Your Taste is Bad and So Are You

“Some nights it’s just entertainment, and some other nights it’s real.”
The Hold Steady

“Your favorite anime is SHIT. SHIIIIIIIT.”
– The Internet

“Do you think that, when making an evaluation on a piece of media, you are in part making some statement about those who enjoy that media?”

That was the question that prompted this post, and it really stumped me for a long, long time. The knee-jerk reaction is “no, that’s not true – people all like different things, and they have the right to like whatever they want.” But that’s really just avoiding the question, right? Yes, people have the right to like, say, an incredibly racist fantasy about how Hitler was right. But when I say “agree to disagree” to a fan, aren’t I silently adding “you crazy racist fucker”?

Sort of. Maybe? It’s not that simple.

“It’s not that simple” was my answer at the time. “This deserves a whole essay’s worth of elaboration.” And it’s true! Both of those things are true. Our relationship with media is complex – what we like doesn’t wholly define us, but it also isn’t completely apart from who we are. It says something. It means something. But it doesn’t have to mean that much, and we don’t have to take these criticisms personally. Or maybe we should take them a little personally, and that’s actually kind of important. Maybe we should learn to think a little less of ourselves than we do.

Here’s what I think.

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The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture

“And I / I disowned my / own family
All for love / All for love.”
The Lake – Typhoon

Madoka Rebellion

I’ve been planning on writing about Madoka Rebellion for a long time now, but Rebellion really hasn’t made it easy for me. It’s a strange beast – both reflective of Madoka Magica and totally apart from it, a continuation in some ways, a betrayal in others. Though you can certainly critique it as a film in its own right, it only really unfolds when you put it in context – and when a film’s context is “an emerging sea change in the process of media engagement,” it can be kinda hard to sum up the film as Good or Bad! If you’re looking for a simple takeaway, I believe Rebellion is a beautiful film and a terrible sequel – but why that is, and what its existence actually reflects, will take a little unpacking to explain. To understand Rebellion, you really have to understand Madoka Magica – so let’s begin there, with the series that started it all.

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Shiki and the Setting Sun

I’m kind of tired of vampires, you guys.

At this point, they seem just generally kind of played out. They suck blood, they sometimes turn into bats, they originally meant “fear of feminine sexuality” and now mean “sexy danger.” Sexy danger is pretty cool I guess, but if you keep using vampires to be dangerously sexy, eventually the spark fades. The current wave of trashy vampire romances certainly hasn’t helped, but vampires have always had a ceiling on their resonance as long as they stuck to the old model of what vampires really are.

Fortunately, Shiki thinks vampires are something very different.

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Thoughts on Art Appreciation, Anime Culture, and the State of the Medium


How do you think anime and manga have affected your view of Japan and its culture/people?


It hasn’t really influenced my perspective on Japanese culture, because most anime don’t try to be realistic, the ones that do tend to paint Japan as a nation of people just like any other (with some cultural quirks, obviously), and anime is generally not created to cater to the sensibilities of the “average Japanese person,” if such a thing can described of any person of any nationality (it can’t).

What it has done is give me a pretty solidly negative impression of the relevant, anime-watching market. But again, that’s still not a monolithic group.


Can you you elaborate on your negative impression of the anime market? I’m curious because I always see you give pretty insightful analyses of anime in general.

Management: I promise, I would have rephrased this question to be more neutral if my own response didn’t actually address the choice of words – and I think the tone of my response is kind of critical to keeping these discussions civil, so I’m leaving it as it was originally written


That’s a dangerous question, but you also flattered me, and that’s well established to be my only weakness.

Let me preface this by saying that these are all my opinions, and most of what I’m talking about are things that are frustrating for me specifically as a consumer of media who would like to see more media that appeals to my interests. They are not value judgments on anyone outside of myself, and obviously people like media for different reasons, and that’s totally fine. People find their bliss in all sorts of ways; that’s totally cool. And I’m being reductive here as well, and I admit that, and I understand people are complicated organisms. And in addition to that, I don’t personally live in Japan, so everything I’ll be talking about will be inference based on the media I’ve seen, the ways I’ve seen audiences interact with that media, and the news surrounding fandom that has reached my distant, obviously not-fully-informed ears. One more time: these are all just my opinions, based on what appeals and matters to me. Alrighty.

Well, first there are the issues that could be leveled at the general audience of virtually any medium: the audience places a heavy premium on works that don’t really challenge them, they highly value familiarity and specific, sometimes problematic, sometimes just storytelling-averse tropes, they judge shows based on a variety of surface details as opposed to their underlying quality and nature, they judge all shows within similar frameworks of their own media desires, and will condemn or simply not engage with shows that have goals and ideas outside of their specific avenues of appreciation…

But as I said, that’s pretty much every medium. Anime seems to combine this with a few distinct and in my opinion negative additions: a pervasive acceptance of and even desire for sexist works, a particularly virulent desire for catering to their specific media and cultural preferences (Sakurasou getting attacked for containing a Korean meal, of all things), a predilection for “untroubled worlds” that don’t reflect any aspect of real experience and are generally storytelling and meaning-averse, a strange conflation of their media preferences and actually real-world identity and opinions (which is fine in moderation, but that’s not what I’m referring to here – and when you combine this with that fetishizing of “untroubled worlds” that don’t reflect reality you get things like the Aya Hirano slut-shaming scandal or the general idea of “idol purity” as something to be valued), and a related near-idolizing of various elements of their media (Love Plus vacation experiences, etc). Basically it seems like a portion of the audience’s attitudes and the industry’s need to cater to those attitudes to survive creates some kind of media obsession feedback loop that strikes me as socially limiting and also predisposed to result in awkward, artistically uninteresting media (which brings us back around to this being a problem primarily because I’m mad not enough people like what I like to dictate the majority of what gets produced, not because people don’t have the right to be who they are and like what they like, which they obviously do).


It seems like you’re implying that anime will only continue on a downward spiral due to continuous re-enforcement of what you view as negative tropes (although I say “what you view as,” I’m pretty sure 90% would also regard those same tropes as negative). Think there’s any realistic way the current models can change?


I honestly don’t think the situation is quite as dire as my post possibly implies – in fact, although many shows do seem to reflect the things I bring up, I’d say we’re actually entering/living within a period of relative artistic vitality.

Many people complain of desiring a return to anime’s “good old days” of the late 90s/early 00’s – perhaps there is something to this, but I personally I think this is partly nostalgia infusing old shows with merit they didn’t actually possess, partly a compression of the greatest hits of a ten year period and disregarding of the actual “average show” of that period, and partly a fact that the mainstream entertainment back then just catered to a different audience – the action and adventure shows that came across as more popular then weren’t necessarily “better” than the current trends (less psychologically questionable might be a decent argument, though), they were just different trends that appealed to different people.

It seems to me that, although the anime-culture trends I’ve referred to aren’t really positive ones, there’s actually a greater variety of solid works coming out these days, and certain studios are taking creative risks, whether they end up being rewarded or not. And there’s a whole gallery of talented and creative writers and directors who are being given a great amount of artistic free reign in spite of any ostensible market trends. The market also seems to be growing – charts like this one seem to imply more people are buying anime in Japan in general, which can only be good for the diversity of productions. And though obviously some people could happily watch shows catering towards the market I was describing forever, I think the law of diminishing returns applies here, and most of the audience will move on towards the next big thing soon enough. Regardless, it seems like there’s still room for shows to make at least reasonable profits without bowing to any perceived fandom needs.

Most things in most mediums will not be that artistically profound or interesting, and I don’t think anime’s entering any kind of death spiral in that regard. I just think some mainstream views within anime culture/fandom are pretty problematic in a very specific way, and that appeals to those attitudes tend to be reflected in too many works.