One of the more poignant news items I’ve read recently is that the London Anime Club (LAC) intends to “close doors” by the end of 2008. The cited reason is plain and simple: low attendances, with the popularity of “the London Expo”, “fansubs” and the accessibility of popular anime and manga in “mainstream shops” all said to be contributing factors in this lack of interest.
According to its official website, the LAC has been hosting regular gatherings for anime fans since Tuesday, 12th of April, 1994; apparently, only 12 people turned up to that first meeting, while 10 years later, in April of 2004, the club achieved its highest ever turn-out of 206 people, and yet, little more than 4 years on from that record, attendances have plummeted. The LAC is one of the longest running anime clubs in the UK, but, for whatever reason, it seems like today’s anime fans are no longer attracted to what an anime club might have to offer.
Fundamentally, people go to anime clubs because they are interested in anime. At the first LAC meeting, they screened Gunbuster and Kimagure Orange Road. Back in 1994, if it wasn’t the extreme BAN THIS SICK FILTH-era anime like Devilman or Urotsukidōji, stuff was obscure and hard to find, the internet young and underdeveloped. Most of what anime fans actually wanted to watch back then would probably never be released locally, hence the importance of organised screenings at clubs like the LAC. After all, if you wanted to watch Kimagure Orange Road, there was no other option. Or at least, no other option that didn’t involve a lot of bother and/or money.
Compare the above sentiment to today.
If I want to start watching Kimagure Orange Road, the first 4 episodes can be downloaded within 3 hours, with the rest lined up as and when I need it. Over the past 2 weeks alone, I’ve watched the first episodes of 17 different anime series, all of which have premiered in Japan during October 2008. My point is obvious. I don’t need to go to London to watch anime when I can do it from the comfort of my home. Of course, an anime club offers so much more than just showings of anime, like the opportunity to make to new friends, to have heated discussions concerning the artistic validity of the Gainax bounce, but all of this begins with a fundamental desire to watch anime, a desire that is now easy to satisfy.
Some would say it is too easy (the DVD publishers especially), while the social aspects are suddenly dominated by the larger, industry-orientated events like the London Expo, where the cosplay, merchandise trading and anime screenings are conducted in the seemingly more glamorous, sanitized surroundings of places like Excel centre.
Though it may have been inevitable, the death of the London anime club will mark the end of an era for a great many people, not least of all those hardy souls who have spent nearly 15 years of their lives working behind the scenes, organising and planning their club, all for the love for anime. What does this portent? Is it a good thing, from a personal and social point of view, that people now have such an unprecedented amount of access to anime? Has the internet fragmented the anime community by destroying the purpose of anime clubs, or brought us closer together, with increasing convention attendances and busy online forums? Perhaps only the future holds the answer. That the anime industry is in an almost constant state of flux means that nothing is for certain anymore; that something that may seem pointless today might suddenly become useful again tomorrow. Nothing is forever in the anime community.