‘Anime is srs bsnss.’
While that may be just a meme, it underlies a truth as to how many corners of the online anime community engage with the medium. You’ve got content creators (myself included) who analyze series and celebrate industry icons as if they were deities. Then there are forums and communities where fans congregate to discuss and debate anime (sometimes to… extreme degrees). And beyond that is the practice of meticulously tracking and ranking every single series one watches on websites like MyAnimeList. The internet has opened up countless avenues for anime fanatics to take their hobby seriously, but in the process, it’s become easy to forget why most of us congregated around this medium to begin with: we enjoy it.
Think back to the first time you experienced anime and the early series/films you watched that cemented that passion. You’re likely recalling wide-eyed wonder as new types of stories unfolded before your eyes. That was a time before you became at all jaded. What you may now recognize as tired tropes were fresh ideas at that moment; series you now would consider bog-standard had evoked reactions from you because then was your first time experiencing them. And obviously, that was a positive experience since you’re now seeking out content like the very column you’re currently two paragraphs into reading.
Those early days of our fandom are something we’re always longing to experience again. We crave series that surprise us and make our imaginations run wild. When we stumble across the rare one that captures this awe, we cherish it unabashedly. I’ve already detailed how some fans express this joy; discourse and analysis are perfectly legitimate ways to enjoy anime. However, the wider anime-watching demographic keeps coming back singularly because they find these cartoons fun. They just want to relax after a hard day at school or work, giving their brain a rest as stories unfold before them. This majority of anime fans is something we who express ourselves differently often overlook.
Anime is a passive narrative medium. This is to say that — like film, television, and music– anime has viewers rather than players. Unlike an active medium such as video games, there’s no input beyond hitting the play button. You are a passive participant watching the deft hand of a storyteller tell tales. The goal of most anime directors and their teams is to evoke an emotional reaction from the viewer while they consume at even the lowest level of engagement. There may be layers weaved underneath the surface to enrich a series thematically but catering to the average viewer means making anime that’s instinctually satisfying outside of that.
This is why you see shonen/action series maintain huge audiences. It doesn’t get more instinctual than watching characters duke it out. By that same token, slice-of-life series are an easy watch because they make you feel like you’re hanging out with friends. And that’s exactly why experimental/cerebral dramas are a tough sell to the masses. It’s easy to scoff at the idea of people watching ‘lesser’ anime that require less contemplation to understand but those series are actually fulfilling the medium’s prime directive — to entertain– for the largest possible audience. It’s the same reason why Marvel films consistently top the box office or why a hit-making template for pop music is a surefire way to scale the charts. For every fan that wants the deep stuff, there are a thousand looking to kick their feet up. And again, that’s okay and even the point!
A few months back, I wrote an article about gatekeeping in the anime community after an uproar about Kim Kardashian styling her hair after Darling in the Franxx’s Zero Two. Some people took poorly to her new ‘do, leading to a calling out of ‘fake anime fans’ (categorized predominantly as those outside of the online community’s bubble). You can read the article for more details as to why I find this mindset misguided but the general idea, as it pertains to this column’s purposes, is that these so-called fakes are consistently relishing in anime the same wide-eyed wonder that I had you recall earlier. Not only should we embrace them, but in some ways, we should even try to be more like them.
This isn’t to say that anyone’s way of appreciating anime should be eschewed. You’re talking to someone whose career depends on thinking deeply (overthinking?) about art. But from my own experience, I can vouch for how easy it is to lose the plot as to why I wanted to do this in the first place. I long for any series that allows me to tune out the ever-churning analytical part of my brain and let the anime goodness pour through me. Through such an experience, I can reset from creeping tedium by reminding myself that on the basest level, I just enjoy anime.