Cultural mediaries on AniTube: Between fans and social media entertainers

Michael D. High

Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, People's Republic of China

[0.1] Abstract—Over the last forty years, the increasing popularity of Japanese anime, manga, light novels, and other related transmedia texts has created a demand for the promotion, review, and criticism of such content among Anglophone, non-Japanese audiences. One of the most prominent communities meeting this demand is YouTube's AniTube community. With its roots in pre- and early internet fan reviewing, AniTube has transitioned from a fan to a creator culture, demonstrating how contemporary online communities adapt previously noncommercial practices for commercial production. Through interviews with creators and analyses of AniTube videos, this article details the tensions between cultural intra- and intermediation and between the communal and individualistic values and practices of its members.

[0.2] Keywords—Anime; Japanese animation; Manga; Prosumption; Reviews; Vernacular culture; YouTube

High, Michael D. 2022. "Cultural Mediaries on AniTube: Between Fans and Social Media Entertainers." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 38.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Over the last forty years, the increasing popularity of Japanese anime, manga, light novels, and other related transmedia texts have created a demand for the promotion, review, and criticism of such content among Anglophone, non-Japanese audiences. This demand has been underserved because legitimate distribution of anime and manga and corollary forms of institutionalized English language cultural journalism did not develop in tandem with the fandoms in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. As such, anime fans have undertaken many of the roles traditionally served by newspapers, magazines, and other cultural institutions, and these fans have increasingly sought to monetize and formalize their practices as social media platforms have allowed for the commodification of user-generated content. One of the most prominent communities engaging in the promotion, review, and criticism of anime and manga is YouTube's AniTube community. AniTube is an example of the widespread diffusion of reviewing and criticism online that has created alternative forms of cultural mediation, forms based in vernacular rather than institutional cultures.

[1.2] Since the 1960s, academics in a range of disciplines have documented and analyzed vernacular culture, and though definitions of the vernacular differ, in general it is concerned with local practices outside institutions or practices and strategies that signal a noninstitutional position (Howard 2010). First formulated by Bourdieu ([1979] 1996), cultural intermediation concerns the framing of goods (both material and immaterial), their use, legitimacy, and desirability as well as, ultimately, the legitimacy and desirability of the people who use and consume them. What traditionally differentiates cultural intermediaries from others in the public is their claims to authority: the resources that legitimate their process of legitimation (Maguire and Matthews 2012). The proliferation of review websites—as well as the ubiquity of rating and review features on web 2.0 sites in general—has combined and problematized notions of both vernacularity and cultural intermediation. More a demoticization of evaluation than a democratization (with the leveling of power implied by the latter term) (Turner 2010), the current "Golden Age of Evaluation" has significantly opened opportunities for cultural mediation while maintaining many earlier hierarchies of authority (Taylor 2015, 29).

[1.3] I analyze the evolution of anime and manga reviewing on YouTube to detail these changes to reviewing and their intertwining in anime's symbolic and market economy. AniTube creators differ from previously studied anime fans and intermediaries because they do not produce anime music videos, manga scanlations, or fan subtitles. Rather, AniTubers create videos reviewing, critiquing, analyzing, ranking, recommending, and promoting anime and manga.

[1.4] Originally, non-Japanese anime and manga fans created their own "shadow cultural economy" (Fiske 1992, 30), one that existed outside the official organizations that promote, critique, and distribute culture. In this economy, they shared content with each other as "cultural intramediaries," Maarit Jaakkola's (2018, 25) term for mediaries focused on individual consumption and peer-to-peer production. Yet due to the increasing popularity of anime in the West, the transnational developments in anime funding and distribution, and the commodification of user-generated content on YouTube, anime and manga fans can produce content not just for the anime fan community but also for anime production and distribution companies, serving as influence marketers.

[1.5] Moving from fan production to "social media entertainment" (Cunningham and Craig 2019, 1), AniTube demonstrates how contemporary online communities adapt previously noncommercial practices for commercial production. However, not everyone in the community is aiming to be an entrepreneurial entertainer; some creators engage in practices of "productive failure" that limit their potential for growth and sponsorship on YouTube (Halberstam 2011, 23). As such, AniTube provides a confluence of concerns relating to the study of fandom, social media platforms, and cultural intermediation. These subjects remain academically and socially important due to the increasing centrality of participatory culture, digital media, and global capitalism in daily life.

2. Methodology

[2.1] In 2020, I interviewed twenty-four members of the AniTube creator community through video and voice chat. The project went through university ethics approval, and all participants signed consent forms before being interviewed. The interviewees represent a wide range of experience on and with YouTube, and they could speak to the changes the AniTube community have undergone over time. Some of the interviewees had been creating content for over ten years whereas others had only recently started. They ranged in age from twenty-one to thirty-nine. Eleven were in the United States, five were in Canada, and the rest were split between the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and India. Their channels varied widely in the number of subscribers, number of total views, and number of total videos uploaded. The average number of subscribers was 220,000, with a range between 508 and 1.2 million. Ten of the interviewees were full-time creators, ten were part-time, and four were part-time creators but full-time editors for other AniTubers. This article is informed by these interviews and analyses of AniTube videos.

3. Intramediation and anime fandom

[3.1] Meaningful access to manga and anime in Europe outpaced that in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia by two decades (Patten 2004; Daliot-Bul 2014; Pellitteri 2019; Hernandez Perez, Corstorphine, and Stephens 2017). The founding of the first US anime fan club occurred in 1977, yet it was not until 1989 that the first US anime import company arose. Though there was some importation of anime into Anglophone countries in the 1960s and 1970s, it was sporadic and aimed at children, and content was often edited and dubbed so that signs of Japaneseness were elided.

[3.2] Until the late 1990s, fans who wanted anime, especially less ambiguously foreign and more adult-oriented anime, were relegated to swapping videotape recordings of Japanese TV that were mailed to the United States (McKevitt 2010; Roberts 2012). The rise of Toonami, the US Cartoon Network's afternoon anime block, and the global success of Pokémon in the late 1990s helped to further spread anime fandom (O'Melia 2019). In the next decade, anime began to be more available on television and DVD, and manga began to be sold in big book retailers, but this content remained limited as foreign licensing and release lagged significantly (Close 2016).

[3.3] Just as early fans found ways to distribute and share analogue content, fans during the 2000s began using technologies like BitTorrent for online sharing. Communities cohered around making and distributing digital subtitles for anime and "scanlations" of manga (Lee 2011, 1131), with much of this fan translation targeted at English speakers in the United States (Denison 2011). The general lack of access had a significant impact on English-speaking fan practices, which cohered around obtaining, sharing, translating, and demonstrating consumption and understanding of anime and manga.

[3.4] English-language online anime and manga reviewing began during this period of limited digital access to content. Web 1.0 sites like the Anime News Network (created in 1998;, ANIMEfringe Online Magazine (2000–2005;, and The Anime Academy (2001–2013; now archived at reported on anime news, reviewed popular titles, hosted WebBoards for online discussion, and built databases of subcultural terminology and anime and manga information. Though these sites were built by and for anime fans, they were, like most web 1.0 sites, primarily read-only (Aghaei, Nematbakhsh, and Farsani 2012, 2), with the site administrators serving as gatekeepers for publication. Online reviewing without strict editorial oversight at that time was only possible in forums and IRC chat channels, which also served as resources for sharing anime and manga. As one interviewee put it, "Anime procurement in the early-to-mid 2000s was a matter of who you knew and how fast your internet connection was." Reviewers acquired content (officially subtitled, fansubbed, and scanlated) from both legitimate and illegitimate sources, sharing, buying, and torrenting as desire and access dictated.

[3.5] Anime and manga content appeared early on YouTube, mainly consisting of anime music videos (AMVs), anime trailers, and anime clips. Quickly though, fans started posting reviews of anime and manga. These were mainly vlog-style reviews that combine clips, images, voiceover, direct address to the camera, and/or simple animation. Few of these early videos still exist online, but Glass Reflection's 2010 review of the anime Death Note (Madhouse, 2006–2007) hints at this type of content (video 1). In the video, a young man summarizes the anime from within the confines of a bedroom (with anime posters, DVDs, and other fan paraphernalia displayed), detailing what works and does not in the anime and its live-action movies while also making comic cutaways and critiquing the lack of incredulity of some fans of the show. Evaluations of the show are at times qualified as opinions and expressed with emotion, and the use of first-person signals subjectiveness. The studios that produced the anime series and the live-action films are mentioned in the video, but their history and industrial practices are not. The camera is stationary, graphics are minimal and simple, and the edits between clips and the reviewer are infrequent and undynamic.

Video 1. Glass Reflection's review of the Death Note anime (2010).

[3.6] This kind of reviewing demonstrates the strategies of vernacular reviewing and cultural intramediation. De Jong and Burgers (2013), in their study of consumer and professional online film reviews, found that consumers were more concerned with evaluating films whereas professional critics were more concerned with presenting information. Consumers were more likely to use first-person perspective, to directly address the reader, and to discuss themselves, whereas professionals were more likely to use third-person perspective, to address viewers of a film generally, and to appear neutral and objective in their tone.

[3.7] Similarly, Jaakkola (2019), in her study of study of Instagram book reviewers, found that "vernacular Instagram reviewers are not so much re-viewers, retrospectively looking back at a carefully selected published piece of work to place it in a larger sociocultural and historical context, as me-viewers, individualized experts of their own reading experience, mediating their intellectual, emotional and aesthetic ephemeral experience regarding the book product they happen to have received or stumbled upon" (105, emphases in original). Such vernacular reviewing develops from the bottom up and is highly variable and platform specific, serving online communities' needs (Jaakkola 2019).

[3.8] More broadly, Jaakkola (2018, 24) has argued that "co-consumption," which is the lack of distance of the reviewer from the consumption of cultural products, is the central aspect of vernacular, user-generated reviews. These reviews differ from institutional reviews in that the latter cohere around questions of creation (i.e., the author and the production context) rather than consumption. Thus, vernacular reviews are a form of "intramediation" (Jaakkola 2018, 25), a peer-to-peer mediation that is disconnected from the industrial linkages of cultural intermediation.

[3.9] Reviewing and criticism have always played an important role in fan communities (Jenkins 1992), and early YouTube anime reviews grew out of the reviewing taking place on web 1.0 websites. Henry Jenkins (2009, 110), early in YouTube's history, insisted, "If YouTube seems to have sprung up overnight, it is because so many groups were ready for something like YouTube; they already had communities of practice that supported the production of DIY media, already evolved video genres and built social networks through which such videos could flow." An enduring part of YouTube's appeal has been the potential for amateur and alternative forms of cultural production to reach large audiences, which is nicely combined in its slogan: "Broadcast yourself." Fans of anime and manga answered this call, demonstrating their subcultural capital by creating reviews of difficult-to-access texts and sharing them with the small, though growing, online fan community.

4. Intermediation, creator culture, and social media logic

[4.1] In the first half of the 2010s, access to anime and manga outside of Japan finally began to meet the demand for it due to the maturation of anime streaming sites like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and AnimeLab. These services created apps for mobile devices, gaming systems, and digital media players, and they started to release anime soon after they were released in Japan. Later, they hosted simultaneous releases with Japan. They began to achieve large subscriber bases as they were acquired by media conglomerates with capital to invest in their expansion (Chozick 2011; Gelles 2013). At the same time, television streaming sites like Hulu started licensing anime content (Chozick 2011), and Japanese anime production committees began to better capitalize on the foreign popularity they had previously failed to exploit (Mihara 2020).

[4.2] The content of AniTube videos evolved dramatically at this time. The poles of this diversification can be witnessed through two 2014 videos from Digibro (now Ygg Studio): "Useless Anime Knowledge: Pioneer LDC and Armitage III" (video 2) and "Sword Art Online - An Analytical Diatribe" (video 3). The former video is a history of the Pioneer company's expansion into anime production and US distribution in the 1990s. It discusses the history of Pioneer's subsidiary, Pioneer LDC, and its Armitage III franchise, with a particular focus on how the company's decisions for the US market tried to capitalize on the success of Ghost in the Shell (Production I.G./Bandai Visual 1995).

Video 2. Digibro, "Useless Anime Knowledge: Pioneer LDC and Armitage III" (2014b).

Video 3. Digibro, "Sword Art Online - An Analytical Diatribe" (2014a).

[4.3] The latter video is an hour-long vivisection of the first two seasons of Sword Art Online (A-1 Pictures, 2012), a very popular anime from that period. (The diatribe was originally posted in separate twenty-minute videos, but all were removed for content violation; this video is a reposted, collated version without any content from the show.) Digibro's diatribe is most certainly a review of the show, but it is also an intervention into an ongoing debate on the show's popularity and its chauvinistic representations. Reminiscent of Mark Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895), the video minutely and comprehensively savages Sword Art Online's inconsistencies of logic, plot, and character and its eroticization of sexual assault.

[4.4] These videos adopt the textual strategies of intermediation and institutional criticism by offering more contextualization and interpretation than coconsumption-oriented reviews. They focus, respectively, on the industrial conditions that affected anime production and distribution and the wider cultural discussion of representations of women in male-dominated media. Both situate their evaluations in contexts outside the texts to better understand them: the former in the practices of business expansion and imitative production and the latter in the history of the series, its author's statements about his writing process and goals, and the ongoing debates about anime and the media's use of sexual assault as a plot device. By doing so, they evaluate not just the specific anime texts but also cultural value. By positioning them as industrial outcomes and as cultural artifacts, Digibro also, ultimately, implies valuations about those who consume them—or at least those who consume them without considering the systems and cultures that produced them. Though these evaluations are still made from the position of an anime fan, they are farther away from fandom's affectivity and excessiveness, its indefinable and unjustifiable qualities, which are ultimately what separate fan attachment from other forms of appreciation and investment (Grossberg 1992).

[4.5] The evolution of anime reviews on YouTube was a result of the increasing number of viewers of such content and a corresponding increase in creators of such content. As one interviewee put it, "One channel will do a review of literally any anime and manga that they can think of, like a separate video. That is no longer what people are looking for. Same thing with a Top Ten list of basic stuff. And I think that's because more and more people are deeply involved in anime. They're not just looking for an anime to watch. They're looking for a detailed analysis, a detailed breakdown of something that they already watch and are interested in." From this perspective, the move from intramediation to intermediation can be seen as a response to increased demand for more complex analysis in an increasing crowded commercial market.

[4.6] Many AniTube videos focus not just on the anime text and its consumption but on its place within a series, a medium, an oeuvre, and an industry. Videos about directors, writers, and artists are common, as are considerations of anime subgenres, Japanese culture, and industry practices and developments. Over two-thirds of AniTubers interviewed stated that staying informed about the Japanese animation industry was important to them. Although many admitted that it was difficult due to the language barrier, they valued remaining informed and communicating about studios, directors, and other production aspects.

[4.7] Vernacular reviewing on AniTube has not disappeared, however. Intramediation has the appeal of unpolished authenticity, and it is easier to produce than more professional, objective forms focused beyond personal consumption. It therefore continues to exist on AniTube as an entry format and as a content diversity option for established creators. In fact, the rank or list review (Blank 2006), which is the simplest and least production-focused form of review, has been a constant within the community (though few of the interviewees admitted to making them). Thus, intra- and intermediation are now coextensive within the community because YouTube is, as Jean Burgess and Joshua Green (2009) emphasize, "a highly visible example of the broader trend toward uneasy convergences of market and non-market modes of cultural production in the digital environment, where marginal, subcultural, and community-based modes of cultural production are by design incorporated within the commercial logics of major media corporations" (75).

[4.8] The evolution of AniTube also overlapped with what Stuart Cunningham and David Randolph Craig (2019) have identified as the rise of social media entertainment 2.0, when platforms ceased to primarily focus on content sharing and community creation and instead focused on competition with second-generation platforms, appropriation of their innovations, and new monetization opportunities for creators. The YouTube Partner Program, launched in 2007 (but initially limited to select, invited creators), was opened up to all eligible creators in 2012 (Hollister 2012). That same year YouTube changed the recommendation algorithm to prioritize time spent watching videos rather than the number of clicks and views a video received (Bucher 2018). Users during this period also began to develop business models combining platform advertising revenue, influencer marketing, sponsorships, traditional IP products, live performances, branded products and services, and crowd funding (Cunningham and Craig 2019).

[4.9] AniTube arguably transitioned during this time from a fan to a creator culture, a culture of "commercializing and professionalizing native social media users" (Cunningham and Craig 2021, 1). With this transformation came a change in the motivations of those producing anime and manga content on the platform, as "the institutional nature of participatory media themselves shapes the possibilities of the discourse enacted in those media" (Howard 2010, 248). Several of those I interviewed choose to produce anime and manga content because they viewed it as an underserved market. As one interviewee explained, "When deciding to enter something like YouTube I tried to look for an audience that hadn't yet been reached yet. So I started out by making videos on the latest anime news, previews and announcements. I believed there was a gap in the market that someone could fill by making those types of videos." Or as another stated, "I like many others, tried gaming beforehand…but with gaming, you go into a market that's really saturated. So it's really hard to stand out. After a year of doing that, I decided that since I actually have no other skills, the only thing I could maybe talk about was anime."

[4.10] Although many of my interviewees espoused traditional fan motivations like desire for community, discussion, and self-expression (Jenkins 1992), they were just one part of a constellation of motivations in which market considerations and remuneration carried enormous weight. This calculus was succinctly stated in a recent Scamboli Reviews (2021) video: "I know all the good shows before they even come out, and I want to share it with you because it makes me happy yes because it's fun yes but because it makes me money."

[4.11] The importance of economic motivations distinguishes AniTube reviewers from other mediaries in anime and manga fandom. Anime fansubbers aim to make unlicensed series available in other languages (or available more quickly or with more fidelity to the original), to develop their translation and editing skills, to gain recognition from the anime community, to engage in meaningful collaborative activity, and to promote anime culture (Rush 2009; Lee 2011). Manga scanlators are motivated by roughly the same goals (Lee 2012). AMV creators also aim to develop their skills, accrue subcultural capital, and promote anime (Ito 2012). All these other anime and manga fan practices and motivations fit within the paradigm of participatory culture, one that is based in a notion of communal, bottom-up fan creativity (Jenkins et al. 2009). "Because it makes me money" significantly alters the goal and valuation of fan practice. Of course, the line between fan and professional production has always been blurry, and Jenkins acknowledges that fandom "is not autonomous [from commercial culture]; its products are not in any simple sense 'authentic'" (2018, 22). But when artistic expression and civic engagement are secondary, then participatory culture starts to mirror commercial culture. Increasingly, on large web 2.0 platforms a creator's primary target is not a community of fellow creators or fans but rather a much larger, globally aggregated audience and the revenue they can produce.

[4.12] Part of the appeal of fandom for academic study has been its difference from commercial culture. Because of the collaborative processes of fan production and the social connection necessary for and engendered by it, fan communities have often adopted a gift economy model, in which market exchange is replaced by free sharing and status in the community (Stanfill 2019). However, in a creator culture market exchange becomes imbricated into community practices, and what José van Dijck and Thomas Poell (2013) have identified as "social media logic" structures the market. This logic is concerned with the programmability of algorithms (both from the platform and users' side), the importance of popularity (according to algorithmically determined and influenced metrics), the connectivity created by online platforms (between platforms, their users, and advertisers), and the invisibility and malleability of datafication. The interplay of programmability, popularity, connectivity, and datafication help to explain many of the current practices of AniTubers, both in terms of the kind of videos they make and how they make them.

[4.13] YouTube creators fashion their content to the recommendation algorithm, creating content that they believe will achieve more prominent positioning although the opacity of platform architecture and operations means they do not have explicit means for verifying their beliefs (Wu, Pedersen, and Salehi 2019). AniTubers believe that videos that focus on new, popular, or controversial shows are ranked higher, so they are more likely to cover these kinds of shows. This is significant in that the videos are not responding to community tastes as fan-produced texts traditionally have (Jenkins 1992); rather, their videos conform to industrial release schedules, popularity metrics, and ephemeral controversies. As one creator put it, "We want to try to be as diverse as possible because YouTube is very unreliable. And it all depends on if there is hype. So if an anime is currently airing and we're talking about it, usually we're doing well. But once that anime is no longer airing because the season is over, and if we're only talking about that anime, then our views go down very quickly."

[4.14] Several AniTubers bemoaned the need to focus on the new and the ephemeral rather than focusing on more valuable, older, and less-discussed shows. Donations from supporters were repeatedly discussed as allowing for slower, more involved content creation. Relatedly, there is a perceived need to constantly produce content: more videos mean more possible views, and a lack of frequent and regular uploading can lead to a loss of subscribers. Content diversity, in relation to this logic, also becomes a way to enable constant production and algorithm programmability. There is thus a tension between the desire to produce intermediary content, with its more contextual and intertextual analysis, and the need for intramediary content with its more efficient production process.

[4.15] Failing to satisfy the algorithm leads to a lack of popularity, which undermines intermediary authority. Authority is a central element in reviewing, criticism, and cultural intermediation (Blank 2006; Maguire and Matthews 2012), yet web 2.0 platforms offer little in the way of authority and expertise signaling (Kammer 2015). As such, online reviewers must rely on textual strategies and platform rankings to demonstrate that they are "granted the legitimacy to describe, explain, elucidate, contextualize, and/or evaluate a certain cultural object or topic to a certain audience" (Frey 2015, 18). Textual strategies for conjuring authority involve adopting the more objective, contextual focus of institutional intermediaries (as discussed previously) and demonstrating advanced knowledge of anime production, history, aesthetics, and/or narrative structure. These textual strategies must be tempered by the pace of production and the level of discourse of the community and YouTube user-generated content. Arguably more important for the platform is the authority granted by metrics. On YouTube, subscribers, views, and number of comments provide the most visible markers of quality and authority (Jaakkola 2018): they demonstrate that others have valued a channel or video, and it is therefore valuable.

[4.16] Popularity as authority then feeds back into programmability, and it increases connectivity, as views and subscribers are the main metrics by which creators catch the attention of advertisers. Sponsorships and affiliate links are generally the most important revenue stream for social media entertainers because they can be much more lucrative than platform ad revenue or donations (Cunningham and Craig 2019). Without them, full-time content creation is not feasible for most creators. As anime funding and distribution have globalized, AniTubers have been connected, through YouTube, with anime and manga's industrial agents. Many AniTubers with larger subscriber bases are sponsored by or have affiliate links for anime streaming companies, anime- and manga-related game companies, and/or anime and manga merchandise companies.

[4.17] Anime distributors have also begun to sponsor AniTube videos to coincide with anime film or series releases. However, they are not content to simply sponsor content: several of these companies have also begun to produce their own AniTube-like videos. In 2018, Federator Networks, part of the conglomerate responsible for shows like Adventure Time (Cartoon Network, 2010–2018), created its own anime and manga content channel titled Get in the Robot ( Crunchyroll, which sponsors many AniTube channels, not only has YouTube videos remediating anime content but also since 2017 has been producing anime reviews, video essays, behind-the-scenes documentaries, news bulletins, and opinion videos featuring animators, directors, voice actors, and AniTubers (e.g., see Thew and Crunchyroll 2017). Netflix, which has become a major funder of Anime content production in Japan, sponsors AniTube videos and, in 2021, created two series starring AniTubers on its Netflix Anime channel ( "Anime Club" and its unimaginatively titled series "AniTubers React to Anime."

[4.18] Working directly for anime production and distribution companies can undermine the authenticity of an AniTubers' evaluations, a problem that naturally occurs as YouTubers become more prominent and as creation becomes more lucrative (Hesmondhalgh 2019). Like many on YouTube (Shtern and Hill 2021), AniTubers have different strategies for maintaining their authenticity while also managing relationships with sponsors. When sponsors are the dominant companies in the anime industry or when AniTubers do not have editorial control over content, as in the case of the Crunchyroll and Netflix produced videos, ethical stances become much harder to maintain. This is clearly demonstrated in an AniTubers React to Anime video about the show Record of Ragnarok (Netflix Anime, 2021). The AniTubers struggle to say something positive about the show, with one only able to offer the sad equivocation, "This feels like a parody of anime, but it obviously isn't. But this seems great."

[4.19] One of the most recent changes in the AniTube community has been creators switching to what is deemed anime adjacent or, more commonly, personality content. This kind of content is not about anime or manga but uses their iconography, sensibility, and themes. An extreme example of this would be Nux Taku's "Face Reveal (will delete soon)" (2020). This video is about the creator of the channel finally showing his face to his fans, yet it is nonetheless tagged with #anime.

[4.20] As personality content does not require the consumption of texts, it makes for a much quicker production process. This is not unlike the shift in American radio production in the 1940s as it moved from sketch comedy (which had to be created anew each week) to sitcoms (which developed and then reused characters in slightly different situations) (Tueth 2005). Although part of the appeal of anime and manga has been their window onto Japan and cultural difference (Norris 2005), personality content can shift AniTube away from Japanese cultural production and away from fandom's intense focus on textual consumption.

5. Communal practices and productive failure on AniTube

[5.1] The increasingly commodified nature of online participatory culture has caused scholars to fret over the loss of previously celebrated fan practices and values. Stanfill (2019), for example, warns, "Traditional, strongly noncommercial, communitarian models of fandom are increasingly existing alongside, or even in some cases being superseded by, market-oriented and individualistic ones. As these new forms gain ascendancy, old forms may fall out of use and cease to be an option, particularly if fans do not know it could be otherwise" (80). Considering that "to build an online presence within the YouTube community as a vlogger requires time, patience, and persistence, rather than a more casual mode of engagement with YouTube" (Burgess and Green 2009, 74), it is not surprising that almost all part-time AniTubers want to be full-time content creators, with one I interviewed even calling it "the dream." While creating social media entertainment is motivated by different values than those of fan creation, it is too early to mourn the death of noncommercial fandom.

[5.2] Though AniTube is a creator culture, it is also "community of practice," a group of "people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" (Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder 2002, 4). As a community of practice on a commercial platform, AniTube evinces communal and individualistic values and practices, though the communal aspects are often not apparent. AniTubers have private Discord servers for walled discussions among themselves, some for the community at large and others for subgroups within it. On these servers, creators propose ideas for videos, share techniques, ask for help, gripe about YouTube's algorithm, and discuss other topics, and the servers function as forums for advice, guidance, and encouragement. The creators' videos themselves also function as a site for sharing. As is common on YouTube, videos often respond to other videos, and collaborations are frequent, especially for content that is livestreamed or unscripted. Collaborations between AniTubers are both a form of cross-promotion and a way to help new community members gain visibility.

[5.3] At the same time, as creators become more popular and prominent, they undertake individualistic practices that mirror those of traditional media producers. Many full-time AniTubers hire video editors to increase the speed and quality of their production. These for-hire editors are primarily part-time creators in the community, located through the same communal networks that provide support. The hiring of editors is so common that some part-time creators now work as full-time video editors for other AniTubers. Similarly, some AniTubers have hired community coordinators and have joined multichannel networks. Using viewers and supporters as sounding boards and knowledge pools also occurs, and creators market test ideas to their personal donator communities. This combination of communal and individualistic oscillates between the more communal, at the level of less popular or smaller creators, and the more individualistic, at the level of the more popular or larger creators.

[5.4] The AniTube community also has creators who do not aim to satisfy the algorithm or become social media entertainers. One example of this is Shaybs's (2020) channel, especially its series AniTube Digest ( Each week, Shaybs posts direct to the camera discussions of new videos created on AniTube, critiquing, praising, and offering unsolicited advice to other creators. These meandering videos, often more than an hour long, are reminiscent of the kind of discussions and workshopping that take places within fan communities. One channel that has eschewed efficiency of production is Pause and Select (, which presents cerebral analyses of anime and its history, aesthetics, and themes. The videos use theories from poststructuralists like Derrida, Barthes, and Foucault, and have featured anime scholars like Patrick Galbraith, Rayna Denison, Sandra Annett, and Thomas Lamarre. Each video is highly overproduced, featuring handpicked and original music, clips from up to thirty or forty different sources, and references to multiple academic texts. Due to the complexity of the videos, the channel only releases five or six videos per year. Another channel, ThatAnimeSnob (, is focused on trashing almost every contemporary show it reviews as well as attacking and insulting those who would dare to defend such trash. A clear and regressive reaction to anime's increasing popularity, the channel attempts to wrest back the object of fandom from the mainstream. Dripping with caustic, elitist spite and begging to offend, each video on the channel supports John Fiske's assertion that fans "discriminate fiercely…Textual and social discrimination are part and parcel of the same cultural activity" (1992, 34).

[5.5] Though these channels have existed for over six years, they each have fewer than 50,000 followers (two have much less than that), and all have persisted in their various approaches to content creation rather than adapting to garner more attention. Interestingly, each of these channels was mentioned by other creators within the community as examples of noteworthy AniTube production, but from the perspective of successful social media entertainment these channels are failures. However, these channels should be viewed as a kind of productive failure: "a critique of the intuitive connections within capitalism between success and profit" (Halberstam 2011, 11). These channels demonstrate a different "moral economy" than those chasing YouTube's algorithm (Hills 2013, 149): they prioritize community engagement, approach anime as high culture, and uphold a repugnant level of subcultural elitism, all of which harken back to earlier fan culture and attenuate their broader appeal on YouTube. Each channel proposes a different way of being on AniTube and, implicitly and explicitly, a critique of the move toward social media entertainment.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] AniTube production necessitates a considerable time investment: not just the making of videos but also the consumption of anime (and/or manga and light novels); the viewing of other AniTube content; the following of related discussions on other social media platforms; the following of English and preferably Japanese-language industry news; the promoting and multiplatforming of YouTube content on Twitter, Reddit, MyAnimeList, Twitch, Patreon, and other locations; and the engagement with subscribers and commenters. This final task becomes increasingly difficult (both in terms of time and in terms of emotional toll) as channels grow. Depending on the type of content produced (scripted or unscripted) as well as the amount of effort put into writing, recording, clip selection, editing, soundtrack selection, sound mixing, thumbnail creation, and captioning, part-time AniTubers can spend from five to forty hours a week producing content while full-timers spend up to eighty hours a week. As one creator put it, "you really have to work a full job for pretty much a year without any pay. And afterwards, that's where you're getting somewhere." Creative and physical burnout are real dangers for full-time and part-time AniTubers.

[6.2] Despite the effort and risks, the majority of AniTube creators have embraced the dream of producing content full time and becoming social media entertainers. The autonomy, creativity, and remuneration it can provide outweigh the drawbacks. This means that commercial concerns are shaping anime fan production in ways that they previously had not. As one creator described it, "But like, at the end of the day, we do live in a capitalist society. And you can't continue to make art at any kind of reasonable pace unless you find a way to profit from it. I was trying to find a way to do something that would make me happy and that I could stay passionate about." Yet not everyone is happy selling their content and themselves online. One of the most poignant moments of all the interviews was with a successful, full-time creator. At the end of each interview, I asked if there was any topic I failed to mention that I should have, if there was any question I should have asked that I didn't. The creator responded, "Ask me if I'm happy."

[6.3] Digital platforms are providing new opportunities for professional and fan production but are also significantly altering participatory culture (Lamerichs 2020). The case of AniTube shows that as fans become social media entertainers, as they begin creating for anime's market economy and not just its symbolic economy, the culture they create is complex and contradictory. The presence of corporate sponsors and anime industry agents, the global prominence of YouTube, and the multiple ways to commodify content and receive support make the relationship between platform, sponsor, creator, and fan extremely complicated, and these relationships problematize any distinction between bottom-up fan practices and top-down commercial production. Intramediation and intermediation, participatory and commercial culture, communal and individualistic practices, and success and failure all combine in different and novel constellations within the AniTube community.

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