If Your Mother Knew You Didn’t Like Giant Robots, It Would KILL Her!

Over a year ago I explored the difficulties in recommending anime and manga to people, whether they were entirely new to the world of Japanese animation and comics or they were already in the fandom but looking for more. Since that time I’ve gotten a little better at the whole recommendation thing, but it’s still far from one of my strengths. Still, the dynamics of introducing new shows and series to people is a fascinating topic to explore, and seeing others’ recommendations posts as of late has revealed to me more and more of the tricky dynamics of suggesting shows.

Tim Maughan recently had a bunch of guest writers for his blog to provide content during his trip to Thailand, and among the articles was one by the Otaku Diaries creators the Reverse Thieves where they created a guide to introducing giant robot shows to people who are into anime but aren’t sure if they like mecha, or who avoid it entirely without knowing the variety of stories giant robot shows have to tell.

As if inevitable however, they received complaints that their list was not good because it did not contain enough of the classics, the things that brought people into giant robots over the decades. At that point, the problem became about the identity of the mecha fan. Shouldn’t someone who gets into giant robot anime like giant robots? But if they already like giant robots, then half the work is already done! The guide was clearly made for the people who don’t necessarily have that inherent potential to enjoy robot shows, the people whose interest in the genre has to be slowly cultivated over time. The classics are classics for good reasons, but they’re not beginner’s shows necessarily.

Over at comics blog Mightygodking, a more fundamental question was asked: “How do I start reading comics?” In his response, Mightygodking explains that, more often than not, comics fans go about it incorrectly, and make the same mistakes that many of those who questioned the Reverse Thieves’ guide did. He even lays out some criteria for recommending comics for newcomers, and though I don’t agree that a beginner comic has to be “fucking great,” I think he makes a very good point when he says:

…they’ll recommend something safe, like “you should read Sandman.” Or Watchmen, or Transmetropolitan, or [insert critically acclaimed comic by the Usual Suspects here]. Now, sure. These are great comics. But I’m not going to say “this is how you should get started with comics.” Watchmen should be nobody’s first comics read. Sandman has an impenetrable first volume. And Transmet is a commitment – not that Spider Jerusalem isn’t worth the ride, but I’m not going to introduce somebody to comics with it.

Even more than giant robot anime, COMICS!! can be such a gargantuan and daunting subject that even gaining the will to approach it can be an arduous task, and as such the problems with recommending the GREATEST gets magnified. And of course, this is in no way helped when the fans who are already there berate the potential new fans for not enjoying what they are “supposed” to enjoy.

I fully understand where people are coming from when they say the best place to start is with the classics. I have in the past recommended the ORIGINAL Mobile Suit Gundam when someone wanted to know where to start with the massive franchise. I have also lamented the fact that many newer fans in anime are unable to appreciate older shows because they cannot get past the older styles. But I also know that it is nearly impossible to attract people into a fandom or gain new enthusiasts by appearing obtuse and impenetrable. It’s one thing to have very firm ideas of what makes shows good or not, and to defend those ideas, but retreating into the folds of the existing insular fandom isn’t going to do anything but make it even more exclusive. It all comes down to how much you’re willing to not simply throw out suggestions from on-high, but to guide people, even if you can’t personalize it too much because you’re making broad recommendations.

In a way, I feel like recommending arguably difficult classics to beginners is not unlike being parents living vicariously through their children, like a soccer mom pushing her kids to the brink of competition.

“I never had it this good when I was getting into giant robots! I’ve boiled it down to everything you REALLY need to see!”

“But dad, I’m not sure I like giant robots!”

“How DARE you! I did not suffer through Magnos the Robot so that you could say you don’t like giant robots!”

But each generation is new, and casts off the bounds set by their predecessors, like a man with blue hair and stylish shades living in an underground village.

6 thoughts on “If Your Mother Knew You Didn’t Like Giant Robots, It Would KILL Her!

  1. While some people legitimately wish to help newcomers, I do not believe this to always be the case. Some just want to keep a fandom an “exclusive club” where if you can’t appreciate certain classics- then get out. Or, recommending titles is a way to show off a person’s good taste rather than help with their introduction.

    “By saying that XXX is a must-see show, I’ll seem cool when they can’t understand it!”.

    Hopefully this doesn’t happen as often as I suspect.

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  2. Speaking from personal experience, the slew of high profile mecha shows that have come out over the past few years has made it much easier for people to check out some of the older shows. Liked 00? Here are a few of the AU shows and then they can work their way into UC stuff if they are interested. Liked Gurren Lagann? Here’s GaoGaiGar for ya. Liked Geass? There’s a show called Legend of Galactic Heroes you may enjoy. It’s all about knowing what the person likes about those individual shows and then pointing them in the right direction.

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  3. A lot has changed in the last 20 years or so, but in choosing stuff to recommend, the first step is to ask them what kind of English-language fiction they like and use that as a guide. If they like fantasy, start them off with a mecha show with fantasy trappings. If they like sf, they may indeed take to Gundam, though I’d try something like Crusher Joe or even Space Adventure Cobra first.

    RWG (but the bottom line is that some people simply do not like mecha shows and you can’t force it :-)

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  4. I try to ask myself when recommending anime to non-fans what that person would likely seek out on his own this very moment. Does he want to see good sci-fi because he couldn’t find any good ones in Hollywood? Has she ended a bad relationship recently and needs comforting romance? And so on. Of course, the individual’s tastes matter, but I prioritize the person’s state of mind. What’s even more important is choosing the right time for your recommendations. People will mention they like anime when asked and then immediately start recommending stuff as if the other person was somehow looking for new entertainment. That kind of behavior turns people off.

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  5. I think it will help a lot if we recommend several anime at once and go into details about each of our recommendation. Tell newbies what they will probably encounter in each show and why we think it’s good. Let them choose for themselves and they will watch the anime with more optimistic view. Some classics are really hard to get through and require a good deal of love and devotion, I must admit.

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  6. Good post and I’ve faced the same challenges when introducing people to anime. I find that Studio Ghibli films work well as a gateway drug, so the obvious answer is to hope that Miyazaki someday decides to animate a giant robot movie.

    As an aside, I really liked the comic article you linked to. Back in the early 1990s, I had a friend try to introduce me to comics by loaning me, yes, Watchman and The Dark Knight Returns. I read both of them and hated them; they were violent, bleak, disturbing comics that seemed to delight in crushing the fun out of superheroes. I was left with the impression that a) comics weren’t for me at all and that b) my friend liked to read some really disturbing material, and c) wondering what that said about him.

    Fortunately, he then loaned me some Giffen-era Justice League comics, and those proved to be a much better introduction. :)

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