What makes Japanese cartoons “anime”?

What is anime? All animation from Japan? All animation of a certain style? Then what about Japanese animation outside of that style? What about the international productions?  An old debate, that is surprisingly common in more ad-hoc anime viewer groups; youtube comments, gamer forum threads, and personal discussions,  and rarer in the blogosphare, on anime-themed sites, and in other groups self-identifying as the “academic” opinion leaders of otaku culture.

Maybe it’s because the latter doesn’t want to deal with something that is seen as the petty whining of obsessive-compulsive categorizers. Or maybe because after a certain amount of anime watched, the borderline cases will start to appear more and more clearly fitting into one group anyways.

It’s easy to believe that Avatar or Teen Titans are exactly like anime, when all the “other anime” that you have watched, is limited to Death Note, Naruto, and Elfen Lied. Then as your MAL is growing several hundred titles long, you will start to detect hundreds of little differences between them that you might not even consciously notice or at least you couldn’t describe, like the different emphasis on lip-synching, the details of background scenery or in shadow effects, and the exact way faces are drawn. (beyond just “small noses and big eyes” (Because seriously,that’s about the most generic description you could give for pretty much every cartoon ever)).

And then the plot starts, and it’s even more obvious that there are plenty of fundamental differences between how a western and a Japanese writer would think about storytelling. Even when they are actively trying to imitate each other.

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Phrases that I hate: Fanservice

No, this won’t be about how “fanservice”  used to have a broader definition before it got limited to ecchi scenes. I have no reason to hate it because of that, words change their meanings all the time. My problem is with the “fan-” part, and it applies to both definitions.

When did we, as a fandom, decide that what fans what is the shallowest, most pavlovian, most inconsequential elements of a story? You certainly wouldn’t get that picture just from listening to us. When was the last time you heard a fan declaring that they want more fanservice? Not just “tolerating it in moderation”,  or “not particularly minding it”, but actively demanding that a certain show needs more fanservice?

And when was the last time when you heard a fan complaining about too much fanservice? Or rather, how many times did you hear it today?

Even in our day and age, with “nerd” and “geek” becoming something that we identify with rather than something that bullies insult us with, and with “fan” transforming from the original “fanatic” into a synonym of “liking something”, there are still several ways used to socially pressure us not to indulge in too much fannish behavior, pushing us towards the mainstream, away from any sign of “obsessiveness” or “fanboyism”.

For example I’ve already wrote about the curious case that we have such an annoyingly overused term as “weeaboo” for a type of excessively japanophile fans, yet we don’t even have any term for their ideological opposite, the kind of anime fans who seem to hate everything about anime’s japaneseness, and motivated by wanting to appear as “normal” as possibe. In the previous edition of this “Phrases that I hate” series, I just wrote about “pandering“, and how inconsistently it is only ever used against well-defined stereotypes of fandom groups (e.g.: fujoshi-pandering, otaku-pandering, moe-pandering) , to divide us into hostile groups, but never to describe general cases of other shallow story elements  that are intended to grab someone’s attention.

Even outside of the world of anime, there are many similar examples, with fans trying to put themselves outside of fandoms, to give the impression that they are the only “true fan”, while those under the fandom label are all hive-minded sheeple who are being manipulated with bells and whistles.

The problem with “fanservice” is the same. It’s a phrase invented by the fandom, and popularized by the fandom, to express the feeling that the rest of the fandom is full of idiots. To make you feel better about not being one of those dirty, obsessive perverts down there in the fandom, who can be influenced with panty shots and beach episodes, but a classy, intellectual audience of the series who wants more depth, and more art and more plot.

Which is, of course, a silly idea. Fans are the last people who would want to see a show to become more shallow. The only ones who are attracted to these shallow elements such as ecchi scenes, gratuitous violence, or random shout-outs to other popular series, are exactly the most casual audiences, who just happened to tune to that channel and it catched their attention.  Calling it “fanservice” just pointlessly fuels the fandom’s self-loathing, and hostility against each other.  

The Genre Ghetto

In TVTropes slang, “ghetto” stands for the attitude that a certain content type should stay limited to the narrowly defined pigeonholes that it’s critics made up. For example, the common western attitude that all animation should be made for kids, is the Animation Age Ghetto, or the common expectation that female-targeted shows are strictly for women only, is the Girl Show Ghetto.

These ghettos can even manifest themselves literally as closed-off areas where these stereotypically “inferior” stories can be rounded up and separated from “proper” entertainment, such as libraries sending all manga down to the children’s library, or separating everything all speculative fiction on a sci-fi/fantasy bookshelf, outside of everything else’s alphabetic order.

That latter one, the sci-fi ghetto, gets some of the most interestingly illogical reactions. While by now there are so many mainstream, popular, and even artistically acknowledged sci-fi stories, that you would expect it’s critics to just give up, that’s where prejudice shows it’s stubbornness: Instead of just admitting that, say, 1984 is an intelligent sci-fi novel, therefore sci-fi can be intelligent, the truly prejudiced can still think like this:

“Oh, sci-fi is that silly Star Trek-thing where spaceships shoot lasers at each other, and men wear pajamas, so if 1984 has none of that, it’s not really sci-fi, it’s Proper Literature”

And that’s not even an exaggeration. Critics, and even authors, have really argued that their works are not really fantasy or sci-fi, if they don’t fit into the crudest stereotypes of these genres. Just how arrogant you have to be, to redefine an entire genre according to your own admittedly limited familiarity with it, while dismissing the established definition made by it’s actual audience?  As anime fans, you might be directly familiar with that kind of attitude. While most of the above preconceptions are limited to the hilariously ignorant and old-fashioned mainstream, in case of anime, even our fellow fandoms and nerds and enthusiasts, who are protesting the same prejudices themselves, might think and speak like this:

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How America Invented The Weeaboo

(Warning: The following post may contain generalizations, and national stereotypes. That’s inevitable, since it’s about general trends in the community, not about individual people. Try to read it as one possible aspect of these trends, and not as “Alterego explains how shit works “. )

A few months ago, I wrote a post about Weeaboos, their common traits, and the strange fact that those elements of the fandom that are most vocally opposing them, with their consistent consistent criticism of all of the anime subculture’s most japanese attributes, aren’t equally shunned with such monikers.

From that post alone, you might have figured  out that I’m just a weeaboo who doesn’t want to get criticised.  And there is an element of truth in that. I’m certainly more sympathetic towards people who just want to embrace their fandom, than towards those who are obsessed with appearing normal. But there is also something more to it: Many of these stereotypes about being the annoying type of anime fan, simply don’t register with me. I learned them, and I take care to avoid them so I won’t sound ridiculous, but intuitively, I wouldn’t have felt that they are considered bad. You see, I’m not an American.

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Phrases that I hate: “Pandering”

pandaing to the audience

picture punrelated

So, from now on, this is officially a running theme on this blog. A category of posts, where I’m ranting about random phrases that fans tend to use, and reveal the negative implications that I see in them.

Last time, I talked about “Guilty Pleasures” and how it’s used by people to justify why they are continuing to watch an unpopular show, while  they are also conforming to the vocal elitists by joining their chorus about how bad it is.

Now let’s look at a phrase that is used to dismiss shows without directly addressing any  tangible problem with them: Pandering. Nowadays, it is even used on it’s own, as in “I don’ even know why I’m watching this pandering crap”, but it’s implication is always supposed to be, that it’s pandering to a certain group, that it shouldn’t be pandering to. To the people with bad taste.

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What’s the opposite of “Weeaboo”?

“A normal person”.

At least that’s the impression you could get, from the way these annoying extremists are referenced everywhere. Or rather, I should say “this annoying extremism”. As I already referenced it a month ago, I don’t really think that the word can be truly applied to any individual in the anime fandom, since anyone can easily avoid the few stereotypes that obviously brand anyone as a weeaboo.

  1. Don’t use phrases like, kawaii, or baka gaijin, non-ironically.
  2. Don’t praise Japan, don’t want to go there, don’t learn Japanese. (or if you want to, at least don’t brag about it, and balance it out by saying something negative about Japan).
  3. Don’t get offended at others calling anime “Japanese cartoons”. Don’t insult western animation.
  4. Don’t complain about how horrible every single english anime dub is.

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Phrases that I hate: “Guilty pleasure”

Along with it’s synonyms, like “it’s so bad it’s good”, “laughing at it, not with it”, and also the only variation that got discredited everywhere else too, “enjoying it ironically”.

It’s not that the idea behind these statements doesn’t make sense. It’s easy to imagine why a bad show could still be enjoyable. I’m not personally interested in that kind of enjoyment, because I like to take my fiction seriously, and if I’m not even able to do that at all, I just stop watching it. But in principle, it’s easy to believe that someone would like laughing at the sheer absurdity of such a horrible show getting made.

But have you ever noticed, how the entry level for that excuse is much lower in ongoing works’ fandoms, than with standalone works? With standalone works, it’s really limited to the most painfully bad ones, such as literature with misspellings in every sentence, or movies with painfully weak special effects and practically nonexistent acting. With serials, it can be just something like “a manga with an unrealistic, over-the-top setting” or “a generic harem anime”. What’s the difference? Maybe with standalone works, people with slightly unusual tastes can fit in by watching something, enjoying it, and when it turns out to be unpopular, join the chorus about what a waste of time it was, but with serials, they need an excuse to keep going.

For example,  in the current season, we have the generally disliked shows Guilty Crown, Symphogear, and Highschool DxD. There are some people who dropped them early, some who still genuinely like them and call them good, and some who completely dislike them, but feel a sense of duty to finish them.  And then, there is this fourth category, people who believe that they are bad, but want to continue watching them because they are “so bad it’s good”. Isn’t that kind of strange? Even if someone found their badness amusing at first, but couldn’t sincerely “care”  about them, what would make them going back to that specific show every week? What would keep them hooked on, in a way that they often describe to be “like watching a car accident in slow motion”? After all, why couldn’t they just forget about it during the week, or start watching one of the other bad shows instead, to also mock that one’s premise?

My second problem is limited to the phrase “guilty pleasure” alone, and it’s unique issues.  Namely, the way it is sometimes used to imply that the show is really good, but the viewer is so deeply intoctrinated with the public opinion, that they can’t fully separate their own from it. That can range from anime itself being a guilty pleasure, for people who take mainstream’s stereotypes too seriously, and see themselves as “creepy pathetic otaku”,  to certain subgenres, or shows, that are disliked in the fandom, being “guilty pleasure”.

That is usually based on arbitary judgements like how you are not supposed to like mindless eye-candy, or how you are supposed to prefer moderate stories over camp and over-the-top ones, or exactly how “realistic” shows have to be.

That’s probably the worst thing about that phrase. The suggestion that some other people know better than you, and that you should feel guilty about liking something.  That entertainment has any other objective requirement than entertaining you. When I see examples that use it that way, I’m not even angry at the writer, but everyone in general.