Scrolling through the top trending movies and series in Kenya on Netflix, as an otaku, I am impressed to find Yasuke among the top five. Getting high up the ranks three days after its release on April 29 was impressive. Yasuke is an original anime series based on the historical figure of the same name. A warrior of African descent who served in a period of samurai conflict in 16th century Japan. Finally, Kenyan audiences are catching on to the anime fandom.
In Japan anime refers to any kind of animation, but to the rest of the world it has been adopted to mean animation from Japan. The colourful and large-eyed characters and pop theme songs are some of the distinct aspects that set anime apart from other animations. The majority of the shows make cultural references that are unique to Japan, but anime’s acclaim in the international market was by chance.
Watching Samurai Jack, Pokemon and Samurai X was my first encounter with anime. I would empathise with the characters and immerse myself in their everyday lives. They were my favourite shows although I had no knowledge of anime at the time.
Like cartoons, much of the offering in the genre is aimed at children. Shonen anime, for instance, is made for younger boys. It features a type of main character, usually male, who has muscles and good martial arts abilities.
Not all anime is for kids. Sometimes, anime films are marked by adult themes and subject matter. This is where it gains demand with most adults who are obsessed with the genre. The introduction of adult content in the form of hentai has also attracted older audiences. Aside from that, what also propelled the popularity of anime was the establishment of manga – a dense novelistic Japanese comic book style that has contributed greatly to its aesthetic. Getting anime productions in Nairobi was a hassle in the late 2000s. Access to platforms and sites with this genre was difficult and only a few movie dealers had knowledge on torrents. You needed a connection to know who had the movies. Lucky for me, my movie dealer in town was a huge fan of anime and always had his hands on the latest release. This created a nerd subculture for the few of us who subscribed to the Japanese entertainment experience. We would often find ourselves in the same location, event or at bookstores in search of manga and other anime related content.
Thanks to the Nairobi Comic Convention (NAICCON) in 2015, I was introduced to a whole new world of animation, cosplay and gaming. The leading Comic Convention in East Africa, NAICCON was no small event. A majority of the attendees went all out on costumes while others did not put in much effort in dressing for the role. I was among the others. This was my first lesson on how not to arrive at a comic convention. For those who tried, you could tell which character they were role playing from an ornament to the way they wore a certain piece of clothing. The climax of the event for me had to be the winner of cosplay. Their win was determined by how they managed to impress the crowd. This was not an easy task.
From that day I vowed never to miss the annual event. Since its formation, NAICCON has held several pop culture events that have given creatives an opportunity to reach the world. Thanks to events like this, Kenyan animators have been able to showcase their work to the rest of the world.
Animator-turned-game developer Lydia Mugure is among the participants who have benefitted from NAICCON. The 23-year-old is the brains behind the animation Agent 254. In the animation, Jay and her friends Safi and Kiai gain super powers from some mysterious technology. They use their new abilities for good – fighting crime and preventing alien invasions.
Anime merchandise has also been very effective in attracting people to the genre. Pop up shops in the convention and online businesses which sell figurines and artefacts from different anime series have got fans hooked. The Nairobi Otaku shop and Shinigami Threads are well known joints for selling branded merchandise among other things to cater for the otaku community. With such upcoming avenues, it is only a matter of time until Japanese anime is fully embraced in the 254.