Alex Taranto

Anime, in the West, remains relatively niche. Most Americans recognize Sherlock Holmes, Superman and Captain Ahab; fewer know Detective Conan, Saitama or Luffy. Aside from Ghibli and Dragon Ball Z, it’s rare for these “Japanese cartoons” to reach mainstream audiences outside of their country of origin.

That hasn’t stopped the Yale College Anime Society, a cultural and social club for Yale undergraduates, from providing a warm and welcoming community for members of this growing subculture. Officers Eleanor Iskander ’21 and Slater Smith ’21, as well as club member James Sun ’21, provide us with a rich portrait of the club’s history and current activities.

The society began its life in the late ’90s. In an era where few had TVs in their rooms, past Anime Society presidents would organize “Silla Flicks.” During the early 2000s, when more people had their own personal televisions, the club fizzled a bit. Still, the board collected anime DVDs and manga (comics, which often serve as the original works on which anime are based). As the streaming age took hold, these DVDs were put on a hard drive. 

Eleanor Iskander reports that, lamentably, the hard drive has died since then. The club as a whole, in contrast, remains full of life. “Twice a week, we get together, watch anime, discuss it,” she explains. Aside from serving as a book club of sorts for anime fans, members of the club sometimes prepare food together and draw. Even after graduation, alumni check in on the present Yale College Anime Society, often through the club’s official Discord channel. For example, the old president Jonathan pops in fairly regularly. 

Sun remarks on the tight-knit community’s wide variety of cultural offerings; “It’s not just anime but really just any East Asian media of any sort.” Visual novels (text adventure video games with illustrations), manga and light novels (serial fiction) are also celebrated by the Anime Society. This broad scope is what he credits as allowing the society to “cross different generations” in its appeal.

The club is notably member-focused. The board sends out emails to inform members of each week’s activities, as many clubs do. However, instead of deciding on which activities to conduct independently of the members, the officers ask members directly what the members want. “It’s their choice what we watch, what kind of activities we try to do,” says Eleanor Iskander. 

For example, the club would host a “Voting Night” where members are shown the first episodes of multiple anime series, and then they vote on which specific series they want to continue watching for later weeks. 

In the past, the club has also had outings to watch anime films in theaters. The Yale College Anime Society has seen both “My Hero Academia” movies outside of campus and has even ventured as far as New York City to see “Koe no Katachi”. 

Of course, such outings are next to impossible during the 2020 pandemic. In the COVID-19 era, the club is facing understandable difficulties in providing the social atmosphere it did in previous years. Despite it all, the board is undaunted and plans to keep screenings going during the current on-campus quarantine. Using the platform Kast to stream anime to multiple viewers, the board sets up a Zoom call in the background so members can talk to each while watching. 

“To be honest, it has been kind of difficult,” reports Iskander. “Some people are less focused because they’re doing other things in front of their computers, or people are too tired after whole days in Zoom calls.” In the future, when pandemic restrictions lift, the officers plan to take members back to movie premieres and in-person anime conventions — large events where anime fans cosplay, sell anime-themed merchandise and attend anime-based panels.

Through anime, these people have created a community together. Though different members have different reasons for joining, they largely have the same reasons for staying. One member claims to have first started attending the Anime Society’s showings due to the provided food (Pocky and mochi) and the convenience of their location. He stayed due to the members’ ability to “share moments of joy, or anger, or frustration” over a shared appreciation and knowledge of anime. Smith says that he joined mainly because he doesn’t consume live-action or otherwise non-anime media. “I used to watch cartoons, now anime,” he says. Members “vary in everything: ethnicities, majors, religions, things we’ve been doing over the summer,” but “being a weeb has connected us,” reports Sun.

Claire Fang | claire.fang@yale.edu