THE BUSINESS OF FANDOM
BY JASON DIAZ AND AVANTI SAMARASEKERA
Anime is a global phenomenon like no other with roots originating in Japan. By definition, anime is quite simply Japanese animation created either by computer or by hand. Thought to have originated in the early 20th century, the style that most people are familiar with took off during the 1960s with one of Japan’s most prominent anime artists, Osamu Tezuka. The sheer impact that anime culture has had on Japan is so great that it gave birth to the Otaku subcultures, which include role-playing, gaming and cosplaying. These hobbies have amassed monumental followings both in Japan and internationally.
With an overabundance of shops resembling several convention centers on top of one another, Tokyo’s geeky center Akihabara draw otaku from all of the world. Otaku is the name derived from Japanese culture that translates to passionate fan of anime, which accurately describes these pop culture fanatics.Known for being the center of gaming, manga and anime culture in Japan, Akihabara has raked in a multitude of tourists in recent years, who come not only to experience the phenomenon, but are also Otaku themselves in search of rare collectibles of a host of anime characters.
While geeks around the world are cognizant of Akihabara, which is widely acclaimed to be otaku mecca, the other geek neighborhood Ikebujuro is designated as a must-visit especially for female fans as most of the sights and shops have been especially catered towards the female otaku. But there is one place that attracts both genders alike: the Pokemon Center MEGA Tokyo, located inside the Sunshine City Alpha shopping complex, where you can find all things Pokemon, from ramen and curry to tableware and slippers.
Odaiba is home to the Tokyo Big Sight building, which has been the venue of choice for the annual AnimeJapan convention, which according to Forbes, back in 2016, raked in over 135,000 people over a course of just three days. A symbol of the Odaibo area, it is no ordinary landmark and you can’t miss it: it’s a gigantic statue of a ‘Gundam’ (a robot from one of the most popular animations is Japan started nearly 40 years ago).
Fondly known as Tokyo’s kawaii capital, Harajuku is the epicenter of Tokyo teen fashion. This fashionable city is known for its residents and visitors who wear outlandish either bright, pastel or dark gothic Lolita outfits. As such, it has gained fame as the birthplace of kawaii culture. The city also gained wide popularity in the 90s with Gwen Stefani’s hit song ‘Harajuku Girls’.
On the other side of Tokyo (to Akihabara) is the famous Nakano Broadway, a four-storey shopping mall whose second and third floors are entirely dedicated to anime, manga and collectibles. For fans of collectibles, head down to ‘Robot Robot’, which you can find on the third floor of Nakano Broadway. The complex is stacked to the rafters with Japanese toys and collectibles, from 6-inch high Godzilla figurines all the way to life-size Ultraman models; if you have a favourite character and can’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere else.
NUMBERS THAT TELL THE TALE
The Anime industry has been on a constant rise, as the medium has never been easier to follow thanks to streaming services like Netflix. Looking at submitted data from 255 companies in 2018, the production side of anime brought in 203.721 billion yen in the last fiscal year, which translates to a cool $1.8 billion. In 2015, a total of 40 countries had listed at least one licensed anime title, but now that number has spanned to nearly every country in the world. The total market size of the animation industry in Japan – including TV, movies and video streaming – has now reached a record high of over 2.15 trillion yen for 2018. This is a significant increase over the previous year’s 160 billion yen.
MUST-VISITS IN AKIHABARA
If you ever want to feel important and flanked by a small army of maids, visit one of Tokyo’s Maid Cafés. Service staff in frilly Lolita costumes greet you and wait on you hand and foot, even referring to you as ‘Master’.
Also called the “largest manga and anime store in the world”, Mandarake has every nick-knack you will ever need from the anime world – from video games and dolls to rare collectibles and figurines. If Godzilla was your only connection to Tokyo, visit the wall of vintage Godzilla toys to feel right at home. Mandarake is the typical antique flea market where you can spend hours browsing and buy things you don’t particularly need.
There are a few of these around as well. Cat cafés are popping up around the world, but taking a leaf out of the Harry Potter franchise, Tokyo’s craze is owl cafés. Akiba Fukurou is a top attraction in Akihabara, where guests are welcomes by own that you are then allowed to play with!
UDX PARKING GARAGE
A must-visit for all car enthusiasts are these basement car museums. Effectively acting as a car show every weekend, the parking garages are safer than they sound and feature cars decked out in flashy, anime-inspired paintjobs unlike you you’ve ever seen before.
SHOSEN BOOK TOWER
There is something for everyone in Tokyo, this one’s for book lovers. Light novels is the common term for books popular in anime culture, but this massive bookstore houses everything from light novels, to classics, and every other type of book you might want.
THE POWER OF HATSUNE MIKU
You can’t talk about Japanese pop culture and not talk about one of its biggest pop stars, Hatsune Miku. But, she isn’ta real person… Miku is the name of a programme, aka a ‘Vocaloid’, which is essentially a synthesizer that takes in lyrics and music, and sings it. But Miku sells out concerts from LA to Singapore. Designed to be a representation of the evolution of digital music technology, crowdsourcing and creative collaboration, anyone can buy the programme and create songs, as allof “her songs” were reated by members of a burgeoning global community, with tens of thousands of songs being uploaded ever since its launch in 2007. To actually perform a concert, Miku has been given the form of a teenage girl in holographic projection. Drawing in thousands upon thousands of fans to her concerts, she has even opened for global superstars like Lady Gaga. The near unfathomable popularity of Miku can be seen by the things people do with the character: music, stage presentations, dance moves, 3D modeling, the list goes on and on. There is even an entire opera made with Miku staged at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris called ‘The End: A Vocaloid Opera.’