So this piece is a little different than my norm, and therefore I worry that it’s painfully self-indulgent and masturbatory. That being said, if nothing else it could act as a kind of primary source document for some of the things contained in it? That’s a question mark because I have no idea. Anyway, my point is, I want to talk about what I’ve noticed about the anime fan zeitgeist in my time within it.
This isn’t a “those damn kids,” “everything was better back when,” or even “holy shit things are awesome now” posts. In fact, like a lot of crazy people’s ideas, this came from a dream. Sort of. I’m not going to relate my dreams to you, but basically I had one where an old friend – who has apparently sworn of ever speaking to me again – showed up. She was a super-weeb and instrumental in running our old anime club at [insert school here]. Let’s call this friend Zoey. So what happened is that upon awakening I reminisced for a bit and realized my interaction with anime and anime fans is nothing like it was then. If I’m detecting changes in my personal arc and claiming they’re universal I’m sure you’ll let me know.
So. First, anime club? I know they still exist, but I think I came in on the tail end of them in their power and glory. We didn’t have MAL or, at least in my group, even ANN, to point out what was coming out or what we could dig up. So it relied on what bits and bobs people had seen already. In fact, we had a rotating format for a while, where we’d watch four episodes – two apiece from different shows – and vote which one to continue next week. I remember someone was furious that my submission – Hellsing, naturally – made it all the way to the end, while hers – fucking Rayearth I think? – didn’t. I assume, now, that it was simple math. A big blowout three episode night at the end meant we finished the damn show in six meetings, instead of graduating first, like with something longer. Oh, and usually there’d be a movie or something at the end of each night.
OK, that’s a taste of both the methods and the goofy internal politics of the club. My friend, Zoey, was my major source for a lot of stuff. I got into Rurouni Kenshin through her – her favorite obsession for a while, until she got into Fullmetal Alchemist. Meanwhile I was fucking around with scanlations of Love Hina and the Kenshin manga, as well as my only Japanese import: the third volume of the Hellsing manga. Naturally soon after I imported it they released it in America.
Even as late as 2007 (years after I’d last attended the club), I was capable of reading seventeen volumes of Bleach in a single night. Now, instead, I read maybe four stories of Nickelodeon, like it a lot, and save that tab for later, possibly never opening it again. I haven’t watched an anime since I re-watched Hyouka, and before that it was re-watching Genshiken. Maybe I’m just turning into an old man who doesn’t like new things, but I don’t seem to do that much elsewhere.
Here’s my personal problem as I identify it: I never have any fucking clue what’s on anymore. Never ever does anyone ever say on twitter what the shows they’re watching are about. They assume everyone already knows. Probably most everyone does, but I don’t. My point with describing some of the anime club hijinks earlier was to contrast with what I perceive happening now: then, the zeitgeist was to say, “let’s watch X – it’s great, it has YZZ in it.” Now it seems like all I see is “did you see that last episode of X? It was great!” I never see any attempts to say “YZZ makes this great!” The assumption seems to be that everyone will have tried it already.
I’m not complaining. At least, not consciously. Yes, it makes it difficult for me to get into things, but I’m more interested in the shift. What it indicates, to me, is that more people willfully “butterfly” around – they try everything, find what they like, repeat next season.
Our anime club, by contrast, was still watching shit from the 80s, and we were doing that because one guy or another lady was passionate about how necessary this very thing was for your continued well-being. I had absolutely no perception at the time of the anime publishing seasons or schedules. I barely knew anything about who made the shows, though a few people knew more than me – people already hated Bee Train, for instance, when I got into .hack//SIGN with no clue who was making it.
OK. Let me sum this up before I ramble even more. I have perceived a paradigmatic shift in the ways weebs (myself included) find and consume the animu. We used to do it pretty traditionally, with recommendations and selling shows to one another. Now most everyone who stays involved knows every show already, and the selling happens, if at all, within posts that also make claims about something or another. There’s never discussion of why one should watch something, because you probably already know if you should or not. What that leads to is the sense that there will be more next season.
Like the database animal consumption of individual shows, this method leads to a widening of interest and a shrinking of the depth any one show can dig into your psyche. The internet’s vast accumulation of “classics” and “this season’s dozen moe shows” pressures anyone who hooks into its strata of weeb news to consume more and more, because there’s always more out there. If you don’t, even for a short period, you’ll be locked out, not knowing what’s going on – which, by the way, is what happened to me. I didn’t “drop out” of anime society, I just got distracted for a few months, reading books or something instead. I generally do that, watch anime religiously for a while, take a break, come back. It’s never drastic. But I did that once a few years ago and never got any purchase back. It was like climbing a mountain covered in oil and on fire while growing bigger and bigger and adding protrusions to try to knock me off. It was exhausting. And I didn’t even try to “keep up,” I just wanted to find something to watch. The last time I managed it was when I kinda recognized “Gatchaman” in the title of some show and the tweet replies informed me that yes, in fact, CROWDS is something I should watch. Oh, and I totally should because cyberpunk.
So my perception of 80s-90s weeb fandom, of which I wasn’t really a part (I grew up watching anime localized pretty heavily, like Gatchaman or Macross, but wasn’t aware of the community around it), is that it was digging deep, partly because there was so little available. As with all the people who re-watched Evangelion a thousand times. The 2000s, finally seeing my entry into the fold, wrought subtle changes, where we had more media available, but no communication networks to inundate ourselves with news seconds after it happened. I mean, we were still buying Newtype USA (I found some old issues recently when I pulled out my comics, by the way. I kinda miss Newtype, but I realized that it was basically features on shows that, at this point, even I would know about long before the print publishing apparatus would get them in front of me through a magazine). Now, in the year of our lord Thunderchrist 2014, everyone knows something about everything, and it’s the rare case one has the luxury to dig deep, as there’s always more. In fact, just today a friend said he feels “claustrophobic” when he goes “too deep” into something. This is a guy whose favorite author is Joyce – as in, the guy who willfully required readers to go deep to make any sense of anything. The pressure is on: go faster, see more, collate, don’t explicate.
Is this limited to anime? Of course not. Think of buying games on Steam, or the slower but still accelerated onslaught of new books to read. It’s difficult to find the time to obsess over a single thing, which is part of the reason stuff like “moe” appeals on a reading level – it allows the reader a way to obsess in a similar (not exactly the same) way while keeping pace. It builds the network across rather than vertically.
However, there’s still value in the vertical obsession. I know my most popular posts, historically, have always been vertical obsession – that is, painfully digging down into a single show or even single symbol (well, set of symbols).
But, of course I would defend that, it’s what I’m best at. However, I can say in my academic career so far I haven’t kept to a really hard single group of works – my first published work was on a 20th century Polish author, and my second on a late-nineteenth century British author who spent a lot of formative time in Canada and New York. I’m working on something with a Welsh mystic right now. So there are obviously links, but I didn’t do the simple (and possibly better for my career) thing of finding a period and laboring over it until I can explain and explicate every nook and cranny of it.