Every Thursday evening, a diverse handful of students gather in Room 404 of the Shepherd Union Building, pop in a movie and hang out, discussing anime, gaming and other “geeky” interests.
These weekly meetings of Wyvern, Weber State University’s anime and gaming club, has been going on for more a decade, but recently, the club’s numbers have been on the rise as interest in anime, or Japanese animated film and television, has become more widespread outside of Japan.
“It’s become more widely accepted as anime itself has grown and been available to the masses right now through Netflix,” said Christopher Ekstrom, who runs the club’s Facebook page. “People start showing up. They’re brand-new. They just saw this one show, and they want to know more.”
Though the art form languished in obscurity for much of the ’80s and ’90s, its popularity has risen steadily in recent years, in part due to shows such as “Naruto” and “Cowboy Bebop,” and critically acclaimed films such as Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away.”
It’s even garnered the attention of the Academy Awards. “The Wind Rises,” an anime film by Miyazaki, has been nominated this year for Best Animated Feature. The film will premiere in North America on Feb. 21.
Despite this, many anime fans first learned about it through word of mouth. Vice president Jules Britt, for instance, first gained interest in anime in high school at the urging of his friends. That was a decade ago, and he’s still a dedicated fan and has been a club member for three years.
Many, though, still wonder what draws people to anime.
“The main appeal to it is the escapism,” Ekstrom said. “Escape from your normal life and live vicariously through those characters.”
There are also other reasons to like anime, according to club president John Gale.
“And of course it’s cool,” he said. “There’s just things you can do with it that just boggle my mind. You can do things with a 2-D image that make 3-D images pale in comparison.”
Not all anime is the same, Gale said. Rather than referring to it as a genre, like action or romance, he sees it as a vast medium. Without looking too hard, viewers can find romance, science fiction, fantasy or even historical drama. Nearly any genre is possible in anime.
Although the club centers on a shared interest in anime, the members also hold a game night every Wednesday.
“Essentially, we offer a place for people to talk with other people,” Gale said. “Whatever you like, you’ll have someone here who will listen to you and talk to you and be friendly with you.”
More than once, a club member has found his or her significant other while participating. Other members who didn’t make many friends in high school said they found companionship in the club.
“I graduated high school, and I was just working and sleeping. I had no life,” said Ekstrom, remembering when he first joined the club in 2003. “I started showing up, started making friends. I have evolved into a social butterfly.”
Gale said the importance of anime runs deeper than the ability to socialize, though.
“It’s a way of experiencing a different culture to me,” he said. “I know things about Japan through various anime that I would never have learned by reading a textbook or by looking at pictures of the place.”
Gale said getting exposed to different cultures and styles of storytelling is always worthwhile.
“I know people that know nothing about any other country than America. And they don’t want to. It’s weird to me.”
Wyvern meets every Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Room 404 of the Shepherd Union. Interested parties can email the club at firstname.lastname@example.org.