Why I Gave Up My Love Of Anime
In a time long ago, I watched cartoons before school. If I got up early enough, I would catch Voltron and Sailor Moon, which never occupied the prime 7am slot like Transformers, He-Man, and G.I. Joe. Even at elementary school age, something told me that the pre-dawn cartoons were something different. Little did I know about a thing called anime.
My appreciation for Japanese stories emerged slowly. In addition to the early bird cartoons, I remained blissfully unaware that many of my favorite games, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend Of Zelda, and Mega Man all had Japanese origins. Mario was a novel hero, Link was a brave knight, and Mega Man was a cool robot. I didn’t dig any deeper than that.
As I grew up, I began noticing some quirks. Odd sentences. Names I had trouble pronouncing. Characters would bow here and there. The local movie rental store had a single shelf stocked with “Japanimation” cartoons, next to copies of the 1978 Lord Of The Rings and the classic Heavy Metal. All the rest of the cartoon stuff was located across the store in a more kid-friendly location. It made me curious. Why did they separate the cartoons? Aren’t they all the same? One day I cautiously looked at the back covers of Ranma ½, Akira, and Robotech, afraid that I might get in trouble for it. What I saw was not kid-friendly, and that was exciting.
As I grew up, everything I saw made me believe that “Japanimation” was darker and more adult than any cartoon I’d ever seen, and I wanted more. When I was sixteen, The double-drop of Cartoon Network’s anime block and the American release of Final Fantasy VII solidified my love of everything Japanese. I studied the lore of Tenchi Muyo! and started an online roleplaying game based on it. I wrote Final Fantasy fanfiction.
I frequently visited local bookstores and devoured whatever manga they had in stock. I bought Japanese dictionaries, studied how to draw in anime styles, and practiced how to read, write, and pronounce hiragana and katakana. I learned a lot about Shintoism, Buddhism, and the various types of Kami. In the space of a few years, I became obsessed with Japanese culture.
Maybe I was a little too obsessed.
During my twenties, The Anime Revolution was in full swing. Costs for producing DVDs plummeted, so any company with access to a translator and a sound studio could crank out an anime title or three. Publishers took note of manga’s popularity with the elusive 18-30 crowd and churned out any title they could get the rights to. And on top of that, the explosive success of Final Fantasy VII led to a boom of copycats that persist even today. Soon there was way too much to digest between DVDs, books, and video games. I was all for it.
I devoted a significant amount of time studying the differences between Japanese culture and my own. However, the more I studied, the more concerned I became. There was a dark undertone to the cultural differences that I didn’t like. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it then, but now I can look back and say what really bothered me was the reasoning behind the depictions of sexuality and violence– not because anime was guilty of being overtly sexual or grossly violent (and much of it is, which is fine), but because there seemed to be a hollow quality behind it.
Sexuality and violence seemed to be, more often than not, a rebellious outlet for their creators instead of tools that could be used to strengthen the story being told. If you removed some of those tools, the typical anime story would be about the same. That shouldn’t happen. I saw it again and again in nearly every series I followed. Content creators didn’t seem to want to use their tools to make a point of any kind, except that they were using their talents to rebel against their own cultural norms.
I want to say to myself “It’s simply another culture, you shouldn’t judge,” but I have to judge somewhere down that fuzzy line because the storyteller in me looks at anime and is ashamed at how little the whole of it actually says. Good stories reveal something within its audience, and especially great ones can get us to confront it and discuss it, challenging us to be better people. Watching anime didn’t challenge me all. In fact, it assisted in holding back my emotional maturity for a few years.
I want to be clear on this point. I’m not judging Japanese people or their culture. I’m saying that I’ve seen the best anime can give me, and I’ve failed to gain anything positive from it beyond learning about a different culture. I’ve failed to be impressed by anything I’ve seen since my early twenties, unlike, say, Game Of Thrones, Flash, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, or virtually any Marvel movie.
There are a few series that will remain a part of me for a long time, like Final Fantasy, Lunar, and Cowboy Bebop. But for everything else, I’ve reached a point where I must give up my love for anime or forever keep up appearances for friends who are still thrilled by it– and suffering silently to keep up appearances is a cultural norm we don’t need to adopt. I must move on to other things. I must put my emotional and cognitive efforts into something more productive.
So I’m done with anime. I’ve outgrown it. You, my reader, are free to make your own choice, and love what you like.