I’ve been a fan of anime for almost 20 years. It occurred to me recently that my fanniversary is around the same time as Sailor Moon’s 20th anniversary. And knowing that there are young women and men watching Sailor Moon for the first time with the new Crystal adaptation, I’m beginning to feel like an oldie.
I started watching anime when I was in middle school in the late ‘90s, with Americanized dubs of shows like Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Digimon, which is also celebrating an anniversary—its 15th—with Digimon Adventure tri. At the time, the animation style in anime was interesting to me, and the main female characters were great role models that other Western animated shows lacked. But for some reason, in high school, I stopped watching anime, with only the occasional Pokémon episode on in the background to console me as I did my homework after school. I think this happened because the anime shows that were available to me through non-cable television at that time were very limited. Besides Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh—no thanks—was one of the only shows I can remember that played on TV regularly while I was in high school.
Fortunately, my interest in anime started up again when new friends I made in college reintroduced me to it through [adult swim] and Toonami, and I discovered that anime could be for grownups too. Perfect Blue was one of the first anime movies I ever watched, and let me tell you, it definitely left me a little scarred, but also fairly intrigued. Next came Studio Ghibli, with Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, and eventually, I delved into Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Ghost in the Shell.
Sadly, anime has been falling flat for me lately, particularly over the last couple of years. I think I can attribute this partially to my increasing age. For the last decade or so, anime has become available for free or for a relatively low cost streaming on the internet, something that did not take off until after I finished college, so the choices I had to watch back then depended upon what I could catch on Cartoon Network and what my friends or the library had on DVD. There was a time in the past, when I was still new to anime and had attended some of my first conventions, when I would watch anything and everything I could get my hands on. I would stay up all night at anime conventions watching whatever I could in the video rooms. It was fun and exciting, and I really enjoyed it.
Now that anime is much easier to get a hold of, perhaps I’m just realizing that a lot of it is just plain awful. Like any form of media, not all of it is good, and in fact, much of it is bad, created on the fly for a quick buck. “It’s not you; it’s me,” is not entirely true in this instance. Yes, I am being picky about what I watch now, but also, a lot of what is out there is bad. The distaste I have for anime lately is clearly not entirely of my own making. It also has something to do with what anime producers in Japan believe fans want, with what they know they can make money from, and with what U.S. and U.K. distributors think will sell over here.
So, what can I do to combat awful anime and this feeling that I’m starting to turn into an old fuddy-duddy of a fan? What can I do when I really want to watch something good, something that is going to rip my heart out and tear it up into pieces and leave me feeling so many feelings? There are a few things I’ve done lately to make sure that I don’t find myself 25 episodes into a series and hitting myself over the head asking myself, “Why did I start watching this show in the first place? Why are these characters so awful? Why am I wasting my time?”
First things first: I always sample the first episode, perhaps the second and third episodes too, of a new anime before I commit myself to watching it, and if I’m not enjoying it by the third episode, I stop watching, even if everyone loves it—I’m looking at you, Kill la Kill. Life would be boring if we all liked the same things, and it’s okay if you don’t like what everyone else likes. Also, I’ve learned over the years that similar to a book, don’t judge an anime by its opening theme. Sometimes an anime can be really good even if its opening sequence is really terrible. But I suppose, like books and manga, the opening can help you to gauge what you’re in for, so while it’s important to be open-minded, I do tend to avoid certain anime if their opening is especially atrocious, because I just know that I’m not going to enjoy it.
My next suggestion, if you’re feeling anime burn out and you think it’s due to your age, is to watch a josei anime. Seriously! Josei anime have been my saviors lately. Josei means “woman” and is geared toward women ages fifteen and up. If you’re like me and you’re sick and tired of the typical middle school/high school story about a regular, boring boy who gets superpowers, or encounters some beautiful girl with superpowers, and suddenly has to save the world with a bunch of infatuated girls surrounding him, then josei anime is for you. The characters are more likely to be closer to you in age—their problems are more likely to be similar to your problems, their daily lives like yours. I highly recommend Chihayafuru, Eden of the East, Honey and Clover, Kids on the Slope, Kuragehime, Monster (okay, so this one is actually seinen or young men’s anime, but it’s still really gripping), Nana, Nodame Cantabile, Paradise Kiss, and Usagi Drop.
Going back into the anime vault, so to speak, and watching a classic is also a good way to discover an oldie but goodie. Check out the late ‘80s, all of the ‘90s, and the early ‘00s. There are some great sci-fi shows and movies from those periods—like Nausicaä, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Megazone 23, and Cowboy Bebop, only to name a few—that are gritty and raw. They leave some of the shiny anime we get lately (I’m thinking of the clean lines and perfect coloring that can be seen in many show from this current decade that are definitely beautiful, but sometimes boring, in my opinion) in the dust.
For me, anime isn’t just about the act of watching the medium; it’s about enjoying something with other people, especially my friends. So, another way to make watching anime more enjoyable is to do it with other people. Go watch anime with your friends, your family, your partner, whoever! Also, if you’re of legal age, have a glass of wine, or whatever your poison might be, while watching. It’s a great way to unwind after a long week, and it helps you to relax and not take watching the show so seriously. A good anime is a great accompaniment to a fine glass of Malbec. And making a thing of it—having friends over and preparing some special dishes or drinks—can be a lot of fun.
In the end, anime should be about having fun! Not every activity has to be about cultural analysis and critique. And bad anime can be really good sometimes too. I mean, “Eating ramen that tastes really bad can be kinda fun too.” Still, don’t settle for less either. For me lately, quality is better than quantity, and I know that an anime that keeps me entertained and intellectually stimulated is my cup of tea.