Aniwords – Is There a Right Way to Watch Anime?

It’s pondering the deeper implications of simple questions time again! Frankly, I’m not sure I did the topic as much justice as I wanted, but you write and write again. Maybe someday I’ll finally land on something I feel is my seminal commentary on fandom conversation.

Here’s the link~

Sword Art Online

18 thoughts on “Aniwords – Is There a Right Way to Watch Anime?

  1. When I saw this title, I was immediately reminded of how some Type-Moon fans get angry if you watch Zero before reading the VN (Wrong Every Time covered this a while ago).

    There is a lot of gray area here, I feel. I typically look more towards the critical shows than the “casual” ones, the Rakugos over the SAOs, if you will, but there are series all over the spectrum I enjoy. Then there’s people disputing what actually counts as “casual”, like how I’d argue that, say, those Hunger Games films have more substance and better characters than on-the-nose art house movies with famous directors and the exact same themes in mind. I suppose you could also argue some shows could fit more than one criteria, possibly being entertaining and digestible on the surface but having a wealth of themes and historical parallels for those willing to look deeper? I prefer to judge things by their details and execution, as broad strokes can be misleading.

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    • Yeah, one thing I forgot to touch on was how typically the right side of the spectrum will more willingly watching things to the left than the left will things to the right.

      As I said, it’s very imprecise, but the generalizations are useful for reminding us that people (most people, even) engage with things in a different way that we do and are interested by different sorts of things than we are.

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  2. “I also think that the anime critical community often doesn’t do a great job of acknowledging the perspectives of other groups—just as those same groups sometimes demonize critics as arrogant elites seeking to impose their tastes on the masses.” You didn’t happen to have Mayoiga in mind when you wrote that paragraph, did you? LOL

    Anyway, I was thinking that rather than a single spectrum, we could slightly modify what you’re discussing into a two-axis model for anime fans, just like the famous two-axis social/economic political spectrum model. Call one axis “light/serious” (roughly equivalent to the casual vs. hardcore you described) and the other one “fan/critic,” so the four positions would then be light fan, serious fan, light critic, and serious critic. “Light critic” was the category that your one-axis model doesn’t really cover, but it’s one that I think describes me very well. I always derive pleasure from thinking about and analyzing the shows that I watch, so any show that has enough substance and merit to let me do that is always appreciated, but at the end of the day the emotional engagement and amount of entertainment that I got from an anime is still more important to me than its artistic or literary merits. So anime that someone in the “serious critic” category might tend to dismiss because of mediocre animation or tropey writing still have plenty of value to me as long as I’m engaged with and enjoying them, even when I can “objectively” recognize their shortcomings. Though all the shows that rate the highest on my list, the Escaflownes and Toradoras and Yuki Yunas, tend to be the ones that give me both – lots of fun and entertainment value, AND lots of good stuff for my inner critic to dissect, too.

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    • I also initially came up with another two-axis model on my own, and I’m really surprised someone else also thought of a similar idea. (No. I can’t read your mind.) However, as much as it felt “right” to me, I ended up rejecting it because I couldn’t think of how to label the axes so it makes sense.

      As for your labelling, the “fan/critic” axis can be reasonably defined as measuring whether someone prefers to analyse an anime, or just relax, sit back, and enjoy. However, I am not sure what the “light/serious” axis actually means. You could define it as whether one likes humour in anime or not, but I don’t think that the presence or absence of humour is so important in characterizing how one enjoys anime.

      Another way to look at this problem of defining the axes is asking what the “serious fan” quadrant means. I have absolutely no idea of what kind of anime would a “serious fan” like. On the other hand, the way you describe a “light critic” just sounds like someone in the middle of the one-axis spectrum (and sounds like me).

      By the way, I checked your myanimelist account and found that we had a really high affinity of 54.6%, so I made a friend request. 😀

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      • Yeah, the terminology is kind of problematic, because I couldn’t really find a good way to encapsulate the opposing poles in one-word descriptions. For fan/critic, I was thinking of it as you said – basically whether someone prefers to watch anime with their brain turned on or turned off, for lack of a better phrase.

        For light/serious, I had to think a little more about what I actually wanted to say with that, and I think we need to discard those terms entirely. A better way to describe what I was getting at I think would be “technical” (instead of “serious”) and “emotional” (instead of “light”). A technical watcher’s primary point of engagement with anime is the audiovisual presentation of it: the animation, artwork, soundtrack, character designs, and so on. An emotional watcher’s primary point of engagement with anime is their attachment to the story and characters. They get caught up in the feels, self-identify with characters, openly root for certain characters in battles or in romantic triangles, and so on. Please note that I’m NOT saying someone who enjoys the craftsmanship of a series can’t also get emotionally engaged with it or vice-versa. The key factor is in which of those two tends to be more important to them in how they choose a show to watch, how they react to it as they watch it, and how they judge it when its over.

        That would give us a matrix of:
        Technical/fan – likes to watch shows that don’t require much thinking, prioritizes artistic craftsmanship over emotional engagement.
        Emotional/fan – likes to watch shows that don’t require much thinking, prioritizes emotional engagement over artistic craftsmanship.
        Emotional/critic – likes to watch shows that encourage thinking, prioritizes emotional engagement over artistic craftsmanship.
        Technical/critic – likes to watch shows that encourage thinking, prioritizes artistic craftsmanship over emotional engagement.

        I think that works a lot better for what I had in mind.

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        • And before someone asks how I came up with that technical/emotional dichotomy, what I was initially thinking about in terms of light/serious was something like intensity of engagement – with people who get really emotionally attached to the anime they watch vs. people who prefer to watch from an emotional distance and don’t let themselves get too caught up in it. But that’s not quite the right split, because nobody watches anime who isn’t attached to it in some fashion – it’s too niche of a hobby for people to get into it otherwise. And thinking back over many conversations I’ve had, the spectrum of people who value technical merits vs. emotional merits made sense, not just in a “thinker vs. feeler personality” kind of way (though that probably partly feeds into people’s preferences), but also in remembering when I’d talk to people who don’t like a lot of the emotionally-oriented shows that I enjoy, like Key Visual Arts dramas and iyashikei slice of life stuff (shows they often label “boring” or “emotionally manipulative”), when I ask them what kind of shows they do like or what they’re looking for, they most often point to things like Space Dandy or Kill la Kill or Madoka or Miyazaki movies that have really strong technical merits and distinct visual styles. I remember one person saying something to the effect of (paraphrasing), “fans waste far too much time talking about writers and writing, when anime is really all about the animation,” which pretty much sums up the extreme end of that side of the spectrum. Whereas I and other people I know who orient more towards the story and characters side, while we do appreciate getting good animation, we generally seem to be less fussed if the visuals aren’t anything special, as long as they’re good enough to tell the story properly. That’s the difference in perspectives that I was looking at in proposing that as the second spectrum.

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            • You’ve got the idea. I think “presentation” might be a better word to describe it than “execution,” though. To me, at least, a show with good execution is one where everything is done well, both the production values and the story and characters. Hyouka’s execution is good. Rolling Girls’ execution is not good, but its presentation (at least in the early episodes I watched) is nice.

              Also, not to toot my own horn, but I had to chuckle a bit when I saw this comment in a discussion about Sailor Moon Crystal this morning, because it fit perfectly with this model. Quote: “Are there people that still think that SMC is watchable because the animation improved? Where are the ones that avoid watching the series for the writing, like me? Is better to watch the 90s one”

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    • Haha no, I was thinking generally, although I did make a Mayoiga crack just a day or two ago… The anime critical community is just as guilty of this as other groups, as far as I’m concerned.

      In my head, the light critic category you’re talking does exist on that spectrum somewhere between hardcore entertainment and hardcore critic. To be more specific about how the spectrum works, left to right is increasing intensity of “fandom” engagement (e.g. watching more shows), and the entertainment/critic thing is just a modifier on the depth. But I feel like casual critic doesn’t really exist, the kind of criticism you’re talking about that you do is prefigured by a deeper engagement. Hopefully that makes sense.

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  3. Great piece! We all have our preferences and preferential way of watching, but we definitely benefit from trying it from different ways of watching. Just as there are different ways of reading, anime consumption becomes more enriching when we consume it in different ways. Applying a critical lens is something that can be done across all types of anime–I find it especially rewarding to find something meaningful in mainstream anime typically dismissed as “junk-food” entertainment.

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    • That last idea you mention is something of a passion for me, as you may have noticed around here.

      And yeah, trying out different ways of watching can be super rewarding! It’s something I’m always trying to work on and I’ve found it incredibly fun & it’s opened my eyes to shows I wouldn’t have liked before.

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  4. I think you can shift back and forth between these communities. Most of the time I enjoy reading critical opinions from writers such as yourself and others, and perhaps I’ll comment on a wordpress post. But other times I just want to turn my analytical brain off and fanboy a bit about cool visuals or amazing music or OMG THAT BADASS FIGHT SCENE!–in which case I’ll post on r/anime. It’s nice that a this spectrum exists, and (an English-speaking) fan can flit back and forth depending on what they feel like at the moment.
    And since the r/anime will always be here, it’s important that we keep the critical/personal blogs alive!

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