The Stillborn Anime Revolution

I have never known an anime to start a revolution. – Godlen

Deb Aoki of manga.about.com asked,

I wonder who can claim to be the Lester Bangs of manga/anime criticism?

ANN’s Zac Bertschy was quick to answer,

I’m not sure the medium inspires that kind of voice. IMO there will never be a Lester Bangs or a Hunter Thompson of anime.

Thinking of my reaction to a Michael Pinto post, I wrote,

I’d say what made Lester Bangs was not uniqueness but authority, which the postmodern otaku may be inherently resistant to.

Even if you got them to say, “he’s RIGHT,” it wouldn’t change their lives. They wouldn’t permanently alter their perspective. It’s the same sort of disassociation of appreciation/deed that enables someone to love anime and pirate everything.

Zac elaborated:

Anime is so inherently commercial that anyone writing about it while wallowing in the same fuck-you-and-fuck-this, youth will kill the system attitude is going to sound like a ridiculous, trying-too-hard poser who’s going for the image not substance.

Deb Aoki suggested that it wasn’t authority so much as passion:

well, not so much the authority — but the energy and creativity he put into his writing, & his enthusiasm for his subject.

She added:

so little commercial anime is really, truly revolutionary nowadays, such that it’d inspire passionate critiques.

Michael Pinto jumped in:

But if a show is mediocre, isn’t that’s something to hate? They are in the “entertainment” business after all…

Gia of Anime Vice did as well:

If we’re talking fans, they AIM for subversive, they just have no clue how to do it =P

At this point I noted that we had a lot of prominent reviewers turning their thoughts to the topic:

@michaelpinto @debaoki @animevice @ANNZac Hm, what if the real reason is that as reviewers we expend our energy thinking about the meta? 😛

And indeed, what if that is the function of anime in the first place – a tool for social control, and a means to prevent people from revolting by taking their minds away from their bad days?

Think about it – but don’t think too long.  You’ll miss your show.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mori, 孫欧穏. 孫欧穏 said: RT @moritheil: The Stillborn Anime Revolution – http://bit.ly/7wyMdh #TMR […]

  2. There is something to the point of view that despite Tsutomu Miyazawa (or perhaps because of the fact that he is a distant memory to many), Japan realized that otaku are generally a conservative group. Compare this to nerd/geek culture in America, which definitely has a strong leftist slant.

    (Bonus round: same thing with the sex industry in both countries)

  3. I think anime doesn’t have a Hunter S. Thompson because somehow “We were in the middle of Supernova 2009’s lobby when the Red Bull started to take hold…” has the same ring to it as the original.

    I don’t know about you, but anime blogging doesn’t have its Hunter S. Thompson because most anime fans never go outside, and if they did, they would be more focused on acquiring otaku goods than writing about and photographing the underbelly of anime fandom culture.

    • I wonder if they’re also more interested in reading about the acquisition of goods than the underbelly of fandom culture.

      • I don’t go outside often, but acquiring otaku goods get pretty old real fast.

  4. The problem with trying to be the Lester Bangs or Hunter Thompson of anime is the disconnect between anime and our daily lives, at least here in the US. There are shows like His and Her Circumstances or Human Crossing that attempt to be reflections on real life, but those are the exceptions and not the rule. I don’t have the imagination needed to talk about how Naruto or Bleach are reflections of our society and what they say about this generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings. Even if someone tried to do that it would sound forced and fake.

    Perhaps it’s the nature of our upbringing. Growing up I was taught that TV was escapist fiction. Not my parents, my teachers, nor my friends ever thought of TV as a source of insight on daily living. There were shows like the Twilight Zone that did try to offer some small reflection of the human condition. Of course, there were also the docudramas like the After School Special that tried to deliver a social message. But, this was TV how serious could you really take them? Poetry, novels, films, and to some extent music, was the place you looked for real meaning. TV and any message it hoped to convey was disposable.

    That’s still true today. When I’m walking down the street, talking to friends, or at work, I don’t find myself think about how his moment is similar to a cartoon I saw. I don’t even relate my experiences to TV shows I’ve watched. I do find that a moment in my life might bring to mind a song lyric or a passage in a book. The only anime that I take serious are the movies. Even then, only a small list of directors and works come to mind.

    As a manga reviewer, there are works that I’ve found very profound. Pluto, 20th Century Boys, Mushishi, Walking Man, and A Distant Neighborhood just to name the most recent I’ve read. I’ve obviously not done a good job discussing those works. Either I’ve not made clear how deeply these books have touched me, or my prose isn’t very captivating for the reader. So I need to refine my writing more.

    Of course, we must remember that we fight an uphill battle with manga too. Comics are for kids, after all. That’s the prevailing though still in the US. That someone would find a comic book as moving as a Shakespeare play, a Hemingway novel, or a Bob Dylan album is still a starling idea. We, and our counter parts reviewing American graphic novels, are still attempting to affect a paradigm shift in this culture. It’s hard to talk of deeper issues when you’re still arguing the basics over and over again.

    I hope that as critics we will constantly challenge each other to think deeper, to communicate more effectively, and make our prose more engaging for the reader. I always welcome any feedback I can get on my reviews. If someone wants to call me out for just skimming the surface of a book, I’ll take that admonishment humbly. If someone wants to point out were my writing is unclear or unduly complex, I’ll listen and try to improve. If someone wants to show me were my prose is flat and uninteresting, I’ll take notes and strive to do better. I think critical feedback is key to helping develop a Lester Bangs or Hunter Thompson.

    • I relate my life to anime/manga, but only at the level of awkward moments. I suspect that anyone who tries to live completely like an anime character will wind up in a jail or hospital in short order.

      Real life cannot compete with the intensity of anime or manga.

  5. I actually like the Zac Bertschy comment about the inherent commercialism. With rock and roll that “fuck-you-and-fuck-this” is built in, or at least it still seemed that way in the heyday of Lester Bangs or Sandy Perlman. There’s no live aspect to anime, so in the end it’s about product — and even on the rare occasion when you find yourself connecting with something it’s not on that primal level that makes you want to show your literary chest hair.

    Related, but more important than that: how do you go countercultural when it comes to anime? If you are against the “establishment,” what are you left with? You’re either just another old fart complaining that anime isn’t what it used to be back when it was cool and underground, or you’re just another complainer talking about “moe” and “cancer.” Hardly revolutionary. If you’re against the “establishment” of anime blogging, then you’re either Colony Drop or the OEG. So maybe those are the closest things we have?

    • I think people are trying too hard, so it comes off wrong.

  6. […] This post by mortheil asks “Where is anime blogging’s Lester Bangs?” – a question worth asking but I think it’s a misguided emphasis. Why DOES anime blogging need a Lester Bangs if Lester Bangs is a music critic? […]


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