Anime is More Than the Sum of its Parts

Published June 18, 2021

Otaku media is way more than just the media itself. While we love to consume anime, manga, light novels and visual novels because we genuinely believe that, for the most part, they are worthwhile pieces of art, it’s also how those individual pieces expands the context of the mediums as wholes. It’s also the lifestyle element of dedicating yourself to your passion as much as humanly possible, as that’s one of the most essential parts of otaku culture since its existence. Basically, the meta plays a huge role, and I would like to describe what that meta means to me, because my relationship with anime is one that I hold very dear and want to make as much time for as possible. But, why can’t I just watch shows and be satisfied with the just the shows? Why do I prefer anime over live action TV, western animation or live action film? Why is anime way more appealing to me over other otaku media like manga and visual novels? These are questions that I thought about for a long time and would like to more broadly define my preferences beyond just “autism”.

First and foremost, however, I must go over the appeal of otaku media itself. Why does it not only attract a specific niche of people, but encourages those people to have unrelenting passion and dedication to it? It’s because otaku media is focused on niches and satisfying those niches depending on the fetishes of a given person. You take a rather broad category, like a moe girl, a young, female character designed to evoke feelings of cuteness (I know that’s a gross oversimplification of the idea of moe but that’s a post for another time) and you put her into a group of 3 or 4 other moe girls so their personalities can bounce off each other. Then you put them into an environment, high school is usually the key choice here. Then, you can have them do some sort of activity, and that activity will be the main conceit of the show, like creating video games, or fighting zombies, or simply just enjoying high school life. Then you give each girl a personality type derived from popular tropes, like a tsundere, ojou-sama, genki girl, chibi, really anything from the database of otakudom. There, I just described most anime that are colloquially referred to by us westerners as “cute girls doing cute things” anime. Seeing such an unapologetic embrace of tropes may turn off most viewers from diving beyond the few anime or manga they may consume, especially of those tropes are of a certain perverse nature that is sort of designed to please the target audience and disgust the typical non-fan. Other demographics, genres, and mediums definitely follow this sort of formula too, from Mahou Shoujo anime for children, to Seinen manga, to Isekai light novels, it’s a celebration of a niche database that acts as a network between each work. Of course, each art piece has its own individuality to it, no matter how generic it may be. These are still works of art and each work of art has a level of uniqueness to it, as much as that uniqueness may fluctuate.

For example, Mawaru Penguindrum has such a distinct message, characterization, and aesthetic to it that you can instantly recognize things from the show by just seeing one the signature penguins or the large, surreal set pieces that blends the literal events with the subjective emotional reaction to said events. However, it is inherently connected to the work of Kunihiko Ikuhara, who’s surrealist style and counter-cultural themes all feed into one another from anime to anime. You can see similar motifs, character types and even story beats in every one of his works. Then, there’s his connection to Sailor Moon, as he began his career being an episode director on. The tropes of Mahou Shoujo have a huge influence on Ikuhara’s work, most notably the repetitive transformation and fight scenes, which is a trope derived from the cost saving techniques that Tezuka made so popular with anime during its inception. You also have how Ikuhara influenced the rest of anime with his signature style. There’s the obvious series like Star Driver and Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight which implement almost all of Ikuhara’s signature style, but you also have the entirety of Akiyuki Shinbou’s portfolio that contain these large, play-like sets, left field cinematography and themes of feminism found in Madoka Magica, Tsukiyomi Moon Phase, and of course The Monogatari Series. There’s also Ikuhara’s connections to Hideaki Anno, who had such a profound impact on Ikuhara’s directing style as Anno wasn’t only influencing him, but also they were personal friends with each other. Anno’s impact on the industry is no question, but when you also consider his animation work on 80s anime like Birth, Macross, and Nausicaa, you can observer the development of what he values in animation as a medium. Speaking of Nausicaa, I don’t even have to mention Anno’s connection with Haiyo Miyazaki, who needs to introduction.

All anime is so fundamentally connected and incestuous not only in its tropes but also staff, as it is with manga, light novels and visual novels as well. Why do I pick anime though, as opposed to those aforementioned mediums. Why is my otakudom mostly limited to anime, which very minor interests in manga and visual novels and really no interest in light novels at all, at least until I have access to every Boogiepop volume in english. Well, because I love what a film medium can do with atmosphere, animation, movement, timing, and expression. I am primarily an emotional consumer of art, I like the overall feeling of a work over narrative structures or conceptual conveyance, thought that isn’t to say that I don’t care about those things at all, because I most certainly do. I just get a concrete atmospheric experience with the passive medium of film, as opposed to the more active mediums of literature and video games, which leaves pacing more up to the consumer to actively progress. It’s also why I tend to get annoyed at anime with bad pacing, and will drop shows if they don’t move in a way that satisfies me. Anime also has a concrete length, usually broken up conveniently into 12 or 13 episode cores. Your ability to read a lot of manga or visual novels depends heavily on how fast you can read and process information, which turns me off a tad bit as someone with absolute dog shit reading speed and comprehension. Anime is perfect for me in many ways, as opposed to my friend N0THANKY0U, who primarily values how specific appeal can get in otaku media, and the unique thematic concepts that they can convey, which is why he has been reading way more visual novels than watching anime, and has mostly concluded that he very much prefers vns over anime. That makes sense for him and my preferences make sense for me.

Anime is also comforting for me. As someone who has a pretty hectic and anxious life, I cling onto the few things that happen to bring me a sense of familiarity and fulfillment. I have been watching anime for about 6 years now, 5 of those having it be a major obsession of mine. As obsessed with the media as I am, I have struggled to watch it as regularly as I would like to. Since early 2017, there would be stretches of sometimes months where I just couldn’t watch anime, mostly due to life kicking me in the ass, but also because of a neglect for the meta. I was just watching the shows, but not thinking about the shows in a broader context, nor making any serious efforts to explore the medium’s hidden gems. I became largely obsessed with doing that in 2016, when I started binging shows everyday and frantically watching any anime analysis video I could come across. When I became tired of the anime analysis community and had things like school, regressing mental health and breaking relationships with my family, while also feeling burnt out over the very idea of analyzing anything. What eventually sparked my passion back up in early 2020 was a newfound embrace of the otaku identity, and what that means to me. Just watching the shows isn’t enough, connecting the shows to other works, looking at the staff and seeing other anime they have worked on, thinking about how my relationship with certain anime changed over time, thinking about the themes, characterization, narrative of the anime, reflecting on the immediate reaction to certain scenes, all of these things enrich the experience of being an anime fan, and to have this medium not only appeal to me on a pure content level, but be so interconnected within its industry revitalizes my passion to spend as much time with this wonder art form as possible. To have something so pure in my life when usually I’m anxious and isolated all the time is really important.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of cynical and negative opinions over not just anime, but otaku culture in general. The idea that anime doesn’t actually have much to offer or that otaku culture is a shallow replacement for a real identity irritates me to no end. Putting aside how dismissive and cruel it is to just deny someone passions, it’s also needlessly pessimistic and cynical without any basis for it. A lot of people love to say that beyond the really critically acclaimed anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Serial Experiments Lain, Cowboy Bebop, etc, anime is mostly stale and boring that most people get out of after like 5 years of being into it. And to that, my only reaction is to say “Then maybe anime isn’t for you!”. People who have the opinion tend to only watch what the west considers great but doesn’t look at the classics that the Japanese fandom actually care about and reference, or the shows that no one really talks about that may have something valuable to them if they just took the time to get out of their comfort zone. You won’t find anything like Eva, this is true, but it’s true for literally everything ever made. But, you can watch the anime that inspired Eva, like Gundam 0079 or Space Runaway Ideon. You may not like these shows, but it could give you more context into something you already love. Or maybe watch all the anime that Evangelion directly inspired that no one talks about. Sure, everyone goes on about Texhnolyze and Utena, but have you seen Arjuna? Neo Ranga? Boogiepop Phantom? Maritan Successor Nadesico? The Soultaker? Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala? Space Pirate Mito? Again, not all of these anime will be for you, but it is interesting to see how your favorite anime influenced other anime. You present these options to people and they will stubbornly turn them down for being too long, too old, or just plain not interesting to them on an immediate level. A lot of these disillusioned former fans eventually turn to other otaku mediums, or something else like film or video games, and good on them for finding their passions, but to say that anime has nothing to offer beyond the surface is insanely disingenuous, especially considering how no one is willing to watch anything beyond 26 episodes.

I think a lot of this boredom has to do with a combination of heightened political tension and the incredible ease of access. You can watch literally any anime you want right now, as opposed to 15 year ago when you had to buy DVDs, wait for shitty streams to buffer all day or pray that a torrent won’t fuck up your computer with viruses. You had to dig through reviews, take chances on blind buys or happen to just hear about certain anime to find obscure stuff. You had to actually try to be an otaku, as opposed to now where you just have 9anime and reliable torrents, and if you have access to everything, you tend to assume you know everything which is a wrongheaded and usually unintentional assumption. There’s also younger anime fans who are new to the medium who are used to TikTok and Twitter telling them how problematic random anime from 20 years ago are. The amount of times I have heard zoomers describe how they feel actively guilty for enjoying things made by someone who said something racist as a joke once boggles my fucking mind. The idea of escapism is being challenged more and more as left wing rhetoric gets more and more popular. Fiction becomes detrimental to reality in their eyes. Escapism is not an inherently bad thing, especially if your life is a series of anxiety attacks and autistic meltdowns. I don’t care if I’m giving into capitalism or problematic ideals by wanting to cover my walls in racy loli posters, it just makes me personally happy. There’s a sense of adventure to be found away from a political system I can’t control and has nothing to do with me. Yes, it makes my life really fucking hard, but you know what makes my life less hard? Anime. A passion that has a lot of sentimental value to me is what improves my life. Overall, these people have no baring over me, as much as their opinions may upset me. Rather than anger towards them, I hope that they have or find something that makes them as happy as anime does for me.

This is sort of a thesis statement on my views of this medium and how I want to talk about it, so I like this being my first anime related post. This blog is dedicated to me understanding and strengthening my relationship with my hobbies first and foremost.

Stay Based, Positive, and Frenly!