Ever since Cartoon Network’s programming block Toonami debuted in the 1990s, Japanese animation and comics have become mainstream entertainment for kids and teenagers in the U.S. Since 2016, Glen Burnie librarian Lorelei Bidwell has overseen an anime and manga club that not only invites youth to share their passion for the club’s namesake but also encourages them to explore their creativity and communication skills.
Currently, about eight to 10 regular members meet twice a month on Zoom. Meetings start with introductions if there are several new faces. The teens and tweens then share details about their cosplay, anime they are watching or manga they are reading.
That portion of the meeting usually spans 30 to 45 minutes.
“This is also the time when others share their new artwork that usually consists of original characters and stories,” Bidwell said. “The talent they have really blows me away every time.”
After chatting, the group will choose a new anime to watch, agree to watch one they started previously, or play a game, like “Among Us.”
“The club is not super structured, and I think the teens and myself both benefit from that,” Bidwell said. “There is no set agenda, no required ‘homework’ – it is really just a free space for them to come together with likeminded friends to relax and geek out for a while.”
Bidwell expects the club to stay virtual through fall 2021 and possibly the winter. She looks forward to revamping Tosho-Con (fun fact, toshokon means library in Japanese). The convention was slated for October 2020, and before the pandemic caused it to be canceled, nine teens from the Anime & Manga Club were organizing a cosplay contest, panels, activities and vendors. They even created a mascot.
“It was a unique opportunity to take something they are passionate about and turn it into real-world experience,” Bidwell said. “They brainstormed, organized potential panels and themes, planned activities for all ages, researched local vendors, volunteered to moderate said panels and assist in activities, and even down to creating artwork for promotional materials. We had only gotten through a couple of meetings, but I am certain it would have been an amazing con. By teens for teens!”
Although the club is organized by the Glen Burnie Library, the club is open to all Otaku (individuals ages 12 to 19) from all over.
“The club offers a safe and welcoming place for them to be themselves and to make friends with similar interests,” Bidwell said. “It really allows for the fostering of creativity and acceptance of others.”