Unirony in the Anime Fandom

There’s a growing trend in the anime fanbase that I feel compelled to question. Or perhaps it’s not a trend, but a few vocal people. Most of my exposure to the anime fanbase comes from one board, and it’s so fragmented that all I can do is present an anecdote. But it’s my hope that this anecdote serves as a possible question to something much greater than myself.

There are certain trends that the Western fanbase has sharply divided itself over, simply because they don’t fit with the general perception of what the average American fan considers “cool”. Again, we return to the moe debate. There’s also the matter of author’s intent. Now, I’ve always been a believer in the death of the author theory. This states that beyond a certain point, the author’s intent doesn’t really matter. It’s up to the fans to interpret it in a way that so pleases them. Sometimes, this can lead to good things. The entire doujinshi market flourishes on the idea that other people are offering their interpretations of what was seen on screen, to the point where some doujin series may hold as much clout as official publications.

This can also backfire. Especially when it comes to shipping, where a person’s favored romantic pairing (often with the most “normal”, this point will come up later.) member of the cast exceeds everything, even the themes the story is trying to present. The Death of the Author is a force that can be used for purposes both enriching and not so enriching. There’s also the matter of those themes. What a work is trying to say. And how common a certain interpretation along these lines is.

It’s no secret that we live in a society that values cynicism or pessimism, or general negativity, over the opposite of those – optimism, hopefulness, positivity. Anything positive must be hiding a mask of darkness somewhere, or else what’s the point of it? I don’t generally agree with this. But a lot of people do. Since moe isn’t favored in the Western fanbase, and, due to a certain tendency to project whatever we want to see in ourselves onto others (I’m guilty of this, too), it’s assumed that if a work is saying something about moe or cuteness or an all girl series or a romantic comedy or something along those lines, that it’s saying something negative about it. That it’s validating that it’s only for the desperate and is lacking in substance, almost as if it wasn’t a real genre, or at least a genre that has much less intrinsic worth than something similar.

People have speculated that Kokoro Connect had it, that OreShura has it, that even Robotics;Notes has it, but with the moe replaced with super robot shows and how they’re all so unrealistic. This culture of viewing everything ironically or detached, while it can lead to some funny things like Joshiraku, can also lead to a dangerous mindset that assumes everyone is trying to take something down a peg. I don’t think every work is trying to do this to make a point. Some are simply trying to create entertainment to create entertainment. Not that they don’t have a point, but that point isn’t “all this entertainment isn’t reflective of reality.” The people watching know that. They watch and enjoy it specifically because it isn’t reality. That’s what makes it worth watching.

Something can be taken apart to see how it works, but eventually it has to be put back together. Once it’s understood, something even better can be produced from that new understanding. There are still lighthearted magical girl shows in the wake of Madoka. Something like Twin Angel, while being generally cheeky, played itself pretty straight. A work can be comedic and still take itself seriously. A work can have a ridiculous premise and still take itself seriously. That can either make it funny (sometimes intentionally), or make it even better. If we get so wrapped up in cynicism, the odds of playing something unironically slowly fade away. But because Japan’s anime market is drawing in younger fans – not as many as they wished, but there are still plenty of unconverted out there – there’s always room for some things to be played with a straight face, and for that to be good.

Trying to move fiction into the realm of “realism” and stripping away all the layers of the things that make it fiction is only going to lead to a work that takes itself so seriously it forgets how to have fun. Realism isn’t all that important in the end. In fiction, what’s key is making things work as symbols, pushing towards an end that serves to say something about life itself. Even if that message is something simple like “go out and see other people” or “keep trying towards your dreams, even if you fail” or “eat, drink and be merry!”, these can be wonderful things. They’re not just platitudes. Lots of people out there are optimists, and having hope for tomorrow is what keeps them going, and these things serve to reinforce that. As long as that optimism doesn’t extend into bashing and flaming those that don’t agree with you (because that just leads to a dissonance that’s more unsettling than persuasive), then it should be okay.

There’s always room for good genre works. They’re polished. They’re perfected. They may be a bit familiar, but it’s the journey, not necessarily the destination, that makes fiction worth pursuing. Were you attracted to the characters? Were you entertained? The impact the series had on you can come from the fun you had discussing it with your friends, even if the work itself isn’t going to make anybody’s Top Number lists. This kaleidoscope of experiences is what makes participating in a macrofandom like the anime fandom so unique. We have more in common with each other than we do differently, and that is, in fact, going to be the subject of my next article.

So switch out those jade glasses for a shade of rose once in a while. Forgo the concept of guilty pleasures. Like what you like. Because once you’ve experienced that story, it’s your story too.

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