I have not felt hype for a movie, anime, comic or video game the same way for a while. I have not since 2016. And after three years of trying to sort out my bitter disappointment and blind hatred I wanted to sit down and talk about hype culture, social media, and why I have not been able to be properly excited for a while now.
Before we dive in head first, let me say one thing. Mentally, I’m okay. It isn’t that I can’t get excited about things in media anymore. There’s still small things that have gotten me excited: new movie trailers, new comic book runs, new video games; there have been things that have managed to get me on the edge of my seat but that feeling is now almost immediately tempered due to either a strange sense of ennui or a fear that the hype will die like it did in 2016.
Before we talk about the summer that killed my hype, we need to discuss what was going on in 2016.
In 2016, I found myself unemployed for an extended period of time. Politically, the world was a mess. I was deeply involved with an emotionally abusive partner and had been coping with a very toxic friendship that had gone on for years. I had a paramor that I adored but would have to deal with pining over from a great distance and I had very little going for me in other regards. I was depressed, I was down on myself and I was probably at one of my lowest points emotionally, physically and spiritually.
It was a mess politically, too, considering the rise of a certain Mango Mussolini and damn Nazis returning like that isn’t a big deal.
2016 was a mess and then a little anime popped up and ruined damn near everything. That’s right kids, we’re going to talk about ice-skating, the death of criticism and the hype train.
No, I am not yet tired of my tsundere relationship with Yuri on Ice.
This anime. Gosh darnit this anime. The long of short of the plot is that Yuri is an anxiety-ridden ice skater who falls in love with the incredibly Russian ice skater, Victor; has a rival who is Russian and also way too damn good also named Yuri but different because Russia and thus conflict and love and romance and an utter lack of tension.
The anime is fine. And my feelings on it have cooled but no, we’re back in 2016. Let’s talk indignation.
This show was recommended to me by a close friend and they were PUMPED about this. Hooked from the opening before anyone spoke a line. I remember getting told to watch the series in a few frantic messages. And I had strong feelings for this friend so I was happy to oblige. They assumed it would make me feel better considering that I had melted into my sofa since I was unemployed and had nothing else going for me. I was told how amazing this show was and how much I’d love it even though there was only one episode out so far. So I watched the show after listening to it be praised for several minutes by someone I trusted dearly. We sat on a call together so my reactions could be recorded and occasionally, I was asked if I was enjoying the show or if I liked a scene or character.
On a first initial viewing: it was fine. Immediately, it gave me serious Gravitation vibes, a series that I love and adore but have seen before. It was fine. There were absolutely things I liked: Victor seemed to be pulled from all of my pretty boy dreams, Russian Yuri is amazing and is everything I want out of a rival and Yuri is…well, he’s doing his best. At first glance, I liked the show but it was nothing to write home about. And when I expressed a cooler response that wasn’t emphatic love or intense hatred, I was greeted by something rather cold. I was not willing to join the hype train. It would be one thing if the show gained no greater impact but no, no, I was wrong.
Everyone was talking about this anime.
Now, you’ve heard me mention before how much I despise the death of discourse. I think anime, comic books, television shows and more get better by being able to have conversations about them. And when I expressed my opinions about the show, I was met with mostly vitriol. That turned mild ambivalence into full on hatred.
But it did something else important: it made me feel broken.
Mind you, dear reader, I have been on the edge of my seat watching movie trailers. I have left films trembling with excitement. I am not one that usually has level-headed responses to things. Now, that does not mean that I cannot analyze things critically, it just means that I am one who gets excited by things I like.
But Yuri on Ice didn’t do anything for me that other anime hadn’t done better. I was much happier watching Free! or Gravitation or reading a Fumi Yoshinaga novel. The anime was fine and that answer to the internet and to those close to me who knew of the show was not an acceptable answer.
People wanted to claim this was the first, the best, the only and for me, an old anime fan, it just wasn’t. If I wanted to watch a show about a plain-looking kid with anxiety try and court an attractive Russian lamp, I’d write fanfiction. And while I’m happy to embrace the argument of old boy’s love being especially problematic, that does not erase its existence. Sure, Gravitation in hindsight is very problematic but if you want to talk about setting the tone for most idol animes to begin with, you have to look at Shuichi Shindou.
I felt like something bad had happened to me. Like something in my brain broke. And as I rewatched the show over and over again to try and find what in Kami-sama’s name I was missing, it only plunged me further into depression. This show was supposed to clear my acne, cure my depression, give me life and all it did was make me hate ice skating, anime and myself.
What followed was a summer that made me feel like I was defective in some way even though there was one anime that managed to make me feel everything I was apparently supposed to feel watching YoI. It was Hitorijime My Hero. But folks didn’t seem to want to talk about that one so I was left to deal with my love of the series in relative silence. And that was just fine by me.
In the fall of that year, a game I wanted to play more than anything came out: Pokemon Moon. Longtime readers will remember my very strong feelings about that game and the franchise but it was something that me and the squad were all looking forward to. And considering that some of us were down and out, the prospect of going on an adventure together was very alluring. But the game was a huge disappointment. It was too easy, the new mechanics made me angry, the story entirely lacked bite and while I adored Rowlet the rest of the game just left me wanting.
At least that time I felt a little less broken because others had expressed similar feelings to mine. But by the end of the fall, I felt hollow. I felt like something terrible had happened. That being down on my luck ruined something in me, had taken something from me, had broken me.
Fortunately, my tormented ended towards the end of the year but the lasting effects of The Summer of 2016 still linger. Now when asked about what I’m watching, what I’m reading or what I’m into I tend to give very stunted answers. I’m not willing to be vulnerable with those in that way that I don’t trust or know. Close friends get to hear me gush about movies I like or characters I’m fond of but in more normal conversation, you’re likely to hear a very blunt “It’s fine.” from me.
That summer was a pain, and thinking about it and reliving for the sake of this blog post exhausted me. But I wanted to talk about the summer that broke my mind, my heart and my expectations. Remember, you can love something and not think it’s perfect and there’s no reason to be cruel to someone who does not see things your way. At the end of the day, human connection is why I fell into fandom: not arguing falsely over an anime that had a more disappointing season two than Wolf’s Rain.
Intertextuality is a zeigeisty kind of word. It essentially means a call back in a current piece of media to a further piece of media in that franchise history. It’s been used a lot by video essayists and it’s a fine word but one I don’t use a lot in day to day speech because I find it pretentious. But it’s appropriate for my point. So minor spoilers for games. Sit back and relax. We’re going to talk about a firm grip on the nostalgia and when a callback is not genuine.
I’ve been playing Pokemon for 20 years now. I remember getting Pokemon Red in 1996-7 and enjoyed the game as much as a 6 or 7 year old could. It wasn’t until Pokemon Crystal or really even Pokemon Ruby that I decided to sell my soul to Nintendo and to the franchise. I have since played every game that has come out. Well, the mainstream ones. Never did play that weird JRPG one. But after 20 years of Pokemon, I’ve seen the games reach epic highs like Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon X/Y and I’ve seen it hit some lows like Pokemon Sun/Moon and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.
I’ve gone on record that Sun/Moon were not my favorites. Despite giving me my favorite round owl son I had serious issues with the game. I didn’t like that the game was hand-holding and too easy. I hated the Rotom-dex. I thought the story was lacking and overall, I just didn’t enjoy the game. But the game had a troubling side since the start: it was aggressively pandering towards us older 20-somethings while also making a game that was built clearly for Japanese children. Each ad for the game made callbacks to the older games and that it’s been 20 years. The game brought back all sorts of things we knew and loved. A new tan Professor Oak. A new surfing Raichu (which Carlos hates). New forms of old Pokemon. Sun/Moon was nostalgia: the game.
And while I bit on the nostalgia, I slogged through the game. And in my key attention to detail as I begrudgingly played through a game I bought with my own money, I noticed a few things. The first was Grimsley. Grimsley is one of the Elite 4 in Black/White and in Black/White 2 (close friends will notice that this is actually one of my favorite games). And there Grimsley was. On the beach. Dressed like Byakuya from Bleach. Ranting on and on about love and loss. I was floored! What was my darling Elite 4 trainer doing? Why was he in a kimono on the beach? Why is he giving me items? What is this nonsense? You do get some clues once you’ve dug deep into the lore but what was the point of adding Grimsley to the game? To give hope to people like me who had given up on the game up until that point?
Another instance was with Colress. Now, this one has a funny story. Carlos and I were playing Sun/Moon around the same time but he was way ahead of me because he liked the game more than I did. He mentioned meeting a man with strange hair and a Nintendo power glove in the game that gave him an item and he thought the man was really interesting. This was the same day Nintendo released a short centered in the Black/White universe of Unova where Colress is shown icing a bunch of people in a city to literal death. The game glosses over some of the violence but the short does not skip on the detail that people likely died as Colress and Team Plasma tried to find a way to better control Kyurem.
I immediately recognized Colress once I met him in game and went back to Carlos barking about how he shouldn’t trust a literal murderer. And sure enough, Colress gives you an item, babbles about research and leaves like he isn’t a snow killer.
What was the point of adding Colress? Was it just a cool callback? Were there no other scientists in game that weren’t evil that the writers couldn’t think of? No, it was just a cool callback to an earlier and much more loved part of the franchise.=
And this isn’t the first time Nintendo has weaponized nostalgia. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby was absolutely a giant direct hit to the nostalgia of adults like me who cut their teeth on Ruby/Sapphire and the additions made in the new game involved riding the mythical Latias/Latios and the brilliant Delta Episode which almost almost turned the game around for me. AS/OR was essentially just a retread of Ruby/Sapphire with updated graphics like Pokemon Emerald was. And those games do have value but when they’re done to just redo a game for a cash grab, it’s frustrating. Emerald at least added things to those first generation games that were rough around the edges and did not always age well.
The best parts of the newer games were the times they added to the foundations of the older games like X/Y. I loved being able to have a character with my skin tone and that could dress very fashionably. I loved being able to sit on benches and pet my Pokemon. I loved being able to roller skate around and be given Pokemon from games that I adored like Lucario and adding to its mythos rather than just dropping a Pokemon off and saying “Here, young adult. I hear you like nostalgia. Here’s a Pikachu with a hat. Enjoy your nostalgia and your half-baked game.”
We see intertexuality at work in a lot of video game and comic book movies. Many will be a comic book saga in name only like Captain America: Civil War which had very little actual Civil War and was mostly just Tony and Steve have a lover’s quarrel. We see Star Wars movies that essentially just redo the original trilogy with better graphics. Stranger Things is literally a show based on callbacks but Stranger Things does so with love and reverence while Star Wars: The Force Awakens is done to help hide some of the less than ideal storytelling.
Remember, nostalgia is only as good as the thing it’s based on and while I love Pokemon, my love is not enough to keep me motivated when a game’s only interest is reminding me of how great the 1990s were.
This was different and timely! I don’t do this very often. I mostly just wanted to rant. I am not enjoying Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon like I thought I would. Motivate me to make my owl son proud.