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Sailor Moon Crystal, or how Nostalgia will Eat us Alive

6 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

Reach for it you crazy dame.

Reach for it you crazy dame.

Well hey there guys!

I know, I know, it has been a while. A damn long while. And while I could give you a long and poignant description of the many difficult things that befell me and caused that long absence, I’d rather just get down to what I do best, which is talking about anime like a fucking champ.

So let’s do this damn thing!

As I’m sure you’re all aware, this week brought us the arrival of Sailor Moon Crystal, the much rumored about, often disbelieved, much anticipated reboot of the beloved “Sailor Moon” anime. Now, when I say much anticipated in conjunction to Sailor Moon, what I mean is full on hyperventilation, holy fuck I can’t even, I will die right now if I don’t get this thing, please dear god, I need this, etc and so forth level of anticipation from the Sailor Moon fan base. Shit is INTENSE y’all. And rightfully so, I would say, though I’m not personally a huge fan (if we’re talking about a 80’s-90’s Kunihiko Ikuhara joint, I’m a Revolutionary Girl Utena gal myself).

But you know you're always number one in my heart baby.

But you know you’re always number one in my heart baby.

Regardless of my own personal take on Sailor Moon, it is a phenomenon and I will take nothing from that. It is THE seminal magical girl anime, the absolute definitive series. It is responsible for the exponential and frenzied growth of the entire magical girl genre. It’s also one of those shows that hit when anime was making a name for itself on our shores and thus it’s one of those rarefied shows that got many anime fans into anime. I personally know quite a few people who grew up on Sailor Moon and know all of the Sailor’s transformations by heart and will gladly act them out for you (SERIOUSLY, ASK THEM). As such, it is also one of those few series that has had staying power within the collective consciousness of one fan base and it is incredibly beloved, hence all of the frothing at the mouth and the ringing of hands that occurred in the anime blogosphere leading up to the release of Sailor Moon Crystal. And again, I completely understand this. It’s all achingly familiar to me as someone who gets all sweaty palmed, fluttery hearted and crazy eyed just thinking about the next Evangelion film being released eventually.

Even after all of this fuckery

Even after all of this fuckery

So now we’re here, and it’s here and people are watching it and reviewing it. I’ve watched it, though this will not be a strict review. This is more a review of the reviews (INCEPTION). See, the thing that I’m finding is that this show is almost universally being touted as exceptional. Amazing. Magnificent. Excellent. A whole lot of adjectives all amounting to this thing being fucking awesome and totally worth the years of teasing and waiting. It’s a breathless torrent of near reproachable positivity.

But here’s the thing. Sailor Moon Crystal is not actually good. It is a derivative mess with poor pacing, poor dialogue, a truly obnoxious performance by the lead voice actress and a narrative that relies on its audience knowing how this will all go. It is not the worst anime I have seen (because I have seen School Days), but it is not even close to being worthy of the absolutely glowing reviews it’s receiving.

Seriously, fuck you School Days.

Seriously, fuck you School Days.

I know, I know, I’m a real Debbie Fucking Downer who just wants to jump on the hate bandwagon when something comes out that other people love that I don’t. And I’m sure that this one post will attract many people who will say I am exactly that, and so be it. But I am not here to rain on your parade, really. This piece isn’t ultimately about the quality of Sailor Moon Crystal. Ultimately, what I’m talking about is why we can’t have an actual, measured discussion about the actual quality of Sailor Moon Crystal. And the reason we can’t do that is because of nostalgia.

Like I mentioned above, the original Sailor Moon was a juggernaut of fandom, rolling over all in its path. It is a series that has been writ large across the imaginations of an entire generation. There is simply too much passion, too much love for the property, for it to not breed a highly protective form of nostalgia around it and all discussions about it. This is a franchise incredibly near and dear to many people’s hearts, and so they have inflated its value and quality to a near mythic level that is impossible to approach, let alone criticize and we are seeing that now in the reviews for Sailor Moon Crystal that have been cropping up.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it is a feeling that is especially familiar to those of us who came of age in the 90’s. We’re the target audience for all things nostalgia, whether that be Ninja Turtles, Rainbow Bright, Transformers or Sailor Moon, we’re dying to eat up anything that reminds us of our simpler childhoods. It’s most likely a reaction to the swift and remarkable way our world has changed in our very short lifetimes, though that’s just a theory. What can be said is that nostalgia destroys our capacity to be objective. Whether or not that’s good or bad is a personal decision, but it does not make it any less of a salient fact.

How warm are your fuzzies on a scale of 1 to SCALDING

How warm are your fuzzies on a scale of 1 to SCALDING

Because nostalgia inflates the inherent value of something within our mind, it also inflates its importance to us. Our loving of something like Sailor Moon, something that we discovered in the heady and idealized days of our youth, ties it intrinsically to our very selves. Our love for it, our fandom, becomes a deeply important part of our very identity (this is especially true for people who actively participate in Sailor Moon fandom, i.e. cosplayers, fan fic authors, etc). And thus, we cannot handle the idea that something that is so much a part of us could possibly be bad. As a reaction to this very notion, we set about mythologizing this thing that we love, turning it into that hallowed masterpiece that is beyond reproach. And now, if this thing that we love is thought to be less than great by someone else, we don’t just take it as someone not agreeing with our taste, we take it as an insult to our very selves, because this thing is not just something that we love it is very much a part of us and our identity.

In a sense, this is also a way of justifying our very rabid fandom. We’re very afraid of people laughing at what we love, especially us anime fans because people laugh at the things we love all the fucking time. People think the very thing we gravitate towards is childish and not worthy of being taken seriously. This makes us an especially prickly and defensive bunch when it comes to what we love, particularly if we think we’re being attacked by others within our community. And again, I’m not here to attack anyone for loving Sailor Moon.

What I am saying is that we need to recognize our biases. We need to recognize the impact our nostalgia has on the conversations we’re having and the perspectives we’re presenting when we talk about or review anime. We do not need to justify our fandom to anyone. We do not need to justify ourselves and the things that we like to anyone. We just need to be honest with ourselves about the things we like and why we like them. We just need to say “Hey, you know what, this thing might be cheesy, and it might have plot holes, and it might just stroke the part of my brain that remembers being a kid and staying up all night eating Fun Dip and watching anime, but that’s all right”. We need to realize that just because someone doesn’t like what we like doesn’t mean they’re insulting us and our very identities personally. Unless they specifically tell you that’s what they’re doing, at which point they’re a real dickbag and you shouldn’t hang around them. Tell those assholes to kick rocks. But with everyone else, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re merely disagreeing with us and that’s ok. And we need to recognize that it is ok to like things that aren’t great on their own, but are great to us because of how they personally make us feel.

We need to be able to do this because we can’t talk about anime as art before that happens. As long as we’re attacking anyone that disagrees with us we do look childish. We do look like a fandom that is not worthy of being taken seriously. We also look like a fandom with low expectations that doesn’t deserve to have quality series because we don’t expect them to be great on their own. And this is my ultimate point regarding Sailor Moon Crystal. At the moment, because we’re unable to have an honest discussion about the quality of Sailor Moon Crystal that is divorced from our nostalgia, we’re not able to talk about it as a work of art and we’re not able to say that the fans of Sailor Moon deserved better.

Really, you guys deserved so much better. You deserved a show that would reward your intense fandom. A show that didn’t feel like a semi-cynical cash grab. A show that didn’t feel as though the creators thought they could cut corners narratively because you would watch it anyway. You deserved a show that was excellent on its own merits and not just because “it’s a Sailor Moon show!”.

I cannot stress this enough, but anime IS art. It is a culturally and socially relevant art form in its country of origin and it has made its mark on an entire fan community spread out across the globe. It is important. It is something worth talking about and dissecting and analyzing and obsessing over. It deserves to be taken seriously. We should be having conversations about what anime means and how it can be improved. We should be talking about how these shows we love can reach the potential they hint at. We need to be able to discuss this for the overall betterment of the art we consume. But we cannot do that until we move past our more protective instincts and the nostalgia that has created them. It’s time to start looking at the bigger picture. It’s time to start expecting more.

Presented without comment.

Presented without comment.

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Why There is no Anime Golden Age: A Rebuttal

27 Apr

By: Stephanie Weirich

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Can you feel it?  Don't worry, you will.

Can you feel it? Don’t worry, you will.

Last week, the site Topless Robot posted this fairly baffling article. No, no, I’ll wait while you read it.  It’s important that you read it, otherwise my takedown of it is not going to be as beautiful.  But if you’re really against clicking over there I’ll just give you the title and let you taste (maybe) a little bit of the rage: 10 Reasons why 90’s Anime is Superior to Today’s.

Yeah….I mean…Jesus.  After suffering an otaku rage induced nosebleed, my first thought was that the author of this list—one Miss Monique Jones—must be trolling.  She makes so many blanket statements and broad generalizations my jaw may have actually dropped off my face, and that happened before she started to contradict herself.  Also, while it may seem like I’m splitting hairs here she seems to have very little understanding of the fact that anime is not in and of itself a genre and that in fact, there are genres within it (you’re really calling K-On a Shoujo show?  Really?  NO.  JUST NO).  It’s either trolling, or she’s brilliantly fishing for page views.

Shoujo

Shoujo

Not Shoujo

Not Shoujo

But let’s say that this is a serious article and that the author is presenting a serious argument, one that she genuinely believes in.  Based on that consideration, I’m going to take the article seriously and very seriously dismantle the most problematic points she makes; because while it would be oh so easy to outright attack her and her output, that’s not really going to get us anywhere.  I won’t cover all of it, just the most important points.

Cooler Character Designs:

Now, you’re not off to a good start when you begin your argument with a statement that is wholly subjective and based entirely upon personal taste.  This is just as bad as new school fans who assert that they’ll never watch a series from before the early aughts because old anime is “ugly”: both are invalid arguments, but valid opinions.  There is a distinction there that needs to be upheld.  It’s also important to point out that neither are facts.

Next, her major proof of this statement is this gentleman:

Goku_XFC

Compared with this one:

No one said the Brittanians were well fed.

No one said the Brittanians were well fed.

She dislikes Lelouch mostly because he is anatomically incorrect (and lanky as a motherfucker) while Goku has muscles and is therefore more realistic.  This is a rather unfair comparison to make, considering Goku does this:

Sometimes you just have to punch a dude in the dick.

Sometimes you just have to punch a dude in the dick.

While Lelouch does this:

He just came.  Did you?

He just came. Did you?

Their character designs exist as they do for very specific reasons, and one of those main reasons is that they signify a portion of what that character is all about.  It’s a visual cue, and that is not something limited to anime.  It’s part of human nature and can be exemplified by simply living life and paying attention to what people look like and how that makes you conceive of their character.  Of course Goku is built like a brick shithouse—he’s spent pretty much his entire life training in the middle of nowhere and then fighting ALL OF THE DUDES.  Lelouch has spent his life beating rich guys at chess, wallowing in family dramz and laughing maniacally.  He has no physical power, only mental.    Their characters are therefore designed accordingly for better or for worse—your mileage with that character’s appearance may vary, but do not claim that that proves ALL 90’s character designs are inherently better.  Also, if you haven’t watched Code Geass all the way through the end, do not even step to me with that “It’s a rip off of Gundam” shit.  We will go to war in the streets with bottles and chains.  I PROMISE YOU THAT.

WAR

WAR

Plots that Made Sense:

Her entire point here is seemingly exemplified by the batshit insanity that occurred within Inazuma Eleven and its sequal, Inazuma Eleven Go.  Which, I’m not going to disagree that things went off the rails there.  But I’m also not going to make the mistake of comparing a show made for the Japanese children of today with A list young adult to adult titles from the 90’s, such as Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing and Dragonball Z.  Of course Inazuma Eleven is ridiculous, pretty much every show in the history of the world that is made for children is an insanity inducing Technicolor nightmare.  Children have very short attention spans, and often, they need a demon to show up at least once in a while to keep it interesting.  And I can tell you from teaching Japanese children that they love that shit.  This means that regardless of what you thought of it, it succeeded with its target audience: insane children.

So insane, they rip a hole in time itself.

So insane, reality trembles.

Also, let’s not pull any punches here and pretend that 90’s anime wasn’t delightfully batshit to some degree.  It’s an integral component in the whole “Japan is sooooooooooo weird” mentality.  That strangeness—the new cultural archetypes we had never seen, the very different societal cues that were being called upon—is one of the driving forces behind a lot of anime fandom.  Even the shows she references were insane.  I cannot be the only person who remembers this from Sailor Moon:

The gentlest.

Also, let us never forget Ranma ½.  That was some crazy shit all around.  This is my main point here—even if those shows she references follow through with their stated intentions, it doesn’t make them any less insane at points.  Also, one children’s show from the present is not a glaring indictment for the sanctity of plotlines as a whole.

Different Types of Characters:

In this section, the author doesn’t even bother giving examples of characters in recent shows that fit the character stereotypes she rolls out.  Again, she references Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z as reasons why it was all so much better in the 90’s.  Here’s the main problem with the sweeping generalizations presented in this section: character archetypes evolve over time as we as human beings evolve and change according to the needs of our environment and era.  Character types such as Goku didn’t go away; they just changed into characters like Naruto and Luffy.  They evolved as the Japanese evolved.

Can you imagine the fanfiction?

Can you imagine the fanfiction?

Which, to reach towards a larger point, this is a huge problem with viewing any art form as though it is culturally divorced from the place that made it.  You ignore the context that informed it, and thus you lack crucial understanding of what’s occurring and why.  We also use character archetypes and stereotypes as short-hand in order to very quickly tell the viewer a bit about how that character is going to be.  It happens to be less glaring because it’s more easily relatable when it’s coming from media created by your own country and your own familiar stereotypes.  Being unable to grasp or even conceive of how Japanese culture and social norms inform character types points to a lack of sensitivity I cannot even fathom.

Realistic Emotions (Also, More Heart because there are 2 sections covering the same topic):

By this point in the article, I’m starting to believe that the author has very little exposure to the Otaku community, even in a tangential way.  I can tell you that while I do not post on discussion boards, I do most certainly lurk and pay attention to what the community is watching and why.  I like to hear people’s thoughts about the shows that they love and hate.  It gives me an idea of what I would want to watch and what I would want to steer clear of.

An accurate depiction of me and message boards.

An accurate depiction of me and message boards.

Apparently, Miss Jones does not feel the same way, and has thus not asked anybody, or even creeped on a board to find out what was worth watching recently.  To say that current shows don’t match the emotional realism of Cowboy Bebop is laughable.  It’s also unfair to compare Cowboy Bebop to most shows, as it’s a masterpiece and would be such no matter what era it was created in—it has nothing to do with the time period, it has everything to do with the team that worked on it.  But if you’re going to tell me that new (or newer) shows don’t have realistic emotions, then allow me to direct you towards some very specific shows, in no particular order: AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Mawaru Penguindrum, Puella Magi Madoka Magica or even Durarara.  Also, how are you going to mention Cowboy Bebop without saying a single word about Samurai Champloo or Michiko to Hachin?  These shows exist, they’re excellent, and they have ALL of the feels you could want.  If you haven’t seen them, that’s something that can be remedied.  However, it can’t be if you’ve just decided that nothing being created now is even worth your time.

Seriously, this show WRECKED MY SHIT.

Seriously, this show WRECKED MY SHIT.

90’s Anime Shows were Actual Shows:

This is where I officially lose my cool.  The Western entitlement combined with ignorance to the evolution of anime fandom in America in this section is a heady brew, let me tell you.   Which, really, those are the main problems I have with this article as a whole, and I touched briefly on the latter point very early on when I said the tone was very “GET OFF MY LAWN”ish.

My lawn.  Get off it.

My lawn. Get off it.

We need to stop with this “Everything was better in my day, all of this new stuff sucks” mentality.  It’s a condescending and curmudgeonly belief system that hurts the bearer of that mentality more than it will ever hurt the person they’re lobbing it at.  We’ve all met this person, and the thing they’re talking about varies.  I’ve met the people who say “There’s been no good music since Led Zepplin” or the person who says “There hasn’t been a single good book written since Catcher in the Rye.”  These assertions, along with assertions about anime that this article is making don’t make the author look clever or more intelligent; they instead mark the person proclaiming this fact as someone who hasn’t explored their world or fandom enough.  If you can’t look at the huge array of anime that comes out every season and find at least one good to excellent show, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough.  You’ve made the decision to hate on something without doing the legwork to prove yourself wrong, and you’ve made this decision to your own detriment.

It’s also a viewpoint built upon ignoring or turning a blind eye to some simple truths about the forever onward march of modernity.  So you think that characters now all fit a certain archetype or look a certain way, or that plots follow a certain set of rules and shows in the past—shows that you watched when you first became a fan—were different and therefore better?  Well, that’s because in the 90’s, you had only a handful of shows to choose from because in order to see the anime you wanted to see, you had to trade VHS.  You had to special order the shows you wanted to see and some of them had subtitles, some didn’t.  Some were grainy copies of copies.  Many were re-watched until the tape broke because it was all there was.  When licensing companies started up, they began in earnest.  Anime fans were an untested and highly niche fanbase and therefore, companies that would license anime had to be highly selective.  They were only going to get the cream of the crop.  Now, that’s not the case.  We live in an age where you have access to every single show airing in Japan RIGHT NOW.  I can go to the internet and download everything from an A list adult themed anime series to a D level series aimed strictly at children.  The market has been flooded.  And guess what?  It turns out that in Japan, anime is sort of a huge and commercially viable deal.  A metric fuckton of it is made every year, and there are so many different genres and styles that it would take you years to examine all of them.  So now, unlike in the 90’s, you aren’t just being exposed to the masterpieces of the art form such as Cowboy Bebop or Trigun.  You’re being exposed to EVERYTHING.  And there are people who like those bad shows, just like there are people who love Jersey Shore or Dancing with the Stars.  It’s not a matter of any era producing better anything, it’s merely that the level of exposure changes and thus more variety—for better or for worse—is introduced.

Let us never forget that this was a hit show.

Let us never forget that this was a hit show.

I’ve spoken about Western entitlement as it pertains to anime fandom a bit before, but brace yourselves, because I’m about to go DEEP. I understand that as a niche area of fanaticism we feel particularly attached to anime.  We love our bishies and our boy’s love and our straight up shounen action shows.  We are protective of what we love.  We feel that it is somehow ours.  Thus we feel betrayed when that thing that we think belongs to us ends up not being what we wanted.  But you have to remember that it isn’t ours.  It may exist in the world at large and be loved by people all around the world, but it primarily belongs to the Japanese.  This is a form of their entertainment, much like how we have a wide variety of shows to choose from when we flip on the TV.  And while you can criticize anime according to your tastes, you can’t have any expectations of it pleasing you and your desires outright because in the grand scheme of its creation, you don’t matter.  The Japanese don’t care if you’re tired of fanservice.  Or harem shows.  Or mecha anime.  Or loli.  And do you know why?  Because the Japanese fans aren’t tired of it, and they’re willing to pay top dollar for it.

Well somebody did.

Well somebody did.

I touched on this briefly earlier when I mentioned that it’s problematic to view anime as though it’s culturally divorced from the Japanese as a people.  To do that makes any argument, like the one Monique Jones is attempting to make here, smack of cultural insensitivity or flat out orientalism.  It signifies that you want the style and flash of the medium, but you don’t want the sometimes messy connotations or cultural circumstances that created it.  Or, at the very least, it shows that you aren’t interested in learning anything about the context of it all and instead you prefer to ignorantly complain about your needs not being met while caring not at all about the needs of the Japanese in regards to the evolution of their own art.  That, to me, is a wholly unacceptable position to take and is part of why I created this blog.  Cultural and societal context is ALWAYS important.  It is why we have this art form that we love so much.  The least we could all do is respect the people that gave it to us.  Remember that the next time you encounter a trend you dislike within anime—and then go out and learn about why it’s there.  I promise you’ll be all the better for it.

If you disagree with me (or agree) sound off in the comments!