There you go, you can learn something new every day.
In all seriousness, though, does watching anime actually make you become smarter? To answer this question, I think we need to first define what we mean by “becoming smarter”.
A quick search on “definition of intelligence” on Google comes up with over 82 million results. Evidently, it’s a contested issue. I think for the purposes of this blog post, a simple definition works fine, but if you’re really curious about all the different theories on intelligence, this page sums them up nicely.
Anyway, Wikipedia defines intelligence broadly as “The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Fair enough. So that means as we gain more intelligence we theoretically become able to make better sense of what we see around us and to absorb knowledge in a way that feels meaningful to us. So, more than just memorising a bunch of facts, it’s about knowing how we can actually use them. That also leaves enough room to acknowledge that there can be more types of intelligences than being book-smart.
Now, onto the next part of the question: how does anime help us get to that stage where we can play with our knowledge and use it however we want?
I can think of a few obvious lines of reasoning:
- Anime can improve our knowledge of the Japanese language.
- Anime shows us an insider view on Japanese popular culture, so it helps us gain a broader cultural awareness.
- Anime exposes us to innovative animation and art techniques.
- Sometimes, the stories in anime try to include facts and to teach us things directly. e.g. Hikaru no Go and this season’s Silver Spoon.
But personally I think, most of all, that it’s not the content of anime itself that matters, it’s the viewer. You get entertainment equal to the investment you put in, and so it is with getting something out of it in the intellectual sense.
You can certainly argue that some anime are more intellectually challenging than others. Shows like Gankutsuou and Revolutionary Girl Utena are certainly much more dense with symbolism than something like Infinite Stratos or Dragon Ball Z. In these cases, the anime forces you to approach it on its same intellectual level, and part of the satisfaction you ultimately get from watching it, assuming that you enjoy it, is that you end up engaging with it on a much deeper level than you would normally need to when watching a television show. Those are the building blocks of intelligence right there.
Still, I would also argue that the type of anime that you watch ultimately doesn’t make a difference if you’re going into it trying to get the most out of it. You can watch a silly ecchi harem and still learn something meaningful about human nature from it. It all comes down to how you read it.
For example: Think anime based off light novels are shallow, silly and full of dumb, otaku pandering? Maybe so, but after you read this post defending light novels, you might very well think of it in a whole different light.
5-minute comedy shorts can’t tell interesting stories? Sure they can.
Kids’ anime can’t be deep? No value in a magical girl anime that isn’t called Madoka? The Cure Blogger begs to differ.
And how about ecchi anime? Harem? Well, you can apply art theory to that.
As soon as you learn the skills to be able to able to take meaning from what you see, you can learn something from anything. It does not have to be anime. In fact, I would say there is nothing special or uniquely intelligent about anime.
Or perhaps there is. Let’s readjust our lenses and look at it more closely again.
See, what I had just described was applying the skill of intelligence in order to gain yet more intelligence. It’s like investing money to make more money. You know what to do once you’ve got it, but how do you get started? Where do you actually learn all of this?
Surely not from *groan* school?
Well, yes and no. Formal schooling of some kind is definitely helpful when it comes to developing active reading and listening skills, but first of all, you need to want to learn. No two ways about it. But the most important thing about an education isn’t doing what the teacher says – it’s about talking to people.
Simply put, you learn when you’re being exposed to different ideas and you’re being made to decide which ideas work best for you. Hang around intelligent people who constantly challenge your ideas and you tend to pick up on their traits. This is how group interactions generally work: we become like the people who we keep close contact with.
This is where anime comes in. One’s hobby can become common ground that can help you relate to other people. After all, it’s easy to feel excluded from a conversation with high-minded intellectuals when they’re talking about something you can’t relate to. But if you’re an anime fan (which I assume you are if you would go far enough to read someone’s random Internet blog about it) then anime is something that you can learn more about and not feel pressured about it. And when it comes to learning about intellectual ideas and theories and so forth about anime, you’re best off not just thinking about these things on your own but talking about them with other people. This helps ground your perspective.
So what I am saying is: find other anime fans who also care about becoming intelligent, and in thinking deeply about anime you’ll get the skills you need to find an education in anything. Anime will make you smarter.
But will that make anime less fun?
I don’t think that this is an issue. As long as you want to have fun watching anime, you will have fun. Unless the anime is crap. In that case:
But seriously, don’t worry about it. Worrying will only make you have less fun.
Speaking of meeting intelligent anime fans, where would I find some?
Good question. If you check out the Recommended Blogs tab on the top menu under this blog’s header, you’ll see a list of bloggers whose writing I greatly respect. I suggest you read around and find writers you like too if you have not done so already. Seeing as blogs are generally written by human beings and not by robots, you are likely to get a response if you leave a comment on someone’s blog. But lurking is fine too if you just want to soak in someone’s ideas and you don’t know what to say to them. (I have been in this position many, many times too.)
I also suggest that, if you have a Twitter account, you should follow the same people who I follow. People who comment on my blog are pretty cool, too, and I think y’all are smarter than me. Oh yes, that reminds me of another thing. Comments sections on blogs are often very illuminating. I hope I’m not the only person who pays as much attention to the discussion as well as the actual post. It’s a useful way to gauge someone’s intelligence when you can see for yourself how well they can grapple with someone else’s ideas, and it’s great in simply finding new people who put themselves out there.
Outside of blogs, you have forums, social connecting websites, etc. You have less control over the people who you meet in those sorts of places, but I would say people who type with decent grammar on the Internet are generally fairly switched on. There are exceptions, though, as with anything.
But anyway, the most important thing to remember is this: if you want to get smarter through watching anime, you will attract like-minded people.
I wrote this post as a guide and as a straightforward question-and-answer, but I really think the topic at heart is a vague one that would mean something different to everyone. A lot of it does hinge on the question of whether you would want anime to make you more intelligent in the first place.
As for me, I think I have made my own position pretty clear. Anime has personally helped me along the path to being an academic. It’s also helped me become more understanding of other people and their opinions. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but it’s been a lot of fun so far, and this blog has already helped me with my thinking quite a bit. I really appreciate it when people reign my overly ambitious theories in and point out the holes in my logic. Really.
I am also curious about other people’s stories, since I am aware that not everyone is like me. So to finish off with, here’s a question for you to mull over in your leisure: Has being an anime fan helped you become smarter / more aware of yourself? If so, in what way?