Because this topic has been looming over this site for, like, 6 years.
Part 1: From Nippon with Love + Dochy
To provide insights into my early childhood, as is becoming customary in these Rambles, I was born in November of 1994, and from that tidbit alone you can probably reasonably estimate what my earliest interactions with anime were. The 90s were the first time when anime really started making waves internationally, namely in America, where myriad factors made the idea of localizing and distributing Japanese cartoons to western audiences suddenly became viable.
From the rising popularity of video games, the rising popularity of anime in Japan, various technical innovations, the fact that VHS tapes were no longer prohibitively expensive to produce or acquire, and various innovations that made the prospect of localizing, dubbing, and distributing something far less daunting than it was decades prior. It was a time that fortunately lined up with an era where anime was pushing boundaries, and many seminal classics were released, shifting the medium’s direction going forward.
But that was really only noticed by people who got deep into the world of magazines, fan-sites, conventions and paying $20-$30 for 3 episodes of a show that would not be aired on television for several years. For the less diehard fans, it was just something weird and different that popped up on TV stations or at your local Blockbuster video. Stuff like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, and later stuff like Pokémon and Digimon. There’s a lot of room to talk about the weird seedy bootleg poorly subtitled underbelly of this era, and watching inappropriate anime as an impressionable age, but you know who doesn’t have any of those stories? Me!
Yes, most of my knowledge of anime of the 90s is a retroactive knowledge imparted onto me by people older than myself, and my earliest exposure to anime was quite simply the sort of stuff I saw on television. As I said before, I got into Pokémon because of the anime, and with that interest came an interest in shows that looked similar. Which blossomed into an interest in Digimon as it started airing, Yu-Gi-Oh when it debuted, and Dragon Ball sometime in 2001.
To me, these four shows were expansive universes filled with characters, lore, and depth unlike those seen in the western cartoons they were sandwiched between, and all of them featured extensive merchandising and expansive toy lines I would frequently receive as presents from my parents or relatives. In fact, I’d say about 80% of the toys and paraphernalia I owned during grammar school came from Pokémon, Digimon, Dragon Ball, and Yu-Gi-Oh, and while I lost the trading cards years ago, I still have plastic totes of toys from all of them buried away in my closet.
As an autistic child, there was something immensely compelling about this to me. There was the information to soak in, worlds to think about and explore with my imagination, and a wide variety of physical representations of key characters that allowed me to craft small storylines or scenarios with these characters. Pokémon wasn’t just something that I thought about, it was something I could act out with small Hasbro/Tomy figures. The same was true with those Bandai Digimon mini-figures and the Jakks Pacific Dragon Ball Z toys, which were wonderfully articulated figures that I played with until their limbs fell off from overuse and the paint started chipping.
While many of my favorite memories with these series lie with the merchandise, that does not mean that I did not thoroughly enjoy the shows, because I did. I still remember watching Pokémon religiously through the start of the Johto season, eager to see what adventure each new episode would entail. Though, after a while, the slow pace and delay between seasons did eat away at my interest, as the show got dramatically slower after the Orange Island arc.
I was blown away by the degree of variance and change that happened in something like Digimon Adventure, evolving from this proto-isekai adventure into this world-crossing epic against digital devils that culminated in a horrifically edited film (with a great soundtrack) about a virus launching nuclear missiles And with each subsequent season, the show only grew more and more off-kilter and eccentric. Adventure 02 exemplified this well between Black Wargreymon’s pontifications about his own existence, being created as a tool of destruction made to mirror the dark half of the super-form of the primary hero from the first season, while still retaining his own mind, awareness, and overall sapiance. Or the struggles of the main antagonist of the first half of the series, who was bogged down by the expectations of others, forcing him to act as this child prodigy from a young age, and limiting his ability to lead a fulfilling childhood. Which led him to become this dorky king who abused his worm friend because for all his intellect and knowhow, he did not understand how to care for others.
Then there was Tamers, Digimon season 3, which got super dark near the end, had this wonderful twist of the established formula, being set in a version of the real world where Digimon suddenly became real, but I, unfortunately, did not see most of it. Though I did see all of Frontier, season 4, as part of a marathon, and I remember it being a somewhat awkward execution of the formula, being the series where the children become the Digimon. I remember liking the societies that the protagonists visited, thought the varied transformations made the series more engaging, and overall considered the series a good binge-watch. That being said, it was probably the weakest season in the series, at least until Data Squad, which I watched one episode back in 2007 and thought it was horrible.
Yu-Gi-Oh was a fun journey with compelling gimmick rivals of the week/month and a deluge of monster designs that made every episode a treat, as there was likely going to be at least one new design introduced. Unfortunately, the pacing was reduced to an absolute crawl at a point, with Season 3 being a novel filler arc where absolutely nothing of importance happened before turning into a series of overly prolonged encounters that perfectly embodied everything people hated about drawn-out shonen battles.
I bailed out after that but did hop onto Yu-Gi-Oh GX, which I remember liking quite a bit because things happened, the plot moved forward, and the story got absolutely ridiculous at some points, like when Jaden, the main protagonist, played a card game against a monkey. Also, they went all-in on magical nonsense from the get-go and built things up into another gosh darn isekai storyline involving Jaden pairing up with his non-binary ancient spirit waifu who he sometimes shared his body with. At least that’s what I think happened. I’m working off some very old memories here.
But all of that doesn’t have shit on Dragon Ball. I started watching the series with the Buu saga in 2001, which is really damn late to get in on the series, but after seeing the destructive power of this fat bubblegum clown monster and these preposterously insane bouts of energy beam filled combat, I was hooked. There was so much backstory, so much to draw back on in this series, and my interest was piqued at every utterance. And I got to see that. Yes, as the Buu saga was playing out, the original 1986 Dragon Ball anime series was also airing alongside Dragon Ball Z, allowing me to follow two ends of the same series simultaneously, with the gap being gradually filled over the course of two years and over 400 episodes.
It was a gap filled between syndicated reruns of the Saiyan, Namek, Frieza, Android, and Cell sagas, copies of the Dragon Ball manga I got from my library, and this expansive collection of Dragon Ball Z VHS tapes I owned after gambling about $70 on an eBay listing that netted me about 60 to 70 Dragon Ball Z tapes. But because I was a greedy child, I also had my father make bootleg copies from tapes we rented from both my local library and the local Blockbuster. While I did not own or see every single episode, or every single movie, I was able to watch and see at least 90% of Dragon Ball Z, this wildly expansive 276 episode epic with various side stories, films, and an entire prequel series that I watched as it aired. As a small child, that amounted to so much of my life that I cannot help but bear some sort of immense nostalgic love for the series. Whether it be in the form of OG Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, or just Dragon Ball in general.
But despite what I initially thought as I reached the tepid open ending of Z, that was not the end of the saga, as it was continued with the much-derided Dragon Ball GT. In 2004 I watched the first two VHS tapes, which skimmed over the Black Star Dragon Ball saga and shuffled things along to the Baby Saga. I thought it was odd, and my interest in Dragon Ball was dwindling at that time, so I passed on the series until I binged through its entirety back in 2007 while house sitting for my grandmother. I remember being confused by the execution of a lot of things, how the tone veered suddenly at points, and while I thought a lot of the ideas found within the series was cool, it just was not very good.
To me, this was the true end of Dragon Ball, and while I did revisit the series through both a watching of the original run of Kai and a reading of the original manga back in 2014, I did not keep up with the series as the new movies came out and Dragon Ball Super began. Mostly because almost everything I heard about Super has been hued with frustration or cynicism, criticizing the execution of its good ideas, and the concessions the show had to make to air on a weekly basis.
Part 2: Psybernetic Destiny: Re;Viewer
So, that’s how I got into anime in the first place. By watching and becoming invested in a number of long-running and widely merchandised shonen series that I enjoyed through the bulk of my time in grammar school. However, my interest was fading as I was getting older, and by the time I was getting into middle school, my fascination with these four series began to falter. I only watched the Pokémon series sporadically, had fallen into the mindset that Digimon was just a bad Pokémon clone (it wasn’t), and by 2007 I stopped watching cartoons or television in favor of watching and reading things on the computer I got for Christmas in 2004. My interest shifted and geared more heavily to video games, and I simply stopped caring about anime… until the summer of 2008.
It was around then when I caught wind of a show by the name of Ranma ½, yet another long-running anime series, and one that was especially compelling to me because of its basic premise, involving a male character who regularly turned female. As I mentioned in Natalie Rambles About Being Trans, Autistic, and Weird, this was around the time my interest and fascination in TG first started billowing into something more than a casual secret interest, and one of the things that really kicked off my interest in the subject matter was binging through all or Ranma ½ in approximately a week. You might ask how that is even possible, as the series contained 161 episodes, 3 films, and 11 OVAs, but I was a 13-year-old with zero responsibilities, on summer break. I had unlimited time and could do unlimited things. But I mostly just sat on my butt and ate nut meat.
Anyways, the assortment of tropes, visual motifs, and general tendencies found in Ranma ½ were fascinating to me. Fascinating enough that, between playing video games, going to summer school, and dressing up in my sister’s clothes, I spent a lot of that summer further immersing myself into the world of anime, settling a foundation of what would become a hobby over the next few years.
From 2008 to 2011, I watched a couple dozen anime series on a very casual basis, searching up illegal streams and enjoying whatever show I got at whatever quality was available. There were some good shows, some bad ones, and from 2010 through 2013 I even began following the industry to some extent. By which I mean that I started absorbing news vicariously through individuals like MasakoX, The Necro Critic, and Jacob Hope Chapman, or keeping tabs on what promising or popular anime series were coming out.
As for what I watched during the time, allow me to provide you with a list presented without any substance or insight because if I went through all of these, this post would never get done: Astro Boy (2003), Azumanga Daioh, Baccano!, Bakuman, Birdy The Mighty Decode, Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-Chan, Code Geass, Dead Leaves, Dragon Half, Excel Saga, Fooly Cooly, Fullmetal Alchemist, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Gokudo, Gurren Lagann, Heroman, Hetalia: Axis Powers, Jyu-Oh-Sei, Kämpfer, K.O. Beast, Lucky Star, Midori Days, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Oruchuban Ebichu, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, School Rumble, Sgt. Frog, Squid Girl, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, The World Only God Knows, and Toradora.
Most of these shows ranged somewhere between pretty good to genuinely wonderful, and I watched them at a staggered and casual basis, getting into and out of anime whenever I felt like, binging a few series, watching a few as they aired, or just chilling with an episode whenever I felt like it. You know, like a normal human being. And looking back, these shows gave me a great basis for understanding the medium, spanning a fairly diverse spectrum of genres, concepts, and tropes.
With this greater understanding, and the confidence that came with it, I decided to do something wild and crazy in July of 2012, when I began writing weekly anime reviews on my fledgling video game review site, Natalie.TF. That lasted for several months, but then reviews became bi-monthly, monthly, and eventually disappeared from the site entirely after April 2014. During these 22 months, I produced 48 anime reviews, some of which were for shows I previously watched, but the majority of them were series I watched for the first time.
These series include: Angel Beats, Attack On Titan, Ben-to, BTOOOM!, Chaos;Head, Code:Breaker, DNA², Elfen Lied, Girls und Panzer, Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, Humanity Has Declined, I Couldn’t Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job, Kill La Kill, Kokoro Connect, Kotoura-san, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, Master of Martial Hearts, Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture, My Little Monster, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, Mysterious Girlfriend X, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, Nichijou, Nyarko-San: Another Crawling Chaos, Oreimo, Project K, Psycho-Pass, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Samurai Flamenco, School Days, Skip Beat, Student Council’s Discretion, Sword Arts Online, Tari Tari, The Devil Is A Part-Timer, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, Vividred Operation, Watamote: It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular, and YuruYuri.
I sporadically put up a review of Punch Line back in 2015, and I briefly attempted to revive my anime reviewing tendencies in 2016, when I posted reviews of the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Parasyte: The Maxim, both of which have since been taken down. I closed out 2016 with a review of Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. Put out a review of Master of Martial Hearts as a cheeky Christmas special in 2018. And most recently put out a review of Elfen Lied (which is actually my favorite anime of all time) in October 2019.
Part 3: Shock! Awe! Mystery! Awaken to Answers!
So, what the hell happened?
Well, this was a decision I gradually came to, and for three primary reasons. The first one was the fact that the reviews I wrote were not very good. While I had watched a fair bit of anime at that point, there were a lot of things about the medium that I simply did not understand or appreciate as well as one should before they start writing semi-formal critical analysis. I did not ‘get’ many of the shows I watched. I struggled to parse the underlying subtext of many series, and had a limited understanding of the cultural touchstones or tendencies common to the medium. I did not see enough anime, read enough reviews, or have the working knowledge necessary to put out quality reviews, and I, at least to some extent, knew that as I wrote them. But, after trying and trying, I eventually gave up, developed my critical eye elsewhere, and only recently gave the whole thing another while with my (second) Elfen Lied Review, which was the type of thing I feel my anime reviews should have always been. Deeper analysis.
However, deeper analysis is not possible when you are jumping from show to show, and treat the act of watching and viewing anime more as an obligatory task rather than something you are doing for your own leisure. From 2012 through 2014, I was not necessarily watching anime because I wanted to, but rather due to a self-imposed obligation to watch a series, form a hastily written review about it, and move on to the next show. This was unlike how I consumed anime previously, which often featured a prolonged gap, and had me seek out series I was genuinely interested in, where I watched them at my own pace and at my own leisure.
I turned a casual hobby into a job and was no longer watching things I actively wanted to watch. I picked up shows randomly because their premise sounded vaguely interesting and they were relatively new. Or in other words, I was watching things I did not want to watch at a rapid rate and was unable to articulate why I did not like them in a sufficiently insightful manner. All of this waned on me, and despite my attempt to stagger reviews, the fatigue with this whole process eventually became too much for me to bear, and I just stopped.
I was just sick of watching a series, trying to find something poignant to say, going through the rigamarole of loading up an official stream, preloading my way through the ads, taking screencaps of it using Snipping Tool, and taking notes on the show in another tab. I was tired of witnessing rushed productions, bad pacing, horrible lighting and coloring, confusing plot points, poor attempts at wrapping a series up into a vaguely satisfying ending, and limited animation. I was overburdened by the saccharine depictions of high school, the idea of maintaining social harmony, and the particular flavor of anime-style shenanigans I was being subjected to. All of which would be a minor point if I was only watching the good stuff, but I would say that half of the series I reviewed were middling to outright bad.
Tired and dejected, I retired from reviewing anime regularly, and since then I have only watched anime on a sporadic basis. After April 2014, I produced 6 anime reviews, and aside from those I really have not watched much anime over these past few years. At my leisure, I watched Cowboy Bebop and the first 40 episodes of the re-dub of Sailor Moon in 2014, and the first two seasons of Hajime no Ippo throughout 2014 and 2015. Later on, I watched Mushibugyo, Chivalry of a Failed Knight, Akira, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Baka to Test with my good friend Alex during 2016-2019.
Part of this shift in behavior can be attributed to the shortcomings of anime, which I’ll get to in a minute, but it can also be attributed to how I watch media. When I watch something, it’s normally a video hosted on YouTube by a small yet growing number of creatively compelling voices who produce video essays and comedic shorts, predominantly centered around video games. I often casually watch this content while playing my mobile game, skimming through my usual sites, working on header images, eating meals, and doing tasks where I can easily multi-task. This type of media, and my library of music and podcasts, fill the void between work, household chores, playing games, and writing content for Natalie.TF.
Watching an anime, film, or any structured show demands my attention while giving me little to actually do or mentally process, other than the thing in front of me. Aside from taking screenshots or awkwardly typing down notes, it is a very passive activity, and I find passive activities like this to be far less compelling than more active acts like reading, writing, or game-playing. As such, I have found myself really only able to enjoy anime in recent years if it is part of some sort of social interaction, chatting with somebody as we enjoy the show, or am doing something active as I watch it, such as eating. I like doing things that are active and more than things that are passive, and while I can still thoroughly enjoy passive activities, I become restless if I indulge in them too long, and begin seeking out ways to keep myself preoccupied.
Does this mean I dislike anime? No. I like anime. I love anime. I am constantly enamored with things that, while not in form, are, in essence, pure distilled anime! Anime is love! Anime is life! Anime is hometown and everything in between! I love the artistic sensibilities perpetuated throughout anime. I love the way in which characters are designed. I love the tropes. I love the character archetypes. I love tthe goofy dumb anime-style shenanigans. I love the hyper-intense high-impact action. I love the chill slice-of-life relaxation. I love the way in which bonds between characters are presented and developed. And I even love it when things get obscenely lewd and sexual!
However, all of that love and adoration is not attributed to anime as a medium, but rather anime as an aesthetic. While anime was initially just the Japanese word for animation, that changed as Japanese animation evolved and became a more influential force both in Japan and around the world, the term anime began taking on a secondary meaning as an art style. But because that wasn’t quite broad or specific enough, the term eventually took on a greater meaning as an aesthetic.
And it is this aesthetic, the heart and soul of what makes anime… anime, is something that I personally believe can be far better delivered throughout different mediums beyond that of an animated series or film. Why do I feel this is the case? Well, that is a rather complex answer deserving of its own section.
Part 4: Anime Vs Manga Vs Visual Novels: All-Out Assault
Conceptually, anime as a medium should be devoid of any real significant faults, drawbacks, or reasons why it would ever be an inferior means of telling most stories. You have the expressiveness of animation and voice acting. You have the opportunity to tell exceedingly long-form stories. And you have these colorful bouts of beauty that can constitute every frame, between painted backdrops that draw from often reality and the stylized cast presented in a more abstract style.
But everything that exists in the world, every piece of art that mankind has ever forged, has had to deal with the limitations of reality. Every anime has the potential to be something incredible, but most aren’t. If anything, I would say that most of them are middling to bad. Why is that? Well, it is due to how anime is made. Animation is often a grueling process that often features long hours and hard deadlines, and shows need to be divided into 20-something-minute-long episodes to fill a time slot for a season, or seasons depending on the series. This often necessitates that corners be cut, shortcuts be taken, and quality dips in order for the show to reach its conclusion before the allocated budget is spent.
It is this compromise between vision and reality where I feel a lot of anime falter. Where works become the lesser of what they could have, and arguably should have, been. Where the bad pacing, shoestring plot threads, filler content, and lacking animation start cropping up. Naturally, there are a lot of shows that avoid these pitfalls, but all of these shortcomings, and more, are common to the point of being emblematic to the medium as a whole. I should know. I’ve seen shows meander and fall apart before my very eyes as their promising premises were dragged through the metaphorical mud. I’ve watched what should have been boisterous, vibrant, and lively series devolve into this aimless meandering where everything looks as if it had been drenched in a cement puddle.
When an anime is good, it can reach heights unique to its medium, and can result in some truly amazing works of art. Between the colors, movement, staging of shots, vocal performances, score, and sound design, there are a lot of tools that creators can use to make something truly rich and decadent when making an anime that are not found in other mediums. It’s just that I like other mediums more, and do not have the eye to appreciate anime as much as I want to.
I have very low animation standards and struggle to differentiate good animation from decent animation. I lack the understanding of scene composition to recognize when something is shot well or poorly in all but the most extreme instances. I lack the ear to appreciate the implementation of music in most mediums unless it is bashing the recipient upside the head with quality, volume, and melody. I can appreciate a show’s storytelling, themes, and overall imagery. I can follow and criticize most stories with little issue. And I can easily admire isolated imagery when it is presented to me as such. But there is so much about anime as a medium that simply does not jive with my brain, yo.
I want to love anime as a medium, yet I often have difficulties wrapping my head around most series. I was able to do a deeper and more thoughtful dive into Elfen Lied, but that’s because it’s Elfen Lied! The show is drenched in undertones, imagery, and little things for me to latch onto that I did not need to think too hard to find a throughline for my review. But I know I cannot do that with any random anime, and that just makes me not even want to bother.
Why, I ask myself, should I invest the time, fortitude, and commitment into trying to watch a full anime series on a dedicated basis when I could consume it in a manner that I consider more economical, involved, and engaging to me personally? And if I want that, if I want the story, if I want the aesthetic, if I want the art, chances are that whatever anime I am checking out has some equivalent in the form of a manga, a visual novel, or even a more involved video game. For the past 6 years, that has been where I’ve predominately been exposed to and enjoyed the aesthetic of anime. And while they might be ‘presentationally inferior’ than anime in various ways, I… I like them more, and I’m going to explain why.
Manga can pessimistically be described as anime but lesser, predominantly due to how many major anime series are adapted from manga, and when viewing their feature list, it seems like anime has everything that manga does. However, by being just a comic book with characters, backgrounds, and text boxes arranged on a page in a series of panels, the limitations imposed on manga are dramatically less than those imposed on anime. Yes, deadlines and strenuous work are common to both mediums, but manga is a far more economical, requires less commitment to consume, and it is easier, at least to me, to pause and appreciate the artistry of any given work.
Videos are rarely ever meant to be paused. They are meant to be a continuous stream of information, and that applies to anime as well. Manga and comics however are static images that one may interpret, parse, and read at their own pace, picking up minute details as they see fit, and choosing to either take the time needed to engross themselves in the work, or to rush through it and enjoy the visual storytelling before you. It is this level of control over consumption, combined with how manga in general tends to be better paced than most anime, that make me more inclined to pick up a random manga series over an anime. It’s why I devoted many hours into reading Attack On Titan last summer instead of watching the anime. Because I knew I would have complete control over that process, and I would be experiencing the same general story in the process.
That all being said, I do not know much about what constitutes a good manga. I can admire the story, pacing, characters, designs, and art itself, but the dynamic storytelling, deliberate panel layouts, and et cetera are all a bit lost on me. I do recognize that they exist, though I do not notice these things unless they are executed really well or really poorly. This could prevent me from adoring manga, but no. I adore how economically they are made, allowing oddball stories that would never have the draw and acclaim to warrant a ‘higher level’ or production. I admite how versatile the medium is in terms of storytelling. And I love how the artwork and underlying story both offer incentives for the reader to carry on with any given story, as not only does the next page promise some sort of narrative progression, but it also promises new artwork to admire.
However, not every story is necessarily the best fit for a manga. They may be prolonged and wordy like your typical novel, yet have ample room for improvement through the introduction of character portraits, backgrounds, voice acting, and music to bring the world described in the text to life, while introducing some form of interactivity from the reader. Which is a pretty apprepos description of a visual novel. A video game genre that, over the past 8 years, I have come to enjoy and appreciate for reasons not dissimilar to why I like manga.
They allow for engaging longform narratives to be brought to life in a manner for more stimulating to the senses. They can be incredibly economical productions, with the only real requirements being art assets, a script, and some basic coding knowledge, but they can also be these lavish displays of cinematic storytelling if the developers are willing to invest the resources. And they’re pretty easy to consume. Read, press a button, or just customize the display speed, turn on auto if you are feeling confident in your reading speed, and select choices when prompted..
That being said, there are some criticisms to be levied towards them. Visual novel presentations tend to be very sparse, lacking the expressiveness you would expect to see from a lot of anime and manga. They are not as involved as more widely regarded video game genres, limiting the player’s actions greatly beyond a few choices or more interactive segments. And while there are a wide number of good visual novels, the genre is filled with a lot of cheaply produced fluff. There are so many visual novels that use cute girls, cliches, tropes, and archetypes to make something vaguely compelling yet spiritually flakey that it can make the genre intimidating to enter without a list of recommendations.
But while there is a lot of shovelware, there is also more variety and uniqueness to be found in the genre of visual novels than just about any other across the entire medium of video games. This is a genre with games about temporally fluid death games, killing people for cold hard cash, dating dragons, dating a girl with a sexy birth defect, banging your way across the multiverse, banging lovecraftian abominations that look like lolis, the trials and tribulation as growing up as an immigrant in a nation that hates you, millenium-long romance epics about the cycle of cruelty and power of empathy and economics-driven drama IN SPACE! Would most of these work as any more gameplay-driven genres? Probably not. Would most of these work as anime? Yes, but they would lose the branching narratives, be abridged to meet run times, and overall be lesser in my opinion, so what the butt is even the point?
Okay, but what about video games in general? Why do I like those more than anime? Well… because they are interactive pieces of entertainment with constant player agency, worlds to explore, characters to interact with at your leisure, stories that do not need to conform to any real limitations, and developmental timelines that, internal politics notwithstanding, can take their damn time and do not need to adhere to any predetermined release window. I would so much rather play a video game than read a manga or watch an anime that it is hard for me to even articulate why I hold such a preference.
I mean, in case it isn’t obvious by now, video games are my favorite thing in the goldarn world. Video games are… the ultimate artform. They combine music, art, animation, writing, sound design, voice acting, design, and make everything interactive on some level. They are a bitch to make, but they have served as such a foundational part of my life that I started an entire website just because I wanted to be able to better appreciate them. I have written nearly 400 game reviews, most of which were garbage, but I kept improving, kept broadening my understanding, and kept learning how to love video games more and more. And I never want to stop learning more and more to love and appreciate the medium, because that’s how much I love them, I love them so much that I want to never grow complacent with loving them!
…So, um, what was I talking about again? …Right. Anime. I have some problems with the medium, but why don’t other people have these problems, why do people like watching anime more than reading, say, a manga or a visual novel? Well, I think the answer is simple. A lot of people don’t like to read for recreational purposes. They don’t want to do something active during their downtime. They want to look at a screen, chill, and be entertained by the moving pictures and voices. They want to watch a show play out before them, and that desire has been common in some way, shape, or form for… ever, basically.
And to provide a more applicable and modern answer, it is quite easy to both sell somebody on an anime and for somebody to begin watching an anime. Between sharing snippets, scenes, and gifs from anime on social media, and the advent of streaming platforms, allowing just about every anime that’s airing in Japan to be simulcasted around the world with high quality subs, and maybe even dubs, across streaming services accessible on computers, phones, and televisions.
It’s so easy to just dive into it and indulge in whatever the medium has to offer that has caused a sort of casual and global resurgence over the past few years, allowing anime to become bigger and more popular now than it ever has in the past. Unlike manga, you don’t need to scour through sketchier sites to read sloppy fan translations, and unlike video games, you don’t need to pay to buy a single video game that requires upwards of dozens of hours of active involvement to enjoy. To get your anime on, you just need a screen, a credit card, an eyeball, and some wifi.
I understand all of this very well, I see the appeal, but I also do not necessarily work this way. I am an anomaly. I am somebody who does not watch films or shows with regularity and instead likes to play games and read my funny picture books. It’s how I’m wired, and how my preferences fall. I do not think that I am any better or worse for working this way, or that people are bad because they like anime more than the stuff I like more than anime. It’s just my opinion, and what I like. Anime, but without the anime.
Part 5: Fortuna EX: Perfection Incarnate
Now, this would be where I would normally end things, having finally reached a conclusion or softs, but for the sake of this article I decided to start watching some random anime in order to better piece together my thoughts on the medium. An endeavor that did not really pan out due to scheduling issues on my end, but I was fortunate enough to have watched this glorious microcosm of everything I love about anime, known as Slayers Perfect.
A fantasy adventure movie about two young sorceresses goofing around and travelling to a far away land in pursuit of a good time, only to get wrapped up in some dubious evil-scented shenanigans that they need to take care of by virtue of being the protagonists. And from that basic starting point, the film manages to encapsulate basically everything I adore about both the broader anime aesthetic and anime as a medium.
Slayers Perfect is absolutely gorgeous, with rich backdrops, wonderful expressions, and fluid battle sequences. The English voice acting is hockey in a way that a lot of early anime localizations were, but the actors nevertheless instill an excessive amount of personality into these characters. The prevalence of comedy, gratuitous sexualization, and the occasional bits of relentless cruelty amount to a very light and digestible story that is entertaining from start to finish.
I mean, it’s also absurd, even convoluted at points, but whatever criticisms I could offer the story for being this anime-movie-ass-anime-movie are offset by the sheer enthusiasm that radiates from this thing, clearly being a title that a lot of people really cared about, and wanted to make as good as they possibly could. And as a result, this tale of overpowered kawaii-ass waifus messing shit up and travelling through time to get mad cash manages to feel concise, focused, deliberate, and passionate in a way that I have rarely seen in anime.
It actually got me curious enough to watch a few episodes of the TV anime series Slayers Next, but that only reminded me of the shortcomings associated with your typical TV anime series. Everything must fit a set time limit, stories must be episodic, and when in doubt, fill the empty spots with low-stakes stories that do not progress the primary plot itself, which is often left on the backburner as the event of the week is addressed. And as I watched the first four episodes of this show, I kept unconsciously thinking about other ways that these characters, this world, and these storylines could be presented.
While I did love the antics, the designs, the characters, and the voice acting, I kept wondering if the light novels or manga adaptation handled the subject matter better, and thinking about how amazing a modern video game adaptation of the source material could be. All of which I think is indicative of the type of media I prefer to consume, and what goes through my brain most of the time I try to sit back and watch an anime. Because while I adore so much of the aesthetic emblematic to the medium, I’d rather read an anime book or play an anime game than watch an anime show or an anime movie.
Anyways, that’s all for this week. The name’s Nattie-chan, I like anime, I love you all, and I… I’m gonna take a nap or something, because talking about anime has left my tuchus all tuckered out.