Do you ever just forget that you have a blog? That’s what happened to me…until I checked my blog email the other day and found a surprisingly recent request for my response on a certain question. It was such an interesting prompt that I decided to write a whole post on it. If you’re reading this, Guancho, thank you for summoning me from the dead!
To paraphrase the question (*with permission), I was asked how to come to terms with the knowledge that your favourite anime/manga is a poorly constructed story. One of the underlying questions, perhaps, is “How does one defend the merits of an anime/manga against a negative consensus?“
I’m not here to answer either of those questions exactly. The second one in particular has been discussed extensively in the aniblogging community, and iniksbane’s reflection on liking “trashy shows” such as Akudama Drive is a good read on the topic. The Controversed series that I hosted last November was also an attempt to advocate for healthy dissent in the aniblogging sphere.
But it’s hard to have opinions in this world, not only because of potential backlash when you voice them, but because we live in an age of information in which so many alternative perspectives are readily available. Not only is it hard to find the courage to disagree with critics more established than you, it’s a whole other kind of struggle when you do find yourself agreeing with every word another person has written, and ask yourself what even is the point of writing anything that isn’t new. And to return to the original question, even if you have no reason to publicize your opinions, how do you deal with your ever-evolving (ever-narrowing?) tastes as you analyze and compare more and more shows?
This must be a non-issue for a lot of people, but I’m an indecisive and not particularly opinionated person. Getting asked “What did you think of [book/anime/movie]?” used to be one of my biggest nightmares. What did I think? Did I think?? Surely I did, but to have a readily available opinion on the entirety of any narrative? How do people do it? (Still curious, by the way. Feel free to let me know.)
The fear of getting judged for a lame opinion was at times a part of it, but above that, I always found it difficult to have a definitive and consistent opinion on any piece of fiction as a whole, without prior brainstorming. If it’s an anime, I might have opinions about specific scenes or certain visual details, but to describe what the whole thing means to me? I’m afraid I’d resort to vague adjectives like “cool,” “interesting,” or “pretty poggers” in a conversation, and not feel confident in even that assessment.
I’ve gotten better at it – at zoning in on memorable elements and shaping my opinions on them into a broader reflection – but even as an anime blogger, reviewing shows is not one of my strengths. In fact, there is not a single review-formatted post on this blog – when talking about a series as a whole, I tend to break down its most notable qualities in lists, or opt for more specific thematic/character analysis.
Well, breaking down larger subjects is always a helpful practice, so let’s break down this nebulous topic too. What’s there to do when you: a) disagree with a mainstream view, b) agree with a mainstream view, c) disagree with your past view, or d) don’t know what your view is?
***Disclaimer: Did I make it sound like I’m going to answer those questions? Haha, please. I list them so that you can maybe tell me what the answers are.***
Disagreeing with the Cool Kids
What do you do when you’re unmoved by the masterpiece that is Violet Evergarden? What do you do when all the coolest bloggers think the Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase opening is problematic and annoying, but you have no trouble enjoying it? Was Ghost in the Shell (1995) a dull movie, or did you just “not get it”?
Well duh, everyone is entitled to their own opinion? But don’t pretend you’ve never seen a bad take and said to yourself, “they just didn’t get the show.” What if it’s you who just didn’t get it when your opinion contradicts with everyone else’s thoughtful analyses?
I ask myself that sometimes. This doesn’t tend to be a problem for something I’ve seen recently, because in disagreeing with something I read, it becomes easier to identify and analyze my own opinions. But for anything that I watched longer than 2-3 years ago that has a more complex narrative, I might distrust my past opinions, and if it bugs me enough, put the anime on my rewatch list. More on this later.
Agreeing with the Cool Kids
If you disagree with a mainstream view and are able to find the reasons for how you feel what you feel, there’s an idea for a cool post! But okay, what if you agree wholeheartedly with everything? That’s kind of worse. What if Psycho-Pass is one of your favourite anime and you love its mature cast and exploration of utilitarianism, are attracted to Makishima, and hated Season 2 but enjoyed the movie? No way, me too!
More than half of the papers I’ve translated over the last 2 years remind me of this meme, and I won’t pretend most of my undergraduate literature papers weren’t like this too. I’d read a brilliant paper and go “wow, they right!”, then go on to write long paragraphs where I quote them, followed by a self-important “however…” My essays did well enough, and I did always end up with ideas that I found interesting to consider, but I was often nagged by the feeling that I was disagreeing only out of a need to be original.
Good thing that blogging is flexible. If you have nothing to say, you can simply, you know… not write anything! Or, as I’ve already mentioned earlier, I might get around it by zoning in on more specific aspects of a show or changing up the format of my posts. That “gap” in critical discourse is still elusive though.
Disagreeing with Your Old Self
Not talking about having contradictory opinions here (although that can certainly happen too), but about disagreeing with your past opinions. It’s all a part of growth, right? You watch more shows and read more analyses on them, and your perspectives broaden. Why be bogged down by nostalgia?
Guancho’s question about how to enjoy a favourite manga that you no longer recognize as a well-constructed story was hard to dismiss. Before majoring in English literature, I remember wondering whether studying literature in great depth would ruin my enjoyment for popular fiction forever. And I wasn’t entirely wrong.
I recently picked up books by Danielle Steel and Jojo Moyes out of curiosity, and found that I couldn’t make it past the first chapters. I also don’t tend to enjoy the writing in light novels – though I do challenge anyone who looks down on light novels as a genre, rather hypocritically.
I fully embrace how my tastes have evolved and how it has enabled me to appreciate fiction more deeply, but maybe it’s a bit of a curse too. We’ll see how it goes when I finally rewatch Bleach or something…
No Thoughts, Head Empty
Having zero thoughts is impossible – even if you can’t form concrete thoughts, you’d at least have feelings. The only anime for which I might attach this meme in lieu of an opinion is Garden of Sinners: The Final Chapter, and I’m probably not alone in that one. I mean, even with that, I could say “Kalafina singing beautiful!”
But sometimes you really just don’t know what to think – you might have liked or admired a series as a whole, but still be at loss as to what to say about it. Maybe you can’t form a coherent interpretation on what went on (especially in regards to endings), or aren’t sure you can meaningfully describe the message it was trying to send. That was my first reaction to Penguindrum.
That’s when I’d go looking for people to agree or disagree with, and/or watch something again in hope for a different perspective. It helps, and attempting to write about it helps, but “no thoughts, head empty” still sucks.
Conclusion? I just wanted a subheading here. I like introspective posts and this was interesting to reflect on. I don’t think any of the problems I listed are issues of concern at all – they’re all part of the process of developing your perspective. There’s also a certain beauty to always leaving room for doubt and allowing your perspectives to shift and adapt.
I’m very curious about what goes through everyone’s minds when they analyze anime/films/books though. Do you relate to any of my issues, or am I just indecisive and weird? How do you decide that you think what you think? If you made it this far into this long-ish post, thank you, and do leave a comment if you thought of anything to think.