So. I’m watching Nanoha StrikerS and two of my chief minions, Serge and Sean, keep telling me how much the fandom hates it. Apparently it is not epic enough, or loli enough or Yuri enough or something else enough. Or too much of all of the above. Or something else.
One of the most laughable complaints was that it wasn’t as incredible as the first season. Apparently the folks who agreed with that had forgotten (or perhaps were unaware) that the first season was a blantant ripoff of Card Captor Sakura. Nanoha was conceived of quite specifically as a “magical girl” series for guys, as opposed to the audience of girls towards which CCS was targeted. With the usual retrofitting that goes on in fans’ heads that the first thing, the last thing, the anything-other-than-what-I-am-watching-now, was SO MUCH better, fandom hated StrikerS. (Go ahead, ask any fan what their favorite con was, and I guarantee that most of them will tell you that it was the first con their were at, without realizing it. “This con was so much better then” they will say without irony, not recognizing that it is they who have raised their expectations, wanting every year to somehow be as amazing as that first time, when they were new and it was all exciting.)
I don’t read forums. I don’t care about fandom. I enjoyed the hell out of StrikerS and hope it comes to DVD soon, so I can marathon it on a big screen with extra speakers. ^_^
The new You’re Under Arrest Full Throttle premiered, and once again, forum fandom panned it, I was informed. Not Yuri enough (No, really? That’s because it isn’t a Yuri series, duh!) Not something something enough. Or too much. I thought it was *exactly* what one would expect from YUA. Ridiculous chases, strong bond between Miyuki and Natsumi, absurd plot holes and “you can do it” ending. Call me crazy, but it looked just like You’re Under Arrest to me.
And then I read Zyl’s post on YUAFT. And suddenly, it all made sense.
Before I go into my moment of satori, I want to tell you a true story. I have a friend who was a big anime fan. But slowly, his involvement in anime fandom wore him down. He as a very sensitive, smart guy and a deep thinker and the constant barrage of stupidity in forums and lists ate at him. And then anime itself betrayed him by being insipid and tedious. He kept looking for an anime that made him think and wasn’t for the lowest common denominator. After a few that had potential turned out to be crap, he gave it up entirely.
Here’s the moral of the story: He had ridiculous expectations. Of *course* he was going to be disappointed, because anime is entertainment for masses of fans, not high art. Sure, once in a while a show that is significantly better than the rest will appear – and usually the masses will hate it, or not understand it, or just go “buh?” “Lowest Common Denominator” means something – it’s not just a phrase.
So here is my moment of satori. When Zyl quoted Galadriel’s monologue at the beginning of his post, I realized why I can enjoy anime when my friend can no longer. And why I LOVED StrikerS when fandom generally hated it. Or why I thought Simoun was brilliant when most of the people who watched it gave up by episode 3 because they didn’t understand it. Or Mai Otome when it was a stupid fanfic of the angst-heavy original.
Because I have no, or low, expectations.
It’s cartoons. It’s comics. This is time-sink entertainment. For *fun*.
I don’t go into any series – especially sequels, which in every media have historically been ass as compared with the original anything – assuming it will be anything at all, much less as good or better than whatever has come before it. And as animation, tropes of the genre, character design and fan expectations change over time, when we’re talking something like YUA, or Bubblegum Crisis, it’s absurd to assume that the new version can even be compared with the original. They are, essentially, two completely different things and should be approached as two completely different things. If it turns out to be on par with the original, well good. If not…oh well. The question one should ask is – is it at least good for what it is?
IF an anime or manga rises above the muck to attain something special, great. But it seems totally silly to *assume* that any particular anime will. (Fans who came to Yuri through Utena are especially prone to this kind of cognitive dysfunction, because that anime was so unique, there’s darn little that will even approach that kind of surrealism. In a sense that was what happened to my friend. he kept looking for the next Utena and when every other anime turned out to be tripe, he felt burned.)
But Utena was an exception – Galaxy Angels is the norm. “Service” serves the socially/sexually/emotionally immature and/or dysfunctional who are – no matter how many times we deny it – still a large portion of the anime audience.
To preseve my enjoyment of anime, I avoid forums generally, and series-specific fandoms at all costs. People get really freaky about things and it does burn one out. But, I also weigh each anime I’m watching on the greater scale of “For what it is – how good is it?” So something like Strawberry Panic for a parody, was very successful and after I got the stick out of my ass, I was even able to enjoy it for what it was. Simoun was a unique look at a complex society, was also very good and I was able to enjoy it because of what it was. Ditto StrikerS (action-adventure magical girl for moe fans/guys) and Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora (recycled crap from Kaishaku strung together by a series of fetishes and a thin plot.)
I’m not saying that you should lower your expectations. I’m just saying that I think that I’m still watching anime with pleasure after more than ten years because 1) I avoid fandom in general, and; 2) I manage *my* expectations. ^_^
And that was my moment of satori.
Before I end today’s ramble, I want to share with you one more thing. In a few months, I will be doing my Top Ten Yuri countdowns, but the best anime of the year won’t be on them, because it is not Yuri in any way at all. So while we’re talking about managing expectations, I just want to say that, the BEST, by far and away, anime of 2007 – and quite possibly the best anime I have *ever* watched in my entire life to date – is Seirei no Moribito. Art, story, characters, music, acting, EVERYTHING, surpasses pretty much ever other anime I have ever seen.
This series epitomizes what anime can be. But once you’ve watched it, don’t spend the next few years looking for the next Seirei, or you’re bound to be disappointed. :-) Enjoy it for what it is (action, adventure, mythological epic fable of an ancient China that never was) and then turn away and watch the next thing with a clear mind and no expectations. And then, you’ll probably enjoy that too. ^_^