Is The Anime Blogsphere Too Cynical?
Posted by Frog-kun
As a whole, I don’t think the anime blogsphere is too cynical. I do, however, think that it lacks certain perspectives.
Truth be told, this is a topic I’ve wanted to write about ever since I took up blogging. But I am no blogging veteran – I’ve only been writing consistently about anime for two months or so – and so much of what I say comes from the outsider, newbie perspective. I haven’t fully integrated myself with the aniblogger community, although I have for some time been observing it through Twitter and through reading blogs. So a lot of what I have to say is necessarily quite limited in scope and possibly even grossly ignorant.
Yet I also believe that there is some value in my opinion. My views are probably more aligned with those of the average lurker, whose thoughts are never heard because they are too hesitant about commenting. And since I do write posts about anime myself, I think I have at least some insight into how it feels to write articulately about anime and to engage in a close-knit community of like-minded individuals, which is what I essentially perceive the blogsphere to be. I sincerely hope what I write here does not offend any blogger or reader of a popular blog – I intend my words with all due respect and with no personal hard feelings. I’m fond of the anime community and I read blogs regularly, and this is why I choose to even comment on it at all. I’m genuinely apprehensive about opening myself up to criticism and outright dismissal because of this post, but I want my opinion to be heard anyway. So please forgive me; it is not my intention to be rude about others.
In this post, I’m going to make some generalisations about bloggers and their interests, based on my observations. These generalisations are obviously not going to apply to everyone. I’m focusing more on the popular blogs that cater to a wide reading audience over personal blogs written for purely self-satisfaction. Speaking generally, I do not think that the blogsphere is too cynical or that bloggers dislike anime – what I do think is that many bloggers are not the target audience of anime. This tempers their viewpoints and what they ultimately get out of the hobby.
How do I know this? Firstly, I can find out how old some of them are because of the personal details they sometimes note down on their About pages or on their MALs, for instance. Secondly, it is possible to discern the worldview and maturity levels of people through their tastes (according to me). In any given season, compare the results of the APR rankings to what scores highly on sites like MAL or ANN: blogger tastes lean heavily towards seinen and josei over shonen, shojo and otaku appealing material. Incidentally, anime that is popular with teenagers but also becomes popular with bloggers are the titles that have intellectual sophistication along with their “pandering” elements (Fullmetal Alchemist, Steins;Gate, Gurren Lagann, etc.) Many bloggers, it seems, are in their mid-to-late twenties or older. (One particular blogger is definitely too old for anime!)
Why are anime bloggers generally older folk? Because it usually takes a few years for a blog to establish a regular reader base, and so the blogs with longevity power are maintained by writers who have aged alongside their blogs (e.g. Kurogane’s Anime Blog, Star Crossed Anime Blog, etc.) I also think there is a correlation between a person’s age and their writing skill. Older people have also had more time to watch a greater variety of anime and gain a broader perspective on the medium, so there’s that too. In short, it takes maturity to be a good blogger, because unlike other social platforms like Tumblr and forums, blogging is often a one-sided discourse and people will only keep returning to your opinions if they are consistently well-articulated and well-informed.
Thus, it is easy to mistake a critical mindset for cynicism when writers are forced to admit to themselves that the majority of what they are watching is not made to appeal specifically to them. It just goes to show what an enormously diverse appeal anime has at all, which is why I find the opinions of older anime fans to be valuable in and of themselves. But the fact remains that most anime produced is not made with a seinen/josei audience in mind. Most bloggers seem to have acknowledged this, though, and criticise what they watch in terms of its execution and not its premise. But compared to the younger viewer who has not yet learned to discern among their tastes, a blogger’s opinion will seem quite harsh and “elitist”. Although this is emphatically not the case.
As an aside, I have only come to realise what, uh, dorks a lot of anibloggers are on Twitter. They joke around, they have fun with themselves and with anime and in general just come across as if they’re having a grand old time, even when they don’t actually think the anime they are watching is any good. See Shinmaru’s tweets for a good example of this. There is nothing quite like watching other people have fun that makes you have fun yourself.
So no, having come to understand and to accept the mindsets of popular anibloggers, I do not think they are elitist or that they hate anime. (Seriously, what a terrible thing to say to a fan.) But it does open up a problem with the blogsphere, and one that I think is more at the heart of the matter: It is not very accessible.
A significant percentage of commentors on blogs are bloggers themselves. These same people also carry on conversations among each other on Twitter. Bloggers generally know each other’s tastes very well and some of them often endeavour to meet up with each other IRL. Even regular commentors who don’t blog themselves tend to have a strong rapport with the owners of blogs. Despite its broad appeal, observe how in The Cart Driver nearly every post is commented upon by the same readers. It has a very loyal but also very insular readership. This very fact has actually deterred me from commenting on that blog myself. (I suspect this is how many lurkers feel.)
But in terms of exposure to the community, being a lurker is worlds apart from being a regular face, and lurkers tend to have rather different perceptions of bloggers because they are not interacting with them on a familiar level. A lot of tongue-in-cheek humour loses its effect on the average lurker. Good-natured snark can come off as asshatery. Bloggers can come off as too cynical to those who don’t get the joke. And this seeming negativity can be off-putting to those, especially younger readers, who just want to read good things about the anime they like – why overthink it all?
Why do I say this? Because this is how I felt. My main impetus for taking up blogging at all was because I wanted to express good things about shows other bloggers were either ignoring or saying nothing positive about. I am nineteen years old – of course I am going to have different tastes from other bloggers. I would not be so surprised if other teenage viewers, less driven to write creatively without reward than I am, choose to shun the blogsphere altogether and just stick to Tumblr or Facebook for their social interaction. I suspect personal blogs will always be written, but blogs written by younger people with a tangible audience in mind? Not so much.
This is probably why, so far in my blogging career, I’ve found it easiest to connect to blogs written by people in the same age group as me: Chromatic Aberration Everywhere, Limit of Questions, Shiizumi’s Anime Blog, to name a few. Unfortunately, the lack of accessibility in the blogsphere has meant that the number of blogs like these that are willing to take up the mantle of their precedents is quite few. Frankly, I think the blogsphere – like any thriving community – needs more diversity of opinions, and when the voice of anime’s own core audience is largely absent from the critical response, I can’t help but think that’s worrying.
Yes, there is always Random Curiosity, which generally caters to the mainstream fanbase of anime and, because of its high author turnover rate, is fairly immune from the problems that come with authors changing their own tastes, but RC has always been a separate beast. I think a good number of its readers regard it as a site and not necessarily as a blog, per se. It escapes the trends of aniblogging by not being personalised, but that also means it has little bearing on what I think is the bigger issue of the blogsphere in general.
The anime blogsphere isn’t too cynical, it’s just too inaccessible to those outside of it. It’s too much of an in-group. While friendship among bloggers is perfectly healthy and constructive, it does prevent them from addressing issues they have with each other’s writing, for the most part. And it also prevents authors from helping each other develop their writing skills. I suspect older bloggers have seen too many younger blogs come and go to bother investing time and effort into networking with inexperienced writers. And that’s a real shame, because younger anime fans have a lot to learn from the veterans. There’s a wealth of knowledge and perspective to be gained from reading blogs, but it is a world that is – increasingly – becoming ever more difficult to truly break into.
But hey, as long as anime exists and as long as people like writing about it, blogs will probably also exist in some shape or form. Or would you accuse me of being TOO OPTIMISTIC, eh?