In this next guest post, I teamed up with misfortunedogged from over at Things in the Fridge to defend one of our most beloved anime genres: the harem. While it seems to get a lot of flak online from all sides of the community, we felt that it deserved some sort of defense (mainly because we still enjoy them—take that society!). In the same vein as Rebecca’s post on defending shoujo or Froggykun’s posts discussing tastes in anime or ways we can enjoy anime more, we hoped to talk about what it is that we like about harems so we could defend them from a more abstract, artistic perspective. Establish a framework for defending “low” art, what it means to “engage” with a medium—that type of thing.
Anyways, the first part of our discussion is below. Hopefully it turned out well, and feel free to throw in your own two cents on harems or anything else we talked about down in the comments!
Note: MFD = misfortunedogged, JS = joshspeagle
JS: So I’ll kick things off here. One of the things that always bothers me about when people criticize harems – or much of anything, for that matter—is that they tend to judge them based on values that don’t really mesh well with the show. I mean, when a show is going to be about fanservice and appealing to our “baser” nature, why impose all our high-brow literary requirements on them? It ruins the whole experience and shuts off a whole venue of possibly entertaining options.
MFD: That kind of thing has always bothered me when it comes to media—or any type of art, really. I think it’s really tied to one fundamental question: How do we engage art? Or, really, how should we engage art?
JS: I hadn’t thought of it in that light. What’re your thoughts on this then?
MFD: I would think most people tend to engage art carefully. But the thing is, art has a hazy effect on people. Authors John Gardner and William H. Gass have debated about the effects of art on society and vice-versa, and in the end the most genuine conclusion we’ve come to is something like “definite but uncertain.” It’s hard to tell how a story might influence an individual.
JS: Definitely. I actually remember reading an article awhile back where a study showed that (qualitatively) after participants read a book they enjoyed, they tended to actually begin displaying some of the traits of the main character(s) of the book (at least for the first couple hours). I’ve noticed this type of thing for a while myself after I’ve watched a really good show or read a really good book, and the idea that this effect might be more common is pretty interesting. So there’s a lot of power in how exactly we engage with art.
MFD: Exactly. You might watch a series and imitate the main character’s grin. You might take up smoking, or a wardrobe change.
JS: Or a change in hairstyle! I actually tried growing my hair out a couple years back because of this sort of thing. I really liked it (not many others were fans except for fellow otaku), but I soon discovered having one eye covered by hair all the time (or hair that reaches down the length of your face) is not actually all that fun, even if you think it looks hella-cool.
MFD: Haha, right. For me, it’s crossing my arms all of the time. Damned Gainax!
JS: Oh man, don’t even talk about Gainax—I actually lean over tables like Gendo lol.
MFD: Just goes to show the extent to which a story can rub off on you, right? You might even start believing a character or narrator’s ideas about the world. In the end, what an artist seeks to pass on is not necessarily what sticks with the viewer.
JS: I can definitely agree with this. I know that in many cases I tend to look at stories in a different way from how I think they were intended to be viewed by the creator(s) since I find that I enjoy them more that way. Or get more out of them—one of the two. Take some more general media, for example. Frequently we attach very personal emotions, meanings, and values to much of the art we consume. While often it might line up with what the creator(s) intended, many times that intent is not what sticks with you. A passionate song becomes a comedy when coupled with the right scenes. Music becomes special when used to commemorate occasions. Literature can become special because you read yourself into the story in a way completely different from what the author intended.
MFD: Heh. That last instance seems rather specific…
JS: Yea—I was just thinking of the time when I was discussing The Fountainhead with my roommate back at school. I had always treated Roark’s character as a sort of testament to integrity and essentially made many of his traits the defining features of my worldview, completely out of context with the worldview/philosophy that Ayn Rand tried to portray throughout the book. My roommate was completely shocked that I could deliberately misinterpret/ignore such an integral part of the book just because I felt like it, since many of the messages I got out of it would be completely invalidated if I had viewed it the way that Ayn Rand had intended.
MFD: Gotcha. Going off your last point, I’d actually like to ask: Is there a “right” viewpoint for engaging a story?
JS: I’d say no. What makes one viewpoint more “right” than another?
MFD: Technically, one can experience the art “closer” to what the author experienced rather than further away. This is where we get into research, sciences, and philosophy. If we can recognize patterns in the story, compare them to other apparent patterns, understand what is similar and different, where the line between “non-fictitious nature’s having its way” and “fictional liberty” is hazily drawn, we can cast a net that, hopefully, captures some of the author’s intent.
JS: This “hopefully” bothers me a bit. It seems to imply such a thing might not be possible.
MFD: That’s just it, though. What seems to us to be definite space is something of an illusion, if only because we aren’t the author and what we pull up with that net will never be equivalent. Even if we discover those questions the writer asked, the streets walked, the works read, the art will never be quite the same for us that it was for him or her.
JS: I mean, this is even true for the author himself—time separates us from ourselves as much as our identities separate us from others.
MFD: Yes! And the criticism we’ll write is not some exempt, self-enclosed existence, but fresh art of its own. The best we can do is attempt to experience and to articulate art most in step, tentatively, like a carefully-added cadence or pattern, with the writer’s art.
JS: So is the “right” view here that you’re expressing the one closest to the author’s views? That seems to imply a very particular sense of “art”—namely, an anti-personal one. Ultimately, it’s not you who then determines what the highest enjoyment of art is, but the artist. And your quest to see art his way is what you’re using to determine quality. To use an anime example, this is essentially like saying that to fully appreciate Mashiro’s artwork (from Sakurasou) you must attempt to “become” Mashiro.
Actually, this type of logic can be applied to any sort of “objective” (well, subjectively object) viewpoint when critiquing art from a set of standards that you attempt to objectify. This seems to invalidate your own personal experiences here and fundamentally deny who you are. Or are you saying that the journey to get from where you are to where the artist is/was is an integral part of this “right” view?
MFD: That’s where I was aiming, and it isn’t. I really like where this is going, though. Let’s follow this thread.
JS: Ah, my bad! Well, the counter to such a viewpoint is then the completely personal one, where you judge from “completely” subjective criteria and disregard any of the author’s original intent. So sort of like what Stand Alone Complex is getting at. But this then runs into the opposite problem of completely rejecting the artist and denying someone else’s existence. I think a “right” viewpoint is one that straddles these two—appreciating the artist’s viewpoints while simultaneously affirming your personal experience and engagement through your interpretation. Or you could just screw the whole thing and attempt to make the engagement entirely visceral. That works too. Actually, a while back I attempted to divide the anime fandom into four groups (apathetic, personal, discerning, and omnivorous) based on the ways they “interpreted”—in this context, “engaged”—with the medium. I’d say in the context of our debate, the apathetic fan tends to fall into the “screw it” category, the discerning fan into the “anti-personal” category, the personal fan into the, well, “personal” category, with the omnivorous fan into some mixture of the three. Just a random side note.
MFD: No, no, that’s enlightening! There are different levels of intent, of course, like why a symbol or image looks the way it does, or how exactly a character statement links to a theme. I think it was a good idea on your part to elaborate as many of the possibilities as possible, come up with a rudimentary framework. I think a lot of assumptions are made, traditions built, about how art should be engaged and read—societal ones. And there definitely are risks—problems, even—reducing all models down to one or prescribing “best” models. Art doesn’t have to do nearly as much as various people throughout history have demanded it to, nor necessarily emerge from the places they claim. I was trying to say that there might exist a fairest or most genuine way to read, and you’ve just fleshed out the argument for such a negotiation process—quite nicely! Really cool how that aligned.
JS: Haha thanks. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, since I came across the same issue in high school (which has been nagging at me since). My literature teacher put forth an argument in class—written by some English professor, of course—that there was a “correct” way to interpret literature. In hindsight, I think that the better term is—as you put it—“fair”. Namely, the argument was that the correct interpretation was the one which fit the most elements with the least amount of assumptions and extrapolations. The specifics in this case revolved around several Dickinson poems and a couple books, but I think it holds true more generally. Ultimately, this solution is a great middle ground—it’s “objective,” but on explicitly subjective criteria, with enough wiggle room to incorporate your thoughts while still respecting the author’s original intent. It respects both parties, reaffirms both individuals, and can easily be used in discussion. You’re limiting your readings on purpose, of course, but in a positive, constructive way.
MFD: Actually, a good transition into the main issue.
JS: Alright—lay it on me!
MFD: Must we—can we—limit our readings? Say we already find a work to be abhorrent. The road to discovering a less-appalling reading might end up being too difficult. Leaving us…stranded, I guess I’d put it? Probably happens to reviewers all of the time.
JS: In my opinion, sure. You only need follow the reading you feel is “fairest”—and this criteria is whatever you make of it, so you don’t even have to follow your own rules! And you’re right, since this actually was a big issue with much of last season, with all the hubbub surrounding Crime Edge and OreImo S2. Windyturnip, for instance, couldn’t stand Crime Edge while Guardian Enzo, who loved it, couldn’t stand OreImo S2. They both just couldn’t find ways to view the show that made it less, well, terrible! Not that I’m saying either is wrong—both shows weren’t exactly “masterpieces”.
MFD: Masterpieces, eh? Gets me thinking. Assuming fair readings are possible—and, like you, I tend to think they are, since the spectrum of fairness arguments is wide—they’d most likely incorporate some conscious, sifting awareness of the breakdown of the line between “serious” and “unserious” art. Again, a social question, or an “individual within society” question. Has your train of thought been heading this way? Art can break down the “unserious” on its own terms; isn’t that some kind of aping seriousness? It obviously takes some measure of thought and cleverness, right? So, “unserious intent,” if you will, though still comprehensible intent. Some artists have this fantasy of standing at attention in some cosmic war, at the edge of the universe, suppressing existential collapse, breaking the line and holding it desperately; these are the “serious” artists in which some have argued we should leave the fate of our societies. They work hard to be the precise cutting edge, and all that. Much of the fantasy comes down to an elevation of highly mimetic art, that sort where you observe characters like Billy-Sarah Joycestu doing X, and you imitate their lives, avoid their mistakes.
JS: There seems to be a lot of Gainax influence in that last paragraph…
MFD: Ohhh, yeah. That –buster and Lagann fixation can be hard to break.
JS: I hear ya. Anyways—you were saying?
MFD: Right. Putting it straight, unserious work may not seem to be that work. To be honest, it makes total sense to decry such fictional worlds as societies not hoped for. But like I said earlier, we can’t boil down all models or visions of art to one, not even one involving the improvement and protection of societies. And it isn’t as if ostensibly unserious work can’t have anything…well, serious to say, for a moment. In the end, we do need to come down on what we at least think the assumptions of the work are; if we haven’t grasped its mimetic frame, we may give it too little leeway, or too much.
JS: Sure, I can buy that.
MFD: An example: I remember Froggy-kun’s referring to most 2-D works as literary failures. He even bolded the declaration, which seems a little…extreme—but you know he’s right, according to basic definition. What do you think he really means? They definitely are confused, in that they don’t calculate too well for strong counteracting feelings like disgust or boredom, delicately organize effects in some “enlightening” or “clarifying” way.
JS: I think it’s just that they most often tell really shitty stories. The themes are muddled, the plots generally have holes all over them, and if they were picked at for being clever or having literary merit they’d definitely not be high up on the list. As you said, they’re arranged in order to get effects, most of which are “base,” distinctly visual/meme-based, and probably anti-mimetic if you’re judging it on reproducing reality or even verisimilitude (since it tends to swing escapist), which tends not to really fit into a “literary” framework too well.
MFD: Huh. Wow. All the more reason for us to try to grasp mimetic frameworks.
JS: So how do you suppose we try to get a handle on this?
MFD: Let’s…start with what we know. Okay. All stories are fake, comprising pieces stitched together into some conceptual “whole,” right? The marionette strings can be either more or less visible. Our experiences of those stitched-together pieces are variable, which means that our grasp of a fictional world—as opposed to the real world, full of history, data, and facts—is more contingent than artists and philosophers had previously assumed. Even in the medieval era, romances, ostensibly old legends, featured characters who might talk, assume, and behave like the author’s contemporaries might. Similarly, a cartoon protagonist might behave in some ways more closely aligned with “our” reality rather than “his” or “her” own.
JS: So the boundaries between “fiction” and “reality”, the artist and the artwork, and the object and the viewer are becoming extremely blurred. And we should understand exactly how these stories are “fake” or “constructed” in order to get a better sense of what it is or what it’s trying to do.
MFD: Or the myriad of things the framework’s done to us, mm-hmm. We’ll need to navigate, and we’ll need to start somewhere. Your average 2-D series, as an example, is full of contrivances, psychological weirdness, and face faults that might seem…well, like convention! But it’d be silly to try actually dating what looks like a yandere, or a violent tsundere. For better or worse, we label people like that “off their rockers.” If Aristotle’s framework is useful here as a springboard into our own thoughts, we could agree that all art utilizes some conception or level of mimesis, but then add that not all art is as committed to being highly mimetic, or depicts said commitment in the same way. We’d also admit that people these days don’t so much mind the blurring you’ve mentioned. More confusingly, our feelings of “truthiness” depend on pattern, how often something happens, whether and in what way “our world” stuff is juxtaposed with “wacky world” stuff. Something can grip us in the very depiction, even if it’s way improbable, has nothing to do with our world, or even a traditionally-coherent “world.” Verisimilitude is weird, man.
JS: Verisimilitude—such a great word. I agree with all your points here, and I think we can turn to Gainax for some more perfect example of this, since we haven’t referenced them enough already, right? Look at TTGL, for instance: so much of it is very clearly wacky, but lots of features about the show seem to resonate very strongly with viewers. As if, through it’s strange and wacky over-the-top way, it’s making its way towards some fundamental “truth” or theme that most people empathize with, some part of “our world” contained in that “wacky world”. “My drill is the drill that will pierce the heavens”—such a ridiculous line, but one that still grips me to this day. Alternately, we could look at how exactly the separation of the two is important. Building off your example, most anime fans will admit to having some sort of soft spot to many types of characters (e.g. tsundere), but perfectly realize that in real life it just wouldn’t work. And then in the next sentence can talk about how such a show with said character(s) was deep, moving, and really “spoke to them”. Some might even go so far to say character interactions/plot developments were “realistic” (you also discussed this sort of thing in your Usagi Drop post I think), and have trouble differentiating between whether this is true in the “wacky world” or the real one. So this feeling of “truthiness” really jumps around a lot.
MFD: Awesome. Building on that example, it’s probably worth pointing out that the idea of art’s getting at truth can be really nerve-wracking to begin with.
JS: Quick clarification: you mean some subjective “truth”, or the objective “Truth”?
MFD: Just…“truth.” That truth claims are a hazy thing, and that people seem to ignore this, is my point.
JS: Ah, okay. I was just curious because the same “getting at truth” sentiment is present in spades in physics. People are always conflicted about whether our models (e.g. General Relativity) really tell us something about the nature of reality, or whether they’re ultimately descriptive and always will be. It’s a hard question and tends to invoke a lot of passionate debate on both sides.
MFD: Yikes, I believe you. Things also get really weird, really fast, when you get into questions of moral realism. Art, philosophy, probably even science have such an awkward relationship, although they are remarkable close—perhaps kin. Art and philosophy utilize and shade into each other. A philosophical work seems to be truth, get at what is, but who would deny that it names, renames, ennobles objects and concepts? Soul, spirit, mind, essence, Absolute! Both have a fixation with determining the relationship—if only to let each alone in the end—between appearance and reality. Is art about what “is?” Should it be? Still in the dark there. But a desire for truth is not necessarily what drives it, either, so much as a desire for…organization? Though the organization may at points align with truth. Or…should I say, a vision of organization? Argh! Grrr. Ultimately, what do we mean when we say that “truth” is important, or “That’s not how it is!” when we read a book? And why should anyone care?
JS: So I just remembered this was supposed to be a discussion on defending harems lol. How do we bring these lofty ideas to bear on the genre?
MFD: Oh, man! Hmm. Are you familiar with the work of the Soviet literary critic Viktor Shklovsky?
JS: Not at all—enlighten me!
MFD: He’d be a fun source to work with. See, in the 20s he published a book called Theory of Prose, detailing the concept of “art as device.” He theorized that literature could be broken down into motifs that would take on new shapes, baggage, and meaning depending on where they went, where they’d “been,” how they were ultimately arranged, permutated. Y’know, contexts wherein language is used. The artistic effect would just come down to a destabilizing one on the reader, one where you are jarred into trying to “see,” grapple with what feels like a new or foreign experience, rather than just to label and “recognize.”
JS: So essentially that literature ends up being composed of elements, which gather meaning both internally and externally as they travel around over time. What do you mean by them having a “destabilizing” effect on the reader, though? Do you mean that he’ll be encouraged/prompted to try and get to the “heart” of their meaning and/or the author’s original usage/understanding of them? That he’ll be forever skeptical and questioning of the motifs he’s encountering because he doesn’t know where they’ve been, in contrast to just assuming the most familiar meaning—this “recognizing”—is the correct one?
MFD: Well, the word Shklovsky used for it was ostranenie, a punny concept (ha!), one which kind of doesn’t exist in either language. We’ve tried defamiliarization. Our possibly-closest grasp, though, came about because we resorted to making up our own word: e(n)strangement, the sort-of “making something feel estranged from or unfamiliar to a reader.”
JS: I think I see what you mean here. It’s like how many male harem leads are meant to be very bland to serve as self-insert characters for the viewer so they can feel like they are more actively participating in the story. But this type of character, besides being “fake”, also is a trope—a “motif”—that is reused and recycled in ever-changing iterations and takes on new meaning as it is exposed to other cultures outside of Japan (i.e. most of the visceral Japanese school life connections are lost on the viewer). And so we are estranged from the very thing we are meant to try and become. Sound about right?
MFD: …That’s a really stimulating extension of the point. Thinking about it, I suppose motifs of choice, tendency, backstory, etc. are built up, patterned into a larger “character” motif. You’ll bump into people here and there arguing that “art must be immersive” or whatever, but even then there are loads of ways through which texts steer us away from taking social “rules” or “laws” and aesthetical assumptions in what seems to us “the usual way.” Which, of course, largely translates into our “usual way.”
You’ve nailed two major actors: the creator-author, which was Shklovsky’s angle (since they build the works), and the reader within different contexts—his implicit concern, we might say. Amorphous, changing society informs reader, writer, and “context”—and so, well, why not expand the concept to the 2-D phenomenon? Russian formalism did lend itself well to such interpretative broadening. Your average foreign reader, fair as he or she may be, won’t “get it all,” and neither will the Japanese reader. I could see this being a scary prospect for some, motifs supposedly slipping out of our control and all.
JS: I mean, it’s a scary prospect for me personally. It’s this precise reason (that I now have a framework for!) that I’ve been so interested in understanding Japanese culture—this paranoia over possibly missing some underlying meaning, some evolution, some permutation. I need to understand these motifs—all of them—or else I feel my understanding of the show is biased and incomplete. And that makes me uncomfortable, anxious even. You just fundamentally can’t get all of it, since society, mankind, history, everything—it’s all just too big. Too grand. Way too much to ever take in. It’s exhilirating, don’t get me wrong, all the possibilities and the freedom and the chances to explore and make new connections and all that. But still really frustrating.
MFD: It’s a bummer, sure. Shklovsky doesn’t quite go as far as answering your earlier question about effects on the reader as a person, not in that work, anyway—not in some drawn-out, expository way. He wanted to divorce the sociopolitical from what he thought would have been the “purely” aesthetic, from the more-immediate technique. He wanted to determine what literary effect might be in a very fundamental or concrete sense, and investigate all of the different directions in which it could go. Clutches at transcendent or historical whys, assessments made by the reader must follow. He liked dancing upon what he deemed to be the conceptual line between art and everyday life. The premise being that art is not mere communication, with the goal of an understanding or interpretation “lock-on”—even more obviously not because art seems to be so idiosyncratic, so winding and indirect.
JS: I actually see a lot of similarities in this train of thought with Makoto Shinkai’s work concerning the soft line between art and everyday life. Reaching towards something like the hyperreal, maybe. Anyways, continue.
MFD: Ah, Shinkai. I follow, I think, at least insofar as the artistic “capture” of life never gets you “life itself,” but builds a device that maybe gets you fixating on the nature of everyday life. So, granted, Shklovsky’s approach may seem extreme, and it admittedly brings to mind that old accusation of artists’ being “pie in the sky” good-for-nothings. We put stories together in certain ways for reasons, obviously. But it’s useful here, if only as a mental experiment. We’ve already discussed art’s weirdness in capturing “truth.” We’ve touched upon the realization that art is fake, questionably copyable, and that “criticism arguments” are social arguments. It probably makes sense in most cases even to call them political arguments—I think George Orwell said something to this effect, that all issues are political issues. We want more of something to exist, we want traditions to last, we cast toward a society we hope for. But more or less, Shklovsky wanted to hint that art nonetheless can and does get away from political ends, and to encourage folks not to settle for ceilings so much. And, uh, the Bolsheviks didn’t take to that.
JS: Oh, I can imagine that didn’t sit well there. Still, it’s a pretty intriguing train of thought. It seems to sit quite well with what I think and feel about art.
MFD: Like I said, it’s a fun idea. I do think there’s a lot of room for the suspicion that harem shows aren’t really “inbred.” That such a declaration doesn’t really make sense when you think about it.
JS: Wait just a sec. I’m a little bit confused by the term “inbred”. What do you mean there?
MFD: The ol’ carbon-copy-shows-from-X-genre argument. The extension would be that, with the market so “oversaturated,” we’d have before us a higher concentration of unpleasant representations. By the way, this absurd question just popped into my head from out of nowhere: “What about feminist reverse-harem guro?” I guess, where’s the line between the sexist male-subjecting-female domination and the feminist iteration? What about sociological honesty in acknowledging sexism’s awful role in the whole mess? Can’t databasing viewers do what they like in their readings or fixations?
MFD: I know, I know. Dat database. I think displacement and freshness feed into modern-day text-reading, especially once we start talking about the 2-D database, which already features so many “unserious” works. If there’s a hypothetical context within which I could see Shklovsky’s theory making a heck of a lot of sense, it’s that one. New generations of viewers are constantly using the database, consumers keep coming back for more stories, more pieces, and the harem section is doing things, is reshuffling motifs—enough to keep people occupied, “enstranged,” anyway. The database continues to have potential for a ginormous number of permutations. And the number of series out there has accordingly increased. Yeah, there will be “better” and “worse” ones—as has always been the case. The criticisms never really seem to change; the worries are literally ancient. These days, it’s that otaku watching a lot of this are…I dunno, more “at risk” or something? And uptightness about the risks.
JS: Right. We can see how shows like To Love-Ru take the harem concept to its limit, while others like Date A Live seem to try and poke fun at themselves. And then you end up with deconstructions like the Monogatari series and Oregairu, and maybe even OreImo if you view it the right way. And there are still more traditional harems bouncing around (heh), like Samurai Bride or Photokano. So definitely still a lot of stuff available.
As for the criticisms, they’re the same as in every single medium: people are worried that we aren’t smart enough to distinguish between fantasy and reality. They had the same concerns with the introduction of television. And video games. And even books! I mean, take violent video games. People have been harping forever that violent video games (and even earlier that, violent television) will lead people to imitate those acts and become violent themselves. Yet many studies (at least, as of a couple years ago) show that the only thing that playing violent video games tends to do is increase visuospatial cognition, AKA hand-eye coordination. So it seems like the average gamer knows the difference between fantasy and reality. The same spheal can apply to anime—although there are many crazed fans of these shows (oh god con memories), most of them really can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. People realize SAO isn’t real life, they aren’t Kirito, and that all girls are not like Asuna. Sure there are risks, as there are with every medium, but for the average person something like this shouldn’t really be an issue.
But I seem to have gotten off track from talking about the database. Let’s shift back to that.
MFD: Seriously, no problem. If you can’t gather all of the influences, and you can at best read fairly, and your “issues” readings are social, one starts delving into such studies and numbers. What seems odd or off-putting to certain groups will slip into the most wholesome-seeming of 2-D titles, and decoding the effects is often a Gordian knot. What “matters” more is based on what we think “sticks” more reliably. What “matters” more is what people debate. So…what actually “sticks,” reliably “sticks?” Personally, the constant reshuffling of 2-D motifs (of even animation staff) strikes me as a relief, because it happens at a rapid-fire pace, and the works nonetheless hit us in various ways with the realization that we are assuming creatures—affirming, double-taking, reevaluating ones. And that don’t feel too bad.
It’s a weird phenomenon, the database, because we who utilize it are of course still concerned with things beyond it. Maybe we behave more animalistically here and there, but the vast majority hasn’t yet become full-on animals. So we have to remain honest with ourselves about the situation, and about our benchmarks. The database itself isn’t impermeable, but it does seem partitioned, somehow. Mimetically, very few of its works are the sort civilizations would seek to build societies upon; relatively few are even emulated in the more broad-brush, directly-translatable ways. Which would bring the level down to pieces. But then, not every 21-century mecha show is Evangelion, and you could end up totally off reading into what you think are conceptual links. Even the freakish relationship between Avatar: the Last Airbender and FLCL is a cheat (though nonetheless an awesome example of what we’ve been discussing), because Western TV doesn’t work the same way as a potential database, and the anime-based shows are far from common (they’re…trying). And FLCL is genius. Of course, morally-speaking, a heck of a lot of this stuff is pretty low-resolution to begin with. All I mean by the m-word here is that implications of aesthetic choices were carefully annotated (or not), painstakingly thought through (or not), and are conducive to uplift. “Cutting-edge.” Y’know, enabling us to face collapse and darkness, to maybe survive it (or not).
JS: Right. You can be responsible about not taking things like this too “seriously” while still being intellectually engaged with the material. Reveling in the “stupidity” of it all while still being aware of what it is. You can get past the “it’s good, isn’t that enough?” excuse—when you think through how “low-resolution” this stuff really is, you realize that you can have your cake and eat it too. A work doesn’t need to be particularly well “thought out” per se in order to enjoy it!
MFD: At least, not according to a consumption model emphasizing the “what you can pull off” a bit more than moral complexity worth a damn. There may be better or worse things to be lazy about when you create a work, however we should measure that, and sure, I’d like every work I encounter to have been meticulously thought through. But why all that pressure? Why be expressly “correct” or “political,” when you can let out a deep breath and put your energy into being “fair?” Why try to dictate someone else’s fun, as if we’re making anything more or less than a political statement?
I take that earlier comment back about every work I encounter. Adventure Time is a little too dense for my Western cartoon expectations.
JS: Oh Adventure Time. What a show. Anyways, I couldn’t agree more with what you said earlier. We should get back to this at some point.
MFD: Hey, you know I’m up for it. I mean, you’ve just re-read Otaku; we’ve got to feed that refresher into this stuff we talk about at some point. Crunch some numbers, too, or whatever. Try quantifying some effects rather than just making statements. But yeah. Maybe you can convincingly attack database anime from the standard of personal ostranenie-levels: basically, not being moved enough anymore, though something might come along later on that does. Which would free you to abandon the title, or the stuff. There’s always playing masochist and just being honest in your review, including a thought on how you think your views work. What you do or don’t know, do or don’t care about at the moment. Why shouldn’t you be free to try recapturing some semblance of pleasure in the process?
JS: Well said, and a perfect summary of what we’re trying to get at. Let’s end this here then—I think I can enjoy my pantsu and oppai in peace now! ;D
MFD: Boy, do I hear that. Bye-ni!