The Pressures of Being an Anime Academic
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I am currently completing my honours thesis about light novels. No, it’s not technically about anime, but as we all know, light novels are more “anime” than anime, so I put myself in the same basket as the anime academics.
It’s not all fun and games being an academic, as anyone who has been through university should know. It’s downright exhausting reading piles of books and articles all day. This is especially the case if you take your work seriously, like I do. Since I’ve been trying connect my thesis to a lot of other disciplines, I read heavily outside my field. But I also routinely feel as if I’m suffocating under all the reading. Sometimes, finding the time to watch anime feels like work.
I want to talk about some of this pressure that I feel, because it’s a very real issue for me.
First, let’s talk about definitions. The boundary between “work” and “play” is a difficult one to define, especially when it comes to the fuzzy world of fandom. I’ve heard bloggers and critics describe what they do as work even when they’re not being paid. That’s because fandom, at its core, is all about serious play. It’s about getting a more intensified experience out of what you consume. Yes, as much as people like to conceive an arbitrary divide between “fans” and “critics”, critical analysis is simply another form of fandom expression. In terms of who invests the most time and energy into the media they consume, the most ardent fans are often the critics.
I’m particularly conscious of how academia is its own kind of fandom. I mean, think about it. It has an insular culture and there’s a deliberate mixing of study and leisure. One of the most common beliefs of those who work in academia is that everything can be turned into a learning experience. Of course, this attitude is hardly unique to the academy. If learning was such hard work, we wouldn’t learn anything at all. But academics do turn study into a vocation, so they push the idea of learning as a way of life a little further than most.
As an anime academic, then, fandom is work for me, but on the plus side it also means that work is generally fun for me. I see academia as a way of making the most out of my fandom, and vice versa. But it does create problems when I want to let off steam. If I’m looking for mindless entertainment after a long, hard day, chances are I’m not going to watch anime. Sometimes, I even experience periods of burnout when I don’t want to study or watch anime altogether.
My biggest problem, though, is that I’m probably too ambitious for my own good. As I mentioned at the start of the post, I’ve been trying connect my thesis to a lot of other academic disciplines (including translation studies, communications, media studies, cultural studies, and so on). This has to do with the fact that there is zilch written about light novels in English, which means I have to forge my own path by default. But it also has to do with the fact that I really want to do what little I can to open this particular fandom to nuanced academic criticism. Because of the enormity of the task, I often feel pressured to read more books. Then I get depressed at the thought that I’m no expert in anything I’m writing about. Why should anyone listen to what I say about these topics? I’m just talking out of my rear end most of the time.
I know this is just my insecurity talking, but I really do put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. That’s when anime stops being fun and starts feeling like work (in the bad way). It happens more regularly than I care to admit. It doesn’t have anything to do with my specific hobbies; it’s just my personality, I think. I turned my hobby into work so that I don’t have to feel guilty about spending so much time on it. But this also means that my entire life revolves around my studies in some way. If I don’t do well at it, then I’m worthless.
You know, I already feel a little better just admitting that I have these feelings. I know that lots of people feel similar pressures and that I’m definitely not alone in this. In truth, I know that I’ll probably do fine, and even if I don’t do well it’s not the end of the world. But sometimes, those irrational feelings take hold of me and I don’t know where to turn. I guess it’s just a sign that I’m human, and like most people I attach lots of importance to seemingly arbitrary things.
It’s okay, though. Whenever I’m depressed about how ignorant I am about most things, I’ll remember my love for that one anime which sparked my youthful curiosity and made me want to take my academics seriously.
In anime-related news, Gundam: Orphans is still really good. Can’t decide who’s cuter between Kudelia and Atra. Kudelia’s character definitely elevates the writing above the usual mecha fare. It’s great to see an idealist not depicted as a strawman for once.
Noragami has also been great. That Kazuma x Bishamon ship is going strong just like I predicted. Also #ProtectYukine2015. I still don’t understand how he managed to get that powerup, but boy does he deserve it.