Spent more time on this than I probably should have, but it’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while.
It’s no secret that today’s anime fandom is very fussy when it comes to instant online discussion and digesting the latest season. This has been the case since even before the days of Haruhi and the like when most anime were fansubbed and if your favorite show wasn’t noticed by a team with too much time on their hands, you were more screwed than if something got on Anime Strike because you couldn’t even pirate it. A big reason Netflix is so controversial is because they withhold anime from fans until everything is out with delayed release dates and such outside Japan, and while you could watch Little Witch Academia on it now, there’s very little talk about the show because its time in the sun has passed and anime fans are (rightly) quick to move on to something else. While I think discussion should never be a factor when it comes to forming an opinion on an anime, I do agree that it’s fun to talk about anime with friends. The most LWA discussion I’ve ever had with a friend is whether the series is as disappointing as I heard though, whereas I’ve conversed at length about the merits of Recovery of an MMO Junkie with a few people.
The thing is though, a lot of people do seem to base a good chunk of their anime on whether or not it has a water cooler effect (an effect similar to the stereotype of when office workers chat about their shared experiences next to the company water cooler). Or to be more specific, they base it on whether they get to experience the water cooler effect. Despite what some people might think, the “water cooler effect” judgment is a little different from liking something because you grew up with it, because that period is incredibly temporary and it’s very hard to get people back for an encore performance, similar to a Let’s Play series that decides to revisit the game after it’s finished. This doesn’t apply to all anime of course. But the thing is, those anime like Steins;Gate or Fullmetal Alchemist are the exceptions to the rule that break the mold and become true long-lasting classics in the fandom’s cognition so that people who are late to the party can continue the discussion train after it reaches its designated spot. And it’s not just their popularity that made them that way. It was the fact that they had elements to them that made them timeless for most people.
Sure ERASED and Re:Zero were really popular whilst airing, but when was the last time anyone spoke about those shows? Or Space Dandy? Or anything from last summer, which I should point out had Gamers and Made in Abyss and only ended a month ago? As Arkada pointed out in his latest video, I see more Sword Art Online than any of those shows, online or otherwise. While I’ve never read an Eromanga-sensei meme in my life, I do know that people are still trotting those out to this very day whilst Re: Creators and Virgin Soul have not entered the fandom’s cognition once since their conclusions. Kakegurui is still my favorite anime of last season, but it hasn’t really entered my mind once since it concluded apart from when I talk about its popularity. And of course, do I need to mention Osomatsu-san? Look at its popularity on Anichart, especially compared to Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond. It’s horrid, especially for one of the best-selling anime in Japan.
Yes, a lot of anime fans still remember those shows exist. If you go to any anime convention, you will see a lot of cosplay and merchandise for at least half of the titles I listed in the last paragraph. They have their memories. A good chunk of them will probably buy the blu-rays when they come out. But for the most part, they don’t have any desire to see those shows again anytime soon. They’d rather trust their memories as the years pass whilst promising that one day, they will actually use those blu-rays for something other than collecting dust when they’re not being distracted by their tenth rewatch of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Now my sample size is small, but from the people I’ve talked to, I’ve yet to see someone watch anything that wasn’t one of the usual suspects. Gurren Lagann. Eureka Seven. Death Note. Cowboy Bebop. Tokyo Ghoul still remains in people’s mind, but mostly through the new manga and live-action movie, whereas I can’t recall one person who’s seen the anime since it aired. Those other four though? Completely different story.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this at this point because what I’m describing seems to be pretty much common sense. There are a lot of good anime out there, but only the truly special stick with us. I mean it’s not like we have all the time in the world to watch anime in general. Doesn’t change the fact those anime were good at the time, right? Well there are three disagreements that come into play here. The first one is that I never accepted “good for its time” as an excuse because the same could be said for Elfen Lied, and I’m not really sure how you can consider an anime good if it can only impress during the moment and not any time after, as it reminds me of old girlfriends and that “Twitch plays Pokemon” fad from way back. The second one is whether or not the fan understands that the difference between “lasting” appeal and “long-lasting” appeal is a lot larger than they think. The third one is questioning how you would go about showing these good anime to someone getting into the medium, especially if no one else seems to want to try it.
Even a popular classic like Cowboy Bebop can be hard to bother watching if no one pushes you to go check it out. With all the instant access to anime provided by so many streaming services and such, people would rather check out what all the Magus Bride hype over seeing what’s considered one of the greatest series ever. I’m not immune to this either. I’ve owned The Wire for years and have yet to watch a single episode on account of keeping up with the current season, most of which I don’t even like and the chances are incredibly low that I wouldn’t enjoy watching Barack Obama’s favorite show over Dies Irae. But here’s the difference between me and most anime fans: I knowingly put the needs of the blog and keeping up with the present over my own personal enjoyment. A lot of the fandom would rather finally experience this Eureka Seven thing that gets so much love.
Add in the fact that there was a time that I once had this “live in the present” mindset so I know full well what I’m talking about, and I really have to wonder when looking at a list of recommendations whether the anime they praise is really something they want to sing to the heavens or if it’s just something they remember liking for reasons they either can no longer recall or are the most generic reasons in existence. I sometimes think that the only reason My Hero Academia continues to be loved so much by the community is because it trots out new season at regular intervals in order to stay in the fandom’s mind. It’s a good show, don’t get me wrong, but how long will the extreme love for it last when it eventually ends? Even the long-lasting classics can’t escape from a decrease in hype. As much as people still enjoy Gurren Lagann and cosplaying as Yoko or Kamina for example, I haven’t seen one shitty GAR meme in years.
Obviously, different people are going to have different standards regarding what they consider to be impactful and worth revisiting outside of the whole fandom discussion circles. For example, some gamers consider great gameplay to be a returning factor whilst others think it’s the story. I personally don’t find romance stories that depend on nothing but chemistry to be memorable, but some people think watching Holo and Lawrence constantly flirt is never tiresome. And I love Satoshi Kon’s directorial style and storytelling like most people, but most fans think that said storytelling is all that’s needed to create a classic whilst I want said storytelling to be attached to some interesting subject matter, which didn’t always happen even before I started finding his stories to be dated.
I think the worst thing I can say about Metroid: Samus Returns is that, now I’ve played it, I will almost certainly never play or think about it again. Not that it was bad; it just went into my brain-space, my brain-space said, “Yep! That’s a Metroid game, all right!” and then kicked it straight out the exhaust pipe. I’ve had a similar revelation of late concerning Zelda: Breath of the Wild: I remember being into it; I remember liking being into it, for there is such a thing as not liking being into something – heroin springs to mind – but I don’t think I spared it a single thought ever since I beat it.
…And while gameplay keeps us occupied on the moment-to-moment level, story is the part of the game you actually remember and stays with you. I suppose it’s a question of what you’d rather have been in high school: the kid no one noticed, or the kid who tried to castrate themselves with a belt sander? – Yahtzee Croshaw
There are the occasional lucky anime that do experience a resurgence as well when a new generation of anime fans come in with a mindset that certain shows were way ahead of their time. K-On and Nichijou have seen an increase in fandom attention in recent times, and Anitwitter is rediscovering Macross, Planetes, and the more acclaimed Gundam series like Turn A and such. But then there’s Fist of the North Star. Kimagure Orange Road. Anything Rumiko Takahashi before Inuyasha. I find it hard to believe that an anime fan hasn’t at least heard of Fist of the North Star given how it defined many of the action cliches that anime uses and continues to be referenced a lot to this very day. It’s even getting a blu-ray release next week or so, and yet I notice it’s not on the hot pre-orders section of Right Stuf, whereas I remember those Ranma OVAs/movies getting on there for a time.
All of this comes down to how the definition of “classic” has become so warped that it’s hard to understand what anime deserves that definition anymore because it’s getting more difficult to determine whether something that was big in a particular season will stay big afterwards. With more and more anime fans categorizing shows by “best of the season”, “best of the year”, “best short”, “best independent”, etc. etc., it feels like these cartoons are judged based on set expectations, and said expectations have some not-so-high ceilings made out of titanium and recency bias. I think said fans do care about long-lasting appeal, but a lot of them are also just comfortable with watching a show once and then leaving it in their memories – which makes sense since life is too short to spend on just Japanese cartoons, and watching what’s current is more convenient in general. But at the same time, it also contributes greatly to anime never getting something as iconic as, say, Ghost in the Shell ever again. What was the last anime to be that iconic anyways? Sword Art Online? Attack on Titan maybe, although I know that the second season didn’t have nearly the amount of attention as the first one. I personally have no idea.
And if it’s not recency bias, it’s nostalgia bias from people who’ve been around forever refuse to move on from the past and delegate their favorites as examples to follow without checking whether it has faults that you don’t want other anime to copy. But that shares a lot of the same principles as recency bias otherwise, so I won’t get into that.
Now let me make it clear that I don’t really care one way or the other if an anime gets recognized or not. When it comes to judging whether you like something, your personal recognition should come first and foremost, and you shouldn’t care too much about all the other outside factors because, hey, it’s anime. It’s not an NRA rally. I do appreciate when the stuff I enjoy gets popular sure, but I can take or leave the attention given to Hero Academia just like how I can give or take my cousins not liking Star Wars because they didn’t grow up on it. And let’s not forget that even something labeled as a classic can have a temporary appeal. A lot of the old masterpieces have elements that are kind of a product of their time (Cowboy Bebop for instance), and if the recent reactions to the new Eureka Seven movie and the latest Kino adaptation are anything to consider (they’re not very positive), going back to the past is generally ill-advised for a reason.
What I do care about – or at least notice – is when anime fans form their opinions based on aspects that don’t have much to do with the anime itself and said aspects can never be recreated again. Especially when said aspects lean heavily on whether the opinion is formed based on water cooler elements aka the main reason why Re: Creators got so much of a free pass during airing. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun experience to talk about that show each week especially in real-life, but that’s not going to affect my overall opinion of the anime itself – especially since I was watching Hero Academia 2 around the same time and it was also a water cooler anime except with a lot more to remember fondly. And I’ll forget about the Re: Creators discussions by next year just like how I’ve already forgotten about all the Gravity Falls theories, and that’s a show I still really enjoy.
It’s fine to live in the moment and it’s fine to never watch an anime again after one watch. And if you truly think ERASED or whatever has long-lasting appeal even after all the hubbub has died down, then there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m probably one of the least qualified people to even push forward such an agenda since half of my favorites are underground shows that I have no attention of changing the status quo on. Just don’t make the same mistakes I made quite often during this blog’s existence when I hastily praised some really shitty anime because of circumstances I’m not going to name or explain because as I said earlier, revisiting the past is ill-advised. Don’t let the online or RL discussions and fandom hype define your opinion. Understand the difference between lasting and long-lasting appeals. And try not to throw the word “classic” or “masterpiece” or even “excellent” so casually either, as there’s a difference between “plenty of fish in the sea” and “they are evergreen because they are masterpieces”.
Because at the end of the day, watching an anime that gets you hyped is like getting a good blowjob. No matter how much you think otherwise during the experience, you really want it to be over with first before you make any important decisions.