We stay pretty focused on anime, manga, and games most of the time here at Ani-Gamers, but it's been quite a year. Not only has 2016 taken a who's who of famous musicians, actors, and other creative people, but it has seen the rise, and in some cases mainstream success, of political movements focused on division and hate. In such a climate, it should come as no surprise that it's been a little difficult for some of us to take our opinions of cartoons and computer games all that seriously. Despite this, when I look at the world of anime, manga, and games, as well as the broader pop culture landscape of 2016, I see glimmers of hope, however small they may be.
We lost icons like David Bowie and Prince who showed their fans that no creative vision was too bold and no identity too unconventional to be taken seriously, but we also saw new experiences from creators new and old that showed us that the ideals we saw exemplified in people like Bowie and Prince live on.
Overwatch became an instant sensation in 2016, backed not only by its polished gameplay but by its diverse, lovable cast. That one of this year's most popular online games, created by a major video game studio, features gay characters, women with varying body types, and a host of characters hailing from both first- and third-world countries, says a lot about how far we've come. In fact, Overwatch is one of the rare video games that has an option to play as an elderly woman of color, in the form of support sniper Ana!
In mainstream media, Rogue One showed us a vision of an iconic sci-fi franchise helmed not by white men, but by a woman, a Mexican man, a British Pakistani man, and two Asian actors — Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang — who absolutely steal the show. Of course, there remains work to be done; Ghost in the Shell looms large, with its conspicuous, tone-deaf casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major continuing a long history of Hollywood's erasure of Asian actors.
Across the Pacific, Japan gave us its own sensation: Yuri!!! on Ice. Created by one of the few big-name female directors in the anime industry, Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko & Hatchin, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine), the series not only depicts a refreshingly forward gay romance between its two figure-skating protagonists, but it also brings together an international cast of skaters from countries as diverse as Thailand, Russia, and Kazakhstan — a relatively rare sight in an animation industry that often focuses on ethnically Japanese characters. Yuri perhaps provides the most optimistic vision for our troubled world, one in which art brings people together by speaking across languages and cultures.
Of course, media can't solve our problems alone, especially not niche animation like Yuri!!! on Ice. So it falls to us. The people with the most to lose in 2017 and beyond, as well as those of us supporting them in their fight, will need to hunker down and sometimes set aside our pop cultural fascinations for the sake of something bigger, but I'm not cynical enough yet to believe that there is no value in telling these stories and sharing them with the world. Though real life can and will get in the way from time to time, as long as there are people who find some small joy in a darkening world through the writing and podcasting we do here at Ani-Gamers, we intend to stick around. We hope you will too.
Happy New Year.