A wise man once said that just because someone likes anime doesn’t mean they like all of anime. They often enjoy certain themes or concepts that, while common in anime, obviously don’t make up the whole of it. This occurred to me because, after coming across a chart that was a list of worthwhile anime for the average Western fan, I realized just how little those actually applied to me. The list does acknowledge that people have different tastes, and while a select few of those series on the list interest me (I’ve seen Gurren Lagann and know that I enjoy the genre Azumanga Daioh helped cultivate. Read or Die looks nice too.), the majority of it doesn’t. I get my news from Japanese blogs (I can read Japanese somewhat okay, mostly through years of exposure) more than American ones, and my taste tends to align with the Japanese fanbase, mostly, though even that’s prone to personal variables. While I was hoping the blog entries would paint a picture of who I was, there’s no harm in saying who I am upfront. That way, the playing field is open. Let’s begin.
Japanese comedy can be difficult for Westerners to understand. It relies on puns that require a somewhat decent understanding of Japanese to appreciate, and manzai comedy is completely divorced from current American comic stylings. Slapstick can be respected, but has also fallen out of favor, somewhat, in the Western hemisphere. But for me, comedy is like a calling card. If a series advertises that it’s going to be wacky, I am all over it. Drama can be cathartic, but when something makes me laugh, that feeling it produces is wonderful. I am the kind of person who would watch romantic comedies for the comedy element, and this leaves me in the weird position where I end up enjoying the earlier parts of the show more than the latter parts. I believe that comedy can be used to characterize someone as easily as drama can, and even provide depth. If drama fails, people can laugh at it ironically, but if comedy fails, there’s nothing. This makes comedy a higher stakes game, but when comedy succeeds, it can create something that will last through generations as easily as any drama. Some of my favorite works include Nyarko, anything Keiichiro Kawaguchi directs and even offbeat works like gdgd Fairies. Comedy simply leaves an impact on me in a more meaningful way than drama.
Western culture can be kind of weird when it comes to what they’ll allow with sex and violence. I find that sex is perfectly alright, and, while it is pandering to a base emotion, that’s what a lot of fiction is trying to do. Like making someone cry or laugh, getting someone turned on is extremely variable across media. The thing about sex (and tying into the point above, sex comedies) is that, since they’re kind of working with a lower set of “expectations”, they can actually get away with more. Some of the dialogue that the characters in OniAi say might not have gotten past the censors if it was being done in a serious context. Plus, the mysteries and beauty of the human body are nice to look at. I can appreciate a well toned body while still reading into the characters behind it and their circumstances. It’s TV, most people are going to look pretty anyhow. If something is advertised to be a “fanservice” series, I’m actually more likely to give it a look.
Largely Female Casts/Yuri Elements
I mean no ill will towards certain segments of the anime fanbase when I say this, but I find that female characters are just as easy to sympathize with as male characters, if not easier. With male characters, the fanbase can get so hung up on trying to size up if they’re “manly” or “badass” that they often overlook them as human beings. Female characters have to deal with this a bit, too (a desire for “normalcy” runs through the fanbase, which I also disagree with, more on that later), but generally, the Western fanbase has less riding on them. And that makes them easier to read into, for me. By there being so many of them, they’re allowed to have a wide range of personality types. The weird, the secretly weird, the weak and the strong, the stoic and the outspoken, the dishonest and the too honest, they’re often defined with at least two dimensions. And without a male character to distract from the romance angle or the “badass” angle, people (and myself) are free to focus on the themes of the work and the non-romantic interactions between the characters.
But there is some romance I’m okay with. I have a super strong pair of yuri goggles ever since I joined the anime fandom. Most yuri shipping is based on subtext, but I don’t see that as “not real”. If a pairing isn’t explicitly spelled out, a lot of shipping is based on subtext and hints and might-bes. I simply find yuri more to my tastes because it’s a case where strong friendship doesn’t necessarily mean that those being paired can’t be a couple. If anything, it means they’re more likely to. The societal rules for it are simply different, and, I feel, more exciting. Not that I can’t enjoy a good m/f pairing. I play a lot of eroge/galge/visual novels, so I’m pretty familiar with those.
Besides Anime, Visual Novels Are My Second Favorite Medium
I rarely read manga, and a lot of light novels aren’t translated. (When an anime is based on a light novel, I have to tilt my head at people judging it based on the manga, which is itself an adaptation. Lately, more people have been comparing it to the source, but… I’m getting off topic.) Visual novels are actually my favorite medium, for many reasons. They’re bound to include a lot of female characters, even if yuri is rare. All the ones I play include sex scenes, which I rarely skip over and often find as worthy of analysis as any other part of the medium. They can be very interesting story wise. I haven’t played a lot of the romance-story ones, and if I do, there’s usually another element that’s a part of it. (Like music in Welcome to the 2nd music room!! or delinquents in Tsujidou-san no Junai Road.) They have the literary aspect of light novels, the art style of manga, and the explicitness of erotica.
They’re also anthologies, and, when released, have a complete story put out, unless the work gets a fandisc. Their stories may not go for as long or run as deep as a light novel or a regular novel, but they also have the voice acting aspect of anime, along with the art aspect that’s only half-present in light novels. They can also cover a wide range of ideas. I’ve enjoyed just as many games that exist purely for the sex as I have games that have epic stories. And stories is the key part. The multiple routes/omnibus aspect is wonderful. You’re not just getting one story. You’re getting four. Or five. Or fourteen. I’ve played a lot of VNs, and I plan to play many more.
The first time I watched an anime that wasn’t part of the mainstream goes like this. I’m a long-standing member of the tokusatsu fandom, and Mika Kikuchi starred in Dekaranger. She was also playing Arika in Mai-Otome. I watched Otome to see more of her, not knowing who this Ami Koshimizu was, but my stance on who was the known and who the unknown would reverse in time. But the point of all this is that a love of superheroes runs through my veins. Not “dark and gritty” superheroes, but ones who fight for justice and friendship and all that sappy stuff. This is why I love magical girls and super robots. Precure provides a constant stream of new magical girl ideas, and there’s always bound to be a few series that explore the concept in a year. Even something like Madoka Magica ended up ultimately having a message of hope.
I haven’t seen a whole lot of robot anime, but something like Rinne no Lagrange ended up being right up my alley, and I’m currently enjoying Gyrozetter on a weekly basis. Heroic roll calls, named attacks, fights that are won on the power of friendship – I don’t find these things cheesy. They are, but to me it feels comforting. This is one reason why I prefer Accel World over Sword Art Online – the Duel Avatars are very close to being transforming heroes. It’s wonderful. This is my home.
Superheroes and robots usually come around because of science fiction and fantasy. I love speculative fiction, but also genre work. “Genre” includes things like the atmosphere series that K-ON! comes from, or the romantic comedy series that Haganai comes from. These are a breeding ground for the unusual, whether it’s the subtle or the overt, as every series puts its own identity out there. Since their framework has already been established, they can be as quirky as they want and let the character interactions roll. I’m open to new ideas, but the familiarity in a work with an already established pattern can be just as exciting. It becomes more about the journey than the destination, letting one pay attention to the little details. Like the characters.
Character Over Plot
Orson Scott Card put forth the M.I.C.E. idea for stories. Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. All but the last one are about the setting and the characters, but people in the American anime fandom have a preference for “Event” type stories, where a plot is working towards a clear goal almost constantly. I prefer the first three, especially character. If the audience doesn’t like the characters in a series, then something about the series isn’t working. Characters are the ones who get character songs, characters are the ones that make the story happen, and, when sufficiently developed, characters are the ones who can get a scene to flow from a writer’s head just by the virtue of bouncing off each other. I think strong characters can always override a lackluster story for my enjoyment, but even a well-plotted story doesn’t mean much if the characters aren’t worth cheering for.
I also tend to lean more towards comic relief characters than “normal” characters, as the section above indicated. Normalcy is relative, anyway, and as long as their actions make sense within the context of the story, I’m okay if the way they behave is a little different. I’m of the opinion that fiction is supposed to show you things that reality can’t show. Symbols and allegories are more interesting to me, personally, than something that is exactly as it is. I have enough of reality around me – I want to see something that’s foreign and also out of its reality. Anime has never abandoned that part of itself.
Oddly, I don’t care much about background music. It’s nice during the show, and it can have some wonderful compositions, but vocal music is where my preferences lie. A series’ opening and ending define its identity (even if it’s only for part of its run), and character songs are my specialty. Since characters are what I focus on, these songs naturally serve as additional characterization. More and more of them are coming out only with DVDs/BDs these days, but that hasn’t dissuaded my love of them. It simply means the experience of collecting them all is drawn out over a few more months. They’re also a chance for the voice actresses to show off their skill, and they rarely discriminate. A sci-fi show is just as likely to get them as a romantic comedy or a drama. It all depends on the market, and that market is often people who share my tastes.
Faithfulness to the Source Material Is Not of Great Importance
Milky Holmes and Koihime Musou abandoned their male protagonists and let the girls interact among themselves, upped the comedy, and still managed to carry off a compelling story. Mayoi Neko Overrun! reinterpreted itself with every episode, and created a series that has an identity (and gimmick) that no other series has reproduced. Sengoku Collection was only loosely based on its card game, and crafted a loving tribute to film itself. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai heavily rewrote its book, but the parts it rewrote were for the better. The character of Sanae alone adds several dimensions to Rikka’s character. They were nothing like their source material, but that’s okay. To me, it shows that faithfulness can be good in itself, but it requires a tricky tightwalk balance. With something completely new, the only thing the writers have to be true to is themselves. In some ways, the series they’re creating are completely new, but the basic characters ideas are often close enough that they’re still recognizable. Idolmaster Xenoglossia is another such example. Even fan favorite true tears basically borrowed nothing from its same-named visual novel. I think that if they deviate, it’s not a tragedy. It can even be fun, seeing new areas of the world. “Anime original” shouldn’t be a curse.
Length Doesn’t Matter
22-minute shows are the norm, but I actually kind of like the wave of shorts that are coming out. A lot of them are hosting the kind of series I naturally like. Teekyuu! was incredibly wacky and dense for its running time, and this season, Yama no Susume is proving itself to be touching, Ai Mai Mii is notably demented (I find it comparable to modern day Cartoon Network), and Mangirl! is fun. Once again, I shall mention Yurumates 3D, which I feel was sorely overlooked. Even longer-ish series, like gdgd Fairies and Tentai Senshi Sunred rank among my favorites. A story should be exactly as long as the space needed to tell it. If that space happens to be three minutes, more power to them. The restrictions may force the showrunners to be more creative than if they had a standard amount of space.
Proud Supporter of Akiba Culture
Otaku are not a hive mind. They are somewhat outcasts, and the deciders of the industry, but I find myself wanting to support them. They’re the ones that make fanart and doujins, spread memes and make events like the tie-in cafes worthwhile. Their version of reality may not be realistic, but they understand that fiction has room for both fun series and thought provoking series. And that the two can sometimes be the same thing. This applies to female otaku, too. Even the ones that like yaoi. They’re cut from the same cloth as the male fans, and I think both sides could learn a thing or two from each other. I see Akihabara as a nerd mecca, a wonderland full of friendly characters and the highest highs and lowest lows of fiction. It’s a theme park for a fandom-loving soul. I’ve never been to Akiba, nor met any of them personally, but from what I’ve seen of their online presence (except for maybe 2ch…), they’re people I could get along with. You can love cute anime girls doing cute things and still be an awesome guy. As long as you’re honest with yourself. I don’t even hate on Takotsuboya. He’s contributed to nerd culture through his infamy, but even that work has gone on to inspire others. We all support each other.
In conclusion, that is a portrait of me, Midonin, as an anime fan. I don’t know what the greater fandom will think of this, but I’m sure there’s a part of it that I’m giving a voice to. There’s room for all sorts of anime fans. My tastes were shaped by my experiences, and are something I can only vaguely sort of decipher. I’m still learning more about myself every day. But as long as everybody can be open and respectful with their preferences, towards themselves and towards others, this fandom may realize that we’re all in this together, and more alike than different. A man can dream, even if it’s an impossible dream.