Wandering reflections on the concept of “taste”.
ONCE upon a time, I became an anime fan. And it was, more or less, good. I happily cut my teeth on many of those shows upon which many other fans have cut their teeth – Sailor Moon, initially, followed a few years later by the likes of Pokemon, Digimon, and “Card Captors”, with a heaping portion of Tenchi Muyo to follow it all up. I also tripped across lesser-known titles like Haunted Junction and Don’t Leave Me Alone Daisy, shows which were a bit on the questionable side for a middle schooler to be consuming. And, then, a few years later, I thrilled to the likes of Yu Yu Hakusho and Bleach, the overblown shounen types that could easily keep one engaged for years before one suddenly realized that they’d gotten hideously bored with the endless showdowns… or the sorts of shows that you gleefully watch in Cantonese with poorly-done English subs, all ripped inexpertly to VCD and available for rental at your local not-Blockbuster video rental store, where half the amusement comes simply from the fact that you are watching bootleg Cantonese-dubbed anime on a VCD, and your Cantonese comprehension is primarily limited to racial epithets.
But I digress! The important thing, really, was that I was regularly consuming anime, thus establishing my credentials as an Anime Fan. And while I started off with a lot of shows that I later came to understand weren’t all that “good”, I was chugging along the proper route of Serious Fandom – start with the Pokemons and Yu Yu Hakushos of the world, then open your lovely eyes to the beauty of things like Revolutionary Girl Utena. And I did, and it was very good.
But, then, something happened along the way – sure, I fell for the likes of Princess Tutu and Big O, fully and whole-heartedly, but as the years passed, I suddenly found myself most excited for things like G Gundam or Senki Zesshou Symphogear. Oh, yeah, of course I still lamented that we couldn’t have more things like UN-GO or the criminally-underwatched Mouryou no Hako, but I cheered loudly when I heard that Uta no Prince-sama was getting a second season.
We’re sold this idea that if we’re a legitimate anime fan, and not just one of those “Narutards”, our “taste” improves over time – we come to realize that, really, Gundam Seed was just a pile of crap and, goodness, well, we didn’t know any better back then, did we? But we know better now! Forget that silly, terrible show, our favorite Gundam is Zeta Gundam, which is actually good and has a lot of depth to it, not like Gundam Seed at all! We know better now!
When you get down to it, though, what really is a pile of crap is that very idea – its a complete lie. What improves over time isn’t our “taste”, its just our ability to detect what is and isn’t acceptable to profess a straightforward love for. We begin to sheepishly say, “Oh, well, I like Love Hina a lot, but I know its terrible! I think its just a nostalgia thing, you know?” And here is where the entire insidious notion of a ‘guilty pleasure’ lies – that some shows are just inherently acceptable to like without reservations while others require that we grovel and confess that something we enjoy actually sucks.
I really despise the idea of the ‘guilty pleasure’ when it comes to something like anime (or something like books, or something like non-documentary movies, or something like music, etc.). If you like a certain show, stop making excuses simply to avoid disapproval. Mind you, this doesn’t mean you can’t admit that a show has flaws or contains problematic material – I liked Kanon a lot, but, wow, it generally sure is archaic as fuck when it comes to depictions of gender relations – but you shouldn’t feel compelled to dump all over a favored show because it isn’t deemed worthy of being enjoyed.
And then there’s that whole “watching ironically” thing. Huh? Anime is a form of entertainment – if you’re watching it and being entertained, how the hell is that ironic?
So, yeah, actually, my taste has gotten “worse” over time. If you said to me, “Hey, we can watch an episode of Aoi Bungaku, or we could watch some Cobra, which do you want to watch?”, I would say, “WOOOO COBRAAAA!!!!”. And while I don’t really like Bleach anymore, I still adore Outlaw Star just as much as I did the first time I watched it twelve years ago. But I don’t think this makes me special in any way, shape, or form – nor do I think it somehow courageous to “come clean” about it. I just think that our subset of fandom could do with a bit more honesty on this front (subset here meaning, roughly, English-speaking fans who generally consider themselves as Serious Fans).
I suppose the TL;DR version of this is, “So you love Black Rock Shooter, who cares if most people think it sucks! IT’S A FREAKING CARTOON, STOP FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT!”. Did this end up as a manifesto? I think it may’ve, although that wasn’t what I set out to do. I just really hate the idea of people feeling badly at any degree for enjoying a particular show. I think Valkyria Chronicles was awful, but if you liked it, hell, if anything, I’m just glad that you watched something and enjoyed it. Sure, it bums me out when someone doesn’t like something that I do, but not because it makes me feel like I have poor taste – no, its only that I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to share my love there, that you didn’t experience the fun that I did when I watched it.
Oh, and in case you still had any questions about my taste, I still really want a fourth season of Jigoku Shoujo, I want another Mai-HiME/Otome spin-off, and my favorite Gundam series are G Gundam and Gundam X. SUCK IT, UC FANS!