Remember When Anime Was Your Special Secret?

Remember When Anime Was Your Special SecretA few years ago, you could safely confess your adoration for anime in a crowd of hipsters and only get a few knowing nods. Nowadays, everyoneknows about Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. You can discuss Cowboy Bebop over after-dinner drinks. What’s up with that?

And don’t go thinking you’re safe if you harbor a manga fetish. Every major U.S. publisher has or is contemplating a manga line. Shelves of old favorites like Inu-yasha fill bookstores. Sure, you were hip to Kagome and gang way back when, but now it’s time to find a new cool. After all, when The Christian Science Monitor does primer stories on your favorite fetishes, it’s only a matter of time before your mother starts talking up Samurai Champloo (now showing, by the way, on the aforementioned Adult Swim, and just as great as ever!) at family gatherings.

What began as a distinctly Japanese style of visual storytelling has gone global. As culture watchers from Tokyo to London point out, anime is far more than Pikachu and PowerPuff girls. The art form has achieved what no other indigenous cultural expression has managed to do: become widespread enough to challenge America’s stranglehold on entertainment.

You can stay one step ahead of the in-crowd by making a pilgrimage to the new center of anime and manga cool: the Akihabara District in Tokyo. “What?” you say. “Akihabara? That’s for just for electronics.”

Not anymore. The district has emerged as Anime Central, with a rising number of shops devoted to the entertainment. Tourists oohing and aahing over cameras are now competing for scarce sidewalk space with fans looking for the next big thing. And, where young men flock, young women find cause for humor:

The streets of Akihabara, once known strictly as the electronics hub of Tokyo, are now filled with young men in pursuit of the growing number of anime shops. “These guys just hang out, [they have] no other life,” he says, standing on the sidewalk next to a small knot of anime fans. A young woman nearby, who does not want her name used, adds, “many of them don’t know how to love a real woman because all they know are these silly anime women.”