Bridging The Gap:Comfort Food & The Art Of Settling For Less

Listening to the most recent ANNCast, and it finally felt time to lay this all out for folks since many of my previous posts have been hovering around this debate since possibly the beginning. And being within the first few weeks of a new year seemed only appropriate considering the changes that are likely ahead for the anime medium. It has been no surprise that feelings on multiple sides of the “state of anime” have been heated to boil for several years since the so-called “moe” boom has come and is nearly gone. The feeling that a trend of shows and projects based upon a growingly insular minority left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. There is definitely a sentiment that the Akiba-kei movement almost single-handendly has killed anime to a great degree. And while I may not agree with this entirely, for me, it is more a feeling of dropping out, a complete withdrawal from risk-taking. The very feeling that drives many to become artists in the first place, which leaves only the panicky bean-counters to fend for themselves, and the remaining creators and workers unable to express, but merely work in assembly-line shifts.

And while this can still very much be felt, even amidst the current crop of shows, the phenomenon of sameness, and the need for familiarity in all aspects of viewed media is by no means a new concept.

Simply put, fans and diminishing returns are massive factors in the types of shows we see released each season. And as much as I love bemoaning the seemingly neverending parade of young female character types shelled out every season to be the next great pillowcase, a part of me has to also shrug it off as a shade, a color of the current attitudes within the media consuming world.

And what seems to be the common theme from not only the anime world, but also from Hollywood (TRON: Legacy, anyone?), the publishing (Twilight?), and even the musical industries. There is a lack of completeness to current media, that is purely fearful of ideas, and ready to co-opt the next best thing. Namely meme-like concepts, half stories filled with stock-types. Think of them as the cultural equivalent to the lead in any basic visual novel, where the lead character (you) are featureless (the lead player character’s face/eyes are often obscured in order to allow the player’s wish to project themselves onto the character, so when the harem/reverse reacts, it is all the more personal.) The rest are given simple attributes that don’t even qualify as character traits, often lacking in actual nuance, reaction, or motivation. The very antithesis of character. It is almost as if we are being prepared for a virtual experience ourselves, taken into an artificial construct, only to be safely coddled, and remain unchallenged since our sensibilities would leave us too fragile to handle any real character arc. It in this inert state of being that entertainment is rendered questionable by those like me, and yet perfectly fine by others.

It is here, in this culture of creature comforts that is closer to where a character begins their journey. It is the equivalent to purchasing having morning toast, only for the cinnamon. This is perhaps the simplest way of breaking it down. As an increasingly meme-drawn culture, it is perhaps becoming harder and harder to consider an entire package, and to merely place value on aesthetic elements, which anime was often a clever melange. The end result of this type of fan-pandering-as-business can be equated with fixing a flat tire with a wad of gum. It is by no means a solution, but it seems to give off a fleeting sense of security. But very often it seems truly, deeply desperate. One can almost visualize an anime director holding a fragile young lady in a seifuku on a bridge, classic movie “hostage situation” style, daring us to watch or the kid gets tossed.
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When it comes to some shows that allow us to see the framework, and do not attempt to go beyond the tropes, it is much less about story, and much more about disparate ideas. Which would be fine aesthetically if the creators took the time to do something new with it. Which is perhaps why I can empathize with fans of shows like K-On! The problems come when the writers and animators offer nothing honest or interesting beyond an checklist seemingly written on a Post-It! note. Then, the projects become closer in tone to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” without ever involving the player. We just sit there and watch. And as one who is bored by watching others playing games…

Which leads us to the particular phenomenon of “comfort food”, which is something of a marker of the times where running time takes a back seat to story, nuance, character, any identifiable totem of media. And perhaps this method of internalization is more a reaction to more than merely dwindling monetary returns. So when peers reacted wildly to the release of a long-awaited, mechanically made sequel or prequel, this sentiment is often fleeting (and more about the event/connectivity factor). This continues on toward the love of superheroes, pretty vampires, and yes, even super robots.

“as long as my requirements are filled, all is well…” – Almost sounds like a diet, doesn’t it?

Which hopefully reminds all that before the era of “moe” came along, anime/manga also had a fair amount of time drowning in mountains of mecha, psyonics, cute girls, maids, and more. It is an industry that has often worked like a junkie of the current flow. But perhaps mass media’s culture of addiction has never functioned at such a distressing fever pitch.

So do I agree with some of the ANNCast’s panelists when one says that the medium must crash in an ultimately massive fiery wreck before rising from the ashes? Perhaps a little adoption of the tsundere on this side of the screen is in order, giving the medium a much-required kick in the pants. But before that could happen, mediums  must often go through a prolonged identity crisis.  A rough process of implosion before it can once again explode. And perhaps this is exactly what the last few years were all about. Anime fans deserve to be reminded of the possibilities, rather than be coddled by it. Some of my favorite works of art are challenging; they invite us, provoke us, spark discussion, allow us to confront difficult daily questions. Art can also be an educator, and not merely a nanny. After all, any good diet requires often painful and uncomfortable sacrifices in order to remain healthy. So what kind of regiment would you consider?

Happy 2011!

5 thoughts on “Bridging The Gap:Comfort Food & The Art Of Settling For Less”

  1. It may be cynical to say it, but the more you reduce your expectations, the less likely you are to be disappointed. That statement is true in any form of media.

    Do I want originality or outstanding shows? Maybe. But they’re rare, and they’ve always been rare. I believe that that Sturgeon’s Law is definitely true — ninety percent of everything is crud. And that’s true whether nearly everything is in English, or whether barely anything is translated or created.

    Twelve years ago, when I was a new fan, it seemed easy to find high quality, groundbreaking series. But during 2010, it seemed much tougher. Maybe it’s because I became jaded, or maybe there were less interesting series. I only watched a couple episodes from relatively recent series. Instead, I spent my time focusing on different forms of media, getting into a variety of comics, games, and visual novels (all both eastern and western).

    So yeah, I’m not sure what I currently want from anime.

  2. When people outside of the anime world first discovered it, they felt everything was new. After many years, nothing is new any more.

    I recall the explosion of Hollywood movies in the 80’s – or rather, the explosion of exportation of them. Every movie seemed new and groundbreaking then.

    What else is new? I’ll take my medicine and as long as I find the show comforting or whatever, what do I care? Ground-breaking? Innovation? I got one word for that – b u d g e t. Indeed, new stuff can often come out from the lack of budget but after a while, they go down with the stream of “been done” shows. Once you see it, you’ve seen pretty much everything.

    The debate never ends. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for Freezing episode 2 to come out.

  3. Ray:

    You forget that lack of budget has been responsible for more innovations than when the money was actually flowing. Consider Hollywood in the 1970s, which has long been considered the last true frontier of cinema. Consider today as a matter of fact, when the technology has become radically cheaper. Can you imagine a film like Paranormal Activity happening in the 1980s? Point is, there is always room for change & challenge. All it takes is for a studio willing to take a chance. The problem is a climate where taking risks is akin to a verboten concept (this is much more accurate to how the 1980s functioned, despite what you might have imagined, all that happened their was SFX).

    Art can spur things forward given the will. And it has been near sixteen years since the last time this happened, and it was at the beginning of Japan’s recession. Long and short, innovation is always within reach. People are just frightened of losing their place in an aggressively changing environment. But this too can be a motivator.

  4. Case in point; new shows such as Hourou Musuko, Fractale, and Level E – shows that embrace a certain old school spirit to ask more contemporary questions. This is closer to the point I’m making. It seems folks are finally taking action, even if it is in small moves. At least something is happening.

    1. Mike and I talked about this season last night and indeed these are innovative shows (haven’t watched Level-E). I’d also add YumeiKui Merry to the list. But my bottomline is I need to see if this turns into a long term trend. I define long term as 3 to 5 years, not 1 year. It takes a lot of convince this cynic.

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