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I Love, and I Hate, Anime.

Over the past few months, as I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been watching a lot of anime.  I’ve been trying to be a little selective about what I watch – a lot of it is poorly animated trash, a lot of it is just mid, and some of it is truly a work of art.  The anime that’s a work of art has actually changed my life in many ways, and the rest of it has pretty much been a waste of time.

Some anime has been a surprisingly emotional experience for me.  Not all, but some.

My former Japanese sensei told me once that Japan is a very depressed place, and I can really see that.  This comes through loud and clear by what is not shown in anime.  A large portion of the anime I’ve seen appears to be set in middle or high school, and the stories tend to look very fondly on those environments.  What happens after high school is kind of treated as a black box, and while I think that’s pretty accurate to high schoolers might see it, there’s also this underlying theme of it being an ending.  Yes, graduation is an ending of sorts, that’s true, but I mean in a more final way.  The mangaka seems to often see high school life as the pinnacle, and they’re moving into a world that will never be as good as the life they’re leaving behind.  In point of fact, this seems to be the case for almost all of Japanese media.  Once a performer leaves childhood, there seems to be a shift in how they’re perceived and how they’re treated, and it’s really not a positive one.

They move on to college, and with few exceptions, you never see them again.

Often, even the adult characters in these anime are treated as childlike and goofy, and this seems to apply to many of the teacher characters, at least the teacher characters that are given any screen time at all.  The teachers that are actually teachers are given maybe one or two lines, and then the next five minutes are spent with the main characters sitting in their school desk while the teacher is presumably still talking and reacting to whatever the teacher just said.  I’ve seen this happen repeatedly.  Teachers that are actually teachers are often given very little respect, and the teachers that are goofy and childlike become the main characters.  And don’t get me started on the parents, which often aren’t even present, and in some cases, never have been.

With anime, we are given a window into how the mangaka sees the world, and it’s often not a pretty place.  It’s depression with a veneer of carefree.

This is what I hate about anime.

What I love about anime, though, is sometimes the mangaka recognizes this, and these are the anime that turn into works of art.  Oregairu, for example, sees this.  It turns many of those tropes on its head.  The main character teacher character is actually a teacher – an abusive one played for laughs, yes, but she actually takes an interest in her students and tries to turn them in a good direction.  Spoiler, she mostly succeeds.  The three main characters aren’t perfect – in fact, they’re very broken, and the whole arc, all three series, is an exploration of how these three main characters bumble through their brokenness.

Is the Order a Rabbit” is another one that’s a work of art, and that’s because it turns another aspect on its head – this anime is not designed at all to be a reflection of Japanese culture, in fact, they take the good parts of Japanese culture and then overlay it on a European sensibility that seems very specifically designed to be warm.  It’s an entirely fantastical and escapist anime, that has high schoolers and middle schoolers as characters and you never see the school.  Or rarely, anyway.  It also doesn’t have a single boy in it, and in fact, only two and a half male characters at all, and it perhaps says a lot that I think the anime is all the better for not having them.

Anime with only girls are seen as better, and, well, that says a lot about the Japanese anime culture, and, frankly, me as well.  And not necessarily good about either.

That’s actually something I love about anime. At least, some anime.  There aren’t any boys.  And, being of the male persuasion myself, I wonder when I started thinking this might be a good thing.  Maybe it has something to do with the wishy-washy, blank slate way many boys are portrayed in anime.   Maybe they’re better off without them, rather than with boys that are worse than useless and only exist as romantic or sexual foils for absurdly thirsty girls.  Wait, that just turned into something I hate about anime.

Well, it should be clear I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, I guess.

Anime made me think.  It taught me some stuff.  It’s been very valuable to me, and I’ve learned a lot.  it’s given me a view on my culture I could only get from seeing it through the lens of another culture, and in many ways (not all) my culture is found wanting.  But, at the end of the day, I’m starting to grow tired of it.  It’s all just stories, after all.  Right?

And the western anime community really annoys me, but that’s a topic for another post.

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