This year, it was surprisingly easy to throw together a top 5 anime list. You see, I only finished about 5 anime. As I will explain in tomorrow’s post, this has a lot to do with my shifting interests as a blogger. If you want opinions on the latest shows, there are plenty of other blogs and reviewing sites you can go to. Personally, I don’t think that I add much new to the discussion.
But oh well, this post is for anime, so here we go!
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.
Okay, so as I mentioned in my last post, I recently watched Noragami. Like many other anime series aimed at teenagers, Noragami is an urban fantasy, one that imbues old myths and traditions (in this case, Shinto gods) with a sense of hipness and adventure. You can see this reflected in the character designs, music and aesthetics, but the overall plot invokes this theme as well. The protagonist is a stray god (or Kami) who strives not to be forgotten by humans, and the heroine is an ordinary high school girl who gradually comes to appreciate the Kami.
Once you dig past all the flashy battles and shonen shenanigans, Noragami boils down to a rather universal dilemma: In this (post)modern world, how do we humans find fulfillment? How do we tell right from wrong? Like Haibane Renmei, which I discussed not too long ago, Noragami is about spirituality, but it isn’t necessarily about religion in the organised sense. Rather, it’s a work of pastiche. That’s why the world it depicts comes across as both familiar and strange, especially to Western eyes.
Other bloggers have dissected a great deal about Noragami through a Christian lens. Once again, I’ll point you to the good folks at Beneath the Tangles for various discussions and links. What I want to talk about in this post is the act of pastiche. How does pop culture (in this case, anime) reinterpret religious motifs? To what end?
Before I can discuss those questions in detail, we need to take a not-so-brief detour and talk about religion itself.
It’s a fun show, filled with likable characters. None of the plot threads really came together, though, since the first season was mostly dedicated to character introductions and setup. But that doesn’t really matter when the characters are so much fun to watch. At any rate, the anime is getting a second season soon, so now’s as good a time as any to hype it up, I suppose.
The only problem was deciding what to write about: an ambitious thematic essay about Shintoism and new religions in Japan, or shipping? Which is more important to me as an intellectual? I spent over a day agonising over this soul-crushing dilemma. Then finally, it hit me… why not both?