Anime Fans: Obsessed with the present
September 19, 2011 2 Comments
A while back I was having a conversation with OtakuDan on twitter about the amazing longevity of To Heart, and how there are still companies releasing new merchandise; figures, posters etc.
This is particularly interesting because of the general mentality we see in the anime and manga world. We see, time and time again on anime chat boards people obsessing about the ‘next big thing’, the next new anime that will be ‘the best ever’, and yet there is little thought about the past. And I think its fair to say that many anime fans seem to only remember shows from one or if we are lucky two years ago. It is as if an anime has a shelf life of say, 6 months, maybe 12 if you are lucky. There are of course a few exceptions, although they are often the major films such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell; and of courser series such as Gundam, Macross, To-Heart and so on, who seem to have continued success either through constant reinvention (Macross, Gundam), or through the use of cosplay, advertising, figures or video games.
I see people talking on twitter about new anime seasons, or current anime seasons, occasionally some older series, but again this happens rarely. I think what we are seeing is perhaps the Japanese ability to tunnel vision their surroundings. Now, of course not all anime fans are Japanese, however the hype is started in Japan, and I think any country that can create the Haiku, a poem that condenses everything important into a few syllables is truly able to tunnel vision. This also means that anime fans are forever looking to the future, the past is incidental, no matter how good a anime series is, many of them will not really acknowledge its existence once it has finished.
We often see this within the figure industry in Japan, anime figures are often made in relatively small quantity and you often have to pre-order them or you may never see them again. Now some of this is down to the cost, these companies may be relatively small and they make a limited amount to cover their costs. However I also think one of the reasons is the limited life span of a particular series.
I am of the opinion that every anime series should be taken on its merits, and that there should be repeat watching of older series that you like and in fact there should be more comparisons made between series. I still like Cowboy Bebop for example and that is over 10 years old, I have been watching The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Blue Submarine No.6 and others, all relatively old in anime terms, and all still very good series with a lot to recommend them.
However if I were to mention them on twitter there are perhaps a handful of people who would pick up the conversation with me (admittedly I haven’t got all that many followers, but I think the point still stands). And this is where the continued release of To Heart merchandise is amazing and fascinating, that a series which is actually pretty old (again in anime terms) still has the ability to produce merchandise that sells is fascinating and almost unique.
I started think about what made a series have longevity; was it the story? The artwork? The characters? And I have come to at least one conclusion; many of the series that survive in some form are often those that are part of a franchise, with video games, figures, posters etc; and often involve a harem. The stories may be amazing and the artwork might blow you away, but a large proportion of anime fans forget them, instead what remains is the harem, the girls, the very thing that many of these anime may in fact be sold on in the first place.
To Heart, Clannad, K-ON, Puella Magi Madoka Magica are all good examples of series with a large number of girls in them, they have all lasted quite a while (Magi Madoka isn’t all that old, K-ON is a little older at 2 years), we have seen numerous cosplays from these series, a large number of figures in various sizes and shapes, dakimakura, posters, games, the works. But they are all centered on the girls, the stories appear to have been largely sidelined, the artwork remains, but in a limited format. There are also certain characters, like for example Mizuho Kazami from Onegai Teacher who re-appear every now and again, but again they are individual characters, now an entire show.
There also seems to be another reason for series to last and that often comes down to giant robots. Both Macross and Gundam, although they feature a lot of women as well are also sold on the mecha that appear in them. All those figures of the different mecha from certain series or episodes constantly feature in anime conventions, now perhaps many fans may have forgotten the exact story or some of the characters but they can remember the mecha, or at least recognize it.
What is fascinating about all this is that whole anime can play a big part in someone’s life, providing a lot of entertainment and collectables the series can often be incidental. It is as if ‘anime’ as a concept is important, but the individual series that make up this area of Japanese culture are often sidelined, or perhaps, more accurately, simply seen as part of those organic thing that we call ‘anime’. And while this is a generalization and I don’t for a second believe that everyone who watches anime does this, I do think it is a part of culture surrounding this part of Japanese society. My point about the tunnel vision, blinkered aspect of Japanese society also helps in understanding this mentality as well. My caveat here is that I am an observer and a forgone one at that, however I think this raises some interesting questions nonetheless.
It is a great shame that so many series are forgotten, and that the overall mentality of those who watch anime seems to be that of looking to the future and the ‘next big hit’ is flawed and perhaps people should watch some older anime for a change and make up their own minds about whether anime has evolved, but perhaps simply changed slightly. Although I also understand that the number of anime series around can often overload your viewing time, so watching older series can come second, if at all. Still its always worth looking.