How To Grow Up With Anime Despite Not Living In Japan: Reflections on Viewer Perspectives

Join Wang Liu Ming and I upon a fantastic safari into the deepest darkest jungles of complicated theoretical ideas! There might be lions! And tigers! And bears! Oh my!

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, as it always seems to me I approach anime from a fundamentally different positon than other people. I think, by far, the vast majority of anime fans, especially in the Western or non-Japanese world, grew up devoid of anime, and became interested in it peripherally to other interests, to varying degrees. There’s nothing wrong with this, as there’s something to be said for having broad interests, just like there’s something to be said for specialization.

The product of this “peripheral” interest, however, is that there is a difference in taste between any two given people. This is true of everything, so this isn’t news, or shouldn’t be. What happens, however, is that people form sophisticated taste before becoming exposed to anime. Technically, you start developing taste from the moment your parents start reading you bedtime stories and you start picking favorite stories for them to read, but sophisticated taste isn’t developed until much later in life, and–depending on whether or not the person is interested in fictional storytelling mediums–may not develop at all. This “sophisticated taste” would be, say, the realization that you do not merely like a piece of fiction, but you love it. You’re deeply moved by it in some way, whether emotionally or intellectually, or some other way. You progress beyond merely liking something, but not being too terribly impressed by it, as it was something to pass the time with, to loving something for being a great story.

I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley. (Wait a second…)

With me, this experience of discovering something that I really, truly loved was around 16 or 17, when I read Philip Pullman’s  His Dark Materials trilogy. What I found I loved about it was that it had something I had never really experienced before–a bittersweet ending. I do believe I cried when I read the last few chapters of  The Amber Spyglass, and nothing had exerted that power over my emotions before.

I really can’t remember much else that really impressed me in that manner until I turned 18 and started watching anime. Cowboy Bebop was my first (and, yes, I did cry to that too), but I don’t think it really clicked with me until I watched other things, such as Figure 17. Figure 17, of course, has one of the most heartbreaking endings ever, and I also remember being moved by it, even given how slow I watched it.

For other people, however, especially in the West, this “sophisticated taste” is created through exploration of Western works, with Western ideas of what is “good” and “bad” (which of course vary from person to person, since you’re not going to get too many people who like Lethal Weapon but also like The Time-Traveler’s Wife,  but there is clearly a defined set of cultural “good” and “bad” values that Westerners look for). It’s created through watching, say, a Stanley Kubrick movie, or reading a book by Arthur C. Clarke, or anything else under the sun, and, after that, exploring the wide world of fictional storytelling and cementing what you consider “good” and “bad” in fiction.

When someone who has generated this kind of Western-spurred taste prior to discovering that they’re interested in anime, they bring these preconceptions to the table when they sit down to watch a series. For good or for bad, their “sophisticated taste” becomes the benchmark by which they judge a series. The series is viewed through the lens of the West as represented in their own personal taste, and the end result is somewhat distorted from the context the anime was meant to be taken in. Not this this is a bad thing, or that your taste is somehow “wrong” or “incorrect”. It’s simply how humans operate.

If this post is starting to feel like the Apocalypse arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena, here is my admission of this fact.

With me, then, my taste explorations didn’t really start until after I found anime. The more I watched it, the more I found I really liked the kinds of things they did in it, and the more my own, personal lens became distorted from the Western standard and started becoming an anime lens. At this point in my life, I’d say that it might be practically impossible for me to completely remove this distortion, even if I simply stopped watching anime this very second. Since I’ve effectively “grown up” on anime, or at least come into maturity with it, it’s become part of who I am, and how I define myself. And, just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a set of clearly Western sensibilities in watching anime, there’s nothing inherently good about having an anime-shaped lens. It’s just how things worked out for me, and I can no more change that than you can change your lens. In some ways it limits me, and in others it frees me. And the Western lens, in some ways, is limiting and freeing as well.

With an anime-shaped lens, however, this means I look at anime through the context of anime, and not through an external context such as “animation” or “film” or “theater” or “storytelling”. And I often find myself mystified at other people, who seem so eager to denouce I series I like for this, that, or the other reason, none of which make any kind of sense ot me, or, if it does, doesn’t really detract from the series as a whole. I shouldn’t really find myself mystified at this kind of thing, but I always wonder about the seemingly insurmountable differences between even two discrete individuals, even and especially ones that get along admirably.

The end result of all this is, of course, a large and varied fanbase, all of whom look at anime differently from one another. Lenses crisscross and overlap, but two never really match each other exactly. This, ladies and gentlemen, is The Human Experience, and, no, you cannot escape The Human Experience by watching anime. Unless you become a hikikomori, or a NEET, or some combination thereof. And even then, you’re still probably talking to people on the Internet, unless you truly are some kind of modern-day urban hermit.

I think this post had a point somewhere but it got lost in the process of actually writing it. Oh well.

9 Responses to “How To Grow Up With Anime Despite Not Living In Japan: Reflections on Viewer Perspectives”

  1. 1 Ryan A 8 April 2008 at 7:14 pm

    I feel what you were getting at. The first step is acknowledging that anime is a valid media form, which most in the West do not; anime could be considered a culture as well, I suppose. I have a good feeling that Westerners who hold anime in high regard, also are [eventually] open to all other media forms as well, whatever it may be.

    The one downside to anime in the West is that it is an underdog, and it’s easy to side with the underdog, and unconsciously hold media bias. It is only natural that people are bias with some form of media, but.

    It would be nice to find the point where most people a accept and are open to a story, message, experience, feeling, etc no matter the medium.

    Viable, anime is viable.

  2. 2 OGT 8 April 2008 at 7:34 pm

    I don’t think I have this “media bias”, and I don’t really think it’s a bad thing. I like a good story in any kind of medium (I used to read a lot, and the only reason I haven’t is because college drove the fun of it out of me), but I find more often than not that things I really, really like are anime. A lot of books I’ve read, I like and support–I was very impressed with Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife (and frequently draw parallels between this book and Toki o Kakeru Shoujo), and Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, for instance, but part of the reason for that is because they do the kinds of things I find anime.

    What happens is that I find anime does things I like more often than not. There’s probably a whole slew of film and books and such out there that I don’t know about that I’d really love, but that’s just the thing: I don’t know about them. If I did, I could watch/read and enjoy them! It’s much easier for me to dig up information on anime, due to more in-depth focus, so I go that route.

    Also, there’s a great quote from one of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which I will paraphrase here, due to not remembering exact wording: “There are an awful lot of books, and even if you manage to read them all, there will always be more.” No matter how much I may want to, I can’t experience everything I would potentially like in my lifetime.

  3. 3 gexecuter 10 April 2008 at 11:02 am

    LOL too long didn`t read…..

    i am kidding, anyway i found your post interesting for a rant.

    And you are a girl or a boy?, because i think that influences in how you look at anime or other art forms.

  4. 4 OGT 10 April 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t really think it’s a rant so much as me sorting my thoughts out in blog format. If it is a rant, it’s not really a vitriolic one.

    I am physically male, last I checked, but I think my mental gender is closer to neuter than anything else. But that’s a whole complicated story that I won’t go into because this is an ANIME BLOG for ANIME and not COMPLICATED GENDER CONFUSION (except as personified by Mako-chan).

  5. 5 gexecuter 10 April 2008 at 1:29 pm

    You wouldn`t happen to have a COMPLICATED GENDER CONFUSION blog somewhere right?, your story seems interesting that`s all.

    Anyway nice blog and mako-chan is that girl you have as your avatar right?.

  6. 6 OGT 10 April 2008 at 4:03 pm

    No, I don’t really keep a GENDER CONFUSION BLOG anywhere. You can dig up my IM addresses on MAL if you’re that curious, but I don’t think it’s that interesting of a story.

    Mako-chan is not my avatar, that is Felt/Feldt Grace from Mobile Suit Gundam 00. See Minami-ke posts for Mako-chan, who, to date, is still the only trap character I find adorable.

  7. 7 gexecuter 10 April 2008 at 8:25 pm

    What`s MAL?

  8. 8 gexecuter 10 April 2008 at 9:12 pm

    and oh yeah what IM service you use the most?

  1. 1 Impressions on Bamboo Blade: A Strange Band of Bravers « Drastic My Anime Blog Trackback on 8 April 2008 at 2:04 pm

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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April 2008

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