Field Reporting: University of Pittsburgh Japanese Animation Club (PJAC)

A lot of fans, at one point or another, have gone to their school’s anime club, even if only once or twice. As a social institution it brings together fans to meet, be exposed to different anime, and to share ideas, or less loftily, simply to get together with friends and fellow fans, watch anime, and make random comments out loud. I used to attend my university’s club regularly during the first two and half years of undergrad, and for part of my senior year, and now as a grad student I was curious as to what had changed, what was the same, and how the club was doing lately. So I decided to get back out into the local community and do some pseudo-reporting on the University of Pittsburgh’s anime club, both for my own interest and, hopefully, those of my readers.

This past Thursday I headed to the basement of the Cathedral of Learning, the beautiful/occasionally evil looking gothic revival skyscraper that is Pitt’s central landmark. It had been about 2 years since the last time I attended, and since all the friends that I used to go with were older than me and had already graduated, I was going on my own. But I made myself get over my feelings of reluctance/awkwardness over not knowing anyone there and decided that I wanted to go and do actual reporting stuff for the blog, just to give it a try. I enter the classroom with its stadium seating going for rows and rows to the back of the lecture hall, this being one of medium-large proportions compared to most on campus, and I hear the Heroic Age OP ‘Gravitation’ playing on the speakers. Which to me is some continuity with my previous times at club, the last series I watched there being Heroic Age. Only recognizing one face from my previous time at club, and that of someone I didn’t even know, I went to find a seat off on my own but not too far from others. Attendance is somewhat less than usual, I would learn, 10+ members were out of town attending Ohayocon in neighboring Ohio. But even so there was still a respectable amount of people there, chatting, drawing, and playing games before the shows started. Not quite as loud and lively as I remembered it, but even if the missing people were there, there were still a smaller amount of members than back when I started out, about 20 that evening.

PJAC Spring 2010 Thursday lineup: Dennou Coil, Kuroshitsuji, and To Aru Majutsu no Index. Seasons of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei play on Tuesdays during gaming/anime night.

To get some information and impressions on the current state of the club, I went up to the girl sitting at the professor’s desk at the front of the room since she seemed like the club officer type. Hannah, the business manager of the club, was the first person I talked to. While introducing myself as ‘someone who used to come to club two years ago and by the way, mind answering some questions for my anime blog?’ isn’t exactly the most natural way to start a conversation, she didn’t seem to mind my lack of other pretexts and answered what questions I had. She became business manager after the old one graduated and no one else wanted the post, taking over from a friend and classmate of mine who was the business manager and effective leader of the club. Series are still decided by nominations and then votes by club majority, three 26 episode series or 2 26’s and 2 13’s, which is the way it was last time I was there, but different from the balanced mix chosen by the president during my first two years at club. Since I was aware of the series being shown by checking the club’s Facebook page, I inquired as to why older shows were picked instead of newly airing ones. Familiarity with the series prior to nomination seems to be one reason, and she mentioned as well that sometimes it can be easier in case of a delay in fansubs being released, which has happened in the past.

Going back to my seat, I asked three guys talking if they’d mind some questions and by chance got Mike, the vice president of the club. He had found the club through the activities fair after he transferred from a branch campus, and then became VP later. Turnout has been good during the past year according to him, both on anime Thursdays and gaming/anime Tuesdays, with the showings of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei on Tuesdays being particularly popular. It was good to meet and talk with him and Hannah, conversing and no longer feeling quite as awkward about being there, but the first show was about to start so everyone took their seats. I haven’t seen any of the shows that are being shown this semester, but I got the wikipedia episode synopsis for the episodes shown in previous weeks. Dennou Coil was pretty enjoyable, and it was accompanied by the usual moderate amount of comments and jokes by the audience that I remembered, a lot of it that kind of ‘you had to be there’ humor that wouldn’t translate well typed up here. Kuroshitsuji was also fairly fun, and certainly was a show aimed squarely at the group of female members seated near the front, with a call from one guy farther back about how “the doujinshi writes itself” at a choice moment. Finally, Index was up, and at this point the club members seemed to have realized that they’d been hoodwinked by the first episode into picking up an incomprehensible series with more plot and setting holes than the moon has craters. Which was fine by me, because everyone seemed to be into making fun of it and trying and failing to reconcile all the inconsistencies. I found that despite not knowing anyone when I arrived, by this point I was commenting back and forth with the three people sitting near me and having a good old time with the shows. Too much audience commentary can ruin a show, but there was just enough.

It may be more limited in its official activities than the Genshiken, but it’s still a lot of fun.

By the end of the night I’d decided to return to attending club, so long as my coursework, social schedule and time permits. During past times at anime club I had been exposed to some great series that I might not have picked up otherwise, like Honey and Clover, Tsukihime, Heroic Age, and Gunslinger Girl (well, the first season anyway…). I’d made long term friends there in the past and been entertained by some series I didn’t care for as much just by virtue of the audience comments and group experience (Melody of Oblivion comes to mind.) And that spirit is still there. My fellow fans are still as welcoming as they ever were, and while broadband and bittorrent can let us watch whatever we want, whenever we want, without the need to organize friends to watch along with us, there is something to be said for the group experience and the social environment of anime club. Sure, there may be some of ‘those fans’ at your club, people that might annoy or embarrass you a bit, maybe even a lot. But actually interacting with your fellow fans reminds you that we’re all anime nerds in one form or another, and that the community is made up of real people not just names on the internet. No internet discussion or interaction can really offer quite the same feeling of community.

If you are by chance from my little corner of the world and want information on attending PJAC, they can be found via their Facebook group page. Meeting times are 8:45 on Thursday nights in the Cathedral of Learning G8, gaming nights are Tuesdays at the same time in Cathedral of Learning 232. Many thanks to Hannah and Mike for answering my questions about the current state of the club.

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  1. Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    It’s nice to see that you liked the club. I’m currently an officer in my high school club (less organized? ^-^;;) and while it does get rowdy, it’s a really nice place to meet with people who understand the kind of enjoyment you get from watching anime as “normal” people would find entertainment in the TV series they tune into regularly. It’s also a nice place to watch stuff I normally wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot stick…Then again, I’ve been the one bringing in all of the viewing materials for the past year and a half…So I suppose I should reword that into: Forcing other people to watch stuff they usually wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot stick.

    I also thank you for scouting out the Pitt anime club and giving your honest opinion, since I’m leaning towards going to Pitt this coming fall in order not to be in a gigantic mountain of debt for the next 20 years as most of my other 8 choices would land me in. (With the rest being way too close to home.) If I do end up attending there, I’ll try to remember the information here. XD;;

    …And I think I actually recognize someone in that picture………..

  2. Kherubim
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    The NUS Anime and Manga club only started after I graduated and I didn’t have the time to look at their activities when I went back as a post-grad years later…

    Railgun is much better than Index, in my opinion. Spikey-kun (aka Touma) is a rather tiresome uninteresting male lead with hax powers he can’t use and a large superpowered harem which grows bigger with each installment. And since when could one squeeze several minutes of monologue in a single fight scene? “Death by exposition” indeed… Glad that you were able to MST3K it with people of similar opinions…

  3. Posted February 2, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    I remember attending a few meetings of the anime club at my university back in the day. Saw some good OVAs, but the members themselves were pretty hopeless. Really unfriendly, condescending and actually kind of annoying in the ‘comic book guy’ kind of way.

  4. Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    I was really excited at the prospect of joining the CMU anime club, but for some reason I never ended up going, not once in four years. The meetings were on Saturday nights, which I couldn’t make at first because I tried to have a life. When I gave up on that by my third year, I checked out their schedule, but I’d seen half of the shows they were playing. I figured I’d just stay home and watch something new.

  5. Russ
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    I am a little offended that you made a comment about West Virginia (cousins etc).

  6. chibawafu
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I really liked reading this article! I’m actually an active member of a local club, and was interested to see what others are like. I’m glad we’re not the only ones who do call-backs with anime =)

  7. ExecutiveOtaku
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    @ Miken

    That’s cool that you run another club, and that you supply the shows. While I enjoy the current lineup of shows at Pitt, I thought that the lineups were more balanced back when one person chose the shows. As long as you have a wise despot, things are good. Kind of like the whole dictatorship vs democracy thing in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, hehe. Pitt’s a great school, what subject are you thinking of studying? I might know something about the department/program.

    @ Kherubim

    Yeah, Index is terrible from what I’ve seen, I can’t believe something as fun as Railgun came out of it. But at least it’s fun to make fun of.

    @ Epi

    Ah, yeah I’m pretty sure people with attitudes like that would ruin any club. Thankfully in the two I’ve attended (Pitt and Temple University Japan) have both been very welcoming.

    @ Baka-Raptor

    You went to CMU? Small world. Saturday nights are a terrible choice for an anime club, it’s like they’ve already given up any pretense at having a social life. The thought of anime club meetings on a Saturday night is just beyond reason to me.

    @ Russ

    Um, not I nor any commenters thus far have made any such comments. Good troll, troll. Unless you were offended that I didn’t make a comment about West Virginia?

    @ Chibawafu

    Haha, what would anime club or con viewings of anime be without call-backs and comments? Probably my all time favorite was while previewing the first episode of Rec for possible viewing in the next semester. In the first five minutes guy and girl are already sleeping together and someone yells out “beat that, Gundam SEED!”

  8. karuroso
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Any of the 4 schools i went had clubs,hell ! in this shit country(Brazil) any school doesn’t have clubs not even the damn Federal Universities has clubs, here there are only things like the soccer team or another sport, but normaly only soccer because here this the only sport that praticaly means something and always by the PE teacher.

  9. Yoshio
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been to that club, and it reminded me of why I generally don’t associate with other anime fans… I haven’t been to PJAC since my freshman year, and I don’t have any intentions to go back

  10. Mike
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Glad you enjoyed the shows, and hope to see you on Thursday, EO.

    Out of the four show lineups I’ve been around for, I actually think this is one of the stronger ones. That might just be me being totally in love with Dennou Coil, though. The reoccurring meme among some club members is “This needs to be a tabletop RPG”.

    Kherubim, by your description, it sounds like Index gets WORSE. I can’t tell if that’ll make it funnier, or even more painful. It would have been fine, really, if not for the vampires…

    • Kherubim
      Posted February 3, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      Wait till the angel shows up and then you’ll find out how bad it gets…

  11. Posted February 3, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Aww. Now I kind of wish I had an anime club to join rather than sitting alone in a corner of the library watching anime by myself (haha). I can see what an experience it might be to talk about something with someone IN PERSON and right after watching something together.

  12. pinecone2654
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be attending the Anime Discovery Project’s showing at UW on Friday with some friends, hope I have as much fun as you did :D

  13. Posted February 4, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time at the anime club. I can’t say the same for my own experiences.
    “But actually interacting with your fellow fans reminds you that we’re all anime nerds in one form or another, and that the community is made up of real people not just names on the internet. No internet discussion or interaction can really offer quite the same feeling of community.”
    Perhaps I will give the club at my school another try. It would be nice to interact with fans outside the internet once in a while.

  14. Posted February 5, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Hi, I was that “wise despot” you mentioned up there! I’m glad to hear that my tenure has become the stuff of legend. It was certainly a fantastic time to be in the club, both for the selections available and for the people themselves. I still remember the one year we finished a season of Yakitate!! Japan and folks set up a yakisoba-pan table right there in the Cathedral!

    Track me down at Tekkoshocon, and I’ll see about getting you on the press list.

    T.J. “He called me a Wise Despot!” Condon
    PJAC Prez, 2004-2006
    Tekkoshocon PR Maven

  15. Necromas
    Posted February 5, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I’m very disappointed that my school is too small to have any clubs for anime or other geeky things. The small classes and the professors being more accessible is awesome though.

  16. ExecutiveOtaku
    Posted February 5, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    @ karuroso

    Sorry to hear that. I don’t know what the process is like for creating a club in Brazil, but maybe there’s a way you could start one if you could get a few people together. The nice thing about an anime club is that all you need to get from the school is a room and a projector, just bring the laptop and anime yourself.

    @ Yoshio

    Well I suppose it’s not for everyone, but I do find it enjoyable to watch with others sometimes.

    @ Mike

    Dennou Coil is pretty great, though now that I think of it it’s one of those shows that I saw the description for in previews and never would have thought that it would be interesting. But this is one of the most valuable things about going to club for me, the (sometimes forced) exposure to shows. Nowadays I tend to watch the first preview of everything for each season, but occasionally some slip through the cracks just because they have a poorly explained premise/crappy preview video.

    @ Blindability

    It can be quite fun, especially if you get the right mix of shows and audience. The immediate reactions aspect of watching as a group is something you don’t really get elsewhere.

    @ Pinecone2654

    Have fun :)

    @ Yi

    It’s worth another shot. Club composition, policies, and atmosphere can vary between schools, but I hope yours is better than last time you attended.

    @ Nerboy Himself

    Hey, it’s been awhile! I remember the days of Yakitate Japan and everyone’s WTF reactions when we found ourselves watching an overly dramatic shonen fighting show about…bread? Good times. I’m planning on going to and doing some blogging coverage of Tekkoshocon this year so I’ll find you around. Actually, I was thinking about getting on the forums and seeing if there are other anime bloggers that will be attending and might be interested in running some sort of panel.

    @ Necromas

    Ah, yeah you sometimes have that tradeoff. Though you can always get some people together and start your own. The anime club at Temple University Japan formed the year I was there after one of my friends asked me and a few others if we’d be interested in starting one. Since all we needed was a room and a projector, we got approved really quickly.

  17. Posted February 7, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what my college’s anime club is like. I tried applying last semester; as there was a live student band at the club fair, it was impossible to communicate by voice. They said they’d send out an email, but I didn’t get anything. Doesn’t help that their notice board (up on the sciences & mathematics floor nonetheless) has no contact info. /rant

  18. Posted February 9, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    we’re all anime nerds in one form or another


    and that the community is made up of real people not just names on the internet

    oh… ummm, yea… that too… I guess

    My University Community College (LOL) also has an anime-club, but I think I’ll join when I transfer to a University for safety reasons… You don’t understand! Universities and Community Colleges are TOTALLY different! I have no choice! D=

  19. Posted February 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Add me to the pile of Colleges without Anime Clubs. My college had such high community service requirements to start an official club (necessary to use college resources) that the majority of clubs were community service clubs. . . no one else could keep up with the requirements.

    Comedies are always great to get a group of people to watch with, one person catches a joke and starts laughing and soon everyone’s having a good time. On the other hand, having a group watch over my shoulder makes dramas are harder to become emotionally involved with. Crying just doesn’t have the same social acceptance.

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