by Keidra Chaney & Raizel Liebler
A delight this year has brought for both of us is the new experience of being a fandom mentor. Unlike the interactivity of being a new fan or a lengthier one, helping someone enter a new world of fandom is an interesting balancing act – with expressing one’s opinions, yet wanting to allow for possible differences in opinion. Additionally, when the newbie is much younger, new viewpoints can change even hardened minds (or not!).
Our separate newbies are not our own kids; there is a whole world of essays by parents introducing their children to their brand of fandom – from sports to Star Trek to Star Wars. But mentoring a newbie kid that isn’t one’s own child, allows for allowing for greater leniency for not liking what we like! Our mentorship has also been different due to the differential in interest (anime/manga v. music, specifically hardcore) and ages (tween and old teen). But we’ve both appreciated the experience!
Raizel: My mentee is steeped in Western comics culture, so I’m helping him to step out of that comfort zone into anime and manga. Part of what has been so interesting to me is noticing the different cultural context around Western comics that existed when I was his age versus now; he grew up with the complex worlds of the MCU being something normalized, while for me detailed knowledge of the complex X-Men family tree marked me proudly as an outsider nerd. Talking with friends and family about comics – including across generations is a completely normal day for him. My “back in the day” talk seems to him like an exaggeration of the possibility that people could go to a Batman movie, yet NEVER EVER READ A COMIC.
While I still would highly recommend shojo (directed towards girls) manga and anime for all kids, including boys it didn’t stick with this kid. For example, both versions of Sailor Moon can be truly transformative for a tween figuring out where they fit in the world, in their family, and within friendship circles. For my newbie, we tried with shojo, but due to a combination of a lack of interest in the shojo theme of “friendship is magic” and the lack of complex villains we moved on. For others, including me, no good big bads is acceptable – sometimes even preferred due to the focus on character and relationship development (such as in the all-time great Cardcaptor Sakura) – but for this kid used to pointing out not only the heroes, but the antiheroes and the villains, shojo is too “mushy.”
So on to shonen. Considering this newbie loved Avatar: The Last Airbender show, I wanted to find something with a similar tone. I was also insistent on minimal fanservice, if any, and several strong female characters. Meeting these requirements is quite difficult, especially when my lack of interest in extended fights and gross humor are added in! – Naruto (single girl problem), One Piece (tone and length), and Death Note & Bleach (tone), DragonBalls (fanservice, tone, and the fights that can last for literally twelve episodes while Vegeta is passed out or in training or both), and Gundams (just no for now), yet these shows may come next with age. Hence, Inuyasha!
So far Inuyasha is going well. There are lots of questions, historical ones about the real world of feudal Japan and plot ones about the varied powers and back stories of characters. But one of the joys for me about rewatching this show that I can’t believe actually ended so I could finish for the first time is how slow and deliberate the show introduces the main characters, with Sango, the last major character of the group not showing up until season 1 episode 24 and the last “major” character, Rin, not showing up until season 2 episode 36.
We haven’t yet reached the middle slog of the show, where nothing seems to move forward for seemingly seasons against the big bad. But considering how Sesshomaru would have been the big bad in any Western show, it will be interesting to watch when the comparison to Zuko from Avatar is first mentioned. And like the enjoyed show Avatar, Inuyasha at its heart is really about how family matters, both actual siblings, love interests, and friends.
I enjoy being a fandom “mom” and look forward to watching the rest of Inuyasha together!
Keidra: Pre-social media, it was bit lonely being a fan of not-so popular or somewhat obscure music. Everyone wants to talk about the new album from the most popular US top 40 divas or arena bands but fans of say, niche music like noise rock or non US music can find it hard to find like-minded people to share your excitement with on a regular basis. That sense of loneliness can be compounded when you are a black or brown person into music that’s not “supposed” to be for you, like metal, punk, etc.
No, this isn’t going to be a special snowflake lament about being a “weird” black person, just an observation that there are certain roadblocks to finding the fan communities or creative communities that best fit your interests. It’s much, much easier now with the Internet and especially social media to meet people who love and obsess over the same stuff. I spend a good chunk of my time on private Facebook groups for bands that I love, like Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge.
I’ve become friends online and in real life with many people I’ve met in these groups, and recently became a mentor of sorts for a teen who reminds me a lot of who I was when I was, a young metalhead getting into to the scene as a black kid in a white space. I was lucky to find my black metalhead crew in person, and very young. This kid hasn’t yet, so it’s been illuminating for me to tell him about my experience and have conversations about stuff like show etiquette, trying to look like you know what you are doing in a brick and mortar record store/Guitar Center and such. It’s super different for him than it is for me because of the internet and how online culture has replaced physical community for a lot of music fandoms, so he has different things to navigate, (not to mention, identity-based music communities like Afropunk are a thing that he has that I didn’t then) but we can talk about bands, music, learning an instrument, and trying to explain all of this to your parents. It’s also been interesting to see this happen with both Raizel and I at about the same time, to see how meaningful cross-generational relationships can happen in different types of pop culture fandoms.
Sometimes age in fandom can become an “us versus them” game, with veterans and younger fans at odds with each other for various reasons. older fans trying to maintain older rituals and younger fans trying add new voices to the canon, so interaction becomes a competition., but there’s so much opportunity for old and new fans to learn from each other and enjoy the best of fandom together.