“Getting teens into the library can be hard,” admits Loree Kelly, who oversees services for that age group at Hendersonville’s main branch. Three years, ago, though, it was a teen who sought her out, noticing a niche that needed filling
“I was approached by a high-school student who had just moved to the area, and she wanted to know if she could start a Japanese anime and Manga club.
“I really didn’t know that much about it,” says Kelly. “But sometimes, you just have to give things a try and see how it goes.”
A few kids attended the first meeting of the club, which focuses on a uniquely Japanese form of storytelling that originated around the same time Walt Disney was gaining prominence in the U.S. The now greatly popular medium, a hallmark of many graphic novels, is comprised of animated or “anime” cartoons derived from hand-drawn “Manga” illustrations.
Subgenres vary widely. The media-franchised Pokémon characters (aimed mostly at elementary-school-age children) are perhaps the best-known examples of anime. For older kids and young adults, more complex illustrations and layered artistic elements, including elements of folkloric drama and martial arts, come into play.
Local word spread. Attendees swelled to as many as 25 or 30.
“They had a definite interest,” says Kelly. “Some of them would even show up early.”
During their Saturday-morning meetings, members watch Japanese animation movies and TV shows and play anime video games. They’ll draw, make art, and occasionally wear costumes.
“Cos-play” is a big deal for all ages, with themed dress-up conventions (superheroes, anime, and other forms of fantasy) held locally, nationally, and around the world. Kelly is particularly encouraged by the enthusiasm young people bring to this cultural phenomenon.
“They are smart, creative, and very knowledgeable, with lots of curiosity about art and a strong interest in Japanese culture,” she says. “They are the experts. They’re the ones who are teaching me.”
The teen programs at the library are geared to grades 6 through 12, and the anime and Manga Club has continued to grow and perpetuate itself. Many of the original members have aged out of the group, but new kids are joining all the time.
And the club’s bonding benefits extend beyond the library. “They tell me that some of the kids at school ‘get it’ about anime and Manga, but other kids don’t understand why they are into it. The club gives them a place to express their interest and share a camaraderie,” says Kelly. “One girl told me that it was ‘the best thing ever,’ and that really moved me. She felt a sense of belonging, and that is huge.”
To learn more about the Teen Anime and Manga Club, go to www.henderson.lib.nc.us and click on the “teens” or “event” page, or contact the library’s Youth Services Department at 828-697-4725, ext. 2312.