A timely subject as I dust off the gears and get this machine back in order again. To reflect and consider what keeps me going as an anime and manga fan, and/or writing on them.
Some readers may remember a viral writing exercise I fulfilled in February 2014. When the Organization ASG blog contributed my site the the ABC Award cause. Of course, these are not so much trophies with a big fancy red carpet event and dinner party. But, I do see them as challenges, encouragements, and opportunities. To present different sides and views to readers of and about myself.
I have been struck by a similar project, this time by the name of the Free Spirit Award. This is by way of The Land of Obscusion (itself having been hit by Reverse Thieves, and so on). In ways this is a swell connection to see. If you remember the annual Anime Secret Santa exchange series Reverse Thieves runs, it was The Land of Obscusion which selected presents for me. This resulted in a three part series covering Rainbow-Colored Fireflies: The Eternal Summer Vacation (Nijiiro Hotaru: Eien no Natsuyasumi), Ring ni Kakero 1 (Put it all in the Ring), and Asura (Ashura).
As this is more casual and off the cuff, I can not promise this post will be as nice as I like to think those all turned out in the end. But between my summer hiatus ending, my previous post on my podcast appearance discussing Night on the Galactic Railroad (Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru), and this subject? I feel this is the best time for me to be considering why I keep sticking it out with anime, manga, and related subject areas.
Plus: Secret Santa will be here again before you know it! Whoever ends up with me could maybe find something like this post at least a little handy.
My prompt is as follows, for which I am to supply five considerations for:
“What is it that keeps you going, whether it’s watching anime, reading manga, writing about it, or simply being a fan of it?”
- Escapism, and My Troubles with Live Action Works
Perhaps this is a little on the extreme side of wording this. I by all means watch and enjoy many live action titles. Movies, television, theatre, or what have you. Turning my back on all the wonderful things such expression can bring would be wrongheaded, and limit my experiences with all kinds of art.
I do have issues when it comes, say, star performers though. My brain knows when I see Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson or what have you. While a megastar may be putting on a great show, I do at the same time have trouble disconnecting them from other roles or such. This is not their fault of course, by any stretch of the imagination. But, it is something that can at times feel ever so much as if I am seeing one too many strings in the process, as it were.
Something else that tends to stick in my head are things like character injuries, death, or so on. A character in a horror film can be physically devastated for instance. But there is always that consideration in the corner of the mind that the performer in front me is still alright.
Which, to be on the up and up about, can be very reassuring at times. There is a certain safety in knowing however hard an actor or actress may be trying to sell a horrific scene, they as a physical being are still safe on a soundstage or such. It can make any time I wince or clench my teeth in view of something of extravagant body horror at least a little easier to get through.
But something that I enjoy about animation is how it decouples a lot of my physical associations. I know the drawings are either painted cels or digital linework with fill and shading tools. I understand there are voice artists who are even more secure by virtue of being in a soundbooth versus a physical stage. Yet, the suspension of disbelief I find easier to deal with in animation, due to how core to the experience it is. How its raw and total unreality can grant it a reality all its own. To push a little more leeway to do things which would be impossible otherwise. Yet, still seem whole and cohesive to its world, physics, social structure, mechanics, and so on.
So find that I continue to enjoy seeing such creative power, because animation often works best for me. And anime as an entertainment realm just so happens to have such a deep well of genres to chase. I can still find so many things within it which continue to surprise me in new and interesting ways.
- Ideas and Stories I Can Not See Anywhere Else
To be fair, this is a statement which one can spin to apply to any given art form arena in its own ways. Great literary classics can achieve things, say, a video game never could. One interacts with them and processes their content in different ways. But differences in relative strengths mean books also fail in places a game can run rampant with. And so on down the line through every conceivable permutation of formats.
For better and for worse, anime and manga has managed to position themselves as a production format where a lot of big risks can seem less, well, big. Manga benefits from the overwhelming majority of titles coming through serialization in magazines. They may find a home in a comic anthology focused title like Weekly Shōnen Jump or Monthly Afternoon. Maybe they score a place in lifestyle publications with a small manga section. In effect, this can buoy the ability of a lot of series to better find their voices and for readers to find them. At least, far more than if they had been an independent thirty page single chapter as is more common in the United States comic book industry.
I can not imagine a story like Mysterious Girlfriend X, with its emotional drool bonding shenanigans, given any daylight were it proposed from scratch in western comic publishing. But I am sure the series benefited on the risk assessment front from being surrounded by popular titles like Mushishi and Oh My Goddess! running in the same binding.
If one is already picking up a magazine with or for a particular series (or set of series), the discovery chances are much higher. A buyer deciding they may as well see what is going on elsewhere in their purchase. This will not save every series from an impromptu chopping block choice from either editorial or reader poll results, of course. Far from it. But the opportunity has allowed a swell number of titles to settle into their grove. To find audiences against what could otherwise be impossible business odds.
To take the anthology topic in a different direction, anime has great strengths in one of my favorite television formats. A wealth of series with small recurring casts, going on every changing travels to different locations or instead the intimacy and layers of locality. Again, it is not like life action television lacks completely in this space. But, the life given to works like Kino’s Journey, Galaxy Express 999, Mushishi, Boogiepop Phantom, Space Dandy and so many others has provided many a vibrant experience for me. These are some of the kinds of works I look forward to the most in my engagement with anime on the whole. Overall series plots matter far less than the episodic journey. The episodes themselves presenting time and space in a place.
I do not get to drink and sit in things like atmosphere or cycling locations in a universe as dense, consistent, and as often in a lot of media as I have been able to manage with series like these. Outside of going about and being in the world myself.
Heck, even a little series like Non Non Biyori, about simple slice of life countryside kids doing the silly or simple or sweet things that would entail, would be a colossal task to pull off with age appropriate live action performers.
- Artists and Creatives Who Have Had Great Influence on Me
My constant concern with these subsections is to avoid coming across as if anime or manga is The One (or two) True Format For Me. Again, I try to look at all kinds of things given enough time and interest. From a favorite video game system or developer to preferred parts of a given museum.
I do spend a lot of time with anime and manga though. If you spend enough time swimming around in any format, certain traits will stick out over time. The way a certain artist may design characters and the aesthetic choices they bring to their world. The tones and content supplied by a given director. And so on. The process then begins to feed into discovering similar works and looking into influences or resumes. Trying to suss out more of a particular essence.
I enjoyed some of the films directed by Mamoru Oshii for instance. Which would over years lead itself into tracking down and in time choosing to rank his various projects. Live action and animated alike. Even within the footprint of a single director, there are styles and approaches within their work which allow me to separate and key into what I like from them. And what enthuses me less.
Anyone could do something similar with directors of many formats, to be sure. He is just someone who I have had enough positive experiences with that I will sit through some of their less enthralling work to better understand their approaches to their craft. What I like and want to see not just from them. But perhaps also from others to take spins on in their own ways (such as Oshii’s much longer average shot takes). Then, to still be interested at the prospect of them making new works. To see how it would fit into my personal engagement with their art.
You have stories like an Ayumu Watanabe, who went from years and years of Doraemon related projects. Then as if from nowhere shifted gears to things as disparate as Space Brothers to If Her Flag Breaks. I find such things fascinating to follow, to see what he is trying to achieve, prove, and show us. How Hiroshi Nagahama can veer in wild fashion from the often quiet and serene Mushishi, to the vulgar metal escapades of Detroit Metal City. Then to the ambitious and glacier slow Flowers of Evil (which I enjoyed but it was commercially savaged and bombed on a level few shows do). To Mushishi all over again.
As if without missing a beat or any years had gone by at all.
There are other directors of interest to me I could name as well of course. But there is more to anime and manga than that role alone.
I like how Saki Okuse writes horror series, once they get their ideas geared up and going after initial messier antics. I appreciate how they will switch artistic partners between different manga titles, to better deliver various qualities. As a side effect it is also one way of keeping some unfamiliarity shifting from one series to another, which I find helpful in a horror creative.
Artists like Yoshitoshi ABe have stuck with me before I had ever experienced the narrative content of any works their designs were associated with. Just by seeing things like Serial Experiments Lain on the shelves time and again way back when. I enjoy their roughness and more muted palettes, melancholy and frayed, pained if only by inference but also somewhere understanding or hopeful.
He used to get into trouble via graffiti work, so to go from that to a Master’s degree from Tokyo University of the Arts, and to then apply his craft to anime and manga is a wide series of jumps.
These are creators coming to mind at this moment because they have bounced around so much over the years. Either inside the industry or out. On one level I feel it adds a nice meta-textual layer to various works, if one cares to go that route. But at the same time, these are also encouraging stories in their own right, because they keep managing to land on their feet somehow.
These are narratives that come to mind now and again in these trickier economic days, as well in my own attempts to put a even a little bit of myself out there in the larger internet anime and manga conversation sphere.
- Writing Transforms and It Is Free
Even during the times when I may have put published posts on this site on hold, I was still drafting ideas for what I was going to do when I came back. Or I was writing something else.
In school, one is often writing. Even if they are not writing as an explicit act. They could be presenting or performing, which can be types of writing in their own ways. To display, in a way, you in relation to something else. What facts may have stuck with you, or what arguments you may be trying to make. Even in the days when a paragraph assignment on “What did you do over the weekend?” seems like the most colossal undertaking in the known world.
I would write some little stories here and there, but writing assignments are common to many subjects in school. So I was fond of this variety. Insofar as one can grow a fondness for something assigned and required to do to have a chance to advance. To move up in years and then do different writings on different subjects. A boredom acquired here and there from previous topics used as reason to explore something else I may not have covered in another year.
Because past a certain point if I could not at least keep myself entertained and interested in what I was doing, it sure would still be a lot of time.
And there were many assignments, as tends to perhaps be the case when one continues to be recommended to harder classes with more writings. Because I had done so well on the previous writings. So I kept trying to steer things into a direction where I could use the writing time as something of an entertainment.
Which is not to say that it was sloppy. But, teachers are often accommodating if a student shows interest in trying something new with an assignment they assign year after year.
I grew up in a rather rural area, which is a phrasing I like to use for its alliteration as much as it is true. While I had, say, video games, books, anime, etc, as Actual Entertainment Products, school work still needs to get done. And hanging out with people after school becomes a much trickier endeavor when the school zone is so many townships wide. An elementary school next to a dairy farm. The combined middle and high school surrounded by soybeans.
So I could at least try and make the best I could to play with my assignments. Because in a way that was something we would all be doing together no matter what. So I could play with words and structures and approaches and feelings and presenting them.
I do not feel this was a sentiment shared by a significant group of people.
But, a nice thing about writing is that it can be in all kinds of things. I went to university with conflict resolution, international relations, and other courses for my main field. Sure. One still writes there though. I also ended up along the way with what is fundamentally a poetry creative writing minor.
But I do not read a whole lot of what is grouped under poetry in a bookstore. I just liked playing around with words to the point where I do not particularly think about it anymore.
I want to enjoy communicating, because I suppose in many respects for a long time that was one of the hardest things to actually do.
Anime and manga are unreal pictures made real by other people who have put real and unreal sights and sounds into my head of people and places which do and do not exist. I enjoy writing about them because I like to think I can add something, if only a little, to someone’s experience by having shared mine.
Even if it is just my own, to be able to now revisit a thought as I may have written it months or years ago.
I think memory is an important part of our relationship with media, and I feel it is nice to be able to have at least a few memories of mine placed outside of myself.
- This Is the Best of All Possible Times to Be an Anime or Manga Fan
The constant refrain, one season after the next, is what title exists on the looming horizon which will “Save Anime.”
It is an understandable meme, to an extent. One can mine the history of hits here in the now, and there can be a strong desire to want things to hurry up. To see and be a part of the next sensation when and how it arrives. Sea change and genre (re)defining titles do not seem so spread apart when one can dig into one after another with the ease we can now. Let alone how, as with most mediums, a lot of what comes out in a given year is not so great. And we get to see more of that part of the anime and manga machine too. In a certain light, it can distress some.
Never before have we had so much access to anime and manga as it was coming out. Many television series having an official English simulcast within an hour of initial Japanese airing. Other languages receiving translation releases at the same time or within short order. Manga available on simulpublishing platforms provided by legal licencors day and date. Collected volumes arriving months to years later, sure. But still at good prices for a few hundred pages of ink and panels ($9.99 or so, usually, give or take a few). Western publishers have been experimenting with more deluxe experiences to sway readers who may have already read (legally or not) digital versions of the works, like the hardcover treatment of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin and Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure.
Classic series like The Rose of Versailles or Legend of the Galactic Heroes, long considered impossible to get out of licensing hell, have been only in recent times seen acquisition for legal US editions. Leiji Matsumoto manga, via two hardcovers for Queen Emeraldas, will be getting another long awaited chance.
Decades of back catalog works are available legally and immediately, so long as one has an internet connection to hit up Crunchyroll, Hulu, or similar services. And anime is rarely hit with random episodes cycling in and out service like the steaming terms of some western live action shows. One can watch to their hearts (or schedules) content.
There are a lot of structural problems in places like the manga and anime industries. On the consumer front, there is also always an obscure sought after title out of legal reach.
But for the moment, raw levels of access are still easier and more voluminous than ever before.
It keeps me going forward because it is a whole heck of a lot of what I could have ever hoped to see the industry machine provide. My selections used to be so much more limited. What may have been in a rental store, library, or my meager childhood budget. I can revisit so much now on a moment’s notice, and I can discover even more.
I continue to go forward because I want to see how things can be even better than this time we are in right now.