We walked into the theater to the faint smell of weed trailing behind a group of middle school girls with glasses and dyed black hair, bright-eyed and chattering, clutching Celtic crosses around their necks. Packs of boys in skull caps carrying enormous buckets of pop corn shoved each other around and yelled at the screen to begin. The theater was flooded. The silly, giggly anticipation was palpable through out the theater. When the screen crashed to reveal a Windows desktop background, someone yelled, "What is this, a fan sub?" to sniggering around the room. Strangers discussed their expectations as if with old friends. Not a single person over 40 and every nationality possible, this room at Regal Cinemas Union Square Stadium 14 felt like a gathering in someone’s living room. I sat between two of my best friends and former roomies, one of whom was leaving the city the next morning. This (in a small, almost secretive way) was the culmination of our year. After endless graduation and farewell parties, countless dollars spent on beer and vodka shots, we escaped to watch the long-awaited finale to a semester-long hobby.
This was Viz Entertainment and Fathom Features‘ special two-night screening of the live action feature of Death Note, a popular anime and manga written and illustrated by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, recently adapted by Shusuke Kaneko. The story of the anime, in short, is that of a brilliant but bored young man named Light, who uses a Death Note; a notebook belonging to a death god, or shinigami, that comes with a number of rules, the most important of which is that if anyone’s name is written in the death note, the person will die. The anime is an exhilarating battle of unparalleled intellect and moral ambition, serious and grizzly as often as it is goofy and purely entertaining, with a startlingly acute understanding and exploration of human psychology and sociology, and the question of justice.
My roomies and I had been watching the anime together for months, imitating characters in our regular conversations, drawing comparisons for any of our moral dilemmas. Niche audiences like us made for an interesting show, where jeering, jokes and trash-talking of characters were welcome, and the entire audience shared detailed inside jokes. We felt, suddenly, like a pack of drunken girls watching soap operas, basking together in our guilty pleasures. I could go into excruciating detail about the differences between the anime and the film, what worked, what didn’t, but the feeling in my gut when I walked away from the theater seems far more significant than the actual show.
Sharing laughter, groans and jokes that everyone understood (that would normally draw raised eyebrows and confused looks) over what was once viewed as a geeky hobby for hermits behind computer screens, brought out the communal power of entertainment in the city. We all walked away feeling accepted, included, uncharacteristically comfortable with our own brands of "cool", with the tremendous satisfaction of being one of the few people to catch the screenings. Unless of course, there were viewers who had never watched the anime, in which case, they walked away with just a little slice of the endless quirks and oddities of growing anime culture in America.