Blogging is a funny thing. It didn’t exist before the internet, of course (amateur self-styled writers had to rely on the now nearly extinct ‘zine) but has become a significant part of popular culture. It’s even survived the rise of social media, which many predicted would drive blogging to extinction.
The marriage of animanga and blogging is quite a natural one, when you think about it. Western anime fans tend to be much more tech-savvy than the average person, and it’s always been a pretty tight-knit community – in part, no doubt, because it’s always been a relatively small one. Perhaps that’s why anime “blogging” as it exists in the West has never really been a major factor in Japan, where anime and especially manga are much more mainstream. There, when fans go online it’s generally to either check out news sites or to participate in textboards like the massively popular 2channel (2ch)– which is estimated to have about 10 million daily users.
To find out a little bit more about anibloggers and what makes them tick, I asked some of my colleagues to discuss their views on blogging anime and their experiences as bloggers. Sincere thanks to everyone who agreed to be interviewed – here’s a sampling of their responses:
What drew you into blogging anime, rather than just watching it?
Passerby (Random Curiosity Writer): Basically, I'm just a giant nerd. Incessantly talking about one's hobbies is a defining feature of the nerd. The internet just makes it really easy. And since Spirited Away won an Academy Award this hobby's been awfully legit, so I don't even have to feel shame about it. Much.
Setsuken (Founder, Anime Evo): The interesting thing about me writing about and blogging anime is that I actually didn’t start off with anime as the reason for writing and reviewing things. I originally was really into (and still am) video games, and video game magazines and reviews were a bit part of enjoying that medium.
As I got more and more familiar and into Anime, It just felt natural to transition into talking and writing about that as well.
Cherrie (Random Curiosity Writer): I’m an extrovert and I like to talk. I like anime so I like talking about the things I like. That’s probably the most honest answer and since I don’t have many friends IRL that are as engaged about anime as I am, I wanted to talk to folks online about it. I’ve always liked writing as well (whether I’m good at it or not) and it was a good medium for a creative outlet.
Stilts (Random Curiosity Writer): To me, it's never been about the anime so much as the writing. My goal was to become, and is to remain, an author of great fiction, and to do that, I knew I needed to write. When I started with Random Curiosity, I was taking the advice of marketer Seth Godin to "write poorly, in public, until you can write better." If it wasn't anime, it would have been something else, though I'm glad it was anime since it dovetails nicely with my love of storytelling. Getting to pick apart kickass anime series makes my writing practice more fun.
What was the first series or movie that really made you want to blog?
Takaii (Random Curiosity Writer): There wasn't a specific show that made me want to blog. That said, I somehow picked Madoka back before it was huge, so it was cool to see a show get such huge numbers.
Passerby: Deep down, probably my first one– Castle in the Sky: Laputa. It's about the feeling that inspires one to gush about what they love, I think. Like that guy at work who just can't keep photos of his baby to himself.
Do you think aniblogging has any actual impact on the industry, and if so - what?
Setsuken: This might be sad, but I don’t think Anime Blogging actually has much of an impact on the industry itself. Anime, at the moment, seems to be exclusively created for the local audience of its home country, Japan. To that end, Its sad, but I don’t think western fans in general have too much of an impact on Anime, let alone western Anime critics, media and bloggers.
Stilts: Sure. Bloggers are cheap promotional tools, taste makers, market mavens, etc. We serve the duel function of critic and fan engagement arm, and we do it for free. Crazy people like us are pretty useful, for the industries that can get 'em.
Passerby: We just churn the fanbase, I think. I suspect the industry sees us as little more than free publicity.
Takaii: I think it has some depending on what you're aiming at. I doubt our critiques make it to the people in charge, but in our own small way we help shape the industry by influencing the market. Aka, I want to believe we help push people into discovering series which might translate into sales of DVDs and merchandise.
Passerby: There didn't always used to be a 'fandom'. Anime fans would skulk around in dark robes on moonless nights, identifying each other by secret signs and unflattering body odor, and on exchanging VCR tapes, slink back into the shadows to go their separate ways. The internet sure changed things. Blogs were instrumental in congealing what we now know as the fandom.
Stilts: To a point, but it's fragmented and lessening. Bloggers can amplify a message, but it's all in proportion to our platform, and there's little difference between a smaller blogger and someone on social media. Though even a site as big as Random Curiosity can't move the needle much since media has become so fragmented. The impact on fandom is minimal.
Cherrie: More so on fandom than the industry, I think aniblogging is a great way to engage people in anime and a good forum to communicate thoughts. It’s a good way to celebrate anime even though it may not change much about the industry. I also think it offers people a touch-point if they want to meet new people, talk to like-minded individuals and go beyond a one-liner discussion.
Setsuken: In contrast to the industry, I think Anime Blogging and Bloggers are exceedingly influential on the international fandom of the medium. Anime, despite getting bigger and more main stream on an international level, still seems to information travel by word of mouth.
Anime Bloggers, are the closest thing to an official “review” or “discussion” area that Anime has, similar to how Video Games, Music and Movies seem to have their own media that promote and celebrate the medium.*
What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an anime blogger?
Setsuken: To be honest, Anime Blogging is actually a lot about being regular. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn to do is be able to blog series regularly, week for week, on time. Anime Blogging is content that has a smaller half-life than say a more general review or an interview, so it’s all about quantity, speed on top of the obvious “quality”. If you can’t be regular and consistent in how and when you write, then Anime Blogging isn’t something that you’ll be able to stick with.
Cherrie: Have a passion for aniblogging or anime or blogging. Starting a blog is a commitment and you have to have a passion for what you’re blogging, love to talk/blog/write or both. This the basis for what’s going to keep you going if long-term blogging is your goal.
Have a point of differentiation – whether that be your personality, your insights or your images etc. Make sure you’re blogging about something that makes your blog unique and invites people to come back. Otherwise, why would anyone bother visiting?
Engage with your readers and fellow bloggers. I sound like a Marketer when I say this (and probably because I work with Marketers) but if you’re blogging for audiences, then you have to engage with them. Talk to them, listen to them and if they’re also bloggers, make sure you interact with them. You might meet some interesting people along the way.
Takaii: Just like any other market, you have to differentiate yourself from others. Find something you can do that others aren't and roll with it.
Jig, Random Curiosity Writer: Just start putting your stuff out there. Don’t be concerned if anyone will read it. Don’t worry if it’s any good. Don’t fret about any of the logistics. You can get good at anything by just putting in the time and hard work. If you want to start blogging about anime but don’t think you can write, the best thing you can do is just write.
Write about anime, but also write about a thought that’s been brewing in your head, that new movie you saw with your friends, a problem you have with something you learned in class, and so on. Practice channeling any sort of content into the written word. Really observe the prose of some of your favorite writers---whether on the internet or on the page. Find out what works, what doesn’t, what you like, what you’d do differently.
This is a statement about blogging as much as it is about any sort of creative activity. Make time to practice, and observe those you think do it best. With due diligence you’ll see improvement. Don’t be afraid if it doesn’t come quickly---understand that everyone develops at their own pace. More often than not it’s a long, hard grind---one which might not exactly get where you want it to be. However, it’s ultimately worth it for the fulfillment of devoting yourself to a passion. Don’t be afraid---just start writing.
Passerby: Do it for the love, and don't lose sight of it.
Has blogging changed the way you consume anime or manga?
Stilts: The only thing it changed was the volume. I used to watch maybe 10 shows a season, but now I regularly try to watch 20+ shows ... though not successfully as of late, as my backlog keeps growing. But the actual way I watch hasn't changed, since I've always analyzed stories for lessons I could use for my own fiction. Now I just write down some of those observations and publish them online.
Setsuken: It definitely has. A big part of what makes an Anime or Manga entertaining for me now, is being able to discuss, breakdown and analyze a particular show, story, franchise or character. The discussion and analysis is actually a huge part of my overall experience with this medium, and I can’t imagine enjoying anime or manga nearly as much if I weren’t talking about it, writing about it and then hearing other people’s reactions to whatever discussion I start via my writing.
Jig: Definitely. Watching something with the intention to write about it afterwards keeps you all the more attentive and observant to what’s going on. While I already consumed content with an active mind, your attention really doesn’t let up for even a minute when you know you’re taking pen to paper afterwards (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). More specifically, I take quick notes to remind myself later about my thoughts and observations (Note – I definitely do this too. -Ed.).
How do you think English-language anime blogs differ from Japanese-based fan hangouts?
Setsuken: I think the biggest difference is just overall reach and the type of people that hang around and interact on English language Anime Blogs. English anime blogs kind of welcome everyone, simply because the internet is just that diverse and expansive of a content delivery system.
Casual fans, hardcore fans, people who’ve read the source material that an anime is based on, people who’re just being introduced to a franchise through the anime, people may not even have English as their first language, people with different ethnicities, orientations, opinions, religions, everyone is a part of the community on English language anime blogs, especially my own.
Cherrie: I think there’s a huge difference in the way Americans consume anime compared to the Japanese. What we take out of it is very different and so I think our comments and impressions are very different. I don’t engage with Japanese-based fans very often, but even amongst the Japanese-based fans, there are polarizing opinions so it depends on the individual.
Do your muggle friends know you blog anime and/or manga? If not, why not?
Stilts: Here's an interesting one! And you should add "If so, why?", because that's an interesting angle too.
I freely offer up the fact that I write about anime any time it's appropriate. All my closest friends and family know, many acquaintances and former coworkers know, and I've even tossed it on a resume or two when it's relevant. Most people are mildly perplexed, and don't understand why I watch anime, much less write about it, but somehow the writing makes the watching seem less crazy to them. It legitimizes my goofy pastime, you know?
But I would never hold it back. What's the point? Because they might think I'm not cool? To shamelessly steal and re-purpose a quote from Dave Grohl: "Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like anime. It is cool to like anime! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of f$%ng sht."*
So it is with me. People can think I'm weird all they want. I don't care. And in the end, they mostly don't care either. Most people are cool like that.
Takaii: Some of them do. Luckily for me, I have a lot of posts on the site that aren't strictly aniblogging related. Things like the convention posts and the old seiyuu quizzes help me draw my friends in and some stay for the reviews!
But I don't ever shy away from telling them about the site. I love people knowing what I do. #ifonlyimademoneytoo
So what do I think of all this?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is this: if you don’t love blogging anime, don’t blog it. It’s a pain in the ass, it eats a ton of your time, you have to deal with haters and you’re inundated with spoilers no matter how hard you try and avoid them. And you lose the experience of just being a fan. Do I miss that experience? Damn straight I do. It’s not enough just to love anime – to do this, you have to love the process of writing about it, too.
That’s why, I think, the lifespan of anime bloggers tends to be so short – burnout is a constant companion. But there are rewards, too. Writing about anime makes you a more analytical and demanding viewer of anime. It makes you less willing (by necessity if nothing else) to waste your time on mediocrity. It gives you an opportunity to interact with other fans. And when you’re very fortunate, you have a chance to introduce a few viewers to series that might otherwise never watch. Being thanked for that is the highlight of the job for me.
Do I feel as if we have any influence? On the industry, not much – but I do think there is a sliver of impact, because word of mouth in the fan community has made a difference in getting a few series licensed. I don’t have to speculate on whether bloggers have influence on the fandom itself – I know we do, because some of it has told me directly. I know there are fans who picked up Ginga e Kickoff because I blogged it. I know my posts on Hunter X Hunter caused a few old fans to take a second look at the 2011 remake, and perhaps see something in the series they didn’t see before.
In spite of all the prevailing winds against it, I don’t think anime blogging is going away anytime soon because I don’t think there’s another medium that fulfills the same role with the Western fandom. It will change of course – some of what could be called blogging has transitioned to social media, and vlogs will become a much more important part of the equation in the next few years. But Western anime fans are by nature inclined to seek each other out, I think– it’s only human nature to want to share our passion for the things we love, and it’s not something anime fans can easily do by traditional means. Basically, I think the main role of the aniblogger is to be a conversation starter - and fact is, there are far worse things one can be than that.