Not too long ago I was reading an article on a pretty large, professional news site about some inane random anime top 10. Sure the list was so so but that’s not what caught my attention. There were the usual, what about that anime slew of comments below the article and the author answered a few herself. The first she answered in a super dismissive tone – that show is shit and also doesn’t fit into the category. I’m barely paraphrasing and I actually made it a bit less aggressive. Outside of the fact that it seems slightly unprofessional as far as responses go – this didn’t fit at all the tone of the site – what really bothered me was that the show did in fact perfectly fit the category but it’s something that would have been obvious only if you watched all the way to episode 4. I can only assume that this professional anime journalist, saw the first episode of the show and dropped it then figured they could just comment based on the assumption of what the rest of the series is like. I often get this feeling that reviewers or bloggers for commercial sites haven’t actually seen the shows they write about and this pisses me off. I have been misled time and again on anime content by relying on mass media reviews. I imagine more casual fans have been completely discouraged to explore the medium.
Why not just say – I haven’t seen this. There are like a billion animes out there, no one expects you to have watched them all!!! You see the real source of my annoyance is that, although anime has gained a huge amount of popularity in recent years and is much more accessible now (thank you!), it is still considered relatively fringe and most people in my neck of the woods only have the vaguest idea of what it represents. If I want access and funding to anime to continue increasing (and I do), I think it’s important that the information available on it be accurate, especially when it’s aimed at a more general public that may be learning about anime for the first time.
So instead of coming up with a solution or a helpful article, I have put together this completely arbitrary, unresearched and most likely woefully inaccurate list of Top 5 Anime culture misconceptions spread by commercial media.
5. Anime is mostly Shonen.
Now I won’t lie, there is a lot of shonen out there and I luves me a good one but when most people think Anime they tend to picture DBZ, Naruto, One Piece or Fairy Tale, maybe SoA, and the more general sites with articles on anime make very little effort to let people know that there is more than fighting based shows available. I understand that you may want to post on what’s popular and with hundreds of episodes each, we can’t deny those shows are extremely recognizable but maybe just refer to a different work in your article. What else have the director or writers done. Are the character designs similar to another show perhaps. I dunno – it’s not my job… just like mention Clannad somewhere or something. That way, if someone happens to not be that interested in people epically battling it out for 100s of episodes on end, they might still consider giving anime a try.
4. Anime is super complicated.
Look, I know those plots can get convoluted but why do media reporters try to get every single twisty detail in every single synopsis. Everything seems garbled and impossible to follow under those circumstances. Try to explain Game of Thrones to someone but include every single character subplot and weird idiosyncrasy. I bet you no longer understand what the show is about by the end….That’s why most people will just stick to the decimation of the Stark clan, rise of the Lannisters, and the mysterious return of Dragons to the world under the command of the Khaleesi. Yet, when describing animes, more often than not, you get the full background of every main character, a detailed prologue, a description of the world half the plot but a random half. As a result, you end up with a garbled mess of a summary that makes most shows seem like unwatchable nonsense.
3. Anime conventions are where all anime fans unite.
A lot of sites cover conventions. It’s usually a fairly easy diary type write up. You don’t need to do much research or risk angering fans, you simply need to recount what happened over the course of a few days. And it’s a great excuse to post a million cosplay pictures which are usually great for clicks. I said clicks. These cons are always presented as Mecca for anime fans, telling us how dedicated anime lovers will wait all year for the opportunity to converge in a conference hall over one weekend and commune in their compatriots. This is 100% true for some fans but definitely not all fans. Some of us aren’t that great with crowds, some of us don’t have the income to spare for this type of extravagance (and cons are getting very expensive), some of us are perfectly happy watching anime at home, ordering merch online, and debating shows with a virtual community. Just because you don’t attend cons doesn’t make you any less of a fan. On the flip side, there is a largish con that happens in my city for 3 days every summer. Admission costs between 40$ to 50$ a day so it’s not exactly cheap. The events are ok but hardly mind-blowing. This said a lot of people attend and you will most likely be waiting in line for hours to get in. This year, I spoke to a number of people (about a dozen unrelated folks), who had done their time in line, shelled out their hard-earned dollars and were happily roaming around the convention hall in full costume but had never really watched any anime and were not interested in it at all. They simply liked the ambiance, wanted to see some of the merch, attend the masquerade and see all the people cosplaying. Since there are a lot of non-anime watchers, there are in fact quite a few activities and panels aimed at other things. In short, anime cons are not necessarily representative of the larger anime community and anyone who is going by that assumption is simply wrong.
2. Japan is weird and so is anime.
Sure, Japan has its share of cultural quirks, most countries do and sure mainstream media is most likely to focus on the outrageous since that’s what draws viewership – I definitely get that. But with so many WTF Japan type reports out there you would think the place was downright alien. And of course, that will get immediately associated with anime. The amount of people I have heard saying I’m not really into Japanese stuff except for sushi. Then you have those people who think well Japan is a wonderland of fuckery, let’s see what all them fancy cartoons are about and end up disappointed because they’re too normal…. You just can’t please everyone
1 There is only one type of Anime Fan.
Even though otaku is a real word with a real meaning, western media by and large have adopted it as shorthand for any anime fan and that is in part because we tend to be depicted as one large homogenous mass with pretty much no distinctions among ourselves (a bit like sci-fi fans use to be before Star Wars and Marvel became everything). The anime fan is a clearly defined creature. They are more inoffensive and more sociable than their hardcore gamer brethren but also like games A LOT. They collect things fanatically, like figures, art prints, pokemon… They are obsessed with Japanese culture, eating Japanese food whenever possible (or localized versions thereof), snacking exclusively on Pocky, attempting and failing to learn Japanese in their free time and listening to J-Pop except mostly K-pop now. They are always hardcore, a casual anime watcher does not exist as anime is only consumable if binged. They all love to dress up. They get made fun of or bullied in regular society. I personally have no issue with any of these personifications and fall into a few myself but It’s incredibly short sighted to think that a casual anime lover who doesn’t really like video games and thinks cosplay is stupid doesn’t exist. And when media describes anime fans and talks to them as if they all should belong to that very specific demographic, it can be alienating not only to those new to the medium who don’t feel like they would fit in but to those who have been watching anime for years but can’t recognize themselves in that description.
So that’s it… Things that tick me off about mainstream media trying to tackle anime. I was a lot angrier when I started writing this but now I just want Pocky and maybe go play something….