- There's Pikachu!
- [Cristal Marie] There's Pikachu!
Okay, you see, now you need a picture with Pikachu.
- [Josef] A rare sighting of giant Pikachu, fast cars wrapped in "Demon Slayer" art, and random strangers asking to take pictures with me.
Can you guess where I am?
This is "Anime NYC," and I was one of the nearly 53,000 people in attendances here.
- It's sold out.
- Is it?
I mean, there's so many people here.
(bouncy music) I remember back in high school, anime fans were stereotyped as antisocial nerds or geeks.
I used to even pretend like I didn't watch anime just so I wouldn't get bullied.
But these days, things have changed so much.
From fashion trends to music, to even sports, there's no denying anime's influence on our society.
Today, liking anime is cool, accepted, and embraced by many.
- The tables have really turned.
- The tables have turned.
So, what changed?
Well to find out, I had to go to where the diehard anime fans are, an anime convention.
I was a little bit nervous because it was my first convention, but I had to find out how the kids that got picked on in high school ended up influencing mainstream culture in such a big way.
When I first found out about the convention, I knew that I couldn't go in my regular clothes, so I decided to cosplay as one of my favorite characters, Obanai from "Demon Slayer."
Even got some yellow-green contacts.
It wasn't until after I finished putting on my whole look that I realized I had to take the subway to the convention.
I definitely got a lot of weird looks from people on the train, but hey, that's okay, 'cuz it's New York, baby!
When I got to the convention, I met up with the Beyond the Bot crew, a group of friends that make videos together about their passion for anime.
- Welcome to "Anime NYC."
- [Josef] They were there to present on a panel, but they were nice enough to take some time to show me around and we talked a lot about how anime has suddenly become so cool.
- Now that it's become more accessible through Netflix, through all these streaming services, people are now getting more of a taste of anime and it's becoming so much more widely accepted because of that.
And I think it's really beautiful.
- [Josef] Anime is Japanese animation, predominantly found in films and television.
Many anime are adapted from manga, which are Japanese comic books or graphic novels.
So, how did anime become so popular?
Well, it started in Japan.
The 1980s is said to be Japan's golden age of anime.
Series like "Gundam," "Macross," and "Dragon Ball" became wildly popular at this time and gained dedicated followings across Japan.
The media also began referring to these fans as "otaku."
In Japan, this is is a derogatory term similar to geek, and it describes fans who have lost touch with reality.
This is Dr. Kumiko Saito.
She teaches Japanese literature at Clemson University and she's an OG that's been watching anime since way before it was cool.
- Well, people thought the anime shows on TV are supposed to be for kids.
And then there's those immature adult fans who cannot grow up.
- So, you still think of that bad connotation?
I think we had this image kind of really burned.
- Burned in.
- In our mind.
- So, would you like to be called or not like to be called "otaku?"
- No, I'll be happy to be called "otaku."
- [Josef] In 1988, things took a dark turn.
Tsutomu Miyazaki, a notorious serial killer known as the "Otaku Murderer," further cemented the negative perception of the growing "otaku" community when police found in his home over 5,000 videotapes of mostly anime and slasher films.
Japanese media claimed that Tsutomu's "otaku" tendencies caused him to lose touch with reality, and that led to his heinous crimes against four little girls.
- Of course I don't agree, but the society needed a kind of scapegoat, some sort of logic behind how this kind of cruel crime could have happened.
- [Josef] As anime began to spread in the United States, American anime fans began to embrace the title "otaku."
What do you think of the word "otaku?"
- I understand it in the American sense where "otaku" can mean anime fan.
People have kind of embraced that word for themselves.
- Do you embrace it?
- Oh yeah.
- Would you describe yourself as "otaku?"
- I would, 100%.
I am obsessive.
- Do you describe yourself as "otaku?"
- Yeah, I would.
I think if you've seen my room, which you have.
- [Josef] Yes, I have.
- [CurtRichy] Yeah, I don't think I could describe myself as anything less and get away with it.
- [Josef] By the late 1980s, it was probably "fansubbing" that led to the popularity of anime in the United States.
"Fansubbing" is when fans undertake the role of translating, captioning, and distribution.
Because anime was so rare in the U.S. at the time, small communities had to form to be able to import the anime and then watch it together.
- There had to be kind of community, pretty tight-knit community, including I guess myself was translating at a certain point.
- [Josef] During the '90's, programs like "Toonami," "Fox Kids," and "Kids' WB" introduced an entire generation to anime, with hit shows like "Yu-Gi-Oh!," "Sailor Moon," and "Dragon Ball Z."
This is when Pokémon became a worldwide sensation, and eventually the most successful media franchise of all time.
But, just because anime was becoming popular in the United States, does not mean it was cool.
- I definitely got bullied a little bit for watching anime.
- Even though people at my school knew I loved anime, I tried not to yell about it too much.
- It's just anime was such a like interest that was so secluded from society because like people were afraid that they would be judged.
- [Josef] So, how did anime go from something that was for nerds, to being co-opted by the cool kids?
In 2003, anime obtained international prestige for its storytelling and creative arts with the Academy Award winner, "Spirited Away."
Japan even launched the "Cool Japan Initiative" in 2009 to promote Japanese pop culture overseas.
- Akira was the first, almost the first icon that could be put on a t-shirt and then teenage boy would wear that t-shirt and thought it's cool.
And it become a symbol of defiance, resistance to the mainstream.
- I was first introduced to Akira because Kanye West, where he said that that was one of his favorite movies.
It also helps that anime is now more accessible than ever, and you can find it on almost any streaming service.
- I would've done anything for anime to be like that accessible back then, but it wasn't as popular.
- [Josef] Why is anime cool now?
- I think it's because it started with that generation.
The '90's, basically the late '90's, early 2000's anime fans, they've grown up and taken over the media industry and they're bringing anime to you now.
- That's a really good theory.
I haven't heard anyone say that.
That's really good.
- It's huge now.
- It's sold out.
- It just shows that there's like this rising acceptance for anime.
- Because people ostracized it, it made you kind of want to do it more, in like our own separate world.
That's why the culture is so strong, I feel like, for it.
- [Josef] During my weekend at "Anime NYC," I could really feel that strong culture that Curt is talking about.
- You are what you are, you love what you love.
And this is a culture that as you can see, celebrates that.
(upbeat music) - Has anime taught you any life lessons?
- The power of friendship.
- [Josef] Do you think that you've made friends through your love for anime?
- [Cristal Marie] I think I only have friends because I love it.
I can't imagine a world without my friends who I've met through anime.
Like, these are my family.
- [Josef] Before going to the convention, I was a little bit worried that I might not fit in with other anime fans, but it turns out I had nothing to worry about.
- Anyone, no matter what background can be an anime fan.
We've all had similar experiences that have brought us here.
- Whatever's going on in your personal life, whatever's going on in your environment, you're welcome in our space, basically.
Anime is for everyone.
- [Josef] It turns out there are many reasons why anime might have become so cool in the United States.
But for now, what I do know is that the anime fans that got picked on turned what they love into a global phenomenon.