Besides watching cute girls doing cute things, or giant robots destroying planets, there are lots of other ways to enjoy Japanese culture! Despite anime being a more sit down and watch activity, there are other outlets that bring out the best of what you may know today.
What about the indie scene? The culture behind the anime mainstream? Actually, they get a considerable amount of love as well. Some indie series even receive more recognition than their anime counterparts. On a personal level, if it wasn’t for the indie scene, I probably wouldn’t come to love anime as much as I do now.
The first thing that normally comes to mind when thinking of non-anime Japanese entertainment would be manga or video games. These are good outlets, but can encompass the same thing as anime. Anime typically originates from manga, and games are inspired by some anime. They kind of go hand in hand. Most series now dip into all aspects to appease all the crowds. You’ll see that there are a large amount of efforts that go into the creation of unique entities, whether fan based or not, and typically the people of the culture support it very much. There are even conventions that celebrate the efforts of indie developers.
One of them most influential indie developers is ZUN, creater of Touhou. The community for Touhou lovers is beyond any fan base you could ever encounter. For a simple bullet hell shooter, what formed past it was beyond what ZUN could ever imagine. Touhou is a universe filled with girls with magical powers that run around and cause trouble for the main characters of the particular game. There’s more to it, though. The games have lots of atmosphere, excellent smooth movement, and of course challenge players and keep them on their toes. The music is absolutely amazing and the visuals of the game are also on par. There are currently 14 games out in this series. I want to note that every single one is made by only one man, ZUN, who composes and designs every aspect of the games. I highly recommend taking a look at Touhou!
Another area of indie works are visual novels. Instead of just going into particular visual novels, I’m going to give you a general overview. Visual Novels are essentially interactive graphic novels, often including music and sometimes played in a game like fashion. Their storylines branch into routes where you can experience good or bad endings. Visual novels can cover a lot more material than a normal anime or manga can, and are often without the limitations of either. Visual novels can delve more into the source mateiral, and sometimes without restrictions, to bring out the best of the author’s intentions. There are ranges of genres to satisfy anyone, and a plethora of sources from which to obtain them. Some companies even provide demos or offer the series for free! Series like Steins;Gate and Umineko started as visual novels, and despite their anime adaptations, their novel counterparts hold a significant amount more of content.
There’s of course fan based content as well, such a fan fictions and the like. These types of works are called “doujins” and encompass a range of genres. Most of the time, the authors take the characters and put them into scenarios they see as most appropriate, despite actual anime or manga canon. But unlike normal fan fiction, doujins actually get published and sold to those who are willing to buy. Some doujins even get developed into entire spinoff games.
There’s more to the indie scene, but to save space I just wanted to cover what you might not be aware of! Hopefully you’ll take some time to away from mainstream media and appreciate the little guys of otaku culture a bit more!