fucking show a try, it’s downright silly to ignore the show completely when you might even turn out to be fully willing to pay for it.
This kind of fan-defining principal can be applied to the fanbase as a whole when you add in the filter of the unspoken code of fandom ethics. My little brother is obsessed with Gurren-Lagann. It is his favorite show ever. He watched it with me fansubbed at the time that it aired. The show was licensed. He had enough money that he could buy the first DVD when it was released. There was nothing else that was more important for him to spend his money on. He purchased the first DVD. He did so, even though it’s a sub-only release, and he’ll probably have to buy the show again on it’s re-release a year from now – even though it had no special features, because he is a fan of the show. Now, let’s create a fictional guy named Jim. Jim is living under all of the exact same circumstances as my brother – for all intents and purposes, Jim is my little brother. He, too, has enough money, nothing else to buy, and Gurren Lagann is his favorite show. However, knowing that the show is going to be released again next year, he decides not to buy the DVD. He and my brother both plan to buy it a year from now, but only my brother buys it now. Which of them is a bigger fan of the show? It’s not that my brother is less intelligent of a consumer – both of them had nothing better to buy (Jim blew his money on food because he’s a bigger fan of PF Changs than he is of McDonalds, zing) he just cares more about Gurren Lagann. He’s a bigger fan.
Now let’s create another comparison, only these people are both billionaires. Both of them are anime watchers who watch a lot of anime online. Remember, their billionaires, so we’re assuming they already have all the top-of-the-line technology and shit to max out they sub-watching, and they have much, much more money to spare. One of these billionaires, who watches subs so that he can see shows as they air, buys the DVDs of all the shows he likes (assuredly all special editions, hehe) but the other doesn’t. The one who doesn’t reasons that because he can watch the anime online, he has no reason to buy the DVDs. He can obviously still watch them online, and maybe he’s found rips of al the special features, and there’s nothing the DVDs can offer him that he doesn’t already get. He even has a massive stock of DVD boxes and prints the artwork (yes, I know how much I’m pushing it) so that he can have exact replicas of the DVDs (for the sake of analogy, this is somehow less cost-deficient than DVDs themselves). We would say that the guy who’s actually buying he DVDs is a bigger fan because even though he can access all of the stuff already, he pursues everything that deals with the anime, and in the official way. No matter how you look at it, people who don’t care about officialism, or don’t care about the merchandise, or don’t care about this or that aren’t as big of fans as people who do.
Looking at things this way has me envisioning the industry as a triangle. On Side 1 is the industry itself, who, of course, makes DVDs. Side 2 is the hardcore fans, who buy DVDs. Side 3 is the lesser fans who don’t care about DVDs. (and Side 4 is the Frontier Side.) The troubles in the industry seem to come from the misunderstnadings these sides have about each other. The industry is pissed because it can’t sell DVDs, but it’s because there are too many lesser fans that don’t care about DVDs who the industry is trying to sell to. The hardcore fans are far more ready to support the industry, but all too often the industry doesn’t try to appeal to them, and instead reaches for a wider audience, missing them entirely. Companies like Right Stuf recognize that it can be a good idea to appeal to the hardcore audience, don’t try to stretch out to the wrong audience, and stay making profits. Others seem intent on trying to sell anime (and certain shows more than others) to the wrong crowd and then wondering why they aren’t having any success. When a company can’t recognize that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to dub Kanon or try to release Glass Fleet at full price, they’ve got a serious fucking problem recognizing their audience, and that misunderstanding is their downfall.