Eneni Bambara-Abban, Multi-award winning Engineer and Founder of Anime and Chill
When plans to finally visit Japan were dashed with lockdown, Eneni Bambara-Abban reached out to a couple of fellow manga and anime lovers to arrange regular online meet-ups as a way of staying connected. As the little community grew and stories swapped however, Eneni soon realised that more could be done to make geek world more inclusive to marginalised fans of Japanese culture and we talk to her about how this led to 'Anime and Chill'.
Hi Eneni, thanks for having a chat with us today. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi my name is Eneni Bambara-Abban and I’m a Multi Award-Winning Robotics Engineer, STEM Communicator, Speaker and Founder of International Anime and Gaming community, Anime and Chill. I’m a self-professed geek and in all my various industries from anime to robotics, I have diversity and inclusion at the forefront of them all. I truly believe that it's my calling to do all I can to make these spaces safe and accessible for everyone, especially the demographics that often feel ostracized for their passions.
Hunter X Hunter Cosplayers at Anime and Chill’s Afterparty for May MCM Comicon 2022
What was it that first made you enthusiastic about Japan?
Like many, my connection to Japan was birthed from my love of anime and manga. As a young child I would often find myself immersed in the anime world as a form of escapism from the struggles of growing up without much. There were so many references about Japan and Japanese culture especially in 90s anime that spiked curiosity in my young curious mind. What is anime? How is it created? Where is Japan and how could I get there? I felt so appreciative of Japanese mangaka’s for creating a medium that provided me with a sense of peace and retreat daily as well as contributed towards me becoming an imaginative and creative person, and later on in life even a better engineer. I had grown to love and appreciate anime and manga so much that from as young as 10 I began educating myself on Japanese culture.
Eneni working on a robotics project in an electronics lab (left) and holding a robot she had made for under £20 using sustainable materials (right)
In my research, I discovered so much more. I had thought Manga and Anime were the prize jewels of Japan, but I was only just scratching the surface of the beauty and talent Japan had to offer. Technology. Activities. Gaming. Food. And my first love, ROBOTS! There was so many unbelievably cool things that had simply not been shown on mainstream British media with regards to Japan and I grew up making it my mission to see them all.
Interestingly, if not for my love of anime and thus being opened up to the world of Japan, I may not have continued to pursue my career as a robotics engineer. In my research into Japan I realized how massive the robotic scene is there and the massive strides Japan was taking in the development of human-like robots. One of these was a humanoid robot from my mentor and inspiration Dr Hiroshi Ishiguro, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University. One look at the robot and I was like, yeah I want to do this for the rest of my life! It provided a sense of encouragement to finish my course and graduate.
Eneni teaching robotics to girls from rural Nigeria
Can you describe to our readers what ‘Anime and Chill’ is and how it came to be?
Honestly we often tell new members that Anime and Chill is whatever you want it to be. Need a place to cosplay without being judged? Come on down. Never found people who look like you that watch anime? Well now you have. Simply want to make friends or learn about Japanese culture? We got you! We strategically named it Anime and Chill because we wanted people to do exactly that - watch anime and chill with no drama, no stress.
Anime and Chill was birthed in lockdown of 2020 right as there was a lot of uneasiness about what would happen next to us all. I was stuck at home and watching anime was the perfect escape from all the craziness in the world. Just like when I was younger, it brought me peace. I thought surely there must be other people like me doing and feeling the same? I reached out on social media and had a few friends interested in watching together.
Members gaming together at Anime and Chill during one of their many socials and events
At first we would meet up online every Saturday to discuss our favorite anime, record it and casually share clips of our discussions on social media. But before we knew it, more people had heard of us, and everytime someone joined we were so grateful but equally concerned at some of what we heard - “I didnt know this many girls like anime, I was scared to share that I like anime because you’re not accepted unless you’re a white cis male or I was bullied for being a black cosplayer.”
We made it a point to accept and welcome everyone like family! You never have to feel scared or lonely in the anime space again - our members spanned as far and wide as South Korea all the way to Slovakia. Although in many ways the pandemic stifled us all from physically connecting, it created an unexpected opportunity to connect with so many different people from across the globe cementing exactly what our purpose was to be. People just wanted somewhere to feel safe and that's exactly what we would do - we created a discord, an IG page and set out to turn this online meetup into a real community, a space where people who love anime can unapologetically and wholeheartedly be themselves irrespective of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
Anime and Chill's Hot Geek Summer Party, showing how much the community has grown since it formed 2 years ago.
Since 2020, we have hosted everything from live, in-person gaming events to virtual anime, movie and gaming debates with our members - over 20 virtual and 8+ physical events with a combined attendance of over 1000 people whilst being supported by companies such as Sony, Manga UK, Funimation, Bandai Namco, Electronic Arts, and CrunchyRoll. In order to close the lack of inclusion gap between creators and brands, we have also been doing alot of consulting and bringing opportunities to our diverse members and influencers.
Anime and Chill is sponsored by Crunchyroll, leading anime distributors!
What is your proudest moment or biggest achievement since running ‘Anime and Chill’?
Although we are a relatively new community, we have grown astronomically over the last 2 years despite lockdown! To be honest that alone is incredibly humbling and a massive achievement as we’ve all seen how multiple communities and businesses were negatively affected during that time.
As amazing as surviving lockdown was, we have to say nothing quite tops receiving the news that we had been sponsored by Crunchyroll. Having the largest anime distributors in the World even hear of your community is crazy in itself. But for them to support and recognise the importance of a diverse and inclusive community such as ours goes beyond Anime and Chill. It's a win for the culture.
Often diverse creators and anime fans such as ethnic minorities and those with disabilities are exempt from enjoying anime in traditional spaces and often feel judgment and even harassment. We've been steadily on a mission to break these barriers and it's been incredibly difficult as you can imagine. However, having the backing of an organization that our community already looks up to, definitely empowered and uplifted the spirits of not just those of us in the Anime and Chill who dedicate time and effort to run all these events but equally our members who constantly feel like larger corporations ignore and dont cater to them as consumers.
Some members of Anime and Chill PC gaming on the E-sports Stage What are some of the places that you’d like to visit or things you’d like to experience in Japan?
I’m so glad you asked me this! I’ve recently updated my Japan To-Do List! I created it back in 2020 when I was gearing up for my trip to Tokyo but a few days before my departure, the border was closed due to the pandemic. I was devastated as this is something I’d pretty much planned and saved up for my entire life! I decided to restart learning Japanese in the hopes that when the borders reopen for travel I’d be even more ready and my instructor on Italki (highly recommend the platform for learning with native speakers) gave me the real tea on where to go! Of course I have multiple food markets, Go Kart Racing around Tokyo and even exploring Harajuku already on my list but she hooked me up with some hidden and not so obvious gems:
- Visit Arashiyama neighborhood, the beautiful temples and learn to make a local dish!
- Whale watching and shipwreck snorkeling on the island of Chichijima, Tokyo.
- Learn Taiko drumming and traditional dance at the Earth Celebration on Sado Island, Niigata.
- And to leave you with the best one, I definitely have to visit Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine on Yakushima island, Kagoshima. I mean, it was the inspiration for Princess Mononoke, one of my fave anime movies! I feel like I’d touch one of the ancient trees and leave with superpowers or newfound wisdom!
I’d love to be able to VLOG all these experiences so that people globally, especially POC can feel reassured that there are many safe, welcoming and beautiful places aside from the popular tourist places to visit and experience true Japanese culture!
Drinks, pizza and games at Anime and Chill
What is your favourite anime/manga?
My favorite manga is Death Note! Brilliantly, brilliantly written manga that makes you question what it truly means to be “human”. What would you do if you stumbled across a book that allowed you to kill anyone with just writing their name in it? Would you become a vigilante and rid the world of evil people or would you become evil and use it for monetary gain or power?
Although a psychological thriller, it's easily digestible for old and new manga/anime fans and Tsugumi Ohba, the mangaka, does a brilliant job of keeping the reader on the edge of each page, eager to turn for more through his combination of dark humor and mystery. It also introduces the reader to Japanese culture and folk religion with a '死神' or 'Shinigami', translated to 'God of Death' in English, being a main focal point throughout the entire story.
If you’ve not read or watched it definitely make sure you do! Thank me later!
Eneni Cosplaying as Esdeath from Akame Ga Kill (left) and as Ochaco Uraraka from My Hero Academia (right)
What is cosplay to you and what do you enjoy most about it?
Cosplay is a form of art and expressionism. Cosplay allows you to show not just your appreciation for a character but your creative depiction of that character too, if even for a few hours of that day, you get to transform yourself completely. Being a cosplayer, especially as a black woman when I started in 2008, was incredibly scary. This was when black UK cosplayers weren't necessarily a “thing” so anyone who dared to was immediately attacked by a horde of angry keyboard warriors who felt that my skin tone alone was a direct disrespect of their favorite anime character. Eventually I deleted my Tumblr and Myspace account and didn't cosplay again until nearly 10 years later when I was inspired by a black female cosplayer named Mimi from the UK. She was confident and beautiful in her depictions of a range of characters and it reminded me of just how much I loved it too!
It has now become my outlet, my voice that helps motivate me in appreciating all the things about me that are different. People will always have their opinions - its easy to get caught up in seeking validation from others and feeling discouraged if you don't receive positive comments but cosplaying has taught me to be confident in myself regardless. I also find a beautiful sense of connectivity with people when I cosplay. People recognize my character at conventions and use it as a starting point for conversation which is great for networking! Equally when I see other cosplayers of colour I automatically feel bonded to them and proud that maybe in our own little way of being brave, we are hopefully dispelling the negative connotations around BIPOC cosplayers, encouraging others like us to join us in cosplay and making the anime space more inclusive.
Community photo at London MCM Comicon after Eneni gave a panel on the impact of anime within black culture.
What advice would you give to first-time comic/anime convention goers, particularly those who are POC?
Just like anything going somewhere new for the first time can seem daunting but remember it will be new but not unfamiliar. You are with your tribe - everyone there has the common passion or love for anime. I would definitely use that as your motivation to get you there! Luckily a lot of work has been done over the last couple of years to ensure that most of the larger conventions are more inclusive, with many having panels led by and specifically for POC.
And if you still feel nervous, come with us! Anime and Chill has got you. We organize meetups at nearby stations or at the conventions themselves to help support first time goers or anyone who may be nervous to attend alone! Simply join here and introduce yourself to the community!
Group photo of some members of Anime and Chill at their After Party for MCM Comicon October 2021
What are the future plans, for both yourself and ‘Anime and Chill’?
For me the upcoming months are very busy! Anime and Chill is continuously growing and learning and we want to make sure we keep up the momentum when it comes to making anime inclusive for all. We’re branching into more unique and highly requested events such as manga writing 101 sessions to anime 3D development classes and even Kitsune mask painting workshops that give our community a deeper insight into and appreciation for Japanese culture. We’re also organizing a community excursion to Japan in line with next July (hopefully if the borders are fully open to tourists by then) as there’s been a large interest in this ever since we started.
I can also officially share with you for the first time publicly, that we are currently working on creating our very own anime convention - one where diversity, inclusion and accessibility are leading factors in its execution and not an afterthought. We are super excited and have some major brands on board that we cant wait to share with you! Soon! Make sure you’re following us on our social media for the latest updates.
In the meantime, we regularly hold events every three to four weeks for our community - our next one being on the 11th of September called The Great Anime Debate. Can Goku really beat Superman? Expect unpopular opinions, debates and anime vendors! And shortly after that, we’re bringing back our infamous London MCM Comicon Afterparties in October!
If you love anime, and haven’t joined us yet, you’re missing out! We’d love to have you!
Thank you for talking with us!
It's been a pleasure!