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Is Anime 'Cool' Now? An Investigation

Kim Kardashian and Michael B. Jordan have openly proclaimed their love for the genre, sending shockwaves through the mystical realm of anime fans.

Callie Beusman

Callie Beusman

In my senior year of high school, I became a fan of anime. I was not uncool as a suburban teen—which is to say that I wasn’t a loser, but also everyone thought (half-correctly) that I was a witch who did BDSM spells in my basement and approached me with a sense of general trepidation as a result. Because I was not uncool, I did not advertise my interest in the oft-maligned medium; I would come home from school and watch literal hours of Naruto, a show about adolescent ninjas primarily targeted at boys age 13 to 18, and set my AIM away message to something like “outtttt, hit my cell.”

It has come to my attention in recent days that anime is cool now. I first began to suspect this stunning reversal of fortune a few weeks ago, when I saw several clips of Michael B. Jordan professing his love for the highly stylized form of animated entertainment, and then did a search for every time he had tweeted “Naruto,” as any diligent reporter would. His stance on the genre could not be any clearer: In March of 2011, he tweeted, “Yea I’m into anime I love this shit!”

For the next two years, the Black Panther actor would periodically post updates on the Naruto manga series, mostly reacting with shocked faces—a sentiment I can relate to, as someone who never expected Gaara of the Sand to ascend to the illustrious position of Kazekage. “Sooo Naruto 627,” he tweeted in 2013, which would indicate that he has read literally 627 volumes of a comic book that follows the exploits of a young and impulsive warrior attempting to prove himself to his ninja peers, despite having a demon sealed in his torso. Jordan posted another update shortly afterwards: “Naruto 631,” he wrote, with a thumbs-up. Hell yeah. Still, one could not help but notice the utter paucity of Naruto-related tweets after May of 2013. “He became a heartthrob and had to stop tweeting about anime,” I mused, feeling sympathetic, to a friend.

But I was wrong to be so cynical. A mere week later, Jordan professed his love openly. In response to a tweet accusing him of being 5’9”, living with his parents, and watching anime, he issued a stunning correction: “First of All I’m 6ft and they live with ME, put some respeck on my name. LOL,” he wrote, adding, “aaaand goku & naruto are real ones.” (Facing a subsequent accusation of only liking “mainstream anime,” he nobly replied, “Nah that was a softball for the anime uneducated.”)

As notable as this development may have been, it wouldn’t necessarily make anime cool for the layperson, the same way that normcore didn’t make sweatpants and Tevas fashionable unless you look exactly like a model and are already invited to all the cool parties. Michael B. Jordan liking anime is cool because Michael B. Jordan is extremely cool; as Miles Klee at Mel Magazine put it, “Become not only rich and famous, but one of the most popular stars in Hollywood, all while remaining grounded and humble, but also really good-looking, and you, too, could be a cool anime fan who lives with their parents.”

Jordan’s response to the allegations of loving anime pleased the internet, which promptly settled back into its daily routine of being roiled by fleeting, all-consuming passions and soothed by a procession of memes in turn. Then the unthinkable happened. On Februray 28, 2018, Kim Kardashian proclaimed, “I am obsessed with anime,” sending the anime fans of the world into a frantic state of existential crisis. (“First Michael B. Jordan and now Kim Kardashian.. you can’t take anime from us like this,” one user lamented. “Now that Kim Kardashian and Michael B. Jordan have confirmed that they love anime, normies will try to take it from us,” another warned.)

On her app, Kardashian elaborated on her newfound object of fascination: “The inspo for my pink hair is Japanese anime. I always thought that look was super cute,” she effused in her typical, brightly flat affect. A few days later, she took it to Instagram, writing, “My hair inspo” beneath an extremely sexy image of the character Zero Two from the 2018 series Darling in the Franxx, which comicbook.com describes as “a deep cut.” (This particular show, which follows a boy fighting rapacious beasts by piloting a woman-shaped mecha, was reportedly banned in China for “suggestive situations,” including the fact that “in order to pilot the series' titular Franxx mechs, a boy must grab his female partner's rear end to use the controls.”)

These two are far from the first celebrities to enjoy anime—Kanye West, for instance, once famously tweeted, “No way Spirited Away is better than Akira…NOOO WAY… sorry was just looking through a youtube of top 10 anime films”—but the Kardashian family occupies an unusual place within the matrix of influencers who teach us, as consumers, what to desire, or conversely exasperate and infuriate us by nibbling away at our identities to nourish their own brands like the vultures eternally besieging Prometheus in the days of old. Whenever a Kardashian expresses public interest in something, it’s always for a strategic brand reason; Kim is not the type to update her app just because she believes Goku is a real one. I had to wonder: Now that everyone is suddenly extremely into those tiny Matrix glasses previously beloved by men who wear fedoras when they’re feeling flirty, is liking anime the next big thing?

Confused and tormented, I reached out to a trend forecaster for insight. Is anime cool now? I demanded over email of Kristin Castillo, the VP of strategy at Trendera. “Despite it being around for decades, anime is beginning to gain relevance stateside—although it is still somewhat niche,” she breezily explained. She further characterized “anime culture” as “a bit quirky, but definitely getting cooler.”

With influencers like Kim Kardashian latching onto the trend, she continued, it’s likely that it will spread quickly—especially since Trendera’s 2018 forecast sees “a shift away from subdued minimalist fashion and towards over-the-top maximalism styles” as well as the widespread embrace of “louder, statement-making, globally-inspired fashion.” But Castillo’s prediction came with a caveat: “A possible consequence is that anime may become a less exotic/interesting hobby for long-term fans.”

This would be an obvious and unfortunate tragedy. For now, however, the two camps—Kardashian and anime fan—seem to have reached an uneasy peace. “Whoa,” one user, who goes by hamilton_anime, commented on her photo. “I didn’t know famous people like her actually take the time of day to look at anime.” “It’s almost as if they were normal human beings,” another replied sagely.