EDIT: So this post ended up on the front page of Reddit! I just want to clarify that I am not arguing that all art is purely subjective.
It’s only by acknowledging the social dimension of how we interpret anime that we can learn to detach ourselves from it. The quest for a “fair” reading isn’t about pretending you have no biases – it’s about understanding those biases and how they play into how you look at things.
Hope that makes sense!
“This Anime Is Too Elitist For Me To Enjoy!”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my identity as an anime fan. I think the big appeal of my blog is probably how I take a constructive approach in how I write about anime, and how most of my arguments are along the lines of “[insert anime] is INTERESTING and WORTH YOUR TIME” rather than pretending I’m smarter than everyone involved in the process of making anime. I’ve argued since pretty much the blog’s beginning for genres like ecchi to be taken seriously and I hold these opinions sincerely. If you like me and if my writing has resonated with you in any way, my intuition is that you probably dislike the idea of elitism.
There are downsides to my approach, too. First of all, elitism is a really difficult concept to pin down, and by calling yourself “anti-elitist”, it’s very easy to fall into a kind of elitist thinking anyway. I live in Australia, which definitely prides itself on its “anti-elitist” culture. On the positive side, it means everyone is encouraged to have a fair go and those with disadvantages are given a lot of support from the government. On the negative side, there’s a really apparent tendency to tear down intellectuals, politicians and celebrities and to take open delight in their mistakes. (The “Tall Poppy Syndrome“, as we call it in Australia.)
This is all not so different from the situation on the Internet. Everyone’s on an equal playing field, so whenever someone tries to assert their superiority, it’s easy to call bullshit on that. And I think this leads to its own fair share of problems in the anime fandom, but I’ll only focus on one problem today.
Namely: not being willing to engage with an anime because the critics or whoever you think of as “elitist” like it. This is in itself a kind of snobbish attitude. I think in my own writing I’ve tended to slip into this kind of thinking from time to time, and not only is it hypocritical of me, it invalidates my own argument (i.e. that all anime deserve to be taken seriously).
So let me correct/clarify myself.
There is no such thing as an “elitist” anime.
Before we go on, I just want to say that I’m a big fan of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory about taste being a social construction. You develop taste because you want to identify with a certain group or assert power over another group. I won’t go on about academic theories here, so I’ll just pitch in with my own thoughts:
Sure, a lot of people who say they were genuinely moved by a highbrow work of art probably aren’t lying. But there’s no doubt that you are more willing to read into something and accept its messages if it’s widely widely acknowledged to be good and if there are others whom you respect that are willing to discuss its ideas.
And no matter how much you may claim that you don’t listen to other people’s opinions, you would still have had to internalise some of those opinions in order to come to that conclusion. In other words, no matter what you say or do, your taste defines who you are and you define yourself through your tastes.
This second point is really significant. You can actually see this in action from my anime palm-reading post. When I made judgments about my readers from their tastes, I wasn’t really decoding some subtle personality trait that makes people like certain anime – a lot of this stuff was self-consciously determined by the people I was analysing. So when I got feedback saying, “You really know a lot about me!” that’s also a way of saying, “I really know a lot about myself!” or “I really want to know a lot about myself!”
Hence, we use fiction to learn about ourselves and to identify with others.
So now that we’ve deconstructed what taste is all about, what does mean for “objective merit” – the aspects of a work that a large sample of people will generally agree on as good? Once again, this is a socially constructed ideal. Most traditional works of criticism use that ideal as their framework without really questioning it, which is why we get the crazy assumption that Mushishi is “objectively” better than Strike Witches.
Having marathoned both series very recently, I don’t think this is true. I had just as much fun watching Strike Witches and the sense of fulfillment was just about the same. If there was anything that could have brought down my enjoyment of Strike Witches, it was my awareness that it is not socially acceptable to like it as more than shallow entertainment.
I repeat: This is not to downplay the merits of Mushishi. As I’ll go on to prove (hopefully!) you don’t have to be a deep thinker or “soulful” to appreciate Mushishi, any more than you need to be stupid or have your brain turned off to appreciate Strike Witches.
Let’s have a look at some of the early blogger impressions of Mushishi’s second season with attention to where some of the problematic social divisions I just mentioned come into play:
Jojo is glorious and all, and that’s of course fine and dandy. But let’s not forget what that show really is: a dose of adrenaline that you watch before you start punching an angry bear or something. It’s consistently awesome to watch, but here comes the real deal: Mushishi goes a whole lot further. It’s on a whole different level. This is intelligent; this is art, this series, more than anything else, has its own vision and doesn’t care about anything else.
So what psgels is saying here is that despite the level of high craft he perceived in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, it is somehow inferior to Mushishi because it creates an “adrenaline rush” in the viewer rather than Mushishi’s attempt at “art”. He makes no attempt to explain why his reaction to Mushishi is more fulfilling, and merely leaves the reader with the assumption that Mushishi’s superiority is inherent to what it is trying to be.
It’s rare enough in anime to get a sequel almost a decade after a series has left the airwaves, rarer still when it’s one of the very best anime of all-time.
– Guardian Enzo
Is Guardian Enzo trying to say here that only “bad” anime tend to get sequels? It might be unfair to come to that conclusion from a sentence quoted out of context, but since Enzo has stated numerous times on other posts that he disagrees with popular taste and with the anime critiques of his commentors, while championing the series which he believes to be underrated, it’s fair to say that he perceives tension between himself and the broader anime community. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of his sentiments, I think he does use his taste to reinforce distance between himself and others.
The problem with these two critiques is that they basically imply that you’re shallow and partly responsible for all the “trashy” anime that gets made if you don’t like Mushishi. Yet I doubt either critique was written with that intent in mind!
It just simply comes off that way (or it’s easy to read into it that way) because neither writer challenged the values behind their appraisals. They called Mushishi “art” and left it at that, assuming the reader would share the same understanding that some “art” is better than others, even if you don’t necessarily have to agree with them on which series is better than others.
But disliking Mushishi doesn’t and most certainly shouldn’t mean you’re a stupid or shallow person. For example, Draggle is many things, but he’s not stupid for hating Mushishi.
Mushishi sucks. It’s a show for people who like to sit around and watch the world burn down around them. I prefer to set it on fire.
— Stargeant Draggle (@draggle_kun) April 5, 2014
This tweet implies that Draggle is a humanist who seems to disagree with the fatalist values Mushishi commits to. It’s a pretty fair reaction. I personally think that’s why Mushishi is great and why it had a strong effect on me. It appeals to universal values and challenges conventional wisdom.
But by stating that opinion, I’m not out to prove how clever I am or how I’m such a deep thinker or whatever. That’s not what criticism is meant to do. By stripping away (or at least making a point of) the whole social dimension of anime criticism before I begin writing my own piece about Mushishi, I hope to get closer to what it’s actually doing and how it constructs its appeal, rather than getting bogged down in empty rhetoric about how it’s “high art” or whatever.
… But this post is getting long, so I’ll leave the meat of my Mushishi-specific discussion till next time!
Next Time: How would you go about creating a Mushishi episode?
Here is a quick rundown of the other shows I’ve picked up so far this season:
- Keroro is super cute and has prompted me to change my Twitter pic and Gravatar. Did anyone notice the makeover?
- The imouto in Mahouka is top-tier and would be waifu of the season in a season with no Nico of Love Live! in it.
- Nisekoi is still the greatest thing ever. I recently caught up with the manga and am madly shipping Shuu x Ruri like no tomorrow.
- Dio so fab
- Speaking of JoJo, I finally caved in and started reading the manga, so you might see a post about it down the track! Fingers crossed!
- As soon as I publish this post, I will be off to watch Haikyuu! so I can admire bishies in shorts playing volleyball yay
You say “Anti-elitism”, but in most cases what you’re actually referring to is “anti-intellectualism”, which is a form of elitism as well, one that puts “intellectual discourse” lower on the totem-pole.
Elitism, if we take it to mean “knee-jerk reaction against things that you perceive not to meet your standard” is indeed “bad”, and in that case having a knee-jerk reaction against “elitists and what they like” is indeed elitism as well. Just as anti-hype is actually a form of hype as well.
I’m loathe to call it bad “bad”, though. The truth is, there’s too much stuff out there and not enough time, so we all use first impressions and preconceptions to decide not to engage with something, and that makes perfect sense. The so-called “elitism” is when we feel the need to defend said position by saying “It looks like shit” or because that’s flimsy, “It’s shit because of [X,Y,Z]”, which is, well, elitist at times, but again, it’s also fueled in the other direction by people telling you how you must watch and like what they do, for the same reasons.
Hype and anti-hype, or in other words, hype and hype in the opposite direction. With a good measure of anti-intellectualism thrown in, and people who aren’t comfortable saying “X doesn’t interest me.” and leave it at that.
Also, I hope your comment about draggle, with the “humanist versus nihilist” was sarcastic, or ironic in how this is you being “2deep4me reading into his psyche”, because otherwise… yeah, no.
I think you pointed out some things I overlooked in the post proper. Anti-intellectualism and anti-hype is pretty much anti-elitism given a different name, so pretty much everything I wrote here applies to that.
Knee-jerk reactions have their place, and people tend to place their priorities on different things. The trick is to respect that impulse, but also to question it, I think.
As for Draggle, I think the main reason why he hates Mushishi is because it’s boring since no one seems to do anything. I could be wrong about that, though.
Well, I’m definitely not a fatalist. And humanism means so many different things I’m not even sure, I probably am one. Mainly I can’t stand Mushishi due to a combination of finding it boring, as froggy says, but also because it tends to glorify the main character’s inaction. I think it’s the fourth bullet on that wiki article on fatalsim that gets to me, the main character’s acceptance of all this fucked up stuff. If he at least tried to do something, even if it was fruitless, I wouldn’t mind so much. But he acts like he already knows there is everything to know, accepts the things that are wrong in the world like there’s nothing wrong, and the show treats him as if he is wise for doing so. It reminds me of a John Stewart sort of politics, the “both sides do it, let’s sit back and laugh at all the people trying to make the world a better place.”
I disagree with you on all those points I believe. I find that Ginko’s acceptance of the world is the only right thing to do. Why fight something you can see with your own eyes and he is always helping people with their problems as much as possible so you can’t say he don’t fight against harmful mushi exactly. He also does not acts like all there is to know is known, he often discovers new ways to cure people affected by different kinds of mushi.
And you may think of it as boring but for me it’s perfect, I love when it’s mellow. I’m just so tired of everything being so sped up. I want to enjoy the anime, not just get a giant batch of adrenaline in my face all the time.
e·lit·ism [ih-lee-tiz-uhm, ey-lee-]
practice of or belief in rule by an elite.
consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group.
Funny how when the word elitist refers to so many different things when it comes to context.
Call a painting elitist, it’s the kind of weird, splash paint, with weird shapes, that is praised as a super masterpiece! But that awesome drawing of robots vs dinosaurs, not.
Call soldiers elite, then people go “Yeah these guys are BAMFs.”
I once read that “Evangelion is for elitist idiots who like deep complex crap”. Granted that was on YouTube and may not be the best example to bring up. It’s like elitist when it comes to fiction refers to things that is ‘deep’ and ‘complex’ and for people who tear things apart too much. Elitist refer to things the laymen can’t understand, at least from my experience.
I think that anime CAN be objectively better (the animation of anime A is superior than B) but I also think that tastes differ a lot. I couldn’t get into Mushishi because it was too slow paced. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, I’m sure it’s very good but it wasn’t for me. I like stupid stuff like HSoTD but even I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece despite enjoying it a lot more than Mushishi.
So elitist is something that most consider ‘high art’ and panders to a very specific small audience but ‘casual’ is something most people can enjoy. At least that’s what I would say if I had to explain it. Granted I’m not doing proper research and saying this on the fly and I’d future me would most likely disagree.
I have to say, this topic can be pretty complex.
THE TOPIC OF ELITISM IS 2ELITIST4ME.
Pretty much. Elitism is a really hard thing to define and the way the word gets thrown around on the Internet (including this post!) problematises its usage even more. It seems like the commentary on this post so far has been about questioning the words I’ve been using, which leads me to think I should have been more careful in picking my words. But I think you got the main thrust of my argument anyway :)
About “objectively better” – well, you already know my opinions there. But I think that when you strip away this notion of what is considered the “ideal” of objectivity and focus on what the work is actually doing that makes you feel that way, that’s when you get a better understanding of how it’s constructed. Imo this is a more useful understanding than simply labelling it as “objectively” good or bad.
ribbit-kun you’re on the front page of r/anime. smile for the happy people!
Holy cow, I hope you upvoted me
[…] “better” way to do things when it comes to trying to watch anime. As Froggykun has recently argued, there is no such thing as an “elitist” anime – it’s an entirely a […]
I can’t wait to drink your delicious tears when Best Girl shows up next week on Nisekoi
…well, that sounded awkward. I’ll see myself out.
Those classic blue school swimsuits. The details in the curves and shadows on the body. The angular eyes and teasing expressions. And the trademark band-aid on the upper thigh, strictly ornamental. That picture is unmistakably a work by master artist and character designer Akio Watanabe. You plebs who can’t recognize and appreciate this level of craftsmanship should just give up calling yourself fans of moe and resign yourselves to jerking off to the bug-eyed aliens of Key visual novels for the rest of your miserable lives.
So am I elitist now or what?
I’ve written about elitism in anime fandom too~ (http://animeyume.com/blog/2012/01/31/ignorance-and-elitism-in-anime-fandom/)
But yeah, I also get annoyed when people say anime like Mushishi (which I love by the way) is somehow inherently better than a slice-of-life comedy or similar anime, because it’s a more artistic, deep, intellectual series. I think it’s great for those reasons too – IF that’s what you’re looking for in your anime. But a lot of us like to watch anime for pure entertainment, or to relax with without having to think too much. So because of those desires, if someone prefers K-ON over Mushishi, does that make them less of an anime fan, or even less of a person? Of course not, but many elitists would think otherwise and that bugs me XP
I will simply use Roriconfan’s terms to describe these anime:
Mushi-shi is for the throat and head chacra, while something like Jojo (Action) and StrikeWitches (Lolis, fanservice) appeal to the lower chacra points like the root (desire for sex) or stomach (angyness) chacra.
See ? It’s actually pretty simple, every anime has its own function and appeal to different kind of tastes and audiences. Regarding elitism, I don’t try to read too much into it but I enjoy reading your thoughts.
[…] ← “This Anime Is Too Elitist For Me To Enjoy!” […]
You ended up on Reddit? As a redditor, I commend you, and feel bad for you as well.
Yeah, it was kinda nerve-wracking to see my post up there, being consumed and torn apart by the thousands of redditors lurking in the abyss.
But it was a good experience nonetheless, I guess
I think that, as long as people are trying to either be elitist OR anti-elitist, if they focus too much on those labels or don’t find some balance, they are unable to escape them.
It’s similar to the whole “hipster” thing, where someone tries too hard to avoid being something undesirable, and in turn becomes undesirable in a different way.
There was a time where I liked whatever was popular, and then there was a time where I hated anything popular(probably still do for certain things, but more-so because it’s annoying to hear about them constantly), but for the most part, I try now to just like whatever I want honestly, and not look too deep into how popular or deep/well-made it is.
There are some “low-quality/sloppily-made” things I find high enjoyment in(like funny Flash movies), and some unheard of things that I favor more than popular things, but also some popular things I will like just because it really is something I enjoy. I might not even know if it’s popular or unpopular until after I declare my like/dislike for it.
Then there is also the fact that different people look for different things in anime. Some look for story, some for art, some for voices, a specific theme or lesson, certain genres, a combination of some, etc… And if they run into something they don’t like, they might just think of the wrong way to criticize or word it.
There are often times where if I don’t like an anime, I might say “This is crap!” or something like that, but it’s more that I am too upset to thoroughly analyze what exactly I might not like, and look past those disliked traits to see what was actually good about it. I think that is the case for most people. Then also when you watch an anime, the mood you have could affect it too.