Anime Isn’t Special – And Neither Are You For Watching It

When people asked before “Why do you watch anime?” – I never really had an answer, I watch anime because I like the way it looks and it has enough stories I enjoy. I also watch western television and don’t think one form is better than the other. I also read a lot of books, and I love reading books, and you’ll be hard pressed to convince me most anime beats most books I read (though the reverse is slightly tilted in books’ favour). I always noted it at strange that I do watch all this anime, but it’s just TV, and I happen to watch it to a large degree instead of western television, but I’m not sure there’s any deep reason for it.

 Hikigaya Hachiman from the anime version of

Hachiman from OreGairu telling us how special he is, a notion the show spares no sympathy towards.

So, what got me off my rocker this time? Last week I posted to my blog 10 shows I think someone who had watched a show or two, or a couple of anime movies, should watch in order to get a better feel/understanding for anime, its genres, and to use them to inform future queries – “I liked X, I didn’t like Y.” My post’s comments, and comments on a forum dedicated to suggestion/requesting anime to watch where I posted the post last week, and an anime article-sharing site that linked to my post and discussed it, and Google+, and in each of these places people have been falling all over themselves telling me how wrong I am to suggest Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gurren Lagann and Madoka Magica to people who are new to anime and can’t possibly appreciate these shows without watching aaaaall these shows which these shows deconstruct, reconstruct and/or reference. In the case of NGE (and to a small degree Steins;Gate) people said that the story is “too dense.”

This ties to what annoys me when often people say they can’t analyze anime/don’t know what to think of a show because they hadn’t watched enough anime shows. My problem is that if you’re a competent media consumer, then it’s all the bloody same deal. If you know how to analyze western television, and films, and books, then you have 100% of the tools you need to analyze anime. You might miss some small nuances/details, but they’re not missing tools, or not being able to follow the story. If you can’t follow the story and/or characterization, it’s because you never turned your mind before while consuming media in the past, and yeah, it’s something you need to train at – not train at “watching anime.” And if a story is dense? So what, many media require multiple readings, or benefit from it. I remember watching Empire of the Sun with my younger sister many years ago, and it was my 2nd time watching it, and I’d pause at some sequences and show her thematic points, or visual metaphors and motifs the director had used, and when I watched NGE with my friend, and a number of movies, we’d often stop the film, talk for 2-10 minutes, then resume the film.

A story is allowed to be complex, and a complex story isn’t really made clearer if you watch other stories first, it’s made clearer by watching it more than once, honestly, and making the effort, yes, effort! to try and understand it as you watch it. That led me to want to write a blog post (and maybe I shall) and title it “Anime isn’t special”, so I thought I’d ask you guys if/why you think it’s special. Also, the pursuant part to the title is another thing that bugs me greatly, and where I think much of this stems from “Anime isn’t special – and neither are you for liking it.”

I’ve said before that I dislike fanboyism – I do like the excitement, but I find tying your self-worth and identifying a core part of your personality with a show/author/etc. can be quite disastrous, but being a fan of one show is not that different than being a fan of anime. How can I suggest that someone uninitiated will be allowed to watch NGE? I’m surely going to have them run scared from anime forever! Newsflash, me and other slightly older anime viewers? Plenty of us had NGE as our first or second anime series ever watched (though usually we’ve seen Akira, Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell first, which to me are much more of a roadblock than NGE, Ninja Scroll aside), and we still watch anime >.>

And that’s tied to something else that bugs me, which I brought up in the Controversial Anime Opinions post last month, in relation to comedy. People get all dazzled and happy and tell themselves it’s “funny” when what they get is easy appeasement in the form of referencing another show by name, image, or a slight tick. These things aren’t comedy, these things aren’t funny in and of themselves (usually) – these things can enhance what is already there. What these feed off of is the desire to feel included, to feel special, to feel “in the know”, and how can one appreciate things which are inter-textual without knowing these texts? Which is what ticks me off, people keep suggesting these shows as classics, they’re great because they stand tall on their own, and the shows which only stand via references are quickly forgotten, especially as new watchers can’t really get the references, and you don’t always remember them or feel their impact vividly when rewatching many years down the line.

Genshiken’s complaints I can sort of get, you do miss the references, just like if you try to watch most mid-90s SitComs with all their current politics/celebrity references. But it’s an actual comedy, just in the sense Samurai Flamenco is, that’s truly generated by the characters’ personalities, relationships, and situation, rather than relying on cheap gags or easy references as a substitute, and even if you don’t get the references, the show still stands tall on its own, because it’s a human story. These references? Only an additional layer, not one that missing ruins the show. Most people who enjoy TTGL/NGE have no idea of the shows it references, and that is a large part they’re great.

Anime isn’t special, and neither are you for liking it, and no, these false barriers of entry are only there to protect your ego.

(Question, if we’re here, because I am willing to listen – why do you watch anime as opposed to other media, what makes anime “special” to you? Also, what sort of special knowledge do you think one needs in order to appreciate anime?)

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25 comments on “Anime Isn’t Special – And Neither Are You For Watching It

  1. froggykun says:

    What makes anime “special” is a multitude of different factors, none of which are uniquely special in their own right. You could say it has something to do with the postmodern consumerist aspect of its otaku culture, but that reflects a global shift in consumerist habits. You could say it’s because it’s Japanese – but what is Japanese? What point is there in using anime in particular to single out trends in Japanese society? At best, it can only offer a distorted image of Japan and it doesn’t really address the question of what is special about anime in its own right.

    You could also single out the animation style or the storytelling, but as you pointed out in your post, there’s nothing unique in that compared to other media.

    In the end, it’s not a good idea to be so caught up in how anime is so special because limiting discussion to how unique the medium is truly narrows the range of meaningful discussion around it. You could never be a good critic on anime if you didn’t have an understanding of how it works, on its own terms.

    • Guy says:

      I was nodding until the final line :P

      You could never be a good critic on anime if you didn’t have an understanding of how it works, on its own terms.

      What are “its own terms”, for anime? The social culture, the consumers it is made to serve (because anime is *hyper*-consumer facing)? I think to be a good critic of anime, you need to indeed understand anime on its own terms, but that’s just the first step – you also need to be able to understand it as media, just like other media forms, and use them to inform your critical skills.

      Also, many things make us “special”, but since none of them are core, it’s a problem to make them the core of the argument. Let’s look at me as an example, I’ll list criteria, each of which reduces the pool of people in the world – Male, White-skinned, Jewish, “green” eyes, brown hair, red beard, right-handed, wears glasses, red-green colour blind, etc. We can keep going with these things until we find “me”, but we’d hardly like to point to any of these as the important aspects that define me.

      Well, you did say, none of the things you pointed on their own are sufficient, but I still don’t think the “addition method” we’re using here is that constructive. I did see some interesting cases, where people say they like some shows because they show what anime can do, that the story couldn’t be told in a live action film/series due to needing the ability of the fantastic art. I feel at that point it’s just a technical limit, and CGI keeps catching up.

      Also, at that point we don’t have much to differentiate western cartoons from anime, but I guess that’s ok. A lot of what makes anime “different” from western cartoons is where each had gone, but that’s contingent and could’ve gone in other directions, and there are also movies such as Fritz the Cat and the Maus comic, and anime is obviously filled with simplistic kid-oriented shows.

  2. Artemis says:

    I agree with you to some extent. Referencing (usually) only adds layers of potential enjoyment to a show rather than defining it, although I can think of a few shows in which there are just so many in-jokes that watching without any prior knowledge whatsoever would probably render them almost entirely incomprehensible and/o pointless – Lucky Star and Haruhi Suzumiya immediately spring to mind. Unfortunately, one of my friends was recommended exactly these for his first time anime viewing experiences, and they didn’t exactly make him enamoured of the medium. In fact, one of my pet peeves when it comes to people making anime recs is that fans often tend to base their recs solely on what they personally love, without taking the other person’s tastes into account. Sharing around one’s passion of something is all well and good, but at times I wish that people could balance out their enjoyment of something with a bit more objectivity. However much I both like and respect Cardcaptor Sakura (to pick a random example), my reccing that to my 40-year old male friend is probably more likely to scare him off anime forever instead of acting as his gateway drug.

    To answer your actual questions – no, I don’t think one needs any special knowledge to enjoy anime as a whole – although again, I do think there are some shows that are so packed with other anime or cultural references that they basically become one big in-joke. (However, I don’t believe that Evangelion, Madoka Magica, or Gurren Lagann fall into that category.) As for your second question, I could write a whole essay about what makes anime special to me if I were so inclined – ramble on about variety and character development and in-depth writing, etc. etc. I’m not though, and while all these things are in some way true, the more honest answer for me is that I’m simply drawn to it. In the same way that I like the taste of chocolate and the smell of freshly mown grass, there doesn’t need to be any logic behind it; I love anime because it instinctively appeals to me, and always has.

    • Guy says:

      Your Cardcaptor Sakura point amuses me, because like the point I made in the “Demographics” post (which you led me to :P) is that shows such as that one, or K-On!, in the west they’d be aimed at 8-13ish years old girls, but amazingly, the marketed demographic for thesee shows in Japan is adult males, heh.

      And yes, there are definitly shows that build on specific knowledge, this is something comedies worldwide are built on, or trying to understand Jay Leno’s monologues without knowing current politics/culture, but it’s specific references, it’s not understanding the medium as a medium or anything of the sort that’s required, or perhaps even possible. I’m actually aiming to post today or tomorrow a more literary piece on flashbacks in media :3

      As for the “instinctive” reply, I wonder – as I say, my answer had always been very similar, but I feel it’s an unwillingness or inability to explore the root causes – not an attack, mind you, and I also share it, so I do wonder. But sure, perhaps it’s just a confluence of tiny details, none of them necessary on their own, but as a whole, they comprise a sufficient condition.

      • Artemis says:

        No, the intended audience for Cardcaptor Sakura was not adult males. K-On!, yes absolutely, but CCS is not a moe series. Though it has many qualities that may fit the definition of moe, those were largely incidental – the manga came out in shoujo magazine Nakayoshi and CCS, while attraction a fairly wide range of ages, was still most popular with children and older girls.

      • 深雪司波 says:

        Funny thing about k-on is neither the manga nor the anime specify a demographic, it doesn’t have a shounen or shoujo tag to it. It’s just music, comedy. Cardcaptor Sakura is shoujo.. I know your post is almost 3 years old but I just stumbled across this article and read your comment.

    • Guy says:

      But had it been released today? That’s sort of my point, aside from the art-style CLAMP uses, such shows in the west are predominantly “shoujo”, but look at such shows released in the last 5 years, all these girls that you’re sure are girl-oriented, are male-oriented. That K-On! is a shonen show and not a shoujo just shows what sort of situation I’m talking about.

      Anyway, that’s not the most relevant point, I suspect most men who aren’t into anime would also run screaming from K-On! :)

      It’s not just the moe, honestly, the moe is just a continuation of the trend.

  3. Anime is a medium, as are color and black-and-white film. I don’t watch anime merely because it is using that medium. Some anime I watch for the story, some for the visuals, some for the cultural references. There are some anime which are more enjoyable if you know what they’re referencing, but that is also the case in other situations… knowing “Romeo and Juliet” can enhance watching “West Side Story”.

    • Guy says:

      So, why do you watch anime, as opposed to film/TV? Or do you watch it just as you do these other shows?

      And certainly, knowing the myths of Oedipus, Orpheus, and knowing Mawaru Penguindrum all enhance my viewing of Kyousougiga, which I feel references them, but I enjoy many other works which I draw similarities between without the shows actually referencing them as a result of the creators. Being aware of a wide variety of shows can definitely enhance the experience of consuming media.

  4. Falconhaxx says:

    I agree with you more or less completely. Anime is a unique medium, but it’s not special, it’s just unique in the same way that every other medium is unique(otherwise it wouldn’t be a separate medium, would it?).

    However, I’ve frequently thought about what exactly it is that makes some people think that anime actually is special. It’s a difficult question, but I think I’ve come up with at least some answers.

    There are (at least) two kinds of people who think anime is special. 1. The people who find that there are many online anime communities and feel special because they’re participating in discussion about anime, which is something that doesn’t usually happen with other media(aside from book clubs etc.). This is an understandable reaction, but the fact that we discuss anime so much is not because anime is somehow inherently more discussable than other media, it just happens to be that way because the communities are small but active. 2. The people who don’t think anime is better than other media, they just think that other media is worse. Just as a person who doesn’t read books might consider books to be an inferior medium compared to regular TV, these people simply think that live-action TV is inferior to anime for no particular reason. They just don’t think about it that much.

    As for myself, I actually flip-flop between stances depending on what I’m watching/reading at the moment. For instance, I occasionally consider anime superior to live-action TV because anime has the advantage of not requiring special effects(you can draw just about anything). At other times, I may lament about how some live-action TV shows, especially Hannibal and Breaking Bad, just feel so, so much better to watch than most anime. With anime, you sort of have to wrestle with the fact that almost every show(at least in my experience) has some small annoying thing that you have to get used to, but that was never a problem with Hannibal or Breaking Bad.

    So, I guess the point is that no medium is inherently special, it all comes down to show-by-show(or book-by-book) comparisons.

    • Guy says:

      I actually penned half of my reply to this on my tablet last week, but tablet browsers sometimes forget their texts, woefully inadequate when you try to pen longer responses >.>

      Ok, I think I understand what you’re saying, though it seems contradictory, so allow me to rephrase it – do tell me if I get you wrong, though – you think anime like snowflakes – each snowflake has its own variations, is distinct from the other snowflakes, but when it comes down to it, they’re all snowflakes, part of a group, and share many traits, right? I think “Distinct” and “Part of a group” are good ways to discuss this distinction.

      Your two classes of people, I see a natural move between the two – both are fans. Also, first, as you can see via reddit, tumblr, etc. there are communities to discuss anything, including specific shows, stations, etc. Well, you find a group, you’re deeply interested in something, and so you turn it into a core component of your personality. Whether anime in this case, or the “being part of an anime community” are the core aspects doesn’t matter, once it’s a core concept it’s natural that you’ll retaliate against people saying it’s “not special”, and the distance from there to proclaiming how special it is are miniscule. Group one without the second group is confirmation bias, but I think it leads to the second group pretty quickly.

      As for yourself, what about western cartoons? What about CGI? As for your examples (Hannibal, Breaking Bad) – it’s interesting, what anime does well, it does due to merely technical reasons, but what any medium (or at least audio-visual) can do well, it just fails at. In other words, it does “well” at things where even if it’s bad, you simply have no competition, but where there is competition it either doesn’t try, or tends to fail. Interesting, when I put it like that, right?

      • Falconhaxx says:

        Yeah, I guess my final point was not that specific. Looking at it now, I can’t even remember what point I was trying to make.

        So, I’ll try explaining. In my opinion, anime as a medium is not special. It’s just another medium. However, specific shows can be special. For instance, Neon Genesis Evangelion is pretty special, at least in my opinion. I could try giving an elaborate explanation on why that is, but to put it succinctly, it’s special. I use this example because I’m sure most people would agree with me that it is special. However, there are most likely also people who think NGE is not special, which is where the whole “personal opinion” thing comes in. It’s difficult to talk about a show being objectively special, because I’m not sure such a thing even exists. So, my bottom line is that I think we should be talking about certain shows being special, not anime as a medium being special. (I hope this makes at least some sense. I’m not completely awake at the moment.)

        When it comes to the two kinds of people, yeah, I agree with what you said. The first kind of people isn’t necessarily a bad thing in any way. Hell, why would we even bother discussing anime on Reddit(or other places) if certain shows didn’t feel at least a little bit special? And in that sense, you could say that anime is personally special to me, because it’s the only medium I bother discussing on the internet(more specifically, though, I discuss about specific shows that I like or dislike, so it’s still not the medium that is “special”, it’s the shows).

        When it comes to western cartoons and CGI, yeah, I know that they possess exactly the same advantages as anime. And that’s an even bigger argument against anime as a medium being special, because in this respect, it shares that advantage with the aforementioned media. And yes, the thing that frustrates me the most about anime(most shows, at the very least) is that it shouldn’t be impossible to do proper production and direction, so why do they constantly and consistently fail at it? There’s literally no difference between anime and any other medium when it comes to the actual writing of the story, the acting and stuff like comedy(which I know you have a problem with when it comes to anime). It’s just so annoying.

      • Guy says:

        Ok, I can get behind what you’re saying.

        The reason they often fail is, sadly? Because they often don’t actually care. Anime is often designed by committee, the process through which Kirino goes through in Oreimo when her novel is supposed to be adapted is apparently sort of what actually happens, though usually with even more people involved in it.

        Aside from being a committee project, anime is often just a sales-booster for other things – manga, VNs, LNs… and well, LNs are often released quickly just to get easy money, so it’s not really surprising anime based on said LNs isn’t top-notch in its quality either. Anime’s focus is disastrous, it reminds me of the turn of the millenium comic industry in the west :-/

  5. […] too often, fans tend to be blinded by the “uniqueness” of anime, a pitfall which Guy addresses on his blog. At its worst, this kind of attitude can lead to […]

  6. Di-Dorval says:

    I mostly watch anime because I love animations and anime just tends to have the widest diversity for this. Also most one hour TV shows often bore me.

    Also funny people said to not watch NGE first cause that’s exactly what I did too. The story isn’t that dense it’s mostly the hidden messages told trough metaphors that can get tricky I guess. But that’s hardly unique to anime…

    The fact that also not from Japan make it also more appealing because I get to learn new things from another culture. Though I don’t really care about the Otaku culture or moe/ecchi shows.

    Also yea most references gags are not funny in the same way that simply showing a meme without context can’t be called humor.

  7. Robert Liu says:

    I have experienced the opposite of this trend. Instead of having friends or fellow friends who insist that we are “special” for watching anime, I have talked to friends who find us weird for watching anime. One of my closest friends thinks that anime is traditionally reserved for Asians. She finds it weird when other races watch, but I have an excuse in that it’s “part of my culture” which is complete BS, since I am Chinese, and nowhere in Chinese culture is the propensity for watching Japanese animation.

    I think a lot of the “special” labeling by anime fans is backlash against the non-fans who insist that we are weird. As for me, I don’t consider myself as special for watching anime, but I will say that anime is different in some regards from western media.

    1) Anime, for simplicity, is defined as any animation originating from Japan. Obviously, Japanese live action is any live action originating from Japan. For “everything else” I’ll take every other nation’s media, which encompasses American, French, British, Canadian, Mexican, Chinese, Korean etc etc. This group includes both live action and animation.

    2)Now, let’s look at target audiences. Both Japanese and “other” media have their fair share of live action films marketed to solely children, with simple themes and messages. Both media’s animation also have their fair share of children’s animation.

    3) The difference lies in the general attitude of the role of animation. In Japan, the ratio of adult’s animation to children’s animation is relatively high.(It would take an actual survey to determine this but citing famous examples can be helpful too). In “other” media however, animation is something considered “reserved for children”. The adult market is dominated by live action films and shows while in Japan they have more or less an equal share.

    4) At this point you can cite examples in “other” media of animation targeted at adults, but the great majority of these are “just for fun” and don’t carry any weighty themes or messages or compelling stories. (Family Guy, American Dad, The Simpsons).

    In conclusion, anime isn’t special for its presentation of heavy themes, the art style, or any other reason. Anime is special in that there is a greater number of titles that carry heavy themes and messages and compelling stories and are targeted at adults, while being animation. There is just a comparative lack of examples of animation in “other” media that does the same thing. That’s what makes anime special.

    However, those who watch anime are not special. If there were more non-anime examples of animation with compelling stories and themes, I think that they would be as appreciated as anime with the same qualities.

    Note: My opinion is governed by my own limited knowledge. If anyone can cite some mainstream examples of non-anime animation having compelling stories and weighty themes while being targeted at adults, then I would be inclined to change my standpoint.

  8. Xirema says:

    I like Anime because I like Animation. For me, emotions, facial features (and reactions) and other, similarly related features are what I love about stories, and how I connect with good stories. That’s pretty fundamental to me, and has been true for me for a long time.

    So here’s the problem, and is mainly the reason I consume Anime so much more than any other medium: Western Animation is really immature, at least from a writing perspective. Think about this for a second: name all the big western animated shows or movies in the last decade that weren’t primarily Comedies. Go ahead, take a second. The only one I can think of is Avatar, and I’m pretty sure that one is still classified as a comedy. One of the best animated movies of last year, Paranorman? Still a comedy. This year’s Frozen (also a fantastic movie, highly recommended)? Comedy. The biggest animated shows on TV right now, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Family Guy, Simpsons, South Park, Phineas and Ferb, Spongebob Squarepants, King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers? All comedies. Even when South Park or Family Guy try to make an episode that’s being serious, they still regress to Absurdism before the episode is over.

    And how many non-comedies do we have? Young Justice? Because that’s all I can think of. And I haven’t even seen it, so I can’t even tell you if it’s any good or not (though, I’ve heard it’s pretty good. That’s just hearsay though, that’s not my opinion). There’s also Avatar, but the first series was still primarily a comedy, and the second series has had very mixed reception in terms of its storytelling quality.

    And here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with a good comedy. Hell, I’m inclined to argue that, at least on the comedy genre, we’ve probably beat Japan by a wide mile. No scene from Nichijou, Panty & Stocking, Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh, K-On!, Haruhi Suzumiya, Ouran Host Club, Working!!, or Squid Girl have ever made me laugh as hard as the best moments from Phineas and Ferb, South Park, or even Family Guy (yes, even Family Guy!).

    So yeah, if I want to watch a comedy, Western Animation is a great place to go. But serious, mature drama? In the west? Outside the Disney vehicles (which are neither mature nor especially serious) there’s basically nothing. And I feel I should probably emphasize: there’s nothing inherent about this paradigm; it’s just demographics and marketing. There’s absolutely no reason a western studio couldn’t put out something at least as good as Japan’s best output. But they don’t.

    Sometimes I want my Phineas and Ferb’s. But sometimes, I want my Kara no Kyoukais, my Madoka Magicas, my Fate/Zeros.

  9. lifesongsoa says:

    I agree with most of what you have said here with the exception of one implication I think you are making, at which point I almost agree with Froggykun, but again not entirely. I am probably going to end up writing a book on your blog.(hope you don’t mind! >_> I am going to take the majority of this text and rewrite it for a blog I promised to write for a few folks on Jtor since this is essentially the same topic. I apologize if it comes off a bit long winded or I touch on things you probably already fully understand as this has become somewhat of a test run for that blog.)

    “My problem is that if you’re a competent media consumer, then it’s all the bloody same deal.”

    The issue here is that your “if” is a major if. I think you are probably giving the average media consumer far too much credit. When it comes to anime or well anything foreign that routinely requires some amount of critical thinking, the experience is different than it is when you experience something from the perspective of someone who is actually squarely inside the target audience and can naturally relate with the author’s storytelling. It isn’t that people turn their minds off(see don’t apply critical thinking) it’s that a lot of media consumers don’t turn it on for whatever native media they enjoy. You need to power the building before you flip the light-switch so to speak. I’m not even certain you would disagree with that statement, but some of things you did say seem to imply it so for now I’m going to assume that you do.

    Honestly I think a lot of what people call “good fiction” is actually “fiction that I can naturally relate with”. The truth being that anyone can in fact critique anime without prior knowledge of anime, but that also requires an understanding of throwing away the filters in order to learn news ones. Otherwise you have a situation where people have no filters at all and can’t make intelligent commentary, at least not on the quality of a thing. (See Outbreak Company’s students for an example of what I am getting at.) Something is either completely bad, or completely good. I say this from personal experience as well. When I started watching anime I couldn’t make a distinction between good anime and bad anime, all I was sure of is what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. I was able to write about it intelligently enough I think, but I certainly wasn’t a good critic.

    Expectations are of vital importance because the expectations someone has for something defines how they will see the promises that story makes and failing to naturally follow those promises can naturally create a point of rejection. Anime isn’t special, I think you are entirely right when you say that, but being a critic is a learned skill and not a natural development from watching TV. So basically I agree entirely when you say that anime isn’t special, but I disagree with your implication that being a critic is a naturally learned process for a consumer. I think our media would look a lot different in general if that were actually true. How different? More like Japanese light novels do honestly. You probably think me crazy for that statement, but bare with me for a bit and I promise I will get back to it.

    I mentioned on twitter that I think a lot of anime consumers base their ratings for quality wrongly. Allow me to elaborate on that a bit. What I see happening is anime fans creating filters for themselves in order to better enjoy anime. The truth is they don’t really need to start from scratch, but those little nuances you mentioned can actually be a pretty big deal. They don’t need to be deeply understood on a technically narrative level, but the processing is a less natural experience because of the language and culture barriers and this can be detrimental to the enjoyment of an anime. For my own part I have come to realize I can appreciate anime now that I hated when I first started watching anime. All I had to do was apply enough critical thinking and the purpose of those anime started to make enough sense for me to appreciate what they are.

    You would be right to say that a story is a story is a story, expect that misses the point when one story is appreciated naturally and another one other isn’t. Note I’m not talking about something being understood, I am talking about something being accepted and consequently being appreciated. Understanding is helpful, but not vital. Frankly fiction wouldn’t work at all if understanding were a requirement, and ironically some fiction works better when you don’t understand how it works. This can create a real point of contention between anime fans when their individual filters conflict, neither truly understanding the mechanics of the thing they are watching.

    The reason I would compare this whole process to the filters we have for novels has two big reasons that I can easily define. The first and most obvious is that we read our anime. That seems obvious, but stop and think about the implications of that for a moment. Most western anime fan’s are completely lost if you take away their subtitles, but there is a sense to which you learn anime and can understand it without understanding Japanese at all if you try. This is a major problem when an anime relies on visual queues and if an anime dares refuse the consumer, who at this point is actually a reader, a written explanation for events, they feel cheated and feel cheated wrongly in my opinion.

    Anime has a history of relying on non verbal queues for extremely important plot related events, the earliest example I know(because I honestly don’t really watch much older anime) is NGE. A more recent example would be Guilty Crown. If you have a MAL or A-P account you can link me to I could give you examples of what I am talking about far more easily. (I am somewhat new here, found you recently through Froggykun’s site.) I feel my examples are kind of useless shooting in the dark without knowing what you have watched or haven’t watched.

    The second reason is simply a matter of experience or osmosis as it were. Much of our western views on media critiquing comes from a culture of novels and comics. Of the two I think it’s fair to say that comics have really only earned any kind of mainstream respect in the last 10-20 years or so. I can remember being a child when that simply wasn’t the case. From here out I can only speculate at the scope of what I am getting at as it is simply far too large for a definite conclusion, but the principle is simple enough.

    You mentioned philosophy on twitter so lets consider the importance that Socrates and Plato had on the way we build our filters for critical thinking. Simply put our entire notion of critical thinking originated there, but at the same time that doesn’t mean we actively put critical thinking into practice as it was originally designed.(and designed it was.) It’s something we have learned from the experience of our ancestors and also something that has become heavily diluted with time. It was never a natural occurrence. I believe our standards for critiquing come from a similar, if more modern source of literary critiques.

    Pop culture critics are not exactly the same thing as literary critics, but they are cut from the same mold. What’s a simple way to explain what I am getting at… One mentality and culture builds the other. Galileo’s theory that the world is round came about because someone else decided it was flat. Of course matters of quality in fiction are far more abstract, but the process by which we come to those conclusions are similar I think. If you didn’t follow that example… well I can’t really blame you. I can probably come up with a better one if you ask.

    What would a mechanic aware consumer base look like? Probably a lot like Japanese light novels do. Before you blow that statement off entirely, let me explain. Being an otaku isn’t really a cool thing, in fact it’s even a trope that otaku are basically hated by everyone and are losers who only other otaku could ever hope to understand. I suspect and to some degree have experience myself that this mentality builds a sense of pride among the people who are otaku and before long I think it becomes natural to start looking down on everyone else. They are looking down on you and your own sense of self worth is on the line so it’s natural to return the favor in defense. Even if you believe you really are a loser as a result your still going to look for a way to justify it and justifying means a quest for understanding, that is simply human nature I think.(on a fun side note, one of the nasty filter we anime bloggers are often guilty of is one of looking down on the Japanese fans we share a fandom with in order to maintain our own sense of pride)

    Another reason for pointing to light novels is that light novel adaptations are often misunderstood. I’ve seen people expect satire from something that is really comfort porn for a browbeaten generation of Japanese nerds.(OreImo so much and so hard) A male character with sexual attraction to all of the heroines becomes an entitlement because of the implication that nerds can’t have girlfriends. All powerful protagonists like Kirito become popular, because nerds are meant to be losers. Neither of those require us to be Japanese, but it’s easy to reject simply because it’s foreign I think.

    If we look at otaku fiction through a filter of challenges and comforts instead of looking for satire poking fun at these very same things, the entire culture of light novels comes into a different light, as does our ability to appreciate them simply by buying into their purpose. To bring it back to your point that anime isn’t special I actually agree with that statement, it isn’t, but we can look at any media with an unhealthy(or perhaps simply negative/annoying filter) with extreme ease and while understanding isn’t vital at all, failing to drop what we think we understand when we are actually wrong is a major problem. This goes back to the importance of expectations and acceptance etc etc.

    Our own culture has similar things though I think our society isn’t as harsh in general as Japanese society is and so the degree is different. Big Bang Theory comes to mind. It reminds me of the way light novels work even if it isn’t entirely for the same audience. Unlike Japan I think it’s far more common for people to relate with lonely nerds and maybe even elevate them to their unique status of cool. As I said I don’t think our culture has the same harsh edge I’ve learned to expect from Japan. This can also be used to explain why Japanese consumers thought Beyond the Boundary was boring, it didn’t push these lines far enough to become interesting.(I suspect KyoAni are at fault for this and that the light novels actually have a different, probably more perverse, mood.)

    Wow I really did write a book. A lot of things I am writing about are things I consider simple, but are also easily misunderstood. I hope you still want to talk about this when you see how massive my response is… I also hope this all legible enough. Work has been particularly busy of late and I’m operating on little sleep. I am happy to find someone else thinks this topic is important.

  10. Mia says:

    I literally googled, “Why do people watch anime?” as a joke while my boyfriend was watching anime. Then I ended up reading this entire page and most of the comments. So there is proof that some nerds do have girlfriends, but their girlfriends are probably googling on their phones, because they dont like anime. ;)
    Also, I love Big Bang Theory. Some women actually do find intelligence attractive, whether there is a TV show about nerds or not.

  11. […] Wait, what?! A new video game, that doesn’t have any real story ties to the previous ones, shouldn’t it stand on its own merits? Especially for new players? That was actually one of the things that drew me to said review, as most reviews were basically, “This is mostly the same thing as prior Monster Hunter games, and this is where it differs, and why I still care for it,” while very little was actually said about the experience as a whole. Most reviews, in other words, are almost useless if you’re not already a fan of the series. That situation isn’t healthy for the series, but fans don’t really care about that. […]

  12. […] written posts on similar topics before. What’s the common […]

  13. Laura says:

    So I never though a person would think he is special for watching anime. Most people look at me blankly if they hear I watch one and I am trying to explain it is not a cartoon not like a western one. Its drawings are different at times more artistic in the use of colors and shapes at times for effects or edgy a whole different style but best of all the storylines characters and plot lines have a depth that is so engaging. More like a book at times, but not always sometimes it is just crazy fun. I am new to anime somi appreciate the list of 10 suggested animus. I have not seen any of theses. Though I did see one of the ghosts in a shell. Most of my anime are ones suggested by Netflix. Yes I know not the best way to find them but that’s where I found Samari 7 by Kurosawa which I liked a lot and started watching anime outside of just the movies by Hayao Miyazaki.
    I don’t cry at movies, okay maybe once or twice I teared up in my life and never over a cartoon but I am shocked to admit an anime made me misty eyed a few times. Damn they are good, with the story telling and deep themes. Who knew they had such passion and lovely themes of friendship, honor and loyalty.

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