Managing Expectations to Maximize Anime Enjoyment

October 17th, 2007

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. ^_^

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19 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t agree with everything,
    or even most of, what you write but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post.

    It is true with life, not just with anime, that people have a tendency to retroactively adjust their memories so that bad experiences seem worse, and good ones better, than they actually did at the time.

    The best example for me is Mai Hime/Otome. I didn’t watch either as they were aired so when I did get round to watching them I was able to marathon one after the other and I basically saw no real difference in quality between them. Both are fun and unpretentious and do what they do reasonably well.

    People seem to remember Mai Hime as some kind of epic psychological drama. It’s really not, and to be honest, I’m far more likely to rewatch Otome.

  2. Hafl says:

    I actually expected quite a lot from StrikerS and I still think it’s the best part of the series. Most likely because I also expected it to be different from the first two seasons.

  3. AnimeJock says:

    *Claps* Excellent commentary. I couldn’t agree more with you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I liked anime a lot more back when I was first introduced with Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s true that a lot of us got high expectations from the first anime that came over here – companies tended to be more choosy about what they would translate. Now, they’ll bring over anything, and the market is perpetuated with a lot of rubbish. I used to love virtually all the anime that was on the market… now I’m more picky.

    Some people still hold to the belief that anything that comes out of Japan is awesome. And a lot of fans of the crap have risen up, people who never formed an expectation of anime based on great “thinking” anime like NGE and Lain, but on stuff like Naruto and DBZ.

    Sadly, I find a lot of titles disappoint these days. However, I still have my favorites, and the popularity of anime has meant that we’re now getting Yuri, so that has to be good.

    I guess we just have to accept that fans are always as varied as the media itself; there’ll always be the fans who drool over anything in the genre, while there are other, more selective fans who look for quality.

  5. neo_hrtgdv says:

    This is very inspiring. Its natural for people to think better of the “good ol’ days” because of the impression it makes on our brain.

    Recently we had on the CoYuHi forum a question about Quality vs Quantity and it yielded some interesting points.

    Sure, we all want quality but we do not see quality as the same thing. And the studios try to please as many people as they can so that’s why we get so much subtext and little real Yuri shown, because it pleases most people.

    What I like about this special post on Okazu is that it is about emotional intelligence, sure I love Utena for being my first Anime love, but I still enjoy KnM, SP. Nanoha StrikerS, Marimite, etc. all the same. Because you can’t live in the past nor the future, if you do that you might not enjoy the present and if you don’t you complain about everything all the time.. because there’s nowhere else you can be but here and now.

    In short. Beautiful post and I hope we can have it soon in Spanish on the CoYuHi.

  6. WHOA! I walk away from my desk for lunch and come back to all those comments! lol

    I do want to respond to this:

    >I liked anime a lot more back when I was first introduced with Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s true that a lot of us got high expectations from the first anime that came over here – companies tended to be more choosy about what they would translate.

    Not at all true. Much of what came over first was hentai and the crappiest crap ever.

    You remember it as being better, because the first one *you* loved was a complex and deep anime. Or so you think – here are PLENTY of folks who hate Eva. (I liked it a lot – especially the original movie that everyone else hated.) lol The point is, that you’re doing the same thing – insisting that the past was better. It wasn’t. Good, god, it so wasn’t. The oldest anime I own was some of the worst, most derivative, junkiest junk ever animated. But that was what was translated, because the audience was LFBs and that was what they could sell.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hells yeah Seirei no Moribito. I am so buying the original novel as soon as it comes out in English (which should be somewhere around next summer, hopefully).

    Expectations and their management is a subject about which I have waxed philosophical myself on more than one occasion, and although I have nothing substantial to add to your ramblings, I’d like to mention that it can also be quite useful to raise your expectations and standards, especially when you just don’t have enough time to watch every series out there. It’s a lot easier to drop a series that’s majorly disappointing than one that’s mildly enjoyable, even when the actual entertainment value of these two is virtually the same.

  8. AnimeJock says:

    I’ll comment again now that I have a little time. I think that the first anime you see will always be something special to you because it’s the series or the movie that drew you into the world of anime. The first series I ever saw was Fushigi Yugi. By no means is it the greatest series ever let alone the greatest magical girl anime available, but it holds a special place for me because I loved the characters so much and it made me want to see more anime’s. It also represents a special time in my life. To me it isn’t just about the anime itself, I think it’s relective of other outside circumstances or maybe I’m being to psychological about it. NGE is also one of my favorite anime’s. What I love about that series is it’s a great conversation piece. My friends and I have gone on for literally hours discussing the series and disecting every aspect and scene of the show and movie.

    I agree with Erica on the comment she made that just because it’s old it doesn’t necessarily mean it was great. There are plenty of series out there that I couldn’t get into. The special cases for me is Kimegure Orange Road, I think that’s one of the best series ever, personally speaking.

    For a while I didn’t watch anime because I didn’t feel like they were making “quality” series and movies. However, like many of us do, I think I was comparing it to the series I held dear. Now, I take the series for what it is and now that I’ve done that, I have new favorites. MariMite and the Mai series especially. Both are fun series for different reasons.

    Yeah, that’s my two cents. Hopefully it came out right :).

  9. Miss Green says:

    A very nice topic here and one that I often end up speaking with one my good friend since we are both very very very picky about movies and pretty much everything really. And I do complain, and often but I still enjoy the universe of mangas and anime simply because I have accepted that I wont have a super incredible series or movie at hand all the time. And I do think it’s a good thing that some people hold to it, maybe that way more people will unite in that and help a bite more good stuff get done. And well quality is in the eyes of the beholder too, just like you said.

    And in my case the first serie that introduced me to this universe is Sailor Moon, which I know is incredibly popular among Yuri fan. Personally, I don’t like the serie much anymore but it does have a special part in my heart because it was my first (and with a lesbian couple at that! Joy! Even if I can’t stand Michiru, she’s too perfect to me). But to me its not good anime and my standards are absolutely not based on it. I think the key is to be open :)

    And that bring me also to why I love your blog. Since you take think for what they are, I normally get a very good picture of the mangas and anime you are talking about, even when you absolutely adore it, you still make a clear statement about what it is that permit people to evaluate if its in their taste or not.

    Also on a totally unrelated topic, just wanted to say thank you so much for doing what you do here and especially for the marimite novel notes! It’s so appreciated, especially since I completely suck at learning new language. By the way, did you know the novels are getting published in Germany? I was so jealous!

    Anyway, I probably bored you to death, just wanted to give my opinion!
    Mlle green

  10. Frea says:

    *grins* glad to see someone else who uses the term “Lowest Common Denominator,” and you’ve made some very enlightening points. I agree that retrofitting (such a good term too!) is inevitable with the way nostalgia works with people. Especially true with the so-called “classics” of anime. Personally, when my rosy Sailor Moon glasses fell, I was shocked to discover that not all anime had recycled animation and neat little intro, problem, and solution plotlines for every episode. But it’s interesting to look back and contemplate why these are considered the classics.

    I don’t think mainstream would be quite as mainstream without the pandering to the LCDs of any industry, really. Optimistically, at least that’s what helps the truly spectacular stand out that much more.

    It’s always good to take a step back and breathe a little before one gets completely consumed and caught up in something that is mainly for entertainment purposes only.
    Thanks for the welcomed reminder.

  11. I began my anime watching with Sailor Moon and let’s face it – that was hardly a paragon of high quality. lol It would be foolish for me to ever defend it as, “No, really, it was so much better than stuff that’s out now.” lol

    Maybe that’s why I’m not so caught up in the obsesseive search for something “as good” as what I remember. I fell in love with the Senshi, not becuase the story was teh awesome, but because they were lovable.

    I’m lucky to have found another group of lovable girls in the cast of Marimite and I’m about 20 books behind, so I’ll have a lot of time to enjoy time with them. :-)

    But if I had begun watching anime seriously because of a “deep” series and not some silly shoujo fluff, I wonder…

    Ah well, let’s chalk it up to “it’s cartoons, don’t get so worked up about it.” :-)

  12. Fuyumi says:

    Guess this means I’m lucky I started off with the DiC Sailor Moon dub and Samurai Pizza Cats =)

  13. Anonymous says:

    You obviously don’t have a clue about what you’re talking about. There was never EVER a hgame of Nanoha anime and the only game that had her in it, you couldn’t H her anyway.
    So I wonder what game you’re referring to if there’s any to refer to to begin with…

  14. Haruchin says:

    Damn straight. On just about everything. :)

    I find myself liking an awful lot of rubbish that I would be (and am, come to that) ashamed to show anyone else, simply because there’s something about it to like. My expectations are almost always set to ‘rock bottom’, so I very rarely end up disappointed. This is a happy state of affairs, but I do feel for those people out there who have rather higher expectations/standards. Going through the amount of stuff out there to find something that suits them must be a tough process.

    Quick shout out to Seirei no Moribito. My favourite too. Absolutely. Balsa is possibly my favourite character in anything ever, and I’m not limiting the choice to anime here. I hope, I really hope, that Production IG does a second series as is suggested by the end of the last episode. I would watch that like a shot.

    To the anonymous last commenter – I believe the H game in question was called “Triangle Hearts”? Got made into an OVA, and then the Nanoha series was spun off that.

  15. Brilliant. Managing expectations is really the best way to enjoy the things you do or watch.

    If watching a new series, or even a sequel series, it’s best to leave nostalgia at the door, and appreciate series on their own merits. My favorite manner for bursting my nostalgia/expectation bubble really is to rewatch some of my all-time favorites, or the original series (if a sequel) then rip into it with some MST3K-style commentary. Really, it’s just a show, just sit back and have fun, I guess!

  16. Rinu says:

    Nowadays I manage to get rid of any expectations due to previous many and many experiences. And it isn’t only related to anime or LA movies, whose constant “quality” basically threw me to the anime world.

    In the end I think my problem is that mediocre stuff can be funny sometimes but it’s tiring after constant watching/reading mediocre products. I mean something can make me laugh for x times but after x+1 times joke starts to be unfunny, how it is said.

    In the end I am aware of my higher need to experience something oooh-like, my tendency to mark over 90% things like “uninteresting piece about nothing” or something like that, sometimes with a variation on “It was so unintentionally bad, I laughed whole time”. I guess I am already famous for my blah attitude, lol.

    But I take it as it is, I don’t feel a need to discredit it or something (I am just badmouthing with right people as usual, lol), I don’t feel offended by its crappiness. And I am aware of the fact that authors don’t own me anything, so do I – in the case it doesn’t meet my OMG reaction, there has to come some support for that rare enjoyment then :D. And the world is just the same world.

    Hm, and now why I even write this? Maybe because I just want to say I am not exactly the one who enjoys much but I am not exactly the Fan too. Anime or manga can offer different things in the contrast with LA movies or books but it still has same defect. Ah, but the defect is something unusual, so better to say – same attribute.

    Maybe because of this I can enjoy some things even more because they are surprisingly good :).

    Sorry for pointless response ^^;. Just brainstorming.

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