By Tyler McLean
Every Wednesday during lunch, the lights are off in room 221 in Riverside high school. Vibrant colors bounce off the wall. Every little detail pops.
Twenty kids whisper excitedly. They’re eager to talk anime, but also don’t want to distract others from the series projected on biology teacher Celynd Malone’s whiteboard.
They’re watching Rising of the Shield Hero. The show’s main character, 20-year-old university student Naofumi Iwatani, gets transferred into a fantasy game world with monsters and magic after discovering a book about four heroes. As Naofumi struggles to survive in this new dangerous world, the stakes rise with every action sequence. Each expertly animated character adds depth to the plot. Students can’t resist the urge to discuss their favorite scenes.
Anime and its source material, manga, have been on a steady increase in popularity. Here at Riverside High School, fans of the genre have grown, too.
Now more than ever there’s students and staff who watch anime, but why is that?
“I would hypothesize that COVID-19 and the whole quarantine thing left people with a lot of time, and feeling as though they needed something to do,” said Senior Vivan Hazelrigg.
Hazelrigg is the President of the Riverside’s Anime Club here at Riverside. A longtime fan of the genre, she is in charge of picking what anime series the club watches.
“Anime provides an escape for many people, and a space to think and introspect for others,” she said.
The club was growing steadily for years, but the pandemic definitely contributed.
“There has definitely been an increase in students since we first started,” said Malone, the club’s faculty adviser. Malone has advised anime club for three years, but isn’t the biggest fan of the genre herself.
One reason could be the pandemic leaving people at home with nothing to do. For a while, anime and its fans were depicted as “weird,” but as students sat at home during lockdowns and virtual school more kids gave it a chance.
“People likely accidentally found certain shows when they were looking through Netflix trying to pass the time, realized ‘I just enjoyed an anime,’ and looked further into it,” Said Hazelrigg.
Another reason could be social media platforms, especially Tik-Tok. Anime content, trends, sounds, and hashtags all attract people to the genre. For example, content creators like itskingchris, a comedian/cosplayer who, with the use of visual effects, edits videos, comical facial expressions, and various popular and humorous anime sounds. Itskingchris has built an audience of 13.2 million followers.
“It has been memed on for years, what with the many…adult themes that certain shows may have and the stereotypes about anime fans,”said Hazelrigg.”This has led to a lot of people being aware of it.”
According to a 2020 Netflix report, over 100 million households around the world watched at least one anime title on Netflix between October 2019 and September 2020. That’s a year-over-year increase of 50 percent. In 2020 alone anime titles appeared in the top 10 list in almost 100 countries. And Netlix’s exclusive anime, Seven Deadly Sins, reached the top ten among all series and films in over 70 countries.
Streaming service Crunchyroll reached 3 million subscribers in July 2020, and in only six months that number increased to 4 million, according to nScreenMedia. Launched in 2006, it took ten years for the service to reach 1 million subscribers, but only two years to reach two million and doubled its audience again by 2021.
On April 23, 2021 the movie Demon Slayer: Mugen Train was released. Within its first week of screening it brought $21.1 million in the box office. The film went on to break the United States box office record for the biggest foreign language debut. As of December 2021, it’s grossed just under $48 million dollars in the United states box office, the second highest in the country, and over $500 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing anime film of all time, according to the Imagine Games Network.
The increase in popularity is noticeable in Riverside’s media center, too.
“Every day, at least five kids come in a day to check out Manga, and that’s the bare minimum,” said Riverside media coordinator Jenna Wine.
Wine said that over the past three years the number of Anime books checked out by students has skyrocketed. In response, the media center has purchased additional titles and now has over 1100 books available.
As SMART Lunch ended in room 221, students were reluctant to leave their meeting. They said their goodbyes and looked forward to seeing each other and continuing watching the series next wednesday.
As the pandemic altered so many communities, it also shifted the way many people view the anime community. What was once something to look down upon, is now something many look forward to sitting down and talking about each day.
“Anime has a great community in many ways, and right now and in the recent past, we have needed good, solid communities more than ever,” said Hazelrigg.