The depths of a niche

The anime fandom is a pretty narrow interest group. The kind of present day late night TV anime that you and I tend to focus on, are an even more obscure interest. In the past few weeks, I have  been thinking about this: at what point does an interest become too narrow? Does it ever reach a point, where you just have to take  a step back, and realize that you are obsessing over something that is insignificant in context?

Oh, no, it never does!“, you say. “Fandoms are all about enjoying yourself, and being entertained, so as long as this is fullfilled, all interests are equal!” This is how the niche fandom justifies itself. “That being well-versed in something like ancient greek plays or Russian romanticist literature is treated as something valuable, while “obsessing” over anime  is dismissed, is just because of an arbitary social prejudice. As long as you are content with your actions, they have the same inherent value”. 

And there is a certain logic behind that. An in-universe example of this kind of world-view, could be observed in Chihayafuru, regarding the card game of karuta. Karuta is nothing but a children’s game, even in Japan, most people think of it on the same level as a match the pairs game, or like button football. Even the gameplay very simple. You hear the fist syllables of a poem, and you touch the card with that poem before your opponent. Then again: isn’t that true for any sport? Most famous ball games very well be nothing more thanschoolyard games, if they weren’t taken so damn seriously. Their goal is pretty much “take this ball over there, with a limited amount of limbs/tools.”. Yet they represent dollar industries, with tens of thousands of sceaming fans watching how the players take that ball over there, then celebrate the victors like heroes.

No one celebrates the protagonists of Chihayafuru. Their own parents don’t care about it, their school club’s councilor was surprised to learn that competitive karuta is even a thing,  and their schoolmates just assume that they are just fooling around. Yet, that doesn’t matter to them: as long as they and the other few hundred players all over Japan all feel enthusiastic about their freaky little subculture, that’s enough. Following your dreams at all costs, is more important than having socially acceptable dreams.

There was once an XKCD page, that also discussed this idea of how people can become the experts of any small niche, but in a more cynical manner:

Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit

 The idea that we can learn about “a whole world here”  is just an illusion, it’s really just our brains playing a trick on us, pretending that any of our silly little experiences matter in the large scale of things. I guess you could look at it’s message positively, how the world is so deep, that even learning it’s tiniest details would take a lifetime. Or in our case, art and entertainment media are so deep, that you can just look at Japanese cartoons for years, and still have something to say about them.

But if that’s the case, why does that hypothetical example with the Biden photos sound so… petty? Those people in the box could be talking about so much more! They are limited, blind to their surroundings.  Some things do have more depth than others! You can spend a lifetime analyzing about media, analyzing anime, analyzing mecha series, analyzing Evangelion, or analyzing the last episode of Evangelion. But these interests are not equally deep.

Maybe interests and fandoms are like ultra-high resolution panorama photos. Sometimes you see a nice scenery, and you can just stare at that, or you can zoom into a smaller segment and still have a nice high resolution picture utilizing every pixel of your screen. As far as our eyes are concerned, they can  really be equally detailed, even if one is just a part of the other. But if you zoom in even more, and eventully you will end up with a bunch of blurry grey pixels covering your screen. There is such a thing as obsessing over something too narrow, and getting blinded to the bigger, deeper picture.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to open up my horizons. For two years, I barely watched any older anime series, always just the newest seasons.  Meanwhile, I stopped following any of my older interests, live action series, video games, etc.  Maybe it’s time to zoom out.

I’m not saying that I want to stop being an anime fan, or even that I plan to write here less in the future. In fact, if everything goes according to my hopes, I will write here more, about the more horizons that I discovered.

And I’m still waiting for Chihayafuru season 2. 🙂


2 responses to “The depths of a niche

  1. Yep, it’s time to expand your horizons: watch older anime. 🙂 But, in my case I will say that I declined to explore the classics until I found new seasons tiresome, which was the case around 2009. I’m happy to see that newer seasons have more compelling shows, and hopefully this trend will continue.

    And anything worth discussing ought to be worth discussing in detail.

  2. Interesting post as always. It’s amazing how many specific niches the human animal can become obsessed with. One could argue for lifetimes whether one niche has more intrinsic worth in the big scheme of things than others, from anime to the kinds of photos mentioned in that comic you posted. It’s a tiring matter though, so my opinion has always been that, as long as someone’s favorite niche isn’t totally immoral and isn’t harming anyone else, people should just like what they like. Life is hard so the more things we can find to give us pleasure, the better =)

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