The State of Anime Today

by V
collage Pictures, Images and Photos

via Photobucket user mathias611

Has anyone else noticed that the state of today’s anime is bland, having little or nothing to do with politics, or relevant issues of the times, compared to the way anime used to be back in the day?

Have you ever thought that some people take their entertainment too seriously? That, for some reason, they cannot enjoy something as lovely as anime without having to thrust politics, current issues, and other such things? I have had that thought, too. But, I see now where I had not been engaging my brain! Let me explain.

A few days ago, perhaps even a week or so ago, I discussed anime with Roxy. She and I have very similar views and political beliefs. The discussion was really just meant to be light-hearted, an exchanging of views. But, I took it too seriously and it began to quickly irritate me. I won’t lie, it was mostly because at the heart of the discussion seemed to lie my favorite anime as of the moment (and last year or so!). I saw it as dissing my favorite anime, and I kept thinking, “Why does this have to be about such things? Why can’t we just watch something to get away from the real world and politics and current events/issues? Why can’t we just have simple fun with an anime? Doesn’t she realize that this is important, too?” This is just an excuse for my irrationality. I was upset over anime. Anime! I was taking things too personally. This was not only silly, it was ridiculous.

Roxy was not passing judgment on me or my intelligence (which is how I took it). She was just listing reasons why she disliked that anime, and the majority of the current anime, and giving information to back up her views. I think she realized that I was getting, at the very least, fed-up with the conversation. Not that it would’ve been hard to figure that out! I was being rude and short-tempered. We both apologized, but I will admit right now my apology was half-assed. I realized then that I was taking things too personally and that I was being silly and irrational. It embarrassed me and I just wanted to move on. Not to mention I was also embarrassed because, though I then realized it was irrational in the first place, I was still a little miffed. I regret the way that I acted. I don’t even bother to make excuses for it, because it was a very stupid moment for me!

Now that I’ve had time to think about it for a few (read: several) days, I’ve come upon a few revelations — or rather, duh moments. I realize what Roxy was trying to say, or at least I think I do. Anime needs to step away from the safety zones and take risks. They used to, once upon a time. But, not so much anymore. Even the ones that seemed, at first glance, to be purely for silly entertainment used to deal with politics and issues, and would take risks with characters and plots.

One example Roxy gave was Gravitation. At the time I was rolling my eyes. Not Gravitation again! I disliked that anime, because of Yuki. Yes, Yuki! Everyone else’s favorite character! But, the anime was more than just Yuki. It had more characters, after all, and the plot did not center solely around him. Despite it’s silly outward appearance, Gravitation actually dealt with a lot of important issues. Homosexuality, abuse, rape, child molestation, violence, peer pressure, and obsession. It even pointed out the importance and power of challenging yourself not to be generic and predictable just because it was easier and safer. You could say, in a way, these things were sneaked in. They just went so well with the plot and the characters within. They took risks with the characters, like when Shuichi was raped. Shuichi was cute, hyper, a definite favorite, and arguably the main character. You probably won’t find something like that happening in a newer anime that is for the same fan-base.

These things also got the word out to the viewers about such important issues, as they effect everyone in some form or another. Recently, however, anime has taken a different turn. It has become generic and safe for almost all ages. Compared to the anime that came before it, it is easy to find it lacking. Anime has a young and old audience and could be using that platform for more than generic entertainment.

Roxy was not really complaining because some anime today do not adhere to the standards of that which came before. That’s not the problem. It isn’t just some anime. It is the majority of anime today that is deviating from its old standards. This is why she, and others, are fed-up with the current anime standard. No one is really trying anymore. The politics, current issues, and risk-taking are what made anime of yesterday awesome and a cut above the rest of animated genre. Anything was possible in the plot, you never knew if your favorite character (or the main character, for that matter) was going to live. It was also used as a platform to educate. In a lot of cases, these issues came to people in such a manner that they stopped and thought about it, really thought, for the first time. It got the gears in peoples’ heads turning. You didn’t always end up agreeing with the anime, but it made you think. It brought to light current events and politics that you might have overlooked or not thought a whole lot about before then. In short…it challenged the viewers. It challenged us to step outside of our comfort zones, away from our safety nets, and step into the uncomfortable. To think outside the box, away from the blinders that we or society or our community had helped us form around our eyes. It opened minds. It opened hearts.

The lack of this today is what makes current anime, by and large, utterly uninspiring. Its good for entertainment, but nothing else, and its very generic and trope-filled. It no longer really challenges the audience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, in and of itself. The problem is not that this occurs, but that it occurs in the majority of anime today. Shallow excitement has become the new normal. Providing a hollow escape from politics and daily life is one thing, but to entirely ignore it is going too far. It helps nothing and perhaps even ruins anime in general.

Maybe anime is attempting to take some cues from American cartoons and their marketing, but this is a mistake. The reason that anime has often been considered superior to American cartoons is not just because it tends to be prettier. It’s because the only real thing it had in common with American cartoons was the fact that they were both animated. Anime made you sit up and pay attention, or you’d miss something important, it made that lazy hamster get up onto his wheel and start running in your head, it made you think rather than just hypnotically staring at the television (or computer) screen.

Fans got angry when dubbers would Americanize the anime we loved. Why? Because, they took out everything that made it great so that it would be “safe” and marketable to fans younger than it was even meant for and their parents, as well as to make it time-slot* safe. They changed aspects of the characters, character backgrounds, character relationships, they even changed words. This ruined the anime by turning into not only something it wasn’t, but something it was never meant to be in the first place. It changed the entire anime.

But, today, fans don’t have to worry about that. Not because American dubbers have wised up and stopped screwing with the anime, but rather because mangaka and anime creators have caught on to this trend. Now they make their manga and anime (especially the latter), with American standards in mind. And, in doing so, they’ve messed up everything that made it great. It was fine with this was not the norm, when you could still find anime like this when you wanted it, but the majority was still thought-provoking and timelessly relevant to issues and politics and history, but that is no longer the case.

Over the last few days I have been thinking about this and this is what I have taken away from my discussion with Roxy. She was brutally honest with me and she was also right. I like that about her. She tells it how it is in no uncertain terms. And I want to take this last moment to apologize to her in a more heart-felt and sincere way for my reactions and behavior toward her and what she was saying during that discussion. And, also, for anything I either may have left out or am as of yet still too dense to figure out.

* There is still censorship when it comes to time slots. Prime-time slots are coveted and if your show might make parents cringe or outraged, it is not likely you will get the slot (and therefore you will miss out on the majority of viewers). Yes, there are exceptions, but most dubbers play the “better safe than sorry” route. Even uncut isn’t really uncut. Its just code for, “we let your kids hear the cuss words.”

9 Comments to “The State of Anime Today”

  1. This is an excellent discussion. I think that the more popular anime gets here — and it is getting more mainstream by the day — the more we will see this cross pollination. Change is uncomfortable, esp for someone as familiar with anime as you are. It also shows you changing and growing in your opinions.

    I like how you talk about the integration of politics and culture into anime. I hope that in the future you may review specific examples where you find these things to be the case, and how you’ve reacted to them.

    Excellent job.

    • Thank you!! I have thought about it, but I think what I’d end up doing is getting carried away with the unimportant aspects. I can’t stay on one aspect for too long when discussing a specific anime. I always seem to branch off into weirdness. :p

      • Pish posh, that’s what your editors are for. 😉 I would also like to see you do some reviewing of anime and manga. I believe you read/watch a lot more than I do these days.

        One thing I’ve always wanted to examine is the effect of WWII and the American occupation on anime. It definitely had a profound one. When I was in college I got excited about a guest lecturer who came to speak about anime, in a class about war… but he didn’t even hint at it! When I brought it up in class discussion later everyone wanted ME to talk about it! …I should do some research.

  2. I’m so glad you’ve (both of you!) put this into words. I’ve been feeling the same way.

    I’ve been watching Kekkaishi on Adult Swim. It’s pretty good, it hasn’t fallen into the garbage zone. But it’s… light. For a show that deals in mystical monsters, vengeful ghosts, and an ominous secret society, it is remarkably light. The hints are being dropped, the things that always piqued my interest. “Aha! His brother is on the Council!” …and it just sort of meanders along without the dire consequences I’m expecting. It’s half assed. “Look! This could totally turn deadly! …but it won’t, it’s chill.”

    Granted, you and I were spoiled. We watched Gundam Wing, which was so tangled in politics and philosophy it didn’t even know which end was its own ass anymore. (This confusion made us want more–we wanted to untangle it!) But on the whole, nearly all the anime I encountered had something exceptional about it. Sakura Wars was like Wing, centering on war and politics. Evangelion is a total mindfuck about religion and personal responsibility. Fushigi Yuugi featured a trans character everyone adores, friendships were sorely tested, and the MC’s best friend is lead to believe she has been raped, making her ultimately tarnished and thus turning her into the villain. Even Sailor Moon, fluffy Sailor Moon, had death, betrayal, loss, lesbians and trans characters. Cardcaptor Sakura was even more heavily sanitized than Sailor Moon–the original manga has some seriously kinky love connections going on! InuYasha had its weak points, but I was always intrigued by the twisted relationship between Onigumi and Kikyo, which gave me shudders. Lots of anime are rooted in Japanese history–I think Samurai Champloo was such a success because it DID take risks.

    The shows I loved could all be enjoyed on a surface level, but they always pulled me in to a much deeper level. As soon as I thought seriously about a scenario or a character I realized that there were layers and layers to delve into–and they were often very dark layers.

    I think you’re right, they’re changing their approach so they can sell to the American and other International audiences. So many of the old shows had subtle meanings. They were almost literary in their weaving in of history, philosophy, reality, sexuality, the future. Sure, there were PLENTY of idiot shows that weren’t worth the ink they were drawn with. But there was enough of the good stuff to make us slaver for more.

    This IS a social issue worth commenting on. I’m one of those people who laments the spread of American ‘entertainment’ across the globe, because I think Americans have incredibly low standards–they go for the cheap laugh. I loved Japanese anime because it was so much richer than everything I got even on cable. It was like reading novels. If Japan is lightening their fare so they, too, can distribute globally, then we’re losing some more of our worldwide artistic soul.

    And you’re right, these shows used to deal with the harsh realities of life. There are PLENTY of shows that reflect the frustrations of modern Japanese people, from the overworked student to the dead-inside business man. Instead of ignoring all their problems, they used them in their storytelling. (The abundance of Cute Things in Japan is their escapism.) So, yes, they talked about rape and social stigma. They kept them in the conversation, they didn’t pretend they don’t exist. I always liked that, that they didn’t ignore homosexuality, that characters actually COULD die. When we sterilize our stories we forget how to deal with these things.

    Honestly? I don’t watch anymore. I don’t seek it out. I just can’t find the things I’m still looking for.

    MegaTokyo is more anime than current anime.

    • I do still look for and watch anime, but I still have this thing where I find one or two or so and that’s IT and I keep up with that and forsake most other shows. I have a friend or two who hates that, because they just simply CANNOT get me interested in another anime. :p

      I can attempt to do some anime critique, but I think you’ll find it lacking. :p

  3. Because, I know my quality (or rather lack thereof) of review abilities. Especially when it comes to anime. :p I don’t know why this is, since I love anime.

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