It’s All in How You Look At It

The 2000s have been an unusual time in anime fandom. It’s achieved greater popularity and notoriety than ever before, but it’s also been characterized by  claims that the people who create anime have lost their adventurous spirit, that shows are too dumb, creators are too cynical, and that what made anime great isn’t there or isn’t there in sufficient amounts.  I don’t believe this to be the case, but I occasionally have trouble convincing naysayers otherwise. How can you talk about the subtleties of experimentation within genres that people refuse to watch in the first place?

The other day I was reading the animation blog AniPages Daily when his post on what makes animation interesting caught my eye.

“Five or six years ago, I discovered something that kind of renewed the waning spark of my enthusiasm for anime: a set of Japanese animators creating flamboyantly stylish animation that was exciting like no animation I’d ever seen. It was the discovery of the existence within the anime industry of a coterie of animators with a deeply creative spark like Masaaki Yuasa, Shinya Ohira, Satoru Utsunomiya, Atsuko Fukushima, Yoshinori Kanada and Takeshi Koike – each working within the industry, yet managing to carve out a stylistic niche of the kind that elsewhere might only be attainable in the capacity of an independent animator – that renewed my faith in the power of animation, and showed me that some of the most exciting animation being made today was being made by these people in Japan. These animators heightened my awareness of the animated element in animation, and expanded my appreciation of the importance of movement in animation. But more than that, the sheer audacity and brashness of their individuality opened my eyes to a rich vein of creativity in the Japanese animation industry. There have been many great animators over the decades in Japan, and these animators continuing that tradition opened my eyes to a hidden narrative of anime history that broadened my appreciation of anime and renewed my faith in its potential.”

This post was written November 7, 2008.

Now, the man behind AniPages Daily is not your typical blogger. When I say it’s an animation blog, I mean it’s an animation blog. AniPages Daily is concerned with quality of animation above all else, and he’ll seemingly watch any show for it, from Naruto to Tiger Mask. He doesn’t talk about character designs, writing, story, giant robots, or fanservice, unless it concerns how a scene was animated. I really don’t watch animation like he does, and I’m not sure if I could completely agree with the idea of watching animation for the animation. However, I can appreciate his approach and the fact that it’s different from mine, and it left an impression on me that he could look at today’s anime, often criticized for lack of experimentation, and from his relatively unusual perspective see ideas and techniques being pushed towards greater heights.

It makes me wonder if it’s actually possible for anime to truly stagnate. Yes, there are disappointing shows, and ones that you could call better than others, but even in those shows which do not manage to succeed artistically or financially there are hands at work, and they may be achieving something special, just in an area that you or I don’t expect or pay any attention to. Maybe it’s in the soundtrack or even the use of the soundtrack relative to the animation. Maybe it’s daring risk-taking with forms of storytelling. Maybe it’s highly unorthodox mecha designs. And all of this is within the confines of an industry which is concerned with appealing to larger audiences.

4 thoughts on “It’s All in How You Look At It

  1. Nothing ever pisses m off more than people trying to claim that experimentation or good shows are dead. I’d go so far as to say they are much stronger than EVER before. People seem content not to look beyond the surface of a few popular shows that are airing each season that they think they can judge all of anime on. There are like 30 fucking shows a season on TV right now, you can’t claim there to be nothing good if you aren’t watching all of them.

    Right now, I can disprove oldfag myths about modern anime left and right just based on the last season from the top of my head

    “Experimentation is dead” disproven by Mouryou no Hako
    “Great animation is dead” disproven by Eve no Jikan, Toradora, Bounen no Xamdou, any of the Madhouse anime that just aired
    “Good shows are dead” or since that’s a bit too hard to place “Moe has taken over anime” disproven by Casshern Sins, ga-rei zero, Xam’d…

    nothing is dead. The medium is always evolving, always producing exciting, interesting, and amazing things. People just need to pull their heads from their asses and look for them. Above, I only even listed things that are more wholly out there in terms of experimentation. People would probably call bullshit half the time if I explained how Kanokon has evolved and experimented with the harem genre or other such observations.

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  2. To be brutally honest, it’s the casual anime fans that are perpetuating the myth of the “good is dead”.

    At one time, I was closely nudged to believe so, until I decided to throw myself into the newer series. Casshern Sins and Xam’d proved that they don’t need to fall into the “moe” trap in order to captivate an audience. (I’m glad that Singapore is the only other country that broadcast Casshern Sins after Japan, right after Toradora!, of course.)

    I think it’s all boiled down to the need to identify one particular anime niche that most consumers can relate to. I believed that observers (or rather casual anime fan observers-cum-“outsiders”) find the number of people watching certain shows — albeit good — less than the ones that people are stark raving mad about. So they got the impression that good shows are hard to come by.

    It’s the nature of “Freedom By Choice,” in my opinion. I think the onus lies on these people to actually make the effort in sampling at least the majority of the shows out there and make an informed decision of whether good anime shows are “truly dead.”

    If this post is tl;dr, considered myself “TADLY BROLLED!”

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  3. I’ve been singing the praises of 4C/Yuasa/et al for years now, and I still believe that their works today embody the same spirit that the works of Gainax used to. But that doesn’t change the fact that hardly anyone cares, does it? The guy who writes AniPages Daily is pretty much the man when it comes to those guys, particularly Yuasa, but he’s a fandom anomaly. Nobody else by and large is really abuzz over those titles, and THAT is why it’s so difficult to convince “the naysayers,” which depending on when you catch me might include myself.

    While it is certainly true that there still exists at least one new non-moe title per year/season–that is to say, one production that does not give intentional thought to appeal to that particular otaku demographic, whether they be male or female–this is insufficient to disprove the statement that “moe has taken over anime.” As was stated above, there was something like 30 different anime shows on last season. But how many were not intentionally putting in something to try and grab at that moe demographic? No need to provide a list, just as yourself: was it over 50%? The answer is clearly no.

    But if you WERE to make that list such that it had two columns, one labeled “2007-2008 anime with intentionally placed moe elements” and one labeled “2007-2008 anime without intentionally placed moe elements,” containing every show released during that timeframe, you would notice a few things. One, the number of entries in the first column would be several times that of the second. But more importantly is the second observation: that the titles in the second column are OVERWHELMINGLY either remakes of older properties (Casshern, Hokuto no Ken, Space Adventure Cobra, Golgo 13, etc.) or are intentionally meant to evoke a “retro” vibe in some form or fashion.

    I’ll leave the third observation–that the majority of the titles in that second column do not get fansubbed to completion let alone fansubbed by a quality-oriented group–off the table for the moment.

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  4. Actually, I’m pretty sure the reason for all the talk about ANIME SUCKS NOW is fairly simple.

    Every fan goes through stages of fandom. At first he is amazed and confused, then he is excited, but after a while, he starts to notice things repeat themselves a lot, and perhaps it’s not all that exciting after the novelty has started to wear off.

    And THAT’S when he goes out and loudly proclaims that ANIME SURE SUCKS THIS YEAR, IT USED TO BE SO MUCH BETTER.

    It doesn’t matter which year it is, there will always be a set of people for who just entered into this stage, so it’s this year that sucks. So as the fanbase increases, we get more and more of these people every year.

    After a while, either they get over it and refine their tastes, or they give up on being fans, but by that time, the next bunch is already proclaiming the death of anime.

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