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.

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20 Responses to Anime: IT MAKES YOU LEARN!

  1. “Anime was better when it knew its place and made shows that were genuinely fun. Evangelion ruined this because it deluded people into thinking that there’s actual merit in these cartoons beyond escapes from their meaningless existences.”

    I realize I can come up with more quotes like this — a reverse kind of elitism, an anti-intellectualism based on some idea of an anime everyfan who’s better than all of you because he knows how stupid it is to think when you’re not supposed to.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Whoa. Now THAT was a fast response time. I legit sat here and blinked in shock at how quickly a comment appeared on here.

      Despite my disparagement of a huge chunk of popular culture (reality TV – curse you!!!), I have come to find the category fascinating. Really, though, my specialty is in the way popular culture and religion intersect, both in ‘mainstream’ culture and in the sub-cultures or separate cultures religious groups (most notably in America evangelical Protestants) attempt to construct. But I do think there’s a lot to learn about a culture from popular culture as a whole.

      • WordPress is very quick to push posts to Google Reader, which I was browsing through at the time your post arrived.

        Believe it or not, I’m closer to Baka-Raptor regarding this subject. I’m certainly not as indifferent to Japan as he is, but I don’t find myself as into it as someone who would read or put out a blog about Japan and its culture.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Well, I don’t think I could ever transcend into a full-fledged Japanese culture blog, although I do find the topic interesting, and enough so that I’d like to visit the country. I’ve never actually officially studied Japan, so I don’t think I could really sustain a Japanese culture blog… nor do I really want to make that much of an effort on it. But I’ll admit it could be in part because I am already maintaining this blog.

        However, a post-colonial blog? I could roll with that.

    • TheBigN says:

      “Anime was better when it knew its place and made shows that were genuinely fun.”

      lol oppressive much? But yeah, as gl said, you see a lot of this as well, and while it’s a valid point it seems like sometimes the intention is more to rile up people then to get them to realize that anime isn’t all serious business. 😛

  2. Baka-Raptor says:

    Congratulations on beating to yet another topic I was going to write about. My half-written draft post on how I’m not interested in Japanese culture shall remain untouched until this post’s expiration date.

    …fine, since you asked, I’ll give you a brief explanation.

    I am an anime fan, plain and simple. The magic that drew me to anime doesn’t exist in Japanese culture at large. It’s interesting in its own right, but not nearly enough to inflame my passion that way anime does.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I would point out, however, that simply by watching anime, and wishing to keep it at that and not plumb the culture behind it any more, you have necessarily learned about Japanese culture to an extent, albeit superficially.

      I do think though, that even if you don’t really care to learn about Japanese culture, you’ve probably still had moments where you’ve looked something up because you didn’t know what it was. And I don’t only mean Japanese things; I know of someone who didn’t know what a rail gun was prior to To aru majutsu no Index, they looked it up when it was mentioned in the first episode.

      You can only write about it if you promise to learn how to type with your eyes shut~ We all prefer a healthy Baka-Raptor to a blind one.

  3. Scamp says:


    The amount of time I’ve spent trawling wikipedia and other random internet sites to learn about whatever random historical/cultural reference it’s making have led to numerous discoveries. I now know about the history of Sealand

    • adaywithoutme says:

      And I think that that is maybe the funniest part – it isn’t even necessarily the ‘smart’ shows that cause someone to go seek greater understanding, its the sillier ones as well. I mean, come on – Hetalia? If you weren’t the one watching it and rolling around Wikipedia because of it, would you ever believe it?

      I learned about Sealand because of Facebook. It looks like a pretty crappy place.

  4. Caddy C says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! And I wrote an eerily similar post just a little while ago, also citing my new found knowledge of the Shinsengumi as a product of being an anime fan.

    “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.”
    I agree with you here, but I also think there is at least a bit of a conscious choice involved. Anime doesn’t necessarily force serious fans to do anything, fans have to make the effort to learn.

    This is the difference between a casual fan and a serious fan – of anything, really. I’m loathe to use this as an example, but a casual Twilight fan just reads the books/watches the movies, but a serious fan learns the vampire history and fiction that has come before. A serious fan learns why vampires have to be killed by a stake through the heart according to legend, etc. I don’t know how many of these there are, but …

    • 2DT says:

      That would make them a fan of vampires and not of Twilight specifically, wouldn’t it?

      To be a proper “fan” does require a certain amount of drive; it’s short for “fanatic,” after all. 🙂 But I think anime’s a big pool; there’s room enough for everybody.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Twilight is kind of an interesting case insofar as vampire lore is concerned… I’m not exactly sure that the people who are big on Twilight would really be terribly crazy about vampire lore in general given that Twilight itself is a Mormon purity fable wherein the vampire is the one seeking to enforce a standard of sexual purity. Given that the modern vampire came from Dracula and that Dracula was a colonialist tract essentially warning against the dangerous, non-British males of the world, and that much of America’s familiarity with vampires comes from Anne Rice, its just so bizarre.

        Dammit, Anne Rice! Back when vampire books were great trash!

    • adaywithoutme says:

      But I think that’s the difference between a casual fan and a serious one – the serious fan will feel forced, in a sense, to seek more information and more in-depth information on the topic.

  5. Pingback: We Remember Love Editorial Folio: Cultural Roots in Anime | We Remember Love

  6. glothelegend says:

    I’ve learned some Japanese from watching massive amounts of anime. Does that count for anything?

  7. Shin says:

    Hey Day, I expected, from the OP image, this to be about your MariMite-esque relationship with your little sister in the sorority!

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Aww, naw, sorry to disappoint! I was trying to find a picture of a classroom or a school campus from anime or manga, and failed, so I figured, “Hell, why not use some MariMite image?” but, don’t worry, I’ll dedicate some post like that to you soon.

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