Archive for the 'musings' Category

A Brief Exploration Into Why We Watch What We Watch (maybe)

The Rule of Three is, unfortunately, compelling me to follow up on Pontifus’s post about the threefold methods of interpreting a text, and Cuchlann’s post about what a text actually is, leaving me to pick up the tattered scraps littering the workshop, and make some kind of reconstituted wood out of it all.

By dint of occupation and current educational focus, I tend to focus on what Pontifus elects to not talk about, the set of biases and prejudices which define a readers’ interactions with a given text. We bring these biases to everything we read (or watch), and whether or not we end up liking what we’ve read, the process of reading leaves its imprint on our biases; somewhere in the unconscious, where the foundations for taste lie, a new rule is defined, a corollary is added, a variable is shifted slightly. We can never fully know our own complex of biases, but we can see the pattern in what we like and dislike, and surmise from that. (I have no doubt that somewhere, someone is attempting to derive aesthetic calculus, though)

In my previous post, this complex produces originality when given a specific time-frame, where past experience gives the sense of something being familiar yet radically different; here, the same complex is the basis for taste itself. Most likely, the development of our individual tastes is fairly simple: whenever something deeply affects us, we begin to search out things similar to what affected us: the child who never missed a single episode of Robotech, for instance, as an adult is gleeful to discover not only Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and anime itself, but also anime similar to it. It’s a form of patterning: an imposition of order upon complex, chaotic streams of information by simplifying and generalizing until we have a concept that can be expressed.

Likely, you already understand that, at some level; however, what I want to touch on is the way this process, constantly iterated over the course of a lifetime, might work. Taking the above-mentioned Macross example, there are any number of different ways our hypothetical child might “pattern” the series. For example:

  • Large-scale space opera stories
  • Romance stories
  • Valkyries (or robots in general)
  • Idolization of Roy Focker, Maximillian Jenius, Lynn Minmay, Misa Hayase, Captain Global, Milia Falyna, etc.
  • Visual aesthetics (the early 80s style, Itano’s signature animation)
  • Writing style and pacing of storyline
  • Styles of music featured in series
  • Themes (love and music transcending intercultural barriers and warmongering)

I doubt this is an exhaustive list, and none of these aspects are mutually exclusive, although our hypothetical child will most likely perceive at least some of them as anathema to what they like, and may not even be able to consciously grasp others. It’s also likely that many of these will be converted into simplified tropes to ease the selection of similar things to watch or read (this has robots so I like it, that has a romance story so I don’t like it). The impact runs deeper than the superficial tropes, but at this early phase, only the most basic rules of thumb are likely to be of any use.

It’s at this point—where we have a basic but unarticulated internal aesthetic framework—that Pontifus’s interpretation methods likely come into play. When learning something new, there tends to be a “bottoming out”: faced with overwhelming amounts of conflicting information, individuals are forced to use compensating strategies to cope with the overload and attendant anxiety. Since we are learning about one’s own taste here, the three interpretive methods, arise from different implementations of various coping strategies:

  • The “focused” model, where the individual has a preferred meaning that does not preclude other meanings, derives from the decision to focus on a single set of elements. For whatever reason, the individual has determined that this particular set of elements produces, for them, the ideal form of enjoyment; perhaps they are keeping their options open for later explorations, but perhaps not. The interpretations produced, become increasingly specialized to the chosen set, and seen not as an absolute interpretation but as the interpretation they happen to have.
  • The “discerning” model, where the individual has a preferred meaning that does preclude other meanings, derives from a rejectionist stance: a single set of elements is chosen as the desired set, and other sets are dismissed as irrelevant. The interpretations produced are specialized to the chosen set, and seen as the definite, normative interpretation.
  • The “omnifan” model, where different interpretations co-exist and are considered relevant, likely comes from a very developed internal structure, where the individual has explored to some extent every element and understands the scope and limitations of their own tastes. The interpretations produced reflect the variety of directions from which the individual can understand any given work.

To, perhaps, simplify: the paths you elect to not explore have as much effect on your taste as the paths that you choose to explore; the manner in which you approach the selection of which paths to value can also affect the development of taste. None of these paths are ever ultimately wrong, as diversity necessitates the existence of things you actively despise; even when conflicting or mutually exclusive, each path serves to highlight the faults, strengths, and lacunae of other paths.

Finally, it’s important to note—especially given the obtuse nature of this concept—to remember that no single method operates exclusively: taste is, well, complicated, and people can easily be discerning and select anime as the only interest, thereby rejecting, say, television, film, and literature, but be omnifan within the confines of anime. These systems are also malleable over time: someone may initially put up a discerning stance, for instance, but soften it over time.

Also, one last note: this anime thing? Maybe I can, like, actually write something about it eventually! That way, someone might actually care about this whole ‘writing on the internets’ thing. I keep forgetting that there is anime I haven’t seen, that I have meant to see, but haven’t. :(

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On Originality

In the continuing cycle of drama chain reactions, after reading Pontifus’s response to Martin’s post regarding K-ON!!, I discovered that somehow Pontifus has invaded my brain and sucked out some of my thoughts, like some kind of intellectual zombie. Pontifus discusses the presumptions underlying Martin’s uneasiness surrounding K-ON!!, which are very nuanced and laudable presumptions, but I shall cherry-pick the concept of “originality” and, in so doing, hopefully disjoint Martin himself from the free-floating concept of “originality” that I intend to blather nonsensically about here. As Pontifus has already done, probably. But at any rate: away with ye, spectre of Martin!

Pontifus mentions that we live in an era preceded by literary movements that prized originality and novelty above all others:

In the English-speaking world, at least, we’re riding in the wake of several literary movements which brought originality in vogue; the Romantics and high modernism come to mind. Even postmodern works, with their pastiches of cut-and-pasted elements, are expected to arrange these elements in refreshing ways.

Originality is often the most important value-measurement for nearly everyone I know for nearly any creative activity: execution, artistic value, intelligence, all the myriad ways in which one can qualify the enjoyment of any given work are somehow not enough to save that which falls short of the “originality” ideal from being consigned to second-class status. Not that this is, strictly speaking, a bad thing: I would be lying to you if I said that I never, ever prized originality above all else. However, I do feel as though the use and application of this originality judgment needs to be slightly and more formally nuanced.

This tendency to value the original is strongly embedded in our consciousness. Generally speaking, there is a set amount of difference—originality—that humans can comfortably handle: if we watch a series, for example, and find that there is too little new or original in it, we’re likely to find ourselves bored with the tedium of it all; conversely, if there is too much new or original in it, we’re likely to find ourselves confused and overwhelmed. Somewhere in between is the elusive balance of familiarity and originality, and perhaps the point where we are most likely to label something as “groundbreaking”, or at least “successfully original”: the original becomes all the more apparent immediately juxtaposed with the familiar in the same work.

When it comes to fiction, our perception of these levels of originality is highly relative: what is overwhelming and confusing for one person is tedious and humdrum for another, and for a third the same work will be revelatory in the possibilities it opens. In other words, narratives exist simultaneously as unoriginal, original, and too original at the same time, depending on past experience, taste, and other personal elements. The narratives one has read/watched in the past build up experience by which one can consider the originality of narratives one will read/watch in the future. There’s also a vague boundary line drawn around genre: as a longtime fan of science fiction and fantasy, I feel that I am able to make fair assessments of the originality relative to the genre; I have not read very many mystery novels, and even though I like them, I don’t feel comfortable assessing their originality relative to the mystery genre, although I am quite comfortable assessing their originality relative to me.

The question to ask, then, is: what is the purpose of the originality judgment? There is certainly plenty of merit to the “objective” judgment of originality; I can argue about subjective judgments until I’m blue in the face, but in all likelihood K-ON!! is much less daringly original than Tatami Galaxy. Such an objective judgment, though, shouldn’t necessarily preclude the subjective judgment of K-ON!! as the apex of originality, or Tatami Galaxy as dull, unoriginal tripe. Italo Calvino, in his excellent essay “Why Read the Classics?” (The Uses of Literature, 1986), lists fourteen seemingly contradictory definitions of “classics”. Calvino’s flexible definition, bringing the concept of a “classic” away from staid lists of the literary canon and towards a personal engagement with literature and fiction, certainly describes the importance and value of the subjective originality judgment far better than I ever could.

For, in the end, I feel, what becomes most important to each person is not that which is original in the objective sense, but that which is original in the subjective sense. Every time a work strikes us as original to any degree, even if, objectively speaking, it’s not, our taste expands and our perception of the world is changed. This, unfortunately, happens but infrequently, and this infrequency tends to skew our judgments and embitter our tastes. I think, perhaps, many of us already recognize this, and so, Dear Reader, I ask you this: if originality be such a rare beast, with wildly different results from objective and subjective viewpoints, why should the lack of it be apologized away, and stigmatized?

The Social Fandom, The Solitary Fan: An Inconclusive Theory

Long, complicated intersections of conversations and renegade trains of thought yesterday resulted in the singularly obvious observation that simpler, more accessible stories are always going to be more popular (and possibly more ephemeral) than the more complex, less accessible stories will be. While your mind is busy comprehending the sheer obviousness of that statement, I’m going to spend a wee bit more time with it in relation to the greater concept of fandom (maybe).

Fandom is, essentially, a social activity. One can be a “fan” of something without necessarily being social, but “fandom” exists in the social sphere and is the social function of being a fan of something. The word “fandom” provides the perception of a monolithic entity even as we recognize that fandom consists of people with wildly differing temperaments, personalities, tastes, and extra-fandom interests. When we speak of fans, we refer to the general monolith of fandom; when we speak of a fan, we refer to a specific person within the fandom. In other words, “fans” can be abuzz with social gossip and conversation that any single given member of fandom might not care about, lending apathy, confusion, or anger to the fan whose concerns lie outside whatever the latest gossip is. We see the effect in a giant robot fan isolated in a sea of “omg did you see that pantyflash?!”, and we see it in the cute girl fan isolated in a sea of “omg did you see that rocket punch?!”; this effect is, of course, multiplied when you’re both talking about the same series.

In light of this, it’s important to remember that there are two directions that works tend to lean: one reaches out, towards the social environment; another reaches in, towards the text itself. Northrop Frye refers to these as the “centrifugal” and “centripetal” motions of literature respectively; in a move that will either please or displease my English degree-holding overlords, for this purpose let’s assume that the “centrifugal” or outward-movement is directed towards fandom, and the “centripetal” or inward-movement is directed towards a fan. Both of these exist simultaneously in any given work, especially considering that to have any centrifugal effect, a work generally must have some sort of centripetal effect.

It should come as no surprise, then, that there are some works that are more amenable to all the multitudes of fan activities that fandom is comprised of. Regardless of the relative quality or popularity of works that possess this trait, they tend to be simpler and broader in their appeal. They are the works that are easy to like and, conversely, easy to dislike; they are our SHIN MAZINGER SHOUGEKI! Z-HEN on TELEVISIONs, our K-ON!s, our Maria-sama ga Miterus, our Code Geass-s. For whatever reason, the centrifugal response that manifests in fandom comes naturally, and so they tend to dominate most public discourse simply because it’s easier to.

On the other hand, there are some works that are more amenable to the vagaries of an individual fan than fandom at large. Again, regardless of the relative quality or popularity of works that possess this trait, they tend to be complex and focused in their appeal. They are the works that are difficult to like or dislike, and more likely to leave a strong, positive impression on the viewer; they are our Serial Experiments: Lains, our Kaibas, our Sky Crawlers-s, our The Girl Who Leapt Through Times. For whatever reason, the centripetal response that manifests as a personal response to the work comes naturally, leaving them to be more subdued when discussed in a social context.

We have, of course, temporarily ignored the giant Day-Glo elephant in the room, which is that every work has some degree of leaning in either direction. Some works will actually lend themselves well to both ways, able to draw in and maintain a broad audience while still providing the complexity needed to provoke more personal and analytical reactions. These tend to be the major landmark successes: they are the Neon Genesis Evangelions, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiyas, the Mobile Suit Gundams, the Tengen Toppa Gurren-Laganns. They tend to provoke controversy and leave lasting impacts in both fan and fandom, occasionally in society itself.

The two directions, also, entail different types of social interaction, it seems: the centrifugal direction finds its home making simple subjective judgments, i.e. “this character > that character”, “this episode > that episode”, “this show > that show”, etc.; the centripetal direction tends to provoke more analytical responses than simple subjective judgments, and finds its expression more an “appreciation” than an “enjoyment,” although certainly enjoyment is a major factor for it as well. This also accounts for some amount of weirdness when a work we consider to be directed in one direction is treated in the other; we all scratch our heads over the “Sky Crawlers sucks I give it negative eleventeen stars” as much as we have the “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Maria+Holic: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes.”

What does this all get us, besides an inadvertent preliminary draft of Northrop Frye (With Creative Embellishments) for Anime Fans? I’m not entirely for certain, unfortunately, but I can hardly think it disadvantageous to take a step back and realize that sometimes there’s a reason a woefully ignored, brilliant masterpiece isn’t getting discussed as much as the flavor-of-the-week: it’s harder to discuss, especially on a place like the Internet, the primary function of which seems to be demonstrating that inane prattle is exactly as common as it is, rather than the fervently-hoped-for less so.

A quick bibliography:

This Ask John article sparked the conversation that sparked the process that ended up as this post.

Also read cuchlann’s excellent postulate of where fandom comes from, as applied to Maria-sama ga Miteru but also generally applicable as well.

If you somehow develop the urge to read Northrop Frye and you haven’t already, The Anatomy of Criticism is a good place to start. Or, at least, it’s the one I recently read. It also happened to make sense but that’s likely just me.

On the Nature of Enjoyment (feat. Ange Ushiromiya)

One thing that I’ve noticed as I read a lot of Western fiction and watch a lot of Japanese animation is that occasionally I have to pause and think about the nature of how I enjoy something. This frequently leads to bewilderment and confusion in both myself and others as I try to figure out whether or not liking something in a different way than I like something else means that I like it less (or more). It’s fairly meaningless for me to say something like “Simoun is a better fantasy than William Goldman’s The Princess Bride” when there’s almost zero grounds for any sort of comparison. It might be slightly more meaningful, depending on the context, for me to say “I like Simoun better than The Princess Bride” but then that’s akin to saying “I like celery more than I like bananas”. And sometimes I really want bananas. But right now, what I want is a whole-wheat cracker.

It’s something I feel whenever I think about the differences in the nature and form of enjoyment I take from the Western novel and the anime (or manga, or even what little Actual Japanese Literature™ I’ve read), but can’t quite put in words. And, no, it’s not quite a visual appeal issue, so I can’t solve it by saying “anime has cute girls therefore it’s better/worse [please circle the best choice] case closed.” The closest I can come is placing things into a strange matrix of enjoyment derived from intellectual and emotional means. This is not to say that one is inherently better than the other–it’s best, after all, when both are present in similar amounts–but the method of approach, the ever-mutable intellectual and emotional expectations brought into and taken from a work, seem to alter the nature of the enjoyment I derive.

When I think of a Western (the vague and ill-defined global concept, not Louis L’Amour) novel, for instance, I think of intelligence; this is regardless of whether or not I like the novel under question, or whether said novel is intelligent or not. The novel is praised for being intelligent, for being clever, for doing anything that appeals to intellect; the novel is detested for failing to appeal to the intellect, for being sloppy or sentimental or schlocky, for being the Dread Word “Entertaining”. The observation of this perception is hardly news as it’s been going on for roughly two centuries (give or take some decades), but there’s more to it than Sturgeonesque bitterness towards the intellectual elite. Consider the fact that most defences of entertainment, of genre, of actually enjoying what you read are intellectually adroit, understandable given how they are generally addressed addressed to an intellectual audience that may or may not like to enjoy itself. The fight to enjoy something, to defend something against being deemed “escapist” or otherwise “unintelligent” is to insist on the unconventional intelligence of the works under contention.

I’m not trying to upturn my nose here–I’m as guilty as the next person at wanting and enjoying intelligent entertainment (in all of that phrase’s gloriously fuzzy meaning), and, in all honesty, treating entertainment of any kind as though it were unintelligent by default is damaging to everyone. I read books that I enjoy, and I enjoy books that I read. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind, more often than not I find a novel to be more intellectually appealing than emotionally–no matter how affectionate I am of the novel or how emotionally appealing I found it. Again, this is not bad, but merely an expression of a particular form of enjoyment.

Conversely, when I think of anime (and of Japanese literature in general, to which anime and manga belong, however reluctantly) I find myself thinking far more of emotions. This, again, is hardly surprising: the history of Japanese literature places more emphasis on the emotional side of a story than its logical side. In other words, the emotions and internal workings of the characters play a stronger role than how “real” (or “realistic”) the characters are. I find this notion easy to detect in anime: whether it be Kabuto Kouji full of burning passion to defeat Baron Ashura and Dr. Hell, Akari Mizunashi full of curiosity and delight in the small things, or the complex characters of Macross Plus, emotions–both those of the characters and/or those engendered in the viewer–play a key role in the series and its appeal to its fanbase, no matter how simplistic or complex they might be.

Just as how Western novels blend intellectual and emotional appeal, however, so too does Japan (more so now, with an increase in Westernized attitudes). The Tale of Genji, the first and most significant work of Japanese prose literature, is extremely internally consistent despite its vast cast of characters rarely referred to by name and with shifting titles; the few inconsistencies tend to appear in chapters where Murasaki Shikibu’s authorship is potentially in doubt. There is also anime that offers much to the intellectually-oriented audience–the  films of Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon strike my mind first here, but that may more be due to their larger penetration into the Western market. Even Miyazaki has a strong intellectual appeal, one that may be causing the divide on Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. And there’s the reverse, with more emotional than intellectual appeal, where I think of Key and their ability to take fairly thin characters and still engender strong emotional reactions in their readers and viewers; ef seems to follow in this tradition, if a bit more spectacularly.

In fact, what attracted me to anime in the first place (as I’ve no doubt regaled people with countless times) was the profound emotional effect it had on me; hitherto that point I’d mostly been interested in comedies and was convinced I didn’t like drama at all. The effect of this flip-flopped my attitude not just towards anime and manga but also towards novels and literature; here were emotions I’d not had, or didn’t think I’d like. The result seems to be that I began to understand and explore that which emotionally appealed more to me over that which appealed more to my intellect, and (slowly but surely) move closer to integrating the two. I’ll probably always tend more towards that which stirs the emotions than that which purely stimulates the intellect; but as these two concepts are not diametrically opposed but instead exist on a Cartesian coordinate plane, I can certainly hope to have it both ways (or at least adjust myself as I deem it necessary).

I’ve divided the spectrum between West and East (or West and Japan) and between textual and visual mostly unintentionally, as my initial goal was to muse upon (for my benefit and potential sanity at least) the odd, contrasting natures of how I liked both Western fiction and anime in what generally appears to me to be completely contrasting and contradictory ways (leading to maddening questions like “Do I really like books? Do I really like anime? Do I really like anything? Do I really have too much free time these days? Do I really need to go take a really long walk and just wipe myself out?”). Nothing mentioned here is strictly bounded by borders of nation, genre, or medium, real or imagined.

I think, in some sort of conclusion (have I actually reached one?), it’s worth pointing out that nothing, as the aforementioned Sturgeon said, is ever absolutely so, and examples and counter-examples clearly exist to everything here, and, furthermore, those examples and counter-examples are going to differ depending on the person giving them. But whether it’s just me who thinks this way, or everyone, or if I’m even dead wrong on my (hilariously subjective) assessment of the matter, I think it best to at least keep in mind that there are at least two tandem approaches to deriving enjoyment from any given narrative: one from the intellect and one from emotion. Each manifests itself differently in everyone and people naturally tend towards one more than the other for some narratives and vice versa for others; some will even be able to swap between the approaches at will. And it’s likely that as time passes that the preferences will change as well.

I think I best list some examples so, at the very least, my subjective assessment of all this nonsense will be known, so that perhaps thought processes can maybe be assimilated into some kind of coherent whole by someone who is not me. Oddly enough this also somewhat serves as a “recommended reading/watching” list in a very odd and somewhat haphazardly slapped together at the last minute way.

  • Primarily intellectual:
    Novels: Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh, feed by M.T. Anderson, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
    Anime: Legend of Galactic Heroes, Macross Plus, The Sky Crawlers
  • Primarily emotional:
    Novels: The Six Duchies nonalogy by Robin Hobb, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
    Anime: Kamichu!, Crest of the Stars, Whisper of the Heart
  • Primarily both:
    Novels: Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    Anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Planetes, Toki o Kakeru Shoujo

If this post makes no sense, it is entirely my fault for not being sensible. I’m going to go not think for a while. It might do me some good, and prepare me mentally to think way too hard about information management.

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Well, I don’t know about you, but reading otousan’s post on this topic, the similar top-10 post he linked to (you know, the one that wasn’t me), and realizing that this is August, which makes this the six-year anniversary of my friend finally magically convincing me to watch Cowboy Bebop which opened up a floodgate that led directly to where I am today, made me ponder the infamous question posed by Paul Gauguin. So, I figured, why not jump in on the “exploring your roots in anime fandom” deal?

It, uh, didn’t work the way it was supposed to.

I started checking my list for series that could serve as series that left a deep and impressionable impact on me, and discovered two things: one, there weren’t really a lot of them, and, two, the ones that seemed to leave an impact that resonates to this very day aren’t the ones everyone else attributes the same to. Cowboy Bebop is, of course, my first (and you never forget your first) and it indeed was pretty amazing (or else I had nothing better to do since I watched it all in one day, God help me) because I sobbed like a baby when Ed and Ein left, but revisiting the series later (in, admittedly, a terrible setting to do so) I was struck by the realization that I didn’t really understand why this was the work that got me into anime. I don’t know if it’s just that my tastes shifted, the fault of the setting in which I rewatched it (although I did grab Mushroom Samba that night and watched it, and was also much less amused by it), or the fact that I’m just delusional as hell and like to fabricate elaborate ways to not like things, but something felt missing. The same went for a lot of “classic” series that I jumped into at that point in time: I watched Slayers all the way through and forgot that I did so a year later, I suffered through a library-owned VHS dub copy of Ghost in the Shell and sat there and said “why do people like this movie?”, I watched (possibly only the vast majority of) Neon Genesis Evangelion in an entire day (I went to class that day too!) and wasn’t really moved to massive fanboyism or anti-fanboyism, and I found Princess Mononoke boring (that was another “I watched it dubbed” thing, though, so who knows). The fact that none of these really grabbed me in the way they grabbed everyone else baffles me as much as it does you, and is probably indicative of a taste deficit in my part, although, for the most part, I wouldn’t say I actally, physically hated any of above mentioned series–it’s more a lack of true, amazing, heartfelt devotion to one or all of those series. Not really apathy, but just “it’s there, and it’s good, and that’s it.”

[Short aside for the purposes of providing visual relief from text: The first time I was ever labeled a “pedo” (that infamous universally applicable and frequently totally inaccurate pejorative for anime fans) was when I declared to a friend that I thought Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV was constructed of pure awesome and win. The second time was when I told a different friend that Margie from Xenogears was cute.

She still is, damn you all]

What did seem to grab me? Totally random and bizarre things, apparently. I picked up Figure 17 fairly early on and loved it to pieces (even if I did suffer the Figure 17 Effect), and I do count it among the main series that I think showed me what I liked about anime and why I kept coming back for more. Kokoro Library is another one, although that attachment is more sentimental (and occupation-related) due to a massive catharsis while watching it. Beyond that, I really have no clue which series (especially series viewed early on) I can attribute to helping me solidify myself as an anime fan. I can rattle off a list of series I assigned 10s to and say it’s their fault, but I don’t really know if that’d work right. I don’t even know if I can really assign the reason as to why I’ve stuck around so long (when other friends of mine fell away, or have other interests that don’t involve animation but still involve Japan, or involve animation but not Japan, or involve neither) to any one specific group of series.

I almost want to say that what happened was that, simply because of my habit of getting interested in something and basically diving headfirst into it and starting to root for stuff evolved into a kind of holistic passion for anime. In 2002, when I started out, I downloaded anything and everything someone, somewhere, said was good. This is why I have Star Ocean EX CD-Rs and about 50 zillion others that sit collecting dust because I can’t throw them away because I might need them someday. It didn’t always work out with me in the right way, but, generally speaking, I enjoyed a lot fo what I did end up watching–and some of it stuck, and some of it I remembered existed only when I browsed through ANN when compiling my first collected list of series I’d seen a couple years ago. It’s always a weird feeling to go “wow, I forgot I watched this series and that it even existed” and remembering that you had fun watching it.

What came out of this insane, almost suicidal exploration (it could easily have backfired on lesser and greater men than me, resulting in early burnout) was, perhaps, not a passion for anime as a genre of media (or whatever you want to call it these days; I remember people arguing that it was a medium and not a genre years ago) but what I think is best described as a passion for anime as anime. It’s weird–instead of subconsciously comparing anime to other media/genres of media, as many people seem to do, I think I do the opposite, at times. It might not be a better position (I’m tempted to argue that it’s a worse position, honestly), but it certainly is a different viewpoint from the ones I’m used to seeing from a Western audience.

Also I am certifiably crazy. Which I think we’ve established.

Also, because I didn’t quite think it needed its own post, but I wanted to mention it anyway, because, well, I mustn’t run away: I bought the thinpack of Neon Genesis Evangelion today, for no other reason than I hadn’t bought it in six years, and I figured that if I didn’t buy it while I was thinking about it, I wouldn’t remember to buy it for another six.

I think I need to join the Human Instrumentality Project now. Also I have listened to Cruel Angel’s Thesis (残酷な天使のテーゼ if you’re a stickler for kanji you can’t read like me) far, far too much today. I don’t know why. It is, however, an awesome song.

(P.S.: Who the heck is Paul Gauguin anyway?)

In “Defense” of Not Knowing What the Hell “Good” and “Bad” Actually Are

CAUTION: INCREASED VERBOSITY! HARD HAT AREA! PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE LETTERS! I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOU READ THIS POST AND COMPLAIN ABOUT ITS LACK OF A POINT!


I am totally circle nine. Totally.

So, between Real Drive episodes, I noticed on MAL that IKnight had finished watching Figure 17, which is one of my absolute favorites (I believe it played an early instrumental role in causing me to be into the anime thing long-term) and went to check my RSS feed to see if he’d posted a post about it but instead I noticed between the Strike Witches tea post (I actually drink 100% juice when I want flavored drinks these days, but 90% of the time it’s water) and the totally awesome Legend of Galactic Heroes post (made, of course, because he could) was this post I’d somehow skipped over because I had no idea what “axiology” was, and also because I was at work last I checked the site. I clicked and read, and (of course) it was related to the complicated mess that he and I have actually discussed (never, by the way, talk to me, unless you like getting doctoral theses out of a simple 10-word question that could have been more simply answered “yes” or “no” or “you are an idiot”; if you do, have at it) and things that go through my mind all the time, namely: what is “good” and what is “bad”?

I don’t think I’m at a point in my life where I can tell you the difference. Sure, I can say that Musashi Gundoh was a horrible, awful, terrible series (which is why it has so many 10 votes on every user-ranking database ever), but anything less than that starts to get nebulous. Where does “bad” end and “good” begin? Is there even a recognizable line? Can it even be objectively determined?

I mean, take a look at my MAL anime list (ATM Machine) (this is actually a hilariously unsubtle attempt to raise my anime list views, because I like numbers growing bigger for some reason), I’m glancing over it and almost none of them make any kind of sense to me at all. Toki o Kakeru Shoujo is rated a 10, but so is Simoun, and so is Baccano!, and so is Toward the Terra. Do I know why this is? No, not really; I can justify it with the 100% valid reason that I think they deserve a 10. I can’t even tell you what the hell a rating of 10 even means. The other ratings don’t really make any sense, either; I’m pretty confident that I think they’re 100% appropriate ratings for the series, but how the hell I arrived at that conclusion I’ve no clue. The only standard I ascribe to when assigning a rating is that the score stands not for how perfect I think the series was, but how little I cared how imperfect it was. No work is going to be “perfect”, but we can ignore its imperfections and bask in the glory that is what it does right.


Like Felt-tan, my only grip on sanity is the reassuringly cold and metallic presence of Haro.

And I’m not even going to go into whether or not I have “good taste” or not. I’m pretty sure I have the best taste in anime, music, etc. in the world, as long as you happen to be me, which none of you are. But as I commented to Kaiserpingvin on last.fm earlier today “There are only two adjectives for my musical taste: Amazing, or horrible. I waffle between the two of them, myself.” And it’s true–I can go from things like Kalefina – oblivious (which is an amazing Kajiura Yuki song) to MOSAIC.WAV – Naisha Odaku-nyan (which is probably the craziest and best thing they’ve done short of “Moe Spiral! Akibattler Slash!”, which is, of course, the track that precedes it on We Love AKIBA-POP) to the brilliant green – Brownie the Cat to Polysics – I My Me Mine (which is…you should know by now)–in that order, with no “buffer songs” in between them, without batting an eye. It’s perfectly logical. I don’t think it’s incongruent at all. Two of those songs, by all rights and means, should actually be horribly annoying and ear-bleeding–but I love them to death and, if in the mood, will listen to them on repeat, at really loud volumes. Hell, I actually thought Marisa Stole the Precious Thing was an amazing song.

And don’t even get me started on books–my local paper’s literary columnist is accepting submissions for top 10 favorite books lists, and if I can ever sit down and think of a suitably eclectic collection of books that don’t make any sense that the same person would like them all (for instance, putting Battle Royale before The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), you can bet that I’ll be spreading confusion among all the seven people in this general area who read that column.

Of course, having bizarre, nonsensical taste is one thing, but when I am faced with something that is hailed as being Genuinely Good, I’m more often than not less than disinterested. Working in a library, I see lots of (what the quotes on the back say are) quality literary fiction go on and off the shelf as everyone is wowed and amazed by this or that debut novel, but does any of that interest me? No, I get all excited when I see someone pick up a copy of The Eyre Affair, and I’m much more genuinely happy to link someone up with a romance novel with a trashy awesome cover than to show someone where the Dave Eggers books are kept (all over the place, apparently). I’d rather spend ten minutes hunting down a copy of Inu-Yasha volume umpteen million (and I don’t really like Inu-Yasha!) than ten seconds showing someone where The Name of the Rose is. My general rule is: if the ad copy of the book tries to tell me how meaningful and important the book is before (or, all too often, instead of) telling me what the book is actually about, I generally just put it back on the shelf and forget about it.


This is as confusing as the concepts I am trying to not think about too much and failing, except this is because of a temporal impossibility!

This happens in anime, too, of course (I’d never spend a whole post on an anime blog and not talk about anime at all!); I’ve famously quoted to people that I’ll get back to watching more than one episode of Kaiba “sometime” (in one instance, “this weekend”, the weekend in question being two months ago), but I just…can’t. I watched the first epiosde and actually sat there and was impressed by Yuasa’s directing skills, and I loved the visual style–but that’s it. I didn’t connect with Kaiba himself (who, by all rights, I should, him being a stranger in a strange land) and, while I understood exactly what Yuasa was trying to get me to feel, I didn’t actually feel it–I just recognized that he was going for it, and it failed. In all seriousness, I don’t like Kaiba for the same reason I don’t particularly like Strike Witches–neither of them really get me interested in the characters or the events onscreen. They’re totally different series, of course, and it’s a somewhat unfair comparison–but I’d say that, on a strictly subjective and personal note, that the bigger failure of the two is Kaiba, because Yuasa was trying to pull me in emotionally into a story, and it didn’t work. In the case of Strike Witches, I don’t think it was even trying very hard to grip the viewer in an emotional stranglehold that wouldn’t let up, so since I perceive its lack of interesting (to me) elements as not in the scope of the series’ intent, I’m not too bothered by its failure. And–just for symmetry’s sake–I think Shimeda is an amazing artist.

That doesn’t mean I don’t support Yuasa, because I think we need anime like that; it’s up for debate whether or not we need more anime like Strike Witches, but it’s a moot point because that’s what producers think we want, and so we will get them, and in all honesty I’d rather there be a few series like Strike Witches (except maybe better), because mindless entertainment is excellent for recharging mental batteries.

I think I was going to have a point in this post, somewhere, but it doesn’t really have one. Either I actually have terrible taste and I’m simply deluding myself, or I’ve accepted that quality is in the eye of the beholder, and what I think is super-amazing and awesome someone else will find humdrum and boring–some might even say generic. But I don’t really get bothered about people not liking what I like, as long as they aren’t total jerkbags about it. Which can be rare, sometimes.

IN CONCLUSION:

Pretend that the cell phone is actually symbolic of horrendously complicated philosophical subjects (such as, for instance, this one), and that I, personified by my Lucky Star avatar Tsukasa, am busily fumbling around with it and trying to make it work. Not depicted: the part where “Tsukasa” takes the “cell phone”, throws it across the room, then runs over and jumps on it for a while, and then picks up the remains, places them in a plastic bag, gets out a rolling pin, and proceeds to roll the “cell phone” into very fine metaphorical dust before taking the remains to a really big hill and scattering the fragments to the four winds, forever ridding the planet of the hideous presence of the “cell phone” menace. “Tsukasa” returns, is welcomed as a hero, and is given carrot cake. With delicious cream cheese frosting. She eats it. It is delicious. Mmm, cake.

(1500+ words? I AM GOING TO SHOOT MYSELF)

A Librarian’s Lament: Watching Anime, Thinking Critically

I can’t remember if I’ve used this image before or not, so if I have, here it is again!

Partially inspired by the discussion on this post and partially inspired by being really bored at work and thinking back to a conversation with a coworker whom I explained the literary/artistic value of comics in general and manga/anime in specific, I’ve determined that the problem with the world isn’t, as is traditionally assumed by members of the older generation, that kids aren’t reading as much, so much as kids aren’t being educated in the art of thinking critically of works of literary/artistic merit they take in. Of any form, be it live-action film, a novel, a picture book, animation, or what have you. This, of course, leads to a group of people who simply consume anime (or other things, but this is an anime blog) simply because they have nothing better to do with their time. It’s faintly disturbing.

I think the root of the problem is the education system, which presents students with books to read for class and then mandatory outside reading, which is universally loathed by all students. There’s a clear distinction between books for class (which are used to teach analytical principles, presumably) and books for pleasure reading (which are usually selected, at least in my hometown, from a list provided by Scholastic’s Accelerated Reader program, which reduces the literary merit of a book to a single abstract point value). The distinction between the two is clear–students are tested on how well the analyse the former, whereas the latter they’re frequently tested on whether or not they actually paid attention while reading the book. This is especially the case for the aforementioned Accelerated Reader program, which include only plot-related questions on their tests, and no analytical.

“So,” you find yourself asking, “what does this have to do with anime?” Lots! If students are brought up in an environment that encourages outside reading, yet only tests the student’s comprehension of plot details, this leads to them viewing all outside entertainment as simply vehicles for casual entertainment or, worse if you happen to be the reading sort, a utter loathing of the very act of reading. If a student views outside of class reading only on the superficial level so they can pass the test, wouldn’t this extend to all of their outside entertainment? The teachers may be teaching the students how to analyze a book, but they aren’t teaching them to do this on their own. And, therefore, when our hypothetical student encounters anime in the outside world, s/he views it not as a potential object of study, but rather as a cheap way to get some entertainment.

If anime merely means cheap entertainment to someone, then, of course, fansubs are the cheapest way to get anime, but I’m not setting foot into the dangerous waters of fansub legaity issues (my stance is “watch fansubs, buy DVDs”, for those interested, and in all honesty TRSI probably has a small shrine dedicated to me and my loyal DVD buying habits, because I have the nasty feeling that if I stopped buying anime DVDs the industry would collapse in short order. Unless it’s not as bad as Daryl Surat makes it sound like it is). The natural logic stemming from this is that anime is “just TV” and isn’t meant to be something to take seriously. The fact of the matter is, though, that anything can be taken seriously. I’m a firm believer in the fact that even the most banal and generic book, TV show, movie, whatever, can be critically thought about in some way. Granted, there probably aren’t a lot of blogs devoted to literary criticism of Law & Order episodes, but that’s not the point. The point is, anything, in any medium, that tells a story can serve as the inspiration for further thought on the issues it raises. You can be spurred to profound thought from a children’s picture book (Dr. Seuss is infamous for this) or through Russian literature or through a work of genre fiction. And drawing inspiration from a work counts as well; I know I’ve drawn inspiration from strange places before, and it gets you thinking, which is good no matter where it comes from.

It doesn’t matter what you enjoy, as long as you at least spend some time thinking about it. You certainly don’t have to be the next Harold Bloom (but you wouldn’t want to be Harold Bloom as that implies that you have some sort of bizarre sexual preoccupation with the Bard), or even have something particuarly profound to say, or a life-changing revelation. And, yes, I know not everyone is trained in the fine art of literary analysis; I know I certainly haven’t been, or at least, haven’t been extensively trained in this art, a fact probably reflected in my usual posting fare. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you think, how you think it, or even if you’re having an original thought. You’re thinking about things, and putting the work into the greater context of what it means to be human, whether it be being inspired by an anime character to improve or better your life, or complex doctoral thesis statements on Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. And actively watching is always good, and even if you don’t actively watch every series you watch (it would be somewhat hard to actively watch, say, Rosario + Vampire, I admit), there’s always that one work out there that seems to speak directly to you and only you. So give it a shot. It’s fun, maybe, I promise!


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

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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