I’m certain most of you were finishing that sentence for yourself and I’m absolutely certain that for every reader the answer is going to end up being a little bit different (even if the same word comes to mind). Why? Because even at the individual level, I watch anime for a wide variety of reasons and each anime that I enjoy is enjoyed or appreciated for a slightly different reason. I don’t want every show to feel the same or to look the same and I’m not looking for the same feeling as I move from one show to another.
Earlier this year I wrote a fairly positive review of Chain Chronicle: The Light of Haecceitas. If I were to compare that particular show on a more objective level to something like March Comes in Like a Lion or, more sensibly given technically they are at least both fantasy based, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, it becomes quite clear Chain Chronicle isn’t that good of an anime. Visually it is quite rough, the narrative has some issues, and most of the cast remain largely undeveloped. Yet, my review emphasises that despite these flaws the show was really fun to watch if you were a fantasy fan. It was entertaining, it hit the right tropes for the genre, and managed to do it without feeling too derivative in the process. I appreciated seeing an unapologetic, non-parody/comedy fantasy world for a change.
Whereas, the word fun isn’t one I apply very often to March Comes in Like a Lion. I don’t sit down to watch the next episode of that assuming I’m going to have fun and I’m not even looking for ‘fun’. What I’m looking for is emotional resonance and occasionally a cathartic experience. I know that by the end of most episodes I’m going to be a little shattered and have to take a moment to pause and reflect. The smiles I get in the episodes are ones of seeing characters overcome tough situations or find ways to grow despite the hurdles before them. What I also know I’ll get going into an episode is a visual feast for the eyes and beautifully executed visualizations of emotions and inner turmoil. So despite the absence of a ‘fun’ label on this anime, there’s still much to appreciate that appeals to me as a viewer.
Then, for some reason, there was Days in 2016. An anime about a weedy looking kid with few friends who decided to try out for a soccer team after being invited to play futsal once by a classmate. I hadn’t watched pretty much any sports anime at that point and time and had no real reason to think I was going to like Days. Then I found the optimism of the main character charming and even though the animation quality was questionable (okay, it was mostly bad), the story pretty standard for a sports story really, and a lot of the cast overlooked until it was their turn for an episode, I really enjoyed watching Tsukamoto each week. It was emotionally uplifting and I didn’t have to think too hard about it so it was just a relaxing way to kill twenty minutes each week with enough of a draw to make me look forward to the next episode.
But sometimes, that isn’t what I want. I really loved ACCA earlier this year (and the first half of KADO) for the simple reason that I didn’t feel like I was being spoonfed a plot I’d seen a million times before. Both seemed to take a slightly different approach to what might have been a fairly generic set-up and both kind of liked keeping the audience in the dark but not in the maddeningly frustrating way that Dies Irae has managed just to baffle with its narrative choices. Basically, they were kind of clever in giving enough information that you could sense they knew where they were going and that eventually an answer would be revealed, but didn’t tip their hands too early. These were both pretty delightful to follow along with and speculate with others as to where the story would end up. They were also the kind of shows that were better to watch when you could discuss them week to week as the guessing was kind of half the fun.
Overall, there isn’t a single reason why I might like a show or not. Sometimes it is the art and animation that will draw me to a show where normally that isn’t an aspect I pay a lot of attention to other than ‘this is pretty’ or ‘wow, that’s ugly’. Sometimes it will be the theme song that grabs my interest and makes me like a show more than I might otherwise. Sometimes its the characters or the narrative or the themes or it could be mostly anything. I watch shows to be amused, bemused, informed, inspired, shaken, exhilarated, stunned, and pretty much any emotion you can imagine I’m seeking at some point from a show.
Quite clearly, no single show is going to hit every one of those buttons and nor would I want it to. That would just be a mess. I prefer that when I tune into show A that I know I’ll mostly get such and such a feeling whereas when I go to show B I’ll find something else. I try to sort my watching around that and avoid watching too many shows in the same style close together. I’ve also learned not to watch anything for at least half a day after an episode of March Comes in Like a Lion because that just doesn’t end well.
So what is anime to me?
Anime is art. It is literature. It is music. It is emotion. It is drama. It is horror. It is a talking point. It is something that can lift me up and can tear me down and sometimes do both in the space of a single episode. It is a reflection of life. It is a doorway to world’s I couldn’t even begin to imagine and characters I can’t conceive. Basically, I love anime and I appreciate even the shows I would declare terrible because while they continue make anime, I know that something will come out that will leave an impression on me one way or the other.
What is anime to you?
Thanks for reading.
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