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.
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?)