It is no secret that India has an abundance of anime and manga fans. However, the availability of animanga content or even the culture surrounding pales in comparison to these numbers. Despite the substantial crowd, the awareness about the existence of such a fandom or community isn’t much, except within its own circles.
If you go to the occasional anime convention being held in the backyard of Phoenix Mills in Mumbai, make sure to ask any anime fan present there what they wish for the most. The answer would most certainly be for anime and manga culture to be mainstream in the country. To grow their community. To get a chance to mingle with more like-minded people. To not be shunned aside. To not be ridiculed.
But hey! As many would agree, the situation has been on the brighter side in recent times.
Nikhil Ravikumar, the founder of Pop Circuit, is no different. He too shares the same dream as any other ‘okatu’ in the country. However, instead of just wishing for it, he also took measures, within his capabilities, to ensure that this would happen.
When we sat down for an interview with him, our aim was to get to know more about Pop Circuit’s upcoming event, Spark, which is centered on the anime movie Ramayana. However, Nikhil’s enthusiasm as a fan of anime was clearly visible throughout, as he talked extensively about the anime culture in India, the anime clubs scattered across the country and what India desperately needs, in order to progress on this front.
Nikhil believes that anime and the culture surrounding it has gone mainstream in India; something that he is very happy about.
The stigma that once accompanied the tag of being an anime fan, is something which is breaking down. Watching anime is slowly becoming as normal as reading books or watching movies, as awareness about the medium increases.
It is no longer a sub-culture, to mainstream entertainment, which appeals only to a certain set of people. Instead, Nikhil asserts that it should be seen as something for everyone.
“If you read a manga, you find SOMETHING, no matter what kind of a person you are, you find something that you like,” Nikhil says. “So, when it is something for everyone, I don’t want to subculture it.”
Access to anime is a problem that a lot of fans in India have faced, especially after Animax stopped its services in the country. However, the increasing number of anime movies releasing in India, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero getting a Hindi dub, and Crunchyroll foraying into the Indian market, are all developments which serve as a huge testament to Nikhil’s statement.
Interestingly, Nikhil also refused to be identified as an Otaku, a term that is commonly used to represent an anime or manga fan (and often social outcasts).
“I dislike the word ‘Otaku’ because in the original Japanese context, it refers to someone who is obsessed with a hobby to the detriment of their social health. I don’t want it to be seen as a socially harmful thing to like anime. It’s the inverse for me and all the friends I have made in Chennai and other cities through anime. It’s been a socially positive thing. I was able to find friends with a variety of interests who are nothing like each other, the only thing they have in common is they all enjoy anime,” Nikhil says, explaining how his social life has come mainly through watching anime and manga.
“It’s the inverse of what it used to be when I was younger, where you used to be a shut-in, or you don’t interact with people because you are watching an anime,” he added.
He recounts how he attended college anime quizzes, and at one such quiz at IIT Madras he made acquaintances with Sameer Kulkarni, with whom he would then start brainstorming ideas to better the situation of anime and manga in the country, eventually leading to the inception of Pop Circuit.
The Pop Circuit founder goes on to underline the importance of official content, for the anime and manga culture to grow even more in the country. And here content is not restricted to manga or anime, but it also refers to conventions and events surrounding them, which help build an interesting community.
Efforts have been made in the past, by zealous fans, content creators, and even anime clubs, to organize events and conventions by mobilizing the fans. However, most of these events failed to leave a lasting impact.
The buck often stopped at the animanga community in the country itself. A community that was scattered and in disarray.
Complaints of fans not rising up to the call of a united anime front in India is something that you’ll see in the lamenting corners of every anime club or online anime groups.
However, Nikhil believes that everyone is looking at the problem the wrong way. Anime fans, just like fans of any other entertainment stream, can’t be clubbed into a single category. It’s hard to define them using a set number of criteria.
“Everyone’s taste is so varied! You can’t actually get them all into one category,” he exclaims.
And while Pop Circuit’s event, Spark, has an aim of bringing together the fans and giving them a space to mingle, he disagrees that the motive is to bring them all under a single club, or to propose a monolithic structure.
“I strongly do not believe in the concept of one anime club in India. I don’t think its possible. The thing is, India is just so big, that I don’t feel like a single club can ever work,” Nikhil says, adding that he is strongly in favor of clubs at a city level, because localized interactions at such a level would work the best, thanks to colleges and other institutions that propel them.
This also eliminated the issue of language barriers, which otherwise usually splits the fanbase.
City level anime clubs do exist in India, but their painful lack of structure is quite evident. Nikhil had to extensively deal with anime clubs while organizing Spark. Though the clubs were welcoming and eager, getting across the idea and trying to do things in a standardized way was a hurdle that he faced.
The short shelf life of all these anime clubs too had a negative impact when it came to building an active community in the country. The fact that most of these clubs are informal and that their admins are only doing it as a hobby means that they are frequently ‘rebooted’ as new admins take the reins. And that is something which limits them.
While, Nikhil doesn’t see himself as someone who would dictate terms to these clubs, he sure hopes that he would be able to encourage more collaboration between them and build an active fanbase out of it.
“We don’t want to tell clubs how to run themselves, we don’t want to be that scary big corporate companies [saying] like do this, do that. We are trying to think, ‘Can we come up with some kind of partnership program?’, where we’ll say, like ‘hold a meetup at least once a month, have a point of contact admin, etc’., and if you do these things, we’ll consider you an official Pop Circuit Club and give you some perks. We’re still in the process of figuring out what’s best for the community.”
However, Nikhil does not shy away from acknowledging the work that these clubs do, in organizing events and bringing together the fans, or praising the admins of these clubs for making things happen, calling it remarkable.
In the end, Nikhil hopes that events like Spark, and Pop Circuit in particular, would be able to pave the way for a better future, with more official anime and manga merchandise available in India.
It won’t be wrong to say that Nikhil is already doing his part in promoting not just anime and manga, but also Japanese culture in general. For instance, Pop Circuit has a Japanese study group called Benkyou, where people can just walk in and start studying Japanese on Discord or Whatsapp.
Fellow students walk them through the basics and teach them how to self learn. The casual environment serves as a foil to a more serious academic approach.
He also aims to hold a Comic Con like event in Chennai, someday in the future, a convention that anime and manga fans in Chennai will welcome with their arms wide open.