On Shopping Lists: Consumption with Monetary Costs

In our media-rich economy we do a lot of economic pushing and shoving (read: consumption) that revolves around the media. In other words, we buy and sell a lot of things because of media. Usually just buy. So in the two circles of blogs that I read, which are anime/manga types and gadget/personal electronic/tech blogs, shopping guide for the holiday season is not uncommon.

Shopping guides are something worth thinking about. At some level, core otaku fandom has to have a “monetarily active” wing of it that is focused on consumption. In the stipulated context of available and free programming it is all very natural. It would be no different than being a fan of, for example, Glee. That is a foundation in which we build a perspective about Japanese anime fandom.

For Americans, it’s definitely not quite so much the case although some generations of fan do come from that. Those who caught it on Sci-Fi, or those who caught Sailor Moon, or those who saw Speed or Astro Boy, and so on, are not too different as they start. However the focus on the fandom soon shifts from that.

I would go so far and to say that American anime fandom is overly concerned about consumption, and not enough about what they are consuming and why that is the case. I think the anti-moe thought has at least challenged some people’s notion of that, but that is just one opinion in a sea of them.  I think a big reason why this is the case is because that anime fandom in the west is rooted in that illicit but also low-monetary-cost, high-human-resource-cost form of consumption that is known as old school fansubbing.

And realistically speaking, consumption of anime as a pure medium is not where the money is. Anyone who’s seen Japan’s industry-wide reports about where the money is when it comes to anime/manga/game franchises know that it’s in merchandising. Or for that matter you can find out about this through any of the variety of books or websites that detail how mainstream anime business models are–often times they are ads for toys or for other products. The money is in those things. The animation is more of a vehicle.

As the difficulty of media piracy (and fansubbing) drops over the past 15 years, we see pretty clearly that the nature of consumption has changed among fans. More importantly we also see the nature of consumption changed among some non-fans, or specifically, pre-fans and casual fans (that’s an oxymoron amirite). I’m talking about people who are not quite fans, but those who did grow up watching Pokemon and is otherwise curious about a couple franchises. We’re talking about the average Millennium Generation American. I highlight this group just to note that the problems they bring to the table is mostly unique to them, but being such a large group of people, it also presents an unique challenge for companies trying to make money off them. This is where we can segue into a rant about New Media and what have you.

But those fans who actually spend a ton of money, at least before 2002, would remember the days where buying VHS at $30 a pop for 2-4 episodes is piece of cake since you were spending several hundred up to the 4-digit range regularly on imported LDs, and more importantly, shipping (or worse, plane rides). Today we enjoy luxuries such as DVDs and Blu-Rays, and better shipping (though the exchange rate right now is horrid, and nowhere as cushy as the 120+ to 1 valuation from the 1990s) options. Online sites provided easy access to Japanese goods versus human proxies that you had to contact by phone or mail. Life is good for the anime prosumers today.

In as such, writing a shopping list for the average English-language internet user in 2010, even in the world of anime and manga, is kind of “mainstream” don’t you think? It’s no different than making one for sites like Engadget or Kotaku. When I wrote mine I thought about things I actually owned or would like to own, and had some kind of novelty factor that made writing and reading about why I own them more interesting than their intrinsic value. Except the Detolf. Because that’s just one of those “if you knew about this, you are truly an insider, a 仲間, the real deal” kind of thing that more people should know. And you should know; it’s not really a gift-giving kind of thing, it’s more a “better living in 21st century as a geek” kind of thing.

For the real you-should-buy this holiday season kind of list, everyone who really needs it has it, and if you’re shopping for one of those people, you can only ask. I mean my list would be like, “hey, go to j1m0ne’s blog and pick something.” Most genuine anime fans are pro at consumption; they  know what to buy (if they can afford it). The real adages about gift giving is true always–you just have to know who you are caring for.

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