In any subculture hobby, the masses will often have a different perspective of things. In the past, for example, anime fans have been thought of as geeks or adults who are still fascinated with cartoons. In the present, anime has perhaps been passively accepted as part of the norm, a product of the current generation.
Reach Out Otaku (ROO), an organization comprised of anime fans, is a good example that beneath all the glitz and the glamour, that anime enthusiasts can be socially responsible and still participate in their hobby. Formed in July 17, 2001, ROO began by visiting street children in Kanlungan, Erma and held some workshops for them. A year and a half later, it would also tie up with the Musmos organization based in Ateneo and would hold “Krismusmos”, a Christmas party for the street children in Katipunan. I interviewed them back in 2002, a few months after their successful Christmas party, but several months before they would host Krismusmos.
Gem, founder of ROO, was initially inspired by watching some street kids play Dragonball Z. “Parang they were imitating the anime character. So why not help, street kids sila eh. Kahit street kids sila, na-aapreciate nila yung anime. So at least natutulungan ko sila.” (“They were like imitating the anime character. So why not help since they are street kids. Even though they are street children, they apprecite anime. At least this way, we are able to help them.”) But it would only be after an anime convention that Gem would make formal plans for the organization. “Basically the idea started after Cosplay Manila. So parang, napag-isip ako, for the December party iyon, at since maraming kids nag-enenjoy seeing people cosplaying their favorite anime characters in costume, why not incorporate it with charity work? Since ‘yun nga, maraming pa lang tao na involved sa outreach programs, para at least magamit natin yung interest in anime, our hobby, as a medium to help other people. So bali iyon yung pinaka idea ko kung bakit na setup yung Reach Out Otaku.” (“Basically the idea started after Cosplay Manila. It got me thinking that for the December party, since a lot of kids were enjoying seeing people cosplaying their favorite anime characters, why not incorporate it with charity work? Apparently, a lot of people were involved in outreach programs and this way, we could at least utilize interest in anime, our hobby, as a medium to help other people. That was the fundamental idea behind setting up Reach Out Otaku.”)
This was far from a solo project though. Gem would depend on Vinnie to choose and coordinate for their venue in Kanlungan considering he had contacts with NGOs. “Ako naman since I’ve been doing that kind of volunteer work before and I have the experience, and then joining up with this group is a good thing to do for me also para maging enlightened din in a way. And to help others din, to guide other people din.” (“For me it was natural since I’ve been doing this kind of volunteer work before and I have the experience, and then joining up with this group is a good thing to do for me to becoming enlightened in a way. And to help and guide other people as well.”)
The activities of ROO wasn’t a one-shot event and Vinnie shares with us his plans back in 2002. “Since nagstart na kami sa Kanlungan para magkaroon ng activity volunteer-type with them, which is naenjoy naming before so we decided ituloy na naming, magkaroon kami ng series of visits na makakatulong din sa kanila for their learning kasi most of the kids there are not going to school for now, kaya ganun. Like recently, some of the available na members ng Reach Out, nagtambak sila ng workshops on fixing, illustrations, animation by using anime as a medium para gawin iyon. And then so far, nafullfil yung expectation na the kids grew interest sa mga recent na visits naming. They’re looking forward to the next visits na magkaroon kami ng activity ulit.” (“Since we started in the Kanlungan area so that we could have a volunteer-type activity with them, we decided to push through with the series of visits since we’re having fun and it aids in their learning considering most of the kids are not going to school. Recently, some of the available members of Reach Out held a bunch of workshops on fixing, illustrations and animation, using anime as a medium to perform just that. And so far, our expectations were fulfilled since the interest of kids grew with our recent visits. They’re looking forward to the next visits, hoping for other activities.)
Despite its popularity, ROO didn’t always start out that way. It began with a small mailing list comprised of cosplayers who then branched out and sought additional members from other anime-related mailing lists. It boasted not only anime fans, but people who are just plainly interested in outreach projects. Even winners of previous cosplay competitions participated in ROO. Not that everything was picture perfect. Coordination proved to be a big hurdle since most of the members were students and had difficulty finding a common time. Finances were another probem but Joy, Gem’s successor after she left for the US, shares this anecdote with us. “The December 15 party, that was one of the craziest and funniest thing to have happened. It was so interesting. We weren’t going to be excited but a lot of things happened, most of them we didn’t expect. And sometimes, we were worried, some of us were crying over the lack of sponsors, the lack of materials and then when the day came, we had too much food on our hands, we had too much food on our hands. And then you realize, oh, we were able to get pala so much stuff. I guess it was really cool because we didn’t expect them to happen. We were medyo discouraged to go on na and it’s already like something happened out of the blue. People started helping each other out, they volunteered themselves, like we had a lot of nonmembers with us and said kami na ang bahala rito. It was very interesting, very different.” (“The December 15 party… And then you realize, oh, we were apparently able to get so much stuff. I guess it was really cool because we didn’t expect them to happen. We were a bit discouraged to go on and it’s like something happened out of the blue. People started helping each other out, they volunteered themselves, and we had a lot of nonmembers with us and said we’re take care of this. It was very interesting, very different.”)
Gem shares with us the goals of ROO: “Our goal is to open the eyes of the people that there’s more to the world than anime. If we can use anime as a medium of helping other people out, of reaching out to the world, so that’s why we’re a bunch of otakus, we rave over the latest anime, we rave over Yue. (laughs) Or some bishonen. But basically we’re still human, we’re still ready to help people out. One of our main goals is to open the eyes of the people into helping each other.” Joy adds to that by saying “Kasi people have this thing na parang they think na, those anime people, wala naman silang ginagawa. They spend all their money, wasting their money on cartoons, and comic books and stuff like that. I guess connected with Ate Gem, we’re out to change that. Sure, we like all the cartoons, the comic books but our lives does not begin and end with them. We want to help other people also. And out to show that we’re otakus with hearts.” (“Because people have this thing, thinking that those anime people, they don’t do anything…”)
Not that outreach doesn’t have its own rewards. “Like when we were like, at the December 15 party, all these children were enjoying themselves. Seeing all the people that we got to help us out that they were enjoying themselves also. It’s really very encouraging because you kinda feel na there are people who are still into this sort of thing, who are still into helping other people,” Gem shares. “After the December party, there was these nonmembers, cosplayers during the EB, they approached me. Ate Gem, sabi nila, naalala ko yung pangalan ng partner ko. Sabi ko buti ka pa, naalala mo yung pangalan niya. Honestly, sa dami nila, I don’t even remember their names, yung mga volunteers, but they remember the names ng partners nila. Yung mga kids na partners nila.” (“After the December party, there was these nonmembers, cosplayers during the EB, they approached me. Ate Gem, they say, we remember the names of our partners. I reply good for you because I don’t remember their names. Honestly, with all their numbers, I don’t even remember their names, but the volunteers, they remember the names of their partners. The kids are their partners.”)
Perhaps one of the basic questions that must be asked from a social organization is whether they’re succeeding in helping their intended audience. “Well sa reaction ng mga bata, I think so. Not in a really big scale pero in the little things, makikita mo rin ang satisfaction nila. Sa workshop naming, makikita mo yung satisfaction nila by showing their talent and actually being recognized. Doon yung nakakatouch, I think, kasi most of these kids were victims of abuse so in their own little ways na-heheal. Wow, may kaya pala akong gawin!” (“Well based on the reactions of the children, I think so. Not in areally big scale but in the little things, you can see their satisfaction. In our workshops, you can see their satisfaction in showing their talent and actually being recognized. That’s what touches me the most, I think, because most of these kids were victims of abuse so in their own little way, they are healed. Wow, there’s actually something that I can do!”)
While ROO never made it to the newspapers, never made it to the limelights, each of its members know that they helped change someone’s life. I think that’s what reaching out is really about: it’s not about the rewards, either financial or social, but more of realizing that there’s something one can do to help those around us. And while anime fans will still probably be perceived as something unproductive by society, ROO will be an example of how any hobby, not just anime, can be made into something socially productive. In the end, it doesn’t matter what other people say, but rather what you believe in.