A spiral eyed view into the world of The AniMates podcast


'If they it didn’t exist, we’d probably be looking for a way to make it’

At least, it was difficult not to come away with that impression after having sat down with the creators of the AniMates podcast.

Anime has long held a special place in many households particularly for youth as a niche getaway from more mainstream entertainment. This is even more true in many black households, where shonen anime (which is typically action orientated, aimed toward teens) often finds itself weaved into the visual palate from an early age. But only recently has this begun to be outwardly acknowledged. I stress ‘begun’ because we are still at the very beginning of this process but even then, there are few who currently capture this passion for the Industry as well as creators of The Animates Podcast, Murkz and KB.

KB and Murkz are both from London and though it's recognition has grown the podcast itself is not new. It was born from the back and forth discourse surrounding the medium. Discussions at home or in the gym on popular topics such as the most iconic aspects of the Dragon Ball franchise to more niche discussion on less heralded anime was the precursor to what would come to be called AniMates. A mixture of curiosity to it's reach and the need for a "different opinion" led to the mutual decision to start the podcast, and like that AniMates was born.

In our hour long special, KB admits as much. The thought process was simple but the implications have been huge, He explains:

"{We thought} You know what, if we were to record our conversations and just put it out there, let's see what happens. Let's see if there are people that think like you or people that think like me. Better yet, let's see if there's a whole different opinion altogether. That was one of the driving factors.”

They had also recognised that their decision to start a podcast was in part influenced by the increasingly visible stream of black content creators within podcasting. Brilliant Idiots and 3shotsoftequila were just two of a growing branch that had carved their way into their journeys, but in starting AniMates, the pair had intended to offer something different from the mainstream.

He offered a further look into the pair’s mindset when venturing into the podcast world:

"When we first started off two years ago without the visuals, when I tried to look around the anime scene there weren't too many there. As we've come along I've seen a few pop up in the last year or so... But with us specifically growing up, I've seen a lot of black people and people in general kind of shy away from anime. They're not really confident in speaking about it, because it's so niche and low key. But, I think once they see the red cloud, once they see it's young black people I think it gives people the confidence to now say 'look' these guys are putting themselves out there in front of a camera, speaking passionately about anime - I think it kinda gives people the inspiration to do the same."

The reference to the red cloud by the way isn't something to look over. It was popularised by the Shonen anime Naruto, and was the symbol of the Akatsuki, a group of shinobi (basically ninjas) who would form a central part of the Naruto universe. Though it has now been adopted by the AniMates creators, it's an immediate reminder that the inspiration for the work of Murkz and KB is in all aspects influenced by a medium which for them, is like no other.

A picture of the red cloud and the Akatsuki who popularised it

Growth and more

The traction from the podcast has been steady, enjoying a pleasant upward trajectory, but the podcast which began two years ago has exploded since the launch of their visual editions. Listeners are able to watch the pair alongside a number of rotating guests as they discuss the season’s most talked about anime. It's a welcome addition. Firstly, for allowing humour within their discussions to be better carried. The current format allows for a dynamic more in line with the format used by those dominating the UKs podcast charts. Added to this though is that it better allows for the pair to carry through with their goal of giving that 'different opinion' a platform. The most recent episode saw a black girl named Shade featured in the guest chair, as they offered their opinions on Hunter x Hunter's Gon and Killua, Attack on Titans Eren and Mikasa and the best gateway anime for newcomers to the genre out of Death Note and Attack On Titan. This is an area in which the podcast thrives because by employing this formula, it does more than simply demand the viewers attention, but, like many of the very best creations in entertainment, justifies it with each passing episode.

(From left to right) Zak, KB, and Murkz in discussion on episode 29 of the podcast.

Murkz added:

"The fact that they feel as passionate as we do, it's like we're not even doing too much. All we're doing is giving them an avenue to express."

And this level of excellence is not only reserved for the use of it's format, but is chiefly evident in the quality of discussion in each episode - this is by far and away the pairs greatest asset, and a point which cannot be made enough. Beyond being simply fun, the show dissects anime to level which allows for even the most knowledgeable to remain engaged whilst keeping enough regard for novices to ensure that even if it's only thematically, they're never too far away from the centre of the discussion.

The future for anime

Despite their love for anime they are still aware that more is needed in certain aspects, before the medium can truly take flight in the UK. While emphasising the quality of storytelling across the board, the pair highlighted how limited funding had crippled anime's efforts to fully capture the imagination on the big screen. Studio Ghibli of course have excelled in this regard, winning critical acclaim, but they remain but one of a limited number that have managed to capture Western appeal. As was floated during our one hour meetup, could a One Piece movie covering the Marineford arc with the financial backing of an MCU title see it break through its glass ceiling? Maybe, maybe not, but in any case it's a reminder of the fact that should anime be facing these sorts of challenges, it's a challenge far more in line with where the industry as a whole wishes to be.

Other challenges relate to anime's relationship with representation. As it's audience broadens and it's reach grows, there is the argument put forward in some quarters that says it should be more reflective of those who consume it. Given that for many black people in particular, it's consumed outside the creative bubble of Japan, this may be seemingly impossible to do. But, both KB and Murkz revealed that in this search for representation, the communities that are increasingly invested in it may need to find their own solutions to remedy their absence.

"What's a bigger way to get anime out than producing very very very good anime here? Made by us, influenced by us, written by us, produced by us, executive-produced by us, published by us… They're so many layers to this. Again, funding is a big issue but if we got funding to start our own, let's go into secondary schools: if anyone loves art give them.the opportunity to join Manga writing class. Let's do after school curricular activities. Let's make it more integrated in our culture…. Let these jobs be accessible."

They are not alone in the black foray into anime, in Britain. 'Sailor Steph' as she goes by is the founder of NNESAGA, a platform for gaming and entertainment, and she marries this with her writing for MangaUK. The Nerd Council offers a similar platform to that of AniMates which also overlaps within the anime and gaming space. It is important to remember that AniMates are not alone in this endeavour because in doing so we recognise that the passion which exists for anime extends across the board to both girls and boys, men and women as well as white, black and everyone in between. But there are few who encapsulate the passion which exists for anime outside of Japan as well as KB and Murkz and in doing so, they've contrived to forge a podcast of genuine value.

Nobody truly knows whether anime will, if ever, finally burst from beneath the seams to become a household name - should it do so in the UK, we may look back at podcasts like AniMates as being particularly consequential to this happening. But even if not, the quality of the show will ensure that for the community it serves, it's impact will surely be felt, because If The AniMates podcast didn't exist, we’d probably be looking for a way to make it.

Click the link to hear the full 1-hour discussion covering, Naruto, One Piece, both KB and Murkz top three anime of all time and about the future of anime both in the UK and abroad.

Mayowa Ayodele


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