Why It's So Hard to Keep Up With Anime Right Now
Anime is a fun, rewarding hobby. I'm genuinely glad to have been part of it for so long, since the days of Pokémon and Sailor Moon.
But sometimes I find it challenging to keep up with everything. Sometimes I see memes about anime and I don't get what anime they're referencing. Or I get it, but it's an anime I've seen only a few episodes of.
It's not that I'm not watching anime, I'm just not watching all the new anime. I tend to pick shows that have been around long enough to have considerable numbers of fans. I like shows from my early years as an anime fan, and prefer them to new shows. That's a phenomenon known as the Nostalgia Filter. I love to laugh at how cheesy my old favorites are, but those shows are still cherished memories for me. Even knowing that the Nostalgia Filter thing is bogus and unfounded doesn't make you any less powerless against it.
It's not to say I hate all new anime. Nothing is actually further from the truth. I'm more frustrated with myself, and my own inability to keep up with all the trends in anime as they come. It sometimes feels like playing tennis with five balls. It's exhausting, endless, and impossible to keep up. Why does it feel that way? Here are my reasons why I think anime has gotten harder to follow.
It's Harder to Keep Up With ALL TV Now
How many cable channels could I conceivably buy if I had infinity moneys? Thousands. Basic cable is about 50 channels, a better cable package would give me a few hundred. Then with more money I could add streaming services, so the possibilities are endless.
The abundance of channels makes it hard for popular culture to be studied, because TV is no longer as monolithic as it was once. My mother remembers growing up when there were only three channels. Now, there's more than three channels just dedicated to selling you crap 24/7. It makes it kind of hard to be a critic, because the media is so broad, diverse, and scattered. TV and other types of entertainment used to be uniform, and that's why bits from famous movies, when parodied later, were always funny to large audiences.
Today, if a comedian tried to do a bit with some celebrity jokes or impersonations, the difficulty would be in finding celebrities to mock who are well-known by many different types of people. TV is separating into so many different genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-sub-genres. But that means any one show's chance at success is diminished by the increased competition. And everything that applies to American movies and TV applies to anime and Japanese TV as well.
Anime has increased production, and more anime is getting translated and dubbed. That's awesome for Western fans like me, but not awesome when you're trying to figure out how to fit last week's 30 new titles into your busy life.
I Don't Like What's Popular
Maybe this is because I don't have cable. But it's more that my tastes seem to be different from the tastes of the average anime viewer. I like dark horror, twisted sci-fi, and anything that's very cerebral or philosophically interesting, like Death Note. As a fan of Star Trek and other sci-fi, I love that genre. But when does a sci-fi anime get played on Adult Swim? I mean, on Toonami sometimes Tenchi Muyo, G Gundam, other Gundam series, and Evangelion got played in my day. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, as a diesel punk, is probably the most mainstream thing I've liked.
It's not that I just automatically hate anything that's popular. But, there are so many anime shows out there that are great that I think don't get the attention they deserve. But also, I do hate Bleach and Naruto, based solely on an initial impression after a few episodes of watching them.
I feel like I don't need to talk about any of those mega-popular shows because everyone else already is talking about them. I want my blog to be mostly about highlighting shows, like Claymore, that don't get enough love from fans and networks, but are awesome nonetheless.
My belief that most popular anime are overrated has made me skeptical of checking out any new popular shows. I used to get super excited about any new anime, but now, I just worry about it being another Inuyasha. And speaking of Inuyasha...
Popular Shows Run Too Long and Have Too Much Filler
I watched Inuyasha for many years, but after a while, I would have paid a substantial amount of money just to see Inuyasha and Kagome finally admit they have feelings for each other, and for them to just f***ing kill Naraku already. Sailor Moon wasted more villains than Inuyasha did in fewer episodes, and that was a chick's show.
This seems like a problem with the majority of popular shows. It makes getting into your average popular show a bigger time commitment than say, a 1 or 2 season show. These extra episodes are typically useless extensions of the plot, that bore the audience. It's like they know that like an addict, you will keep coming back for more, even if they're injecting you with cheap junk. I know animators and voice actors want job security, but does that have to mean giving us fans a ridiculous amount of useless episodes and story arcs? Just finish a show and move on to the next one.
I'm Too Old for High School Crap
In 2004, I was 14 and had just started high school. At that time I was getting into anime like never before. One anime I watched a lot then was Yu Yu Hakusho. The protagonist is also 14, and he's cute, so of course I developed a crush on him. He was the ultimate bad boy.
But now, I'm not ancient, or even middle-aged, but I feel too old to like a 14 year-old boy. That's not just a problem with a few personal favorites, like Yu Yu Hakusho and Sailor Moon, most anime is about high school or junior high school kids. Nothing wrong with that, especially since Japanese children are treated more like adults, especially at the level of high school. But it's weird, because I no longer relate to everything the character's are going through.
It's like when I watch Daria, and I'm like "yeah, curfews, haha, that used to suck". There are certain aspects of life that can't be shown by having every single plot revolve around teenagers.
Many of my favorite anime are subversions of this overall trend. For example, samurai anime, such as Rurouni Kenshin, have older protagonists. Many science fiction and psychologically complex series, like Monster and Death Note, also feature more mature protagonists.
One thing I like is that the teenagers in anime are complicated, varied, and usually very mature. The teenager aspect of their personality isn't usually a large portion of who they are. I think anime is just done like this because teenagers are pretty, and anime characters must be pretty. High school is also a challenging, dramatic part of anyone's life.
It's also not impossible to find good adult characters in anime. But it aggravates me to an almost table-flipping level when I see yet another ad in an anime magazine that's just 6 smiling kids in some kind of school uniform.
What Can Help
What helps one deal with the above issues?
Mainly, streaming services. These babies will save you a lot of time. I wrote this piece originally several years ago, and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video have developed respectable digital streaming libraries. That eliminated one of my earlier gripes, which was that I don't have cable, and don't like most of what's on cable. TV has gotten better, and more customer-oriented. These days, it's easier than ever to only pay for the shows you want. It's still hard to keep up with everything that's streaming and to deal with all the anime that's exclusive to just one platform or another. But it's definitely become more manageable.
As far as dodging the worst or most cliché anime, TV Tropes is also a handy resource for me. I've gotten better at seeking out anime that avoids all the worst trends and clichés.
Another thing is that I was complaining about the tiresome amount of filler in anime years ago, but now, we have almost the opposite problem with anime, too many little 12-13-episode shows. Bah. That presents a challenge not because each show is that big of a time commitment, but because there are so many, being made so fast, and many of them are low quality.
But, I do prefer this trend to the idea of trying to watch something longer where I have to figure out where to start, and where I'll have wasted a lot more of my precious time on this planet if it turns out I don't like the show.
So things are getting better, but each change comes with new challenges as well as new opportunities.