Happy Friday to you all! Today, I decided to focus on my favourite pass-time (second to reading, of course): watching anime, but as I sat down to do it, I felt completely uninspired. This year has been a colossal titan of slumps and ruts, which has prevented me from enjoying many things that I normally turn to for fun and relaxation. Being able to watch anime definitely took a severe hit, but after deeper contemplation I have come to the realisation that the most logical reason behind my anime watching slumps have been the content that’s been available for 2017. Most of this year’s creations have been terrible and unpleasant, thus making it much easier for me to fall into an unintentional anime watching vacation.
I recently finished watching the first season of Inuyasha, which is a favourite of mine, however, it wasn’t always. While I remember having liked it very much upon my first watch-through, it wasn’t until this re-visit that I came to understand how much I love Inuyasha and why I love it so much. Long story short: it was fantastic in almost every single way. There’s great, consistent storytelling, amazing visuals that still hold up rather well, interesting and multi-faceted characters, and narratives within the series as a whole that could resonate with almost every sort of person on one level or another. It wasn’t a perfect series, most serials rarely are, but it was phenomenal and beautifully engaging. Modern anime sufficiently lacks many of the qualities that originally made me fall in love with the medium, qualities that can be found in a series like Inuyasha.
The 2017 seasons have mostly consisted of new additions to long-time familiars, and whatever new shows did sprout up, were laced with appalling tropes, poor storytelling, cringe-worthy humour, or it just focused so much on fan-service that it drowned out virtually everything else. While there are a few that have stood out and been remarkable, such as The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, March Comes in Like a Lion, Sakura Quest, and Tsuki ga Kirei, (and a couple others) most of them have been so disappointing that before I could realise what was happening, I had stopped watching them almost entirely.
Modern day anime caters more to the Western spheres and audiences rather than what works in Japan, and has worked there for many years. As this medium gains more popularity, spreading farther and farther to the corners of the world, the demand for genuine and consistently original content seems to have diminished in the face of common stereotypes. You would assume that the opposite affect would happen, but it didn’t. A lot of people who have grown to watch anime in the modern age, did so in the wake of shows like One Piece, Naruto, and shows revolving around musical idols. There’s nothing wrong with these if they float your fancy, but they aren’t the only things that this glorious medium has to offer. Originality, pure and intellectual creations of brilliance, are unwanted because then they’re too different from these mainstream titles.
Common tropes, usually dripping with moe, and over-the-top action are the preferred flavours. If a show isn’t following these tropes, then they result to absolutely ridiculous storytelling dynamics simply for the shock value and to say that it’s “different.” A perfect example of this is Elegant Yokai Apartment Life. It was a series that had the potential to resonate with feel-good vibes akin to Natsume’s Book of Friends, but instead progressed forward with some of the worst, what-the-fuck moments that I have ever seen. Most of it was a horrid mixture of lacklustre stereotypes and forced, incoherent jaw-droppers (that were more boring than anything else) that made it seem like even the writers didn’t know what to do with it.
Tsuki ga Kirei was a phenomenal series about awkward first romances around the pre-teen age that was genuine and honest. Yet a lot of people didn’t care for it because it didn’t have fan-service, or due to its slow progression (it’s very much a story-driven title). Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is a masterful exploration of rakugo, or Japanese verbal storytelling. It’s quite an intricate and beautiful performing art. The series exhibits traditional Japanese culture, while examining how it’s a struggling art form in contemporary Japanese society. But it’s quite unknown in many circles because it’s not filled with tedious action sequences, and focuses too heavily on a concept that is very much alien to Western audiences.
Another example is Sakura Quest. This show is mostly popular due to the fact it has cute young women in it. However, when I try to discuss other parts of the series that really drew me into it, aspects unrelated to the ladies or other cutesy things, I lose whomever I’m speaking with. This show is a marvellous piece on how small towns in Japan struggle to survive, particularly where tourism is concerned, when compared to much larger metropolitan cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. It shows the audience how many old-time traditions that Japan was originally built upon are being squished out of existence, and how these small communities are faced with the difficulties of keeping their traditions and heritage alive. But no one wants to talk about this, not when this character has big breasts and this other one is moe incarnate.
Look, I love anime, I really fucking do. I’m wholeheartedly stoked that anime is becoming much more than just a strange hobby that weird nerds do in the basement. The medium has a lot to offer, both artistically and scientifically (computer science). As someone who has a deep-rooted passion for exceptional storytelling, I must say that anime has exposed me to plenty of the finest narratives that I’ve ever come across. Nonetheless, I don’t want to see popularity strangle the brilliant potential out of the medium. Tropes are great when utilised with originality and creativity, but we need those things to keep anime great: originality, creativity, thinking outside of the popular box, allowing it to be genuine and true to it’s source rather than burying it in Western influences–those kinds of things.
While I didn’t set out to rant about my disappointments with anime in 2017, I am glad that I did so. I’m also very glad that it all came straight from the heart because a conversation like this needs to be genuine and real. In 2018, while I shall be more reserved about the offerings, I’m also going to be really hopeful. This isn’t the first time that anime has lost its way in the crowd of recognition and celebrity, and I doubt it will be the last. Nevertheless, I trust that it will find its way back to the masterful and innovative storytelling as it has plenty of times before… and if it doesn’t…