But it doesn’t give you wings. Man, just think – I dragged myself away from Mishima and all that pornographic manga I’ve been reading just so you guys could have a new post to read! Wasn’t that generous of me? Or it would be if blogs weren’t inherently masturbatory objects! Stroke that ego a little harder…
Hmm. Maybe I have been reading too much hentai lately.
Oh well. Anyway – anime. It makes you learn. Or it forces one to learn. Although its not exactly as simple as that; rather, it’ll only do so should one become a ‘serious’ fan. In this case, ‘serious’ essentially means folks like you and me – the people who have become what I consider to be a true fan. We aren’t content to simply watch the twenty-minute segments before tottering off to our next piece of entertainment; no, instead we feel a need to continually hash over things and dig in to try to get at a better understanding. We also aren’t merely satisfied in viewing things in a vacuum – so each individual show ultimately does not represent isolated pieces, but instead are part of the larger tapestry we have come to adore. In all of this, something emerges – we become true fans because the medium forces us to go beyond a shallow understanding of the form. Essentially, I wish to argue that in becoming serious fans anime forces us to go beyond simply anime and attempt to grasp a larger understanding of Japan and Japanese culture.
Here we run into the familiar divide – high culture versus low culture/pop culture. “But anime is just entertainment!” To take it at that is to ignore the fact that this construct is an artificial one to begin with, and that even if we are willing to leave the differentiation intact, it nevertheless means that they are both two halves of a whole, that is, culture. You can’t have low culture without high culture and vice versa. I will certainly go on the record to agree that Girls Bravo is far from being an equivalent of Hokusai (he of the famous wave painting), but its short-sighted to ignore popular culture and to also instantly dismiss anything from pop culture as being wholly disposable.
There is also the very simple and amusing fact that one era’s pop/low culture is another era’s high culture; Shakespeare was hardly considered to be the stuff of high art when it first made its rounds.
Anyway, in order to really understand and appreciate anime, one must be willing to go poking around in Japanese culture and history at large, as a lot of that leaks through. Think of all those Shinsengumi shows; there’s a very obvious example. But then consider smaller bits that float through, ones which are so common as to hardly strike the serious fan as something to notice – the superstition about sneezing is an excellent one, as it is so ubiquitous and seemingly unremarkable. In becoming a serious fan, these are the sorts of things one comes to learn.
Of course, though, it goes beyond just making one want to understand anime – it ends up becoming a larger desire to have knowledge on Japan itself, because it is Japan which has spawned this creature we’ve come to love, and also even more simply because humans are curious by their nature; we want to understand more and know more. All those Shinsengumi shows made me curious about the real life events and circumstances of that period of Japanese history. So much so that I even ended up writing a paper about the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, the turning point of Japan’s civil war, the Boshin War.
We go: “What’s that?” and a Wikipedia article later we have a basic idea of what it is and sometimes want to know more. I think my favorite example comes from Mouryou no Hako. The phrase was translated differently depending upon fansub, but in the first episode one of the characters uses the phrase ‘the decay of the angel’, and then went on to list the different signs of decay. I was curious and typed the phrase into Wikipedia because I wanted to know more about it; the first result was Yukio Mishima’s book of the same name. I knew of Mishima before, but I hadn’t read a lot of his, and the description made me want to check The Decay of the Angel out – which in turn made me discover that it was the last installment in a tetralogy! And in reading that series, I ended up learning a lot about Japan of the first half of the 20th century, as it covers a period of time from the 1910’s up through the 1960’s.
I’ve also found my interest in folklore piqued; previously my folklore knowledge covered northern Europe and Ireland, and that was about it. Yet in my viewing of anime, I found myself running up against Japanese folklore, and thus wanted to know more. I read Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan at a fairly young age, stumbling over the seemingly archaic translation. And I also spent hours poring over other books on Japanese folklore as well. All because I happened to watch anime that had folkloric references and elements.
It is my belief that this is what makes a true anime fan. Is this potentially a snobby demarcation? Certainly. But I don’t believe in the fair-weather type fan, the one who will swim along merrily in the entertainment so long as the water isn’t cold or flowing against them. I think you can only really be a fan if you’re willing to understand the wider context, which includes knowledge of anime’s history and trends and economics, too. I can’t stand the type of person who basically thinks that anime appeared when they became aware of it and that it exists solely for their own pleasure, and I don’t want them in my fandom. I love sharing what I love, but I’m only interested in continuing to do so if the person I’m sharing it with shows a genuine interest and a wish to have greater understanding.
I have a wish to go to Japan some day. And the only thing it has to do with anime is the fact that anime lead me to an appreciation of and interest in Japan itself. I’ll probably stop by Akihabara, but I really want to go see Sapporo and Kyoto. I want to walk in those ancient temples and hike around the mountains. I want to go to the art museums and view the flowers (and not just the cherryblossoms!). Anime will have led me there, but I also know its not the only thing.