After my post about Sarazanmai and an earlier post about my feelings about more modern anime titles, I’ve been feeling like I need to explain myself. Because while I admit and own being a bit of a harsh critic, one thing I am not is a contrarian. I try to have reasons that I don’t like something and just saying “it’s modern” is rarely an excuse for me. But after going over the tapes, I absolutely can see how people would assume that I just have a vendetta against modern anime. I sound bitter and old and sometimes I feel bitter and old. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about my relationship with anime.
But before we talk about the present, we need to talk about the past. I first came into contact with anime at 6 with DragonBall. From there I stayed safe with a lot of the series that are anime but never really felt like anime to me just another cartoon but with different faces: mostly shows like Sailor Moon, CardCaptors, Pokemon and DragonBall/DragonBall Z. It wasn’t until I was 9 that I started really seeing anime as something different and that was mostly thanks to YuYu Hakusho. By 12 I had fully embraced glorious Nihon with series like InuYasha, Trigun, Case Closed and Cowboy Bebop and the rest is history.
If you’ve been keeping track, I have been an anime fan for over 20 years. And a lot has changed in the world of anime and manga. But a lot has changed for me personally, as well. It’s telling that I fell in love with anime during one of the most trying times of my life: I had lost my father at 12, moved in my aunts, had emancipated myself and was doing my best to cope with grief and loss and my own changing identity and personality. And some of the series that mean the world to me like Fullmetal Alchemist and Death Note and Bleach hit me when I was in high school. I wasn’t much older than Edward Elric when he lost his mom so seeing someone like me process grief and use science and will and grit to overcome loss was intensely powerful.
But in 20 years, my life has changed a lot. I did join the Tony Stark Club for Successfully Disastrous Orphans, I finished college, I moved away from my hometown and started a life on my own. I didn’t stop liking anime but I like to think I have matured in those years.
Which leads us to where we are. I for sure do look like a harsh media critic and honestly, that probably started in 2010 with a little show called Attack on Titan. Now, keep in mind in 2010 I was 20 years old and had some of the best anime series ever made happen during the most formative times of my life. AoT to me was a lazy redux of series I already held near and dear to my heart but for many this was their first big bombastic shonen. For me it was a dumb series that thinks its very smart and the vitrolic fandom around it made me seriously question what I was doing as an anime fan. And those feelings have persisted now for nearly 10 years. New anime comes out, I feel very little about it. I feel worse about it because of hyperbolic fandom and it leaves me in an odd place.
Before every major convention I usually do a cram session so I can be aware of what the kids are watching and having to cram in the top three of what’s popular only continued to sour me on modern anime. I think it was just my approach. I’m also a very stubborn little goblin. I don’t like being “told” what to do so my friends who have suggested series to me rarely are met with open and loving arms but mostly hissing and frustration. There’s only one series Carlos has suggested to me that I watch and that was Devilman Crybaby. I do tend to watch what is suggested to me but it’s typically pulling teeth and the faint memory of “being told what to do” lingers with me. Look at my feelings on Sarazanmai and Yuri On Ice: two shows that I like (hell, one that I like a lot) but that moment of being told what I would like and what I wouldn’t like…it just got under my skin. Maybe it goes back to the whole struggle of being biologically female and an anime fan that so much of it was spent being told what I would and wouldn’t like or having to prove my fandom. I’ve let that become an excuse and my unwillingness to try new things is bothersome.
I struggle with a feeling of hollowness in newer shows. My Hero Academia is a perfect example of that for me. On paper there’s a lot that this show has going for it and going for me. But watching now, I mostly just don’t understand character motivations or why any of this matters. Why did All-Might make a kid eat his hair? Did they think fanfiction writers wouldn’t notice? Why is Bakugo so mad at Izuku? What crawled up Iida’s ass and died there? I have so many questions. But I didn’t want those questions answered and I abandoned ship around episode four. And the comment I kept going back to as I thought about My Hero Academia was that if this series hit me at the same time that Naruto did, I would be all over this. Not to say that older fans can’t be down for whatever All-Might is putting down but for me, it was just a little too much like a shonen series that I loved to make it truly special to me or worth further investigation.
That hollowness I believe comes from the fact that as I mentioned, some of the best anime ever made were ones that came to me during a very formative parts of my life. Why would I watch a discount Naruto? I have Naruto. Why watch a knock-off Evangelion? I have Evangelion. And I’m intentionally being reductive because it’s easier to fit into the structure of this post but if I have to be nuanced, then yes, as a media critic a lot of more recent series do feel like rehashes of long-standing tropes and that’s a key point. These shows aren’t bad but they are using a formula that is now decades old and has been seen over and over again.
A lot of newer series suffer purely by the fact that I have seen an anime before. I have less patience now for a protagonist who doesn’t struggle and has no problems, for an antagonist who is tacked on for merchandise and a villain with a dumb plan. I’ve been doing this for decades, it takes more to impress me. Which is probably why my taste in anime has changed so much in the last few years. The series that have truly captured me have been ones that subvert my expectations. Space Dandy was a masterclass in meta humor and heart. Devilman Crybaby gave me a full on existential crisis that left me a babbling mess. Sarazanmai left me genuinely worried about three dumb boys and two dumb murder cops.
So when a show like, let’s say Food Wars, hits a lot of shonen beats in a very linear fashion from loud main male to antagonist with muddy reasons to be an antagonist and a story line that is let’s be honest basic then you can see why I’m bored.
It’s interesting to think that a lot of the series I still watch are either the classics or are slice of life or romance series now considering that I was such a shonen fan when I was younger. A lot of the newer boy’s love series (well, newer as in their new anime adaptations of manga I read when I was too young to read them) have been excellent and comedies like Pop Team Epic have been way more interesting to me than Fairy Tail ever could be. I’m old enough to catch some of the references and I’m mature enough to want to escape the misery that is my current routine and just watch two men be in love and eat cake or something together.
I will say there are two points that I want to make as far as newer anime goes and especially newer anime fandom. The death of discourse is a huge problem for me as I even try to navigate some of the newer series. I do my very best to have reasons to not like a thing and folks being garbage about valid criticism is a great way to turn passive malaise into full on hatred. Looking at you, Yuri on Ice. Second point is a lack of looking backwards. This may be a generalization but as I talk to newer fans there’s this shocking lack of knowledge of series that go past 2010. I understand that the shows I grew up with are old but to even walk into a comic book shop back in the day I had to be able to know and talk about series that were running before I was born. And as soon as I accepted that anime was my new lifestyle, I naturally wanted to look back. I saw Outlaw Star and the old 70s run of Lupin III and did my best to understand that anime was not something that started for me in the 1990s. A lot of the hyperbolic rhetoric around newer anime like this show is the first or this show is the only just fundamentally sticks in my craw. Nothing is original anymore and that’s perfectly fine but you aren’t going to tell me that a cartoon that was released this year is somehow treading new and uncharted waters. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been in a panel and I’ve mentioned a show like Cowboy Bebop or InuYasha only to be met with silence. I get it. These shows are old but dammit they’re like anime required reading, it’s just basic. I don’t make the rules I just enforce them and judge you for not following them. And you kids have the internet now. Back in my day (full old man rant time) we had to wait for that one friend whose parents were stationed in Japan to bring back DVDs or to just full on spend weeks trying to find a bootleg copy of stuff.
In hindsight, I do want to be more careful with how I talk about anime nowadays because even though a series may not be my cup of tea, it does not give me an excuse to be a garbage person to anyone for liking it. I can also be more open to trying new things and not being such a stick in the mud. There are shows that are on my list and that I want to try and I want to be open to. I want to be less stubborn and try the things my friends suggest to me: they wouldn’t suggest something to me that they think I wouldn’t like
What has been incredibly freeing is realizing that a lot of these shows aren’t for me. Not to say that age is everything. Toi in Sarazanmai is several years my junior but I absolutely could relate to his pain, nihilism and want to be close to someone because they are related even though they are trash. It’s a weak argument to assume I or anyone really would just “outgrow”. If anything what I’ve noticed is that in any given series my gaze has merely shifted. In Fullmetal Alchemist I went from relating very much to Edward to now seeing a lot of Mustang’s perspective because I relate to be a tired old man surrounded by idiots but still has grand ideas of taking over the world despite the heavy burdens of mental illness and trauma. The episodes of My Hero Academia that I did watch I found myself not relating to Izuku but All-Might who is mostly jaded, exhausted but so badly wants to believe in the good inside people.
My relationship with anime is complicated. The ones I love I will love forever even if I can now see flaws in their facades. The newer ones that people assume I’d like I tend to find a little lackluster and the newer ones that I have committed to have became part of my usual rotation. I love anime and probably will until I am no longer able but I admit it’s been harder and harder to say that I am an anime fan just because so few of the newer shows do it for me. I do want to continue to challenge myself to try newer series and my goal recently has been to go over a few of those mid 2000s series that I completely skipped over as I was busy obsessing over like two shows at the time. I also want to start refining my language when it comes to critiquing and talking about anime.
Anime changed my life. I’m not being hyperbolic by saying that. Literally anime has changed and saved my life. It gave me some of the best friends in the world that mean everything to me. It taught me so much about myself and others. Anime gave me something to look forward to and discuss and study and explore. It helped give form to my feelings. Without anime I doubt I’d be writing much now. Without anime I wouldn’t cosplay. Without anime I would be an entirely different person. I’m proud to be an anime fan. I’m proud to be an older anime fan. So even though sometimes my relationship status feels more like “it’s complicated” the answer at the end of the day is still as it was two decades ago: “in a serious relationship”.