I wasn’t going to write one of those decade marker posts. I just didn’t really have anything to say. I have a hard time narrowing down a list of best anime of the season, trying to cover an entire decade is just insanity! Also I’ve been watching anime for more than 10 years. Should I do a 20 year retrospective for 2020? That’s even insanityer! I hope someone else does! It sounds like a great post!
There is one thing I’ve managed to wrap my mind around though. Not something I can really place in time exactly. I’m not sure when it happened but I can tell you this, oh boy anime has come a long way! And I’m so happy I was there to see it.
If you spend too much time online bouncing around echo chambers or practising your outrage, you could mistakenly think that the anime community is stuck in this weird stasis. Never really learning or growing. Rehashing the old arguments over and over again. You could even think that this extends to the medium of anime itself.
After taking a step back though, I think it’s quite the opposite. By all counts, Anime has made leaps and bounds on almost every level, and so has the fandom around it. Even the online fandom… possibly… maybe… I hope I figure something out by the end of this post…
Obviously, the technology around making anime has advanced greatly in the time I’ve been watching resulting in not only more impressive but also more varied visual and the ability to create more with less resources. This expended toolbox available to both animators and directors alike has allowed to do away with previously necessary exposition that is no longer punishingly difficult to simply show. It has allowed for non verbal story telling that use to be so time consuming and/or expensive that it was almost never used. And it has generated a much greater variety of signature styles and designs that are not so tightly constrained by ease of animation.
Basically, the technical progress made in the industry hasn’t simply affected the ways shows look, it’s created a whole new slew of options for the way stories are told and that really shows. Honestly, exposition use to be out of control in all but the best of shows!
Beyond that though, there’s a lot of subtlety and depth that has been added to anime. When most people talk about how anime use to be better, they are often (not always), referring to a few dozen shows or movies from the past…forever of anime history. It’s not really fair to compare the best from 50 years worth of the medium to the best of a current season that doesn’t even have the advantage of nostalgia or prestige on it’s side.
I watched a lot of series that have been lost to the ages because they were just the random average anime of the time and in my opinion, the storytelling bar has been raised considerably. There use to be about a handful of character archetype. And archetype is generous. They were basically all the same guy and handful of girls. Even series I liked and had fun with, I often mixed up the characters with other shows because they were all much more similar than they are today.
I remember when homosexuality was simply a punchline. It was a joke or an insult. A character wasn’t simply gay (either male or female) unless there was something off about them. Addressing real life social issues and concerns either wasn’t done at all or was deeply tongue in cheek. And again only by a few and usually prestige productions. By and large series tended to be by the book heroes journeys or very standard slice of life. There was much less subtext, little subversion and just a general pro forma nature to a lot of the shows.
Of course I was limited by what I could find and as it was often fan translated, I’m sure something was lost but to me, it just seemed like simpler more surface level stories for the most part, with a few notable exceptions and some masterpieces here and there.
In all the years I be been watching, anime has learned to trust and respect it’s audience and by extension has become a much better representation of it.
As for the audience in question… When I started watching anime there was no such thing as an Otaku. The concept of overzealous fans was around but anime usually involves hunting down elusive fansubs and spending 5 hours downloading a single 23 min episode. We were all obsessive fan. Besides there was like 5 of us so what if one was a bit more into it. It was an immediately welcoming group with no gatekeeping gender bias or name calling. But it wasn’t a community.
We were such a small group with very limited watching options so as a rule, we had all seen the same shows and thought roughly along the same lines. When you only have a dozen options of your favourite medium, you tend to like everything and so does everyone else. No debates or even discussions needed…
We may have over corrected on that front but I honestly think the larger community has a lot of benefits. Sure, I no longer fit bro it nearly but I also never dreamed I could see hundreds of people discussing anime like it was an actual art form with cultural impact and responsibilities. It’s amazing! It’s occasionally exhausting but these conversations and movements are a good way to make a medium grow and evolve and get better. And a fan base as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for flame wars but if you calm them down enough to get some actual ideas through, I created possibilities that didn’t exist up until now. It injects different perspectives into the pot which creates new flavours. It’s amazing.
I sit here at the beginning of 2020 an watch a medium and community that are both familiar and barely recognizable to me. Anime has come such a long way and it can still go so far with some verve and imagination and the courage to embrace change. And I’m so psyched to see where it will go from here and where it will lead all of us. I hope you are as well!