As fans, should we be selective about the series that we like or should we not bother about things like standards and just enjoy each show as it comes?
If you read around on anime blogs and reviewing websites, you get the impression that Guilty Crown (pictured above) was a really shit anime or something. The critics didn’t have too much good to say about it. And maybe it was a shit anime, although I cannot bring myself to be mad about it since I can no longer remember what actually happened in the story. (Probably not a good sign.)
But I do remember this one plot point, where the main character was told by his douchebag friend that he should rank all his friends by how powerful and useful they are. “It’s not discrimination,” he says. “It’s distinction!”
This has got me thinking about the nature of fandom and how we choose to interpret not just the stories within anime but the level of quality in the medium as a whole. Should we watch anime and compare them to the best of the medium, trying to search for the gems and to sort them out from the trash? In other words, are we entitled to be critics?
The answer to that is, seemingly, “of course”. Being critical is good for us and we can learn a lot from it. It’s also inherently a part of human nature to be concerned with superlatives: we want to sort out in our own minds which anime is the best – or worst, for that matter – and why we believe this to be the case. Methodical minds take this even further and try to rank their experiences and to put numbers on them.
But there are also a couple of objections that you can reasonably have about having this kind of mindset. If you’re so preoccupied with ranking the quality of anime on some kind of scale, don’t you lose some perspective on the nuance of the story? When you’ve dismissed a story as “bad”, is that it? All that time you put into watching that anime you think was bad was just wasted hours, was it?
This brings me to the central question of this post and one that I can’t help but think other fans can relate to. By being discerning about our tastes, what are we doing? Are we enriching our experience of watching anime by knowing to the fullest extent why a particularly enjoyable anime is, in fact, great – or are we closing ourselves off from enjoying the vast majority of anime that is released by dismissing them as trash, courtesy of Sturgeon’s Law?
On the other hand, if your tastes are too liberal and you like the majority of what you see, wouldn’t that mean you lack appreciation for a work that is a true masterpiece?
I’ve grappled with this question many times in my mind and every time I can’t help but think that there is merit to both approaches. I’m going to ignore the status of professional critics and just focus on what it means to be critical as a fan. I’m not talking about haters either. While it’s this thing among butthurt fans to accuse critics of not being a “true fan” of anime when they criticise a significant proportion of anime, especially popular titles, I don’t think that’s a reasonable objection. (I addressed this question obliquely in another post.)
Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s any real point in arguing what kind of person a “true fan” is because that’s such a nebulous and subjective concept. It’s impossible to compare one person’s level of enjoyment to another’s and it would be presumptuous of me to claim that someone who identifies themselves as a fan likes anime less than I do. I feel the objections mostly arise from clashing tastes and this accusation of not liking anime is a low-hanging insult. Seeing as being critical enriches your perspective of fiction and all, I find it hard to believe that anyone who would consistently watch enough anime to criticise a number of them could not be a fan. That said, being burnt out from watching too much anime in a short time might cause you to feel weary of titles you may have enjoyed under a different circumstance – but that’s another story.
At the same time, when I think about what kind of way I should look at anime in order to get the most personal fulfillment, I find myself vacillating between a lot of different viewpoints. I’m a casual, a shonenfag, an ecchi/moe fanboy, a fujoshi and an elitist all at once – it all depends on the anime I am watching! Needless to say, my tastes are very broad. I definitely lean more towards the “liking everything” approach because I believe in judging anime in terms of what it sets out to achieve. I see no point in criticising something for being “pandering” or lacking ambition – my concern is thus how well does it execute its own premise? This gives me a lot of personal entertainment and I find myself liking (or at least appreciating) a lot of shows others with more discerning tastes dislike, so I do sometimes wonder if others look down on me for having “low” standards or something.
I’m also not sure if I even like this idea of ranking anime against each other. I think it’s perfectly possible to take away messages or to find entertainment even from anime that I find to be less engaging as others, usually by interacting with other fans and having an interesting chat about it. It’s the diversity of opinions that attracts me to the anime fandom and to places of discussion, like blogs and forums. Often, this kind of meta entertainment is more significant to me than the artistic merits of the anime itself. The amount of enjoyment I get from each series balances out in this way, and by the end of a series run, the search for “objective entertainment value” strikes me as futile.
Make no mistake, though: I don’t want everyone to think like me – that would suck. I’m a happy-go-lucky, easily satisfied person. If you were me, you would be going around with your head in the clouds and a goofy grin on your face directed at no one in particular. Sure, you’d all be happy people, but you’d get nothing done at all, except for wanky literature reviews. The world would go to shits!
This is why I appreciate the diversity of opinions that we get in the anime fandom and I suppose when I think about it really hard, the question of whether it’s more fulfilling to have discerning or liberal tastes is moot to begin with. I get a lot of fulfillment out of appreciating other peoples’ tastes, so my guess is that no single approach is superior to the other. I also don’t think we need to constrict ourselves to just the one way of thinking, since being able to enjoy an anime on a number of different levels is what offers the most enrichment of all. You can get a lot more out of just one anime by stretching your thinking a little bit, and often, talking to other people with different opinions is what makes you able to do just that. Interesting, huh?
Enough about me, though, how about you? Would you describe your own tastes as discerning or liberal? Which do you think is better to see, for yourself and in others? Which approach do you think gets you the most out of anime? It’s fascinating to think about because everyone has a different answer and way of looking at things!