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The Transience of Anime

I often analyze myself in terms of what I’m watching and why I’m more attracted to certain anime over others. I find it easy to forget just how niche a lot of what I’m watching really is, only to then realise I don’t know what’s popular any more, or understand why, or even care. I’m sure I used to care, and that worries me, because I feel so out of step with other anime fans at the moment.

Lately I’ve found myself on a bit of a run of posts on the new noitaminA series. Looking at these shows objectively, I think I’m attracted to them because they are made to appeal to people my age, with characters that are more empathetic for me because they express many of the same emotions I’m feeling right now just by living my life.

At the same time, I’m watching Durarara!! and enjoying it quite a lot, but it’s a more detached sense of enjoyment. Back in February, I actually tried to write something about it, but I stalled when I realised I had nothing to say. Two years ago, that would not have happened.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, age is important. The way we saw things yesterday is different to the way we see them today. Perspectives shift and every ounce of new experience changes us in subtle ways, but anime, or, at least, the people whom anime is being made for, remains the same.

I started thinking about this while skimming through reviews of the latest chapters of Naruto. I still care about its story and characters, but over the years, those feelings gradually began to fade. The problem is that it’s still the same story I fell in love with back then; Naruto is still the same boy, but I’m older now, different, time is moving faster in my reality than it is in his story.

Earlier in April, I started rewatching Mushishi and it’s just as contemplative as I’ve always remembered it being. In episode 6 (“Those Who Inhale the Dew,”) a father is intentionally and repeatedly infecting his daughter with a specific breed of mushi; it lives for only a day and has the effect of rapidly aging its host (her), but when the mushi dies, the host regains her youth and goes back to being just a normal girl again. Ginko turns up to save her from this endless cycle, but, compared to the relative endlessness of human life, she’s not able to cope without the intensity of living an entire lifetime in a single day, so she willingly re-infects herself, choosing the mushi’s delusion over her own uncertainty.

How does a mayfly perceive time? Does it value every hour as much as a person values a year?

I’m mentioning this now because the idea of living and dying in such a short period of time feels analogous to the way we consume anime, living vicariously through worlds of fiction, worlds that either end at a certain point or see their effects fade over time. My love for anime is not dying, but this sense of distance is expanding. Time just feels like it’s moving slower for me now.

Comments

Peter S says:

Certainly finding yourself unable to care as much for what’s popular now is a sign of greater maturity. But I’m not sure sloughing off the sort of shows one liked when one was younger is necessarily the same. That might speak to your greater sophistication as an anime viewer. It might not. I’m 49 and I’m watching and enjoying shows intended for people under half my age, or even children. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed something like Aoi Bunkano or Mushishi at that age. My tastes haven’t changed so much; they’ve broadened.

Maybe Naruto isn’t the best choice. I know very little about it (believe it or not), but I do know that it has run for a long time. Maybe it’s running out of steam. You’d know better than I would.

bateszi says:

I chose to mention Naruto because of the way I used to follow it religiously, but now it’s no more than a curiosity, really. It could be argued that the show simply isn’t as good now as it was back then, but looking at this from a broader perspective, the truth is that the only show I’m really excited about right now is ‘The Tatami Galaxy.’ I don’t want to be one of those people that’s constantly complaining about how anime was better back ‘in the day’, because I really don’t think it was better back then, it’s just that to my younger self, it all seemed so fresh and exciting.

After going back and starting to re-watch Mushishi, I’ve also picked up both Bebop and Escaflowne. These are great shows; I loved them back then and I love them now. I only saw Utena for first time last year, but it was great, too. The thing is, these shows were all one-offs, in some cases, separated by decades. I think it’s foolish of me to expect something as good as they are every season, but I suppose my general lament is that I’m just finding it harder to slog through the more generally good to mediocre shows and, therefore, finding it harder to empathise with other anime fans, too.

May be I’m over thinking all this, I don’t know.

Ivy says:

Interest in anime tends to wane as we age. All of a sudden these characters you used to love seem to not move you as much. I honestly have no idea if its us growing up or the anime industry hammering us over the head with the same endless cliches. Its tiring really and exhausting. I sat down one night to watch some mindless fun (K-On!!), sat through the first 5 minutes, closed it, went over to my PC and deleted all traces I had of K-On. It just stopped appealing to me. Maybe its a combination of both, as adults we need something that stimulates us. Something that could take us away from all our worries, something we can get lost in (Mushishi). Thank god we still have a few bright spots in the industry, people who can still create a somewhat compelling narrative. Without them, I would’ve been out of here a long time ago.
This just hit me, I’ve grown incredibly cynical over the years as I’ve commented on here….lol I’m a very bright person though, promise.

bateszi says:

Heh, I hope you don’t blame me for that, Ivy :)

It sounds like you’re in exactly the same place as I am, really. It’s tempting to think that anime has all of a sudden become a lot worse, but I think the truth is just simply that we’re older now and more demanding of the stuff we watch.

I’ve actually taken to re-watching series now, and that’s not something I’d consider doing even as recently as last year, but going back and watching the likes of Mushishi and Bebop again makes you realise exactly what anime was, and still is, capable of, but also that these shows are one-offs; I suppose we’re just lucky we’ve got “The Tatami Galaxy” to get excited about this year.

Krozam says:

Interesting… I’ve been watching/reading anime and manga for about 8 years now, and I still cry at the end of Maison Ikkoku or Love Hina manga. I still find Hellsing as awesome as I I found it 8 years ago. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that if I started watching Inuyasha now, I’d not list it among my top 10 anime. I used to consider it #2.

In conclusion, I think some stories will have a place of honour within my heart throughout my life, but some, no matter how much nostalgia they command, I’ll grow out of.

BTW, Mushishi is totally awesome. A friend recommended it to me and I watched it just last month. I think I’ll watch it many times over the years, and also read the manga at some point.

bateszi says:

Yeah, I guess the tough part is finding the series that genuinely are timeless. They probably aren’t as common as I used to think; at the moment, I’m actually going through a lot of my old favourites and re-watching them, Bebop is still fantastic, but I wonder if my love for something like ‘Honey and Clover’ was more about my life at that time.

And cool, Krozam, it’s always lovely to hear from another Mushishi fan! :)

Laura says:

I emphasize with what you wrote . I can’t really put my finger on it either, why this distancing occurs. I used to watch anime intermitent with other stuff yet it was still a constant in my visual foragings. Nowadays I find it harder and harder to be able to genuinely enjoy a series. I thought maybe it was just a cyclic thing and this was just the “coming down” syndrome of overdose. For a while it was the quality of anime I was dissatisfied with, the new season seemed kind of “meh” but now I have Trapeze ( and other cool ones with complicated names ) on hold and I still can’t bring myself to regain that frame of mind needed for watching them.
Me and my friend we’re talking the other day and she said something like “I wish I could erase the part of my memory that handles “Naruto” so I can enjoy it again. I nooded in agreement reminiscing about the golden ages.

Maybe it is partly age. It seems commonsensical that the more we grow up ( or rather… grow old ) we feel pressured to be more present, pragmatic, and do things considered more lucrative for our lives, our “becoming”. Sometimes I think that watching anime is almost like meditating, and we all know how hard it is to zen these days, when so many exterior things fight for space in our brains.
I do feel that if anime doesn’t turn us into hikikomoris it will surely advance our understanding of the world on so many levels it’s not even worth listing.
Bateszi, I agree with you as usual; even if we do age, most of us have been already molded and transformed by this culture. I never did an extensive work/self-presentation that does not include studio 4C , madhouse, Miazaki etc as formative influences. I went into aesthetic shock after Honey and Clover :)) all the more so since I was a fine art student at that time.
Right now I feel I’m on that generic roller coaster train climbing the dreary and boring uphill before the fun starts again. All it takes might be one feverishly good series.
If you find it before me, please mention it! I’m going to search for the ugly beautiful anime now. The more peculiar, the better I say!

and thanks! I always feel less alienated after reading your blog

Jack says:

I’m a harsh, impossible to please critic. I’m not even very old, and I can barely watch the kind of movies/television that most people enjoy. I know hold everything to the highest standard – if it’s not anywhere near ‘The Wire’ why am I watching it?

I already apply the same principle to anime, and if I find two shows that I can really enjoy in a season it’s a rare occurrence.

I’ve only been watching anime since late 2007/early 2008 and I’m already incredibly selective about what I watch. But, as others have said, this isn’t a bad thing. It just shows you’ve acquired a certain level of taste, and requite a certain amount of sophistication/quality out of a work, which many shows fail to provide.

As someone who has only watched anime for a short amount of time, and has someone who is currently watching anime across time (e.g. I will watch a show from the 70’s, then a show from the 90’s) I can say that the amount of shows I like in a decade hasn’t really gone up or down.

Florina says:

This post is interesting, Bateszi, because I think a lot of us can relate. A month ago I really wanted to get into a couple of series but failed constantly to get invested (I would only watch 10 minutes of a show, then felt like i was wasting time and started doing something else). Anime sometimes feels almost like a choir, like I have to watch this or that episode, because that is what “I do”, “I like anime” and thus “I have to watch it”. I realize that, when that happens, it is a problem. However, interest comes to me now and then. And for a good couple of minutes I remember why I liked watching anime in the first place.
And, like you, I do believe it is not the quality of anime, but rather us growing up, experiencing series and being more and more aware of a genre that is so inherently repetitive.

bateszi says:

@Laura

I’m sure you already know what I’m going to suggest here, but I’ll just suggest it anyway: try “The Tatami Galaxy”. I think it’s the best series to appear in a long time.

Also, your suggestion that watching anime is a bit like meditation really reflects how I feel about watching anime, too. Meditation is all about retreating into one’s self and trying to fathom deeper truths, and I think anime, when it really hits home, unlocks some of those doors, and acts like a buffer for introspection. I guess I’ve come to rely on anime for that over the years.

@Jack

Thanks for reassuring me, Jack. I think you’re right.

@Florina

I think my record for quitting an anime series is around 2 minutes (!) so I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you’re wasting your time. I hate that sense of obligation to watch anime, because it makes me question whether what I’m watching is something I’m really into, or if I’m just doing it out of obligation.

Anyway, I’ve just started rewatching some of my older favourites and I’m finding that’s really helping me in realising what it is that I love about the medium.

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