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.