Nakama (仲間 ) is a Japanese word that directly translates to friend or comrade. Many fans of the series One Piece believe the word means “people who are considered closer than family”, though that is not a part of the dictionary definition of the word. This unofficial meaning came about as a result of fan subbing. During the Arlong Park arc a fan subbing group by the name of Kaizoku Fan Subs decided to the leave the word untranslated giving viewers the impression it held special meaning that could not be evoked by the English word friend. This trend has been continued by other fan subbing groups and has even flown into other anime series. (One Piece Wiki)
What is interesting about this is, the original Japanese viewers do not get this connotation from the word and neither do people who watch the official English dubbed versions. The word only holds special meaning to those who watch the series in subtitled English. The reason why I find this so interesting is because it highlights to me how the transnational flow of anime can significantly impact the way in which you experience it. Something as simple as a single instance of translation miss-alignment can change the way you read the entire anime. When I see the main protagonist Luffy fighting for his crew, his feats of unfathomable strength make perfect sense to me because he is fighting for the people he loves. To me they are not just his friends they are his nakama and that is why he is willing to sacrifice everything for them.
This is a belief I hold alongside many others and as such we are connected by this experience. In fact nakama is the word that fans of the subbed series often use to describe each other. We see ourselves as a community who is bound by our love for one piece and consider ourselves to be closer than family because of this bond.
This week in order to become more incorporated with my One Piece family I began to posting on the forum I joined earlier. Interestingly enough the tagline for this very forum is ‘We Are All Nakama”.
What I did was post the pictures of myself in One Piece, cosplay makeup onto the forum. This was a very different experience to posting them onto Instagram. The feeling of self consciousness I had previously felt when posting these pictures onto Instagram completely subsided. The anonymity that the forum provides may have something to do with this but I feel it had more to do with the fact that the users of the forum are my people. Every member is on there because they, like myself, are a huge fan of One Piece. I didn’t have to feel embarrassed because I knew they would get it. I knew they would understand me and that was powerfully uplifting and warming feeling. The fact that I felt more comfortable sharing these self images with complete strangers than I did with my actual friends and family really says a lot about how online communities can create meaningful interactions that allow people to connect in a ways they may not have thought possible.
Above is a screenshot of the original post. Within minutes this post started threading and I am currently at 128 views. Sure its not the most popular thing on the forum but this is a far greater outcome than I was expecting.
The best part of this was that it started conversation. People began asking me how I did certain things and how long it took to do them. Immediately I found myself having entire discussions with people new people. It was a very rewarding experience. People even started to make requests of which characters they wanted to see done next. Not wanting to let them down I did another cosplay of the character that was asked for the most. I was really excited to do this because I knew people wanted me to. My auto ethnographic experience evolved from something i was doing just for myself to something I was doing for my new nakama.