Few groups come together as fans do. Due to this camaraderie, fans have a power unto themselves. Fans can save shows, kill characters, make their own fan-based art, and organize cons and other events based on the shows they love. Perhaps most importantly, fans discuss what they love, and in this world of quick access, fast communication that means podcasts.
For otaku and other ‘geeky’ fanbases, podcasting, even with their presumed technical prowess, started gradually. As with all technological developments you have the early adopters, usually those who indeed have the technical means to produce a podcast. For podcasting this includes a decent mic, internet connection, basic RSS skills, and a website to keep it all up and running. The first podcast I came across that fit the bill was Josh in Japan back in mid-2005. Josh, at the time, lived in Japan on a naval base and discussed essentially his own life in Japan, taking time to note the differences between the US and Japan. Each episode had a topic specific to what he’d discuss, such as ‘Akihabara’, ‘Crime and Punishment’, ‘Cellphones’, and ‘Trains’, just to name a few. Thanks to his speed in entering the podcast realm Josh in Japan became quite popular very quickly. While Josh left Josh in Japan behind (but perhaps not the podcasting world?) his podcast still ranks in Podcast Pickle’s ‘Most Favorited Podcast’ lists, thus proving the staying power of Josh in Japan has continued long past its intended run. To prove Josh in Japan’s staying power further, on a personal note my introduction through his podcast led me to find many others more specific to my love of anime.
Thankfully, just a few weeks after Josh in Japan began came the arrival of the Weekly Anime Review Podcast hosted by Aaron Schnuth. Sadly, this is another podcast that has seen its time go by, but again the posterity of the podcast stands. For podcasters, a show’s long term popularity speaks volumes both about its own merit as a show and the merit of podcasting as a medium. To highlight this further I’d like to mention that never have I discovered a podcast after only 1 episode having been produced. Instead, there would usually be at least 5 episodes already posted by the podcast creator(s), thus allowing me to peruse the content to see what I might like. Many episodes began with loose dialogue, bad sound work, and other similar problems. Therefore if you only listened to the 1st episode you would hardly see what the podcast would truly come to be. Now the Weekly Anime Review Podcast actually started perhaps even better than it finished, and the audio quality sure never let down, a rarity in my listening experience.
Let me digress from that and mention a moment that brought podcasts to the forefront, to the water cooler, to your dictionary – when iTunes began to feature podcasts. Now iTunes is easily the preferred method for most podcasters to distribute their podcast(s) simply because that’s the preferred way for most subscribers to listen and download podcasts. Now I don’t believe that iTunes came along solely to simplify the process, because indeed I and many others were able to access podcasts just fine via other RSS subscription methods. Instead I believe that Apple saw an opportunity to simultaneously help podcasts, the wave of the future at the time, and themselves. To put it simply, if someone offered you free popular items to put on your site which would be sure to draw more traffic, would you say no? I doubt it, and YouTube lives off that principal as well. Anyways iTunes saw all of this free audio content as an opportunity and grasped it, and I think it’s easy to say that in terms of subscription numbers and popularity rankings podcasters are probably better off for it. The down side at first seemed to be that the mainstream media was filling up iTunes with their own ‘podcasts’, mostly rebroadcasts of their own material, but this seems almost laughable now because true to form niche material shines through and fans find what they want from the sources they want. The internet wins again.
(The man behind the mic – Alan!)
Taking a step back now and returning to specific otaku podcasts, I’d like to mention some achievements I can think of that helped shape otaku podcasting as we know it, and in many ways reflect the greater world of podcasts. First of all I’d like you to think of the #239. What’s so important about that number? That’s the number of weeks in a row that the OtakuGeneration.net podcast has run sequentially (as of this posting) – without missing a week, not one! Don’t think that it’s all been a paved road though because certainly as we long term listeners know the OG Crew has evolved at least 4 times over and continues to do so, as hosts replace hosts, hosts return, and most importantly Allen, the creator of OtakuGeneration.net, stays. Allen, for those who do not listen to the OG crew, has labeled himself the “resident dumbass” but certainly his dedication to the podcast has shown otherwise. Not only does he have the technical know-how to make his basement sound worthy to a level voice actors dream of, but he’s also present for every episode! Now this has included the occasional, albeit very rare, music episode where Allen would be present only briefly to introduce the episode, but when he’s in his seat recording, Allen, probably by habit now, is in the game – ill, tired, or whatever he’s there for the average 2 hours that these podcasts last. That’s not including hours of editing he has to do post-show too, so the fun only begins with the recordings. For this remarkable achievement I wish I could give him a lifetime achievement, should I have one to give. I sincerely hope that Allen already understands what he has accomplished with OtakuGeneration.net’s longevity and especially regularity. Podcasts disappear, or podfade as it’s known, on a regular basis. Some podcasts never get off the ground and remain just a twinkle in some otaku’s eye. For those guy’s, Allen is living the dream the hard way. Thanks Allen and all the OG crew past and present for keeping on.
(Anime World Order crew thugged out)
Now where were we – ah yes, achievements! Well this next achievement is for many podcasts, and in addition to the many I’ve left out already, I’m afraid I’m about to leave out some more. That said I’ll try my best to include as many of them that come to mind for this achievement: Weekly Anime Review Podcast, Anime World Order, Ninja Consultants, Fast Karate for the Gentlemen, Happy House of Hentai, OtakuGeneration.net, R5 Central, and Anime Genesis. All of these podcasts have at some time or another had either one or all of their members participate at Anime Cons as guests/panelists. I know this can seem for some to be of little importance at first, especially if many of these podcasters already had such roles; however, thanks to the achievements of these above and many others podcasting has a face to match the sound. This not only means that fans can meet and interact in person with the podcasters they listen to regularly, but more importantly it is putting podcasting front and center for all otaku to see. The podcasts that demonstrated this best for me would be Anime World Order and Anime Genesis. Starting with Anime World Order, I am inclined to believe that all three hosts had panel time prior to their podcasting lives; however, since that time I can assure you that I personally have seen them front and center far more often at cons than ever before. Last year’s AWA was a great example of this because the con had Daryl Surat so busy he couldn’t even attend but a mere fraction of his own podcasting panel. When Anime Genesis first began back in 2005 I remember they were asking for donations to get to Anime Expo. Now after years of being at the forefront of podcasting their personal presence at AX via their own panel(s), and their interviews with esteemed guests, has helped cement Anime Genesis into the AX experience hopefully as lasting fixtures. While these podcasters may not be stars, their podcasts have taken them above and beyond the average fan experience. Many fans get to express their own love for otakudom, anime, etc. through art, fan fics, music, and other talent-based pursuits, but not like this. Simply put, now the fans who love to just talk have their own way of sharing their love.
(Benu himself. Creator of Anime Genesis)
Of course, the more fans you have podcasting, the more chances you have for interaction between the different podcasters and fans. As with any new internet technology that allows for greater communication between niche groups, you’ll soon discover communities forming up. Podcasting is a true success story for this very reason. For instance, many of the podcasters above have developed friendships and working relationships. This has been demonstrated to me twice, first at AWA last year when podcasters from The Ninja Consultants and The Greatest Movie Ever podcast helped out in Daryl’s absence and secondly when Patrick Macias’ gathered together a number of podcasters to write for Otaku USA. Whatever you may think of that decision, I have one word for it – genius. First of all let it be known these podcasters know what they’re talking about it, are openly opinionated, and have diverse interests. That’s what I would want in writers. More importantly, Patrick took a network already partially in place and developed it further, benefiting ultimately the Otaku USA readers and the podcasters themselves. The Otaku USA readers get more content from voices they already know and the podcasters themselves get another conduit to voice their thoughts and opinions. Doubly it’s a resume booster for all the podcasters involved and perhaps a pay source as well. For this article though, what’s most important is that Otaku USA, in its collaborations with podcasters, is printed proof of how far otaku podcasts have come.
(Of course Otaku USA has a podcast too…)
Podcasting may have only been around for a few years, but already it has left its mark. In many ways podcasting is just another representation of the internet world at large. Could Plato have simply told his students to subscribe to his dialogues? Could Shakespeare have compiled audio companions for his works? Could a student in the 80’s have carved out an audience discussing his own science experiments via radio? No, no, and not likely. True, Plato and Shakespeare did not need such a medium to shape the world, but perhaps more opportunities and more methods of communication will help sprout the next genius or world changer? Or not, it really doesn’t matter because regardless, podcasting has proven its value through the creators and the fanbase and their relationships together. Indeed from niche circles, to alternate media, to modern mash-ups with historical mediums, podcasts have developed in their own way and presented themselves to the stage to a position I do not believe they’ll soon relinquish.