Anime fans celebrate Japanese culture with club

Spinnaker

Whether it is through pelting each other with beans or watching TV, UNF students are studying and celebrating Japanese culture in an animated way.

UNF’s Anime Club appreciates the special genre of cartooning conceived and animated in Japan by meeting on a bi-weekly basis to huddle around a TV and watch anime.

The genre is notable for its bright colors and visuals as well as the characters’ over-dramatized emotions like water pouring from the eyes while crying and exaggerated features such as gleaming over-sized eyes and huge, spiky hair.

But that’s only where it begins, said Matt DePaul, senior English major and president of the Anime Club. The group of about 30 wants to spread awareness around campus because they believe anime is a cultural bridge to Japan, he said.

“It helps America get to know Japan a little better,” said Erik Watkins, senior math major and vice-president of the Anime Club. “[Anime has] also strengthened cultural ties from Japan to us here in the West.”

Before anime, many people could not tell Japan apart from China, Korea or Thailand. But through anime, people have become more aware of the variety in Eastern cultures, Watkins said.

The club itself celebrates Japan’s culture by enacting certain traditions.

For example, Japan’s Setsubun festival marks the coming of each season and is characterized by pelting a demon with beans, DePaul said. The club celebrated the festival by dressing one member like a demon and then encouraging the rest of the club to pelt him.

“That kind of quality entertainment you can’t get anywhere else,” Watkins said.

One of the main focuses of the club is visual elements not associated with the plot, also called fan service, DePaul said. There are many themes, such as sexuality and the objectification of women, which are very similar to that of the West. Anime such as Battle Vixens is full of attractive young women in short skirts and dresses that frequently get ripped off.

Yet women aren’t the only victims of objectification.

“Say that ‘Battle Vixens’ objectifies women,” DePaul said. “We find many pieces of anime that also objectify men. Sexuality transcends gender in [the Japanese] culture.”

The Anime Club members are looking to expand into other realms to broaden their knowledge of Japanese culture. They have a sister organization called the Asian Film Research Society, and another campus organization is the Japanese Conversation Corner, which meets in the Starbucks on campus to teach Japanese to students.

The Anime Club also attends conventions outside of Jacksonville.

Student Government awarded nearly $900 to the club in April 2007 for the registration and lodging of 15 members for the JACON (Japanese Anime Convention) in Orlando, according to Spinnaker archives. The club doesn’t have any other outside funding, and many members help pay for events out of their own pockets.

DePaul said he is hopeful SG will help to fund another trip to JACON this year because tickets can reach up to $45 per person for on-site registration.

Although not required, many of the members participate in cosplay, which is dressing up like a favorite anime character.

JACON, like many anime conventions, has opinion panels, screenings of different anime, drawing workshops, art shows and various contests. Each convention has its individual quirks, such as the JACON convention’s Animusical Idol, in which cosplayers get to show off their dancing and singing skills.

But the most important part of the club is everyone’s mutual love for anime and the common bond they all share, DePaul said.

“That’s how I started meeting people on campus for the first time,” he said.

E-mail Frederick Pecor at [email protected]