Whenever I meet with my college friends, one subject that is invariably discussed is anime. We all enjoy some anime series, even if our tastes do not perfectly overlap with one another’s. That’s fine. Diversity is the spice of life and all that. I routinely go with my friends to two or three anime conventions a year and yet, nowadays, I can’t help but feel that I am no longer the target audience.
It’s like this, you see: anime has always had its detractors for various reasons. Some people say it’s dumb Japanese cartoons, some people say they don’t get it, and some people say it’s a medium that peddles in some really creepy stuff while pretending to be cutesy. I used to defend anime ardently against these accusations, but seeing as how the first new anime series to interest me even remotely in years is the one based on Phoenix Wright, some introspection seemed in order. However, rather than look inward, taking a look at the company I was keeping seemed to be an even more intelligent idea.
It would be a useless exercise to rattle off the names of anime big in Japan and the West right now, as that is a constantly shifting terrain. Actually, I like that. Most anime is not even that captivating enough to warrant multiple viewings these days. Modern series have the decency to come out on stage, do their dance, take their bow, and then disappear to some otaku’s DVD collection. Speaking as a man’s man, a world-weary sophisticate who has seen it and done it all, I have never grasped the appeal of slice of life anime. Most of them center on teenagers acting out a quizzical dance in some backward reality where the girl desperately wants, needs, and craves the attention of the unattainable guy instead of the other way around (as in, the life of most otaku gentlemen). I’m not even saying that the reverse situation is impossible, but in an anime, it always comes off with this slightly sour taste, like the creator is exacting animated revenge on the girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day when he was that age. The guy is always phlegmatic and cold, whereas the girl is hyper and excitable, and her antics may start off with the best of intentions but inevitably descend into manic silliness and ironic consequences. Look, everyone had more than a few embarrassing moments in their teenage years. Why would anyone want to recall that time period? I can’t say I take delight in thinking fictional characters are suffering in circumstances analogous to mine but in a completely over-the-top manner, but if you do, more schadenfreude power to you.
That makes me wonder, too, why there is such a fixation on teenagers as central protagonists in anime. Okay, the obvious reason is that they are the ones who buy and watch anime more than other age brackets, but is it too much to ask that their reactions to the madness of their environments elicit understandable reactions? In Sailor Moon Crystal, the Sailor Scouts largely react to discovering their Sailor Scout identities with vague shock only after the talking cat taught them how to transform into a heroine and fight off the villain with as natural an ease as one is capable of breathing. If I were one of the Sailor Scouts, you would have already lost me at “talking cat.” They emote more at seeing cute boys at school, with the exception of Sailor Mercury, who always has her head in a book, making her the best Sailor Scout without question (totally not saying that because I have a wall scroll of her hanging above me right now). Indeed, of my favorite anime series, the only ones that prominently have underage protagonists are Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Panic, and Avatar/Korra if you’re prepared to count those as anime. Everything else features manly men and womanly women, and it is alarming to me how outside the norm that feels.
What is so downright disturbing to me about the current trend in anime is all of the little girl idolatry. It is nothing new, but the obsession and fetishizing of the prototypical cute, little girl in anime has gotten more and more blatant in the last sixteen years or so. It gets harder to defend anime as a medium when more and more of it features little girls being put into situations that make me want to keep child protective services on speed dial to raid the houses of the people who generate and purchase this content. It is actually really easy to make the case that anime is a medium to be taken seriously. Hayao Miyazaki is as close as anime will get to William Shakespeare, yet the beauty of his movies is not necessarily what comes to mind for the average person when he or she thinks of anime. Anime like High School of the Dead are precisely the source of grievous embarrassment to those of us with class. Granted, anime does not have a very good track record with this sort of thing, and neither does highly traditional Japanese culture, but I would hope by the year 2016 that attitudes are broadly accepted enough that “enlightenment” is not being confused with “permissiveness.” Yes, anime can have an exploitative approach to women of a mature age (a rant of a different sort for me), but society is almost entirely hostile to the exploitation of children for a very good reason.
Beyond that, most new concepts are relatively boring to me. Maybe it is a matter of taste, but many anime series have a higher bar to clear to impress me now than before. In college, my friends were irrationally excited about Code Geass, an excitement in which I did not share. The first episode was an burst of explosions worthy of a Michael Bay film and characters with spindly limbs improbably assembled by the conventions of anatomy and chins so sharp that they must have been shaven on a whetstone. The rest of the series was following an extremely unlikeable protagonist play mental chess with his half-siblings and build up to lots of people dying and an ending that elicited a response of, “That was it?” from me. It is probably unfair to say that most anime nowadays strike me as following in this same vein, but with the proliferation of anime, it was inevitable that a good portion of it would be very mediocre and bland. I risk sounding like a haughty snob unable to appreciate anything that does not come from my formative years watching anime, but I would rather watch Ghost in the Shell over and over than endure even a single episode of insipid waifu fantasies like K-On and Lucky Star.
Agree? Disagree? Got multiple waifus of your own? Share with us in the comments!