Enjoying ‘Enjoying Anime’

A post at CSM Anime Club purporting to set down universal stages of anime fandom set off a furious discussion on twitter.

And when that guy passes your favorite show off as pseudo-intellectual, otaku-pandering, mindless drivel, goddamn but shit is gonna go down.

Occasionally, sure. I’ve certainly seen the likes of JunichiHeart rage online about the use of the term “pandering,” but I’m not sure most fans are truly, deeply bothered by someone having radically different views on individual articles of media.  Virtually everyone argued about the meaning of The Matrix, but I didn’t see any intercontinental ballistic missiles launched or holy wars started over it.  (Contrast this to, say, the Sale of Manhattan, different interpretations of which launched several wars between natives and Settlers.)  If you are truly, deeply bothered by people liking/hating a movie, I have to marvel at how peaceful your life is that this is your all-consuming issue.   Of course, there really are those for whom that statement is perfectly true, and their life is defined by such things.  I just don’t know that we should say this is a universal mode of thought.

Arguably, taste is an inherent trait of ours, and can only be brought out, not developed. We can’t suddenly like a genre that we hated previously. Or can we? To explore this, I present to you my 5 Stages of An Anime Fan.

I’m sure there is a point here.  Or is there?  Logically, the proposition “either we can change our tastes, or we can’t change our tastes” is true, but that doesn’t tell us much.  The stages also don’t resolve the issue – they work fine as a reaction or personal journey, but I’m still scratching my head over how they are claimed to be an exploration of anime fans in general.

There are actually 6 presented, but OK.

1. No one just starts anime and accepts it as a perfectly legitimate art form that everyone should embrace. In fact, I’m willing to bet many people start just because someone else told them to.

“No one” is a pretty strong claim.  There’s a huge gap between “lots of people watch because of their friends” to “no one ever watched anime except because of friends.”  The former makes it a social activity; the latter makes it a social disease. Besides, if every anime fan requires a prior anime fan to induct them, how did the first anime fan get started?  Assuming you can just, you know, turn on the TV and decide you like a show all on your own, why wouldn’t this still be going on today?  And if an American fan sees an anime show on Cartoon Network, why wouldn’t he accept it as equally valid a show as, say, Dexter’s Lab or Powerpuff Girls?

2. There’s so much anime, and it’s all so good! Imma marathon Naruto, and Bleach, and Fullmetal Alchemist, and Rurouni Kenshin, and oh god it’s like 3 in the morning. How did I live without this stuff? Too bad all of my baka gaijin nakama don’t see how kawaii anime is.

Well, this is clearly caricature.  I would most strongly question whether everyone who starts marathoning anime automatically starts thinking all anime is awesome, as actually none of the fans I have known well personally have had this reaction even when they started marathoning anime.  This isn’t to say you can’t find fans at cons who take this viewpoint, or that there aren’t kids who think all anime is awesome, but that doesn’t mean much: kids are capable of thinking anything that doesn’t cause immediate pain is awesome.

2.5. I bet everyone on the internet loves Naruto and Ah My Goddess as much as I do!

Why not call this step 3?  Also, while this is clearly making a leading point – setting up the budding fan for disappointment – I again don’t think anyone more mature than a child fails to recognize that people don’t universally have the same perspective.  It’s a lesson most people learn before age seven.

3. And after one too many hours browsing through anime forums, we become disillusioned with the state of anime. Why is everything nowadays garbage?

I think this strongly misses the point.  When Zac Bertschy complains that moe is crap, for instance, I don’t believe that’s due to forums (except when he’s deliberately baiting the forumites.)  Rather, two things have happened: first, he’s watched way too much anime that follow similar patterns, and second, his tastes have probably drifted away from those of the nominal target audience.  Isn’t it simpler to believe that a middle-aged working man and a Japanese teen don’t have the same tastes than to suggest that some giant, forum-based hivemind regulates our tastes?

4. I’m only watching this because it’s terrible. It’s just laughably bad.

I really don’t see how this is distinguishable from any other guilty pleasure, or for those who claim irony, from hipsterism.

5. One of the things that confused me most about anime fans (myself included) is why they so actively hated people with “inferior” taste. If they love Bleach and Strike Witches and Kampfer, and they like cosplaying as little girls, that doesn’t affect us in the least, so why? Why are we so driven to hate everything about them? And I think I have an answer.

It’s because no matter how hard we try to deny it, they represent a part of us.

Well, sure, those we correspond with represent a part of us.  But that isn’t because they are anime fans.  That’s because they are human beings. John Donne has been over this before:

And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Again, if there are people that really want to declare jihad based on anime tastes, I would consider that more a sign of not having pressing concerns in real life than anything else.

Other anibloggers were quick to respond, disputing the order and necessity of various steps.  While the bloggers at CSM are wrong about a great many points, they are mostly wrong about how universal those points are.  Even if its stages are not experienced by everyone, or even most people, the article may be useful as a framework to establish points of divergence.

This article was originally written on May 19, 2011.

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Published in: on November 26, 2011 at 6:53 AM  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. If you are truly, deeply bothered by people liking/hating a movie, I have to marvel at how peaceful your life is that this is your all-consuming issue. Of course, there really are those for whom that statement is perfectly true, and their life is defined by such things. I just don’t know that we should say this is a universal mode of thought.

    I find this statement difficult to interpret. I mean what are you suppose to do when you find that people dislike the movie/show/whatever you like? Is there even one single right answer to my question? Probably not.

    happy thanksgiving!

    • Happy Thanksgiving.

      There probably isn’t a single right answer, but I’m willing to suggest that extreme responses, like armed assault, or giving out a minor’s phone number soliciting sex (actual real-life incident), are probably wrong answers.

      That’s what the preceding sentence was providing context for. (“Virtually everyone argued about the meaning of The Matrix, but I didn’t see any intercontinental ballistic missiles launched or holy wars started over it.”)

  2. >if there are people that really want to declare jihad based on anime tastes, I would consider that more a sign of not having pressing concerns in real life than anything else.

    First world problems, you mean? I think it’s probably the same thing as when sports fans and religious nuts take things way too far over their respective “teams”.. that is, it’s something buried deep in our reptilian brains that causes us to not see forests from trees and such.

    There are also a lot of people out there who can’t stand to see the popular opinion go overboard. If an opinion gets ludicrously popular or unpopular, they will try to balance it out with some common sense or good old fashioned trolling. And then THAT activity becomes popular and it gets carried away.

    It’s a fun little exercise in social groupthink that has been around forever, and it’s always funny to see people referring to what they’re doing as “hipsterism” once someone else starts doing it against them.

    • I wouldn’t even say the divide is necessarily “first world,” though it might be in some cases. It’s more about mental categories – as an extreme example, if aesthetic taste becomes more important than, say, respect for human life.

      I don’t really know that I want to get into discussing trolling here, as that seems quite separate from a sincere conviction that a stance on anime is what’s truly important in life.

  3. I am not positive where you are getting your information, but great topic. I must spend some time learning much more or working out more. Thank you for magnificent info I used to be searching for this info for my mission. Sorry for poor English. Goodbye from Japan!


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