One group likes a cartoon about brightly colored ponies with distinctive personalities. The other has a broad interest in animation and comics from Japan. Still, Bronies and anime fans are more similar than you might think. Both occupy relatively small pockets within the greater nerd universe; they may turn up at general events like San Diego Comic-Con, but they have their own conventions and their own way of expressing community. (Those MLP t-shirts that read "20% Cooler" and at least 50% of the costumes at Anime Expo won't make sense to people outside of the scenes.) On top of that, both Bronies and anime fans also face challenges and stereotypes that might not affect other so-called geeks. In fact, sometimes, they're misjudged by their own.
Bronies - the subject of the new Morgan Spurlock-produced documentary, A Brony Tale - are a relatively new fandom, having only existed since the launch of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The anime fan community in the U.S. has been around for decades, although its evolved a lot in that time. Though it might seem weird to compare them - "apples and oranges," you might say - they often seem closer connected to each other than, say, Bronies and sci-fan fans or anime and horror fans. After watching A Brony Tale and spending four days at Anime Expo, I found the similarities even more apparent. Here's why:
1. We're Adults Who Still Watch Cartoons.
Whether you're a Brony or a grown-up anime fan, we have something in common. We love cartoons. Granted, the notion that cartoons are just for kids has faded a lot since The Simpsons, but it hasn't completely diminished.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is for kids. There may be a lot of adult fans, but the intended audience is children. There's a stigma to that. People talked about in A Brony Tale. Tell someone that you're into a show for kids and they think you're having problems with embracing adulthood.
Anime is much broader. We're not talking about a single show, but years of completely different genres of films and series that happened to be made in Japan. If you tell someone you're an anime fan, they might immediately think of one of the popular shows for kids, like Pokémon. Maybe you're into that, maybe you aren't. Either way, you might have heard someone ask, "Aren't you too old for that?"
There are a lot of ways you can respond to the naysayers. Cartoons are art, oftentimes spectacularly beautiful art. Plus, have you watched Looney Tunes or Animaniacs as an adult? There are lots of cartoons that were marketed towards kids, but have a much broader appeal. Or, you could just ignore them. People suck.
2. If You're a Guy, People Might Think You're a Creep.
There are a lot of misconceptions that affect both men and women who are into anything remotely geeky. A few of those only pertain to the dudes, like the stereotype that nerds are guys who can't get laid and live in their parents' basements. As shitty as that is, the misconceptions get worse if you're delve into My Little Pony or anime. It's not that people think you have no life, it's that they might think you're a perv.
In A Brony Tale, the misconception is addressed head-on. "The pervert alarm went off in my head, for sure, when I first heard about it," says Ashleigh Ball, who voices Applejack and Rainbow Dash. She learns otherwise throughout the course of the documentary. The creep stereotype is mentioned and essentially debunked in A Brony Tale. When I interviewed director Brian Hodge about the documentary for our sister site L.A. Weekly, he mentioned that women wouldn't get the same reaction for admitting they're My Little Pony fans. That's probably true. I'm a female in my 30s. If I said I collected My Little Ponies (I don't), it would be no more unusual than a guy my age who collects G.I. Joe figures.
With anime, the creep perception is a little different. Tell someone that you're an adult, male anime fan and they might think you're into tentacle monsters or have a fetish for high school girls and panty shots. That's not necessarily the case, but knowing otherwise won't stop the masses from wise-cracking. Sometimes, though, the creep assessment is based on recent incidents at conventions. Last year, I went to a panel at Pacific Media Expo about harassment. A male photographer on the panel was talking about people who have been harassed by other fans while taking photos and that's creating problems. Don't want to be that jerk? Treat your fellow convention-goers with respect.
3. The Fans Aren't Stuck in the Past.
I remember conventions by what anime were big that year. When I first started attending Anime Expo, Death Note was all the rage. Last year, it was Attack on Titan. This year, it's Kill la Kill. For years, Bleach cosplayers were inescapable at the cons. This year, I couldn't recall seeing a single black Shinigami robe, a green and white striped hat or anything else that was unmistakably Bleach. Anime changes with the times and anime conventions follow the latest trends in the industry. You might see references to a few classics, like My Neighbor Totoro, but overall, the emphasis is on the new releases. It's kind of hard to keep up with anime fans. I'll spend a lot of time asking them, "What show is this from?" at conventions and then playing catch-up with Crunchyroll. I don't even want to mention that my favorite manga is Nana and favorite anime is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Even those references are too dated for this crowd.
My Little Pony has been around for a long time. Hell, I used to play with MLP toys when I was a kid and that was a very, very, very long time ago. The ponies that once lived in my bedroom are like my old L.A. Gear sneakers, Exposé cassette and bottle of Electric Youth perfume: relics of the '80s. My Little Pony is on the fourth generation of toys now and those are largely influenced by Friendship Is Magic. That's the focus of the Brony community, so we're talking about MLP as it has evolved from 2010 to the present. This is not an old-school scene.
4. These Fandoms Grew Because of the Internet.
On some level, you can say this about any fan community in 2014. The line between our lives in the physical world and the online one is barely existent at this point. With Bronies and anime fans, the fan communities are so tightly tied to the Internet that they might not exist as they do right now without it.
Say you're into comic books or science fiction. You'll connect with other fans online. You'll share cool fan art or the latest movie news on Facebook and Twitter. But, you'll still make plans to see the big releases in an actual movie theater. You might still head down to your local comic book shop to pick up new releases. With anime, the dissemination of the main media product often happens online. You can watch subtitled versions through sites like Crunchyroll not long after the shows air in Japan. It will take months, maybe longer, for the show to hit a U.S. TV station (if it does) or get a DVD or Blu-ray release. Could the fan community have swelled enough to sell out Anime Expo if people were still trading VHS tapes?
Brony origin stories, like in A Brony Tale, often start with 4chan. Even though this is a show that airs on cable television, the adult fandom grew through online chatter. 4chan may have been the beginning of it, but the community spread out to Reddit, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and virtually any other site where you can bump into someone who likes the same media you do. If the Internet didn't exist, My Little Pony may have remained a kids thing that became a nostalgic thing when the kids became adults.