If you take a look at one of the many shots of the crowd from any of the SideM live BDs, take note of how many guys you can spot. This is abnormal for a male idol property or for most properties featuring hot and/or cute guys. It’s not too hard to imagine that these kinds of media franchises don’t exactly appeal to guys, but it’s something else to physically experience just how overwhelmingly female these audiences are. Walking into a theatre for a viewing of King of Prism or High Speed, I spotted about as many guys as I had fingers each time I went. Ditto for Super Comic City. Once in a while, you run into another brave soul who’s willing to dive into 女性向け stuff, but these moments are often fleeting.
Which is why it’s incredibly exciting to see guys get really into SideM. I first noticed that there were an abnormally large number of guys in the buppan line at SideM 1st. Of course, it wasn’t for the event itself because who the heck knows anyone who actually won tickets for it, but you don’t just wake up at 4 to catch the first train and sit in the cold for nothing. Most of these guys were decked out in their other imas gear, although I did notice a few in SideM gear, particularly one who stood out in my mind because he had a towel from the Hijo release event, which are impossible to get into.
It’s not something that’s escaped the notice of important people either. This was so abnormal that the producers were asked directly about it in an interview. They mention that although it wasn’t exactly their goal to appeal to a male audience, somehow the imas-ness of SideM was able to shine through anyway and attract a significant male audience. The seiyuu are aware of this too. In particular, I recall Nagano Yusuke, who voices Rei, getting upset that a male P who wrote into 315Pro Night! was worried that being a male SideM P would be troubling for the seiyuu at greeting events and stuff. And of course, some of them are known imas Ps and were into SideM before they landed their roles. For instance, Furuhata Keisuke, who voices Shiro, is a known HayatoP who couldn’t get tickets to 1st.
— 古畑恵介 (@KSK__F) December 6, 2015
But it’s not just that guys are into SideM that makes this so significant. First, let’s consider that SideM opens up imas to more girls. This in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal, there are a lot of women who are already into imas, big whoop. Like so many other nerd hobbies, women have really only participated on dudes’ terms and it’s rare that this is reciprocated. What tends to happen is that at best, men and women form their own parallel cultures and never interact, or at worst, men crowd out or displace women in these spaces.
Imas and SideM show us that things can be different. We can all trade business cards and do calls and talk about all the different parts of imas we like and all the different boys and girls we produce. And so there are a few things going on here. First, a series that’s largely targeted men has now chosen to devote some of its energies at women and the men haven’t thrown a hissy fit over it. Secondly, men have chosen to get into media for women. And lastly, the men haven’t been shit about it; they’re not displacing female fans, but being good fellow Producers and choosing to embrace this new part of imas and its new Producers. But there’s also a bonus to this: everyone gets to enjoy a new aspect of their favourite series that they might not have even considered before.
This, I think is why it’s become so saddening to see so many anime fans and writers who are unable to watch something that doesn’t have a cute girl in it (or hard mode: only has cute boys in it). As is the case in too many instances, most hardcore fans of any particular series have very little reason to be open to new spinoffs and the fans those will bring, especially if those spinoffs are very clearly Not For You. But Producers were able to get past all of that and welcome the new boys and their Producers. I continue to hope that the folks who talk about anime on twitter will eventually have the same open mind.