Following the incredible atmosphere at the Mugen Train and Jujutsu Kaisen: 0 theatrical premieres in Indian theatres, I was hoping for a recreation of the same at the Swordsmith Village Arc premiere this weekend. And Indian otakus did not disappoint.
When PVR announced a limited theatrical run of the Demon Slayer Special, the prospects of watching anime studio, UFOTable’s stunning animation on the big screen were exciting. The fact that they would also be screening the final two episodes of the previous Entertainment District Arc before the special, sealed the deal.
An anime premiere warrants pulling up to the screening dressed in suitable attire of course. So out flew my half-and-half Giyu Tomioka (the water Hashira from Demon Slayer) jacket. Initially, I was rather wary of what the turnout would be like. As I stood perched outside the theatre watching an increasing number of anime tshirts and cosplays ascend the escalator, those worries were instantly quelled.
Otaku culture has quietly crept into the Indian subcontinent, much like a stealthy ninja infiltrating a forbidden fortress. Anime, manga, and cosplay have become a subculture that has captured the hearts and minds of the Indian youth.
For the uninitiated, "otaku" is a term that refers to someone with a deep passion for anime and manga. While once considered a term of derision, it has now become a badge of honor for those who spend their days immersed in the world of anime. It's not uncommon to see fans sporting Naruto headbands or Sailor Moon T-shirts, ready to defend their favorite characters with the same as if they were one of their own.
A Monkey D Luffy deposited his bag at the counter, a group of Narutos showed their tickets to the concierge, a Gojo Saturo walked out of the washroom, while an Itachi carried a tub of popcorn away from the concessions. The merchandise they adorned had become an inextricable part of their identities.
As the time for the screening approached, the crowd became more and more animated, chatting and taking photos with one another. The air was thick with anticipation and the theater staff did their best to keep the crowd organised and moving, only to have a prompt “MUKATTE KURO NO KA?” levelled at them.
Finally, the doors to the theatre open, and the otakus surge forward, eagerly finding their seats. The theater is packed to the brim, and the atmosphere is electric as the previews begin. As the lights dimmed, I knew what must be done. Every cell in my body itching to do what I my mind tried to restrain myself against. It just had to be done.
“EREN”, I screamed, as an otaku ritual of sorts (in reference to Attack on Titan’s protagonist Eren Jaeger).
A moment of silence preceded the entire hall bursting into laughter, with responses ranging from a cute, “ONIICHAN” to a perverse, “YAMETE KUDASAI”. I was with my people.
While anime has always had a following in India, the rise of online streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Crunchyroll has brought more accessibility to fans. The infamous "three-episode rule" has become a common practice for fans to decide whether to continue a series or not.
In addition to streaming services, anime conventions have also become a popular destination for fans. From the annual Delhi Comic Con to smaller events like Bengalu's Otaku Festival, fans gather to celebrate their shared love for anime. Cosplay contests, panel discussions, and merchandise booths offer fans the chance to showcase their creativity and passion for their favorite characters. It's a scene reminiscent of the U.A. High School Sports Festival, where aspiring heroes show off their quirks and abilities.
The last time otakus got to witness Demon Slayer on the silver screen was with the theatrical release of Mugen Train. The film released in India in July 2021 and surpassed $500 million in worldwide box office earnings, making it the highest-grossing anime film of all time.
With many theaters still closed or operating at reduced capacity in the aftermath of the pandemic, the film's release was highly anticipated by moviegoers eager to experience the magic of the big screen once again. Critics praised the film's stunning animation and emotional depth, with some even calling it a "masterpiece" of the anime genre.
Now, with this weekend's screening, to have gotten to witness Tengen battle Gyutaro on an IMAX screen was a privilege that most of the otakus present will probably remember for the rest of their lives. Judging by the “oohs” and “aahs” and “woahs” the screening generated every few minutes, the experience was one for the books (or should I say manga).
The Swordsmith Village Arc’s success at the box office is a testament to the enduring popularity of anime and its ability to captivate audiences around the world. Otaku culture has found a home in India, and its popularity continues to rise. With the release of new shows, the growth of conventions and ever-increasing theatrical releases, the future.
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