Before some of you jump at me, I’m not saying that anything I’m about to discuss is fact or even true. I simply read a thesis that put forth a couple of theories about the rise of anime popularity and how to interpret that in a social context which I thought was interesting. It was in print and I’ve been trying to find an online version. (I read these things for work..). If I find the link I’ll update this post.First, let’s get some proper context. The paper was actually discussing modern isolation and how social media and the rise of the digital work may have affected our interpersonal relationships. Anime was just briefly mentioned but since I never get to read about anime in important serious papers like this, I got super excited and it’s the only part I remember now. This is probably not a good thing.
I’ll try to sum up that part in a way that makes sense. Hopefully, I won’t mangle the original premise too badly. The idea was that as parts of society start to get more and more absorbed by clearly unrealistic depictions of the world, we are slowly losing touch with what can be reasonably expected in any given situation.
The examples for those clearly unrealistic depictions of the world, were online games and anime, both of which boost impressive and very dedicated followings. Just to be clear, unrealistic depiction of the world here doesn’t mean necessarily “our” world or realistic in the sense of non-fiction. The point was more that certain people (not many but it may be increasing) spend more time with characters that aren’t even played by human actors than with other people around them. Even a very realistic and relatable slice-of-life anime, is populated with character designs that don’t exist in the real world. We have heard for years how television and movies give us unrealistic expectations, well crank that up to 100 for anime.
The paper wasn’t suggesting that constant and continuous anime watching will give someone body issues or make them think they can die to reincarnate in their favourite game or something of the sort. It was just putting the practice as one more tiny drop in all the elements that contribute to modern or digital isolation and whether spending so much time relating to characters that usually do not act or even look all that human, can weaken our ability to relate to average everyday people?
Again don’t boo me. There were some figures given to support the ideas that the answer is yes. Mostly in brain function differentials. But I found the data to be less than credible as the methods used were fairly flimsy (i.e. how an “average” person’s brain reacts to hearing a recording of their lover’s voice vs how a person who spends 20hrs a week or more in online games, that sort of thing. There are way too many variables to consider like what is the current status of their relationship, hormonal levels, state of arousal ect… and the sample sizes were way too small). So for now, I’m going to ignore that data, which was properly disclaimed as very preliminary and non-conclusive, and simply look at the question as a purely theoretical thought experiment.
I’m not the best person for this as I am probably one of the few people that anime has made more sociable and empathetic. I have very little patience for sentimentality so really the only way I could stick around listening to people discuss their feeeeelings in detail was if I had pretty pictures to look at. I have gotten much better at it now and can even enjoy a live-action drama. That’s thanks to anime. But I figure that’s not the average experience. So let’s try to figure out the component of this argument.
Why would watching copious amounts of anime make it more difficult to relate to people around us. Well, it’s true that anime characters (like most fictional ones) don’t necessarily act or react in ways you and I would. Anime is especially fond of tropes, and quite a few of these tropes are born of Eastern culture which doesn’t always translate so well, even as parody, in Western countries. What I mean is that is a trope is a gross exaggeration of a common habit or occurrence in one place. The audience from that one place will in most cases take it in differently than an audience that doesn’t have the foundation for it and just sees it as a crazy or absurd element. And even when you intellectually know the basis, it’s still a different impact.
So I could see how living alongside these tropes can sort of divide your social awareness. I do occasionally get surprised by how direct and blunt people can be when I never even noticed before and tend to be rather blunt myself.
And of course, there is the visual element as well.
Now I’m tempted to say that this is nonsense. We have had paintings and just idealized representations of people for ever and somehow we still came together as a group. But I do have some anecdotal evidence and I’ll even let you in on an embarrassing personal admission.
For the anecdotal side, I am seeing more and more people say stuff like real (boys/girls) just can’t compare to 2d ones. I have even had someone in my comments explain to me that anime girls were perfect cause they stayed innocent and optimistic whereas real girls got bitter as they grew older. And yeah, I guess if you expect people to never age and only have a vague happiness as their entire emotional range, then that’s going to make it real hard to find someone to get along with.
However, for the most part I consider these statement hyperbole. I think some people might mean them at the time but those convictions usually don’t hold up when you meet someone that strikes your fancy and then it’s all about that very real person (who you’ve build up in your head into someone only slightly resembling the real thing but that’s the magic of crushes!)
And this is where I would leave it if it weren’t for my own experience. For those of you who don’t know, I am in a steady relationship and have been for quite some time. I find my partner very attractive and wouldn’t trade them for a 2d version…I don’t think… I’m also human and in the very many years we’ve been together, I have found other people attractive. Not as in I want to redo my life and be with that other person but as in, my this is a wonderful specimen of a human being, let me stare a bit from this safe distance and maybe share this experience with my better half. Personally, I think that’s healthy and so does my partner.
But that sort of thing hasn’t happened in a while. Or at least, it’s been happening a lot less often since I started this blog. I will go around enthusiastically showing off fan art of my favourite characters. or even just of anime-looking characters I don’t even know but like the design, but I hardly notice anyone’s looks outside my relationship. And it’s not like my hormones are to blame, if anything they are going the other way. But at some point, my visual interest gravitated toward anime aesthetics. It’s not to the point that I think real life can’t compare to 2d or anything like that. I’m the annoying sort of person who happens to think the world is breathtakingly beautiful and so are many people in it. But there has been a shift in my interests and perceptions which I simply can’t deny. And I’m pretty sure that shift would go back if I started watching tons of live-action instead.
So where do I stand? Can anime contribute to alienation? Here’s my feeling but I have no proof. If a person is looking for a way to escape reality or at least a part of it, anime (and video games) provide a very efficient way to do so and really remove the person from reality more than a lot of other mediums would. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A person looking for that escape probably isn’t in a state where they are ready to properly engage with others and a little reality holiday might actually do them good. Of course everything in moderation and all that. It can get harmful but I don’t think it necessarily will. On the other hand, if a person is happy and fulfilled in their life, I doubt anime will have much impact beyond occasionally ogling drawings and that may be better than objectifying real people…
Do you have any thoughts on this? Where do you stand?