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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.



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:


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.



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!


Aku no Hana: The Breakdown

21 Apr

aku-no-hana flower1stpic

By: Stephanie Weirich

So. Guys. Aku no Hana, yes? Yes.

You’ve either watched this show, or you haven’t, and chances are, if you haven’t but you’re at all active in the otaku community, you’ve heard talk of it. Mostly angry talk. Furious, FUCK EVERYTHING IN LIFE talk. That’s right, this show is the absolute most reviled show of the season.

If you’re a reasonable individual who has managed to escape all rumblings surrounding Aku no Hana, you might be asking yourself why. The why is really quite simple. And it’s because it looks like this:


And this:


Did you just instinctively recoil at the hideousness of these characters? Did you maybe utter a sound that denotes grotesquery? I hope you did. Because I think you’re supposed to.

The basic plot of Aku no Hana is this: a boy named Kasuga who’s living in a dying Japanese town is really, super, incredibly into the works of the French poet Baudelaire. Specifically his definitive work, Les Fleur De Mal, a.k.a Aku no Hana, a.k.a The Flowers of Evil. He spends his days in a high schooler’s typical malaise, hanging out with his strange and not very bright friends while secretly reading The Flowers of Evil. He’s also secretly in love with the class beauty Saeki.


As he reads his book, and allows himself to be taken away by Baudelaire’s meditations on sexual evil, a hairy black flower is shown growing within him. This flower fully bursts into terrifying bloom when he finds himself in his homeroom classroom after hours and he just happens to end up stealing Saeki’s gym clothes. He makes this face while doing it:


Unfortunately for him, he’s caught by a scrappy, angry lass by the name of Nakamura.

aku-no-hana glare6thpic

She actually hates everything. She calls their teacher a shithead in the middle of class. She glares at him like she would gladly turn his face skin into a tortilla and use it to eat the rest of him as tacos. She’s the last person anyone would want to be in debt to. And poor Kasuga has found himself in that terrible position.

But is it really poor Kasuga? Afterall, he did steal the gym clothes of his crush after fondling them in a clearly sexual manner. He has no real remorse about doing it. He only has remorse about being outed and having everyone in his class despise him for being a pervert. He could give Saeki back her clothes, he could apologize, he could take responsibility, but instead, he makes a contract with the angriest girl in the world to avoid being found out. All in all, Kasuga is kind of a piece of shit. The sexual evil of puberty that lies at his very core is in full bloom.
This is why I think you’re supposed to find the animation horrible—disgusting even. Because these kids are terrible. They’re going through puberty, which is also terrible. And they’re doing it within a culture that has some serious issues with sexuality.

Side note here. I realize that Japan can give the impression of being a pervert’s wonderland. And to some extent, that’s true, but not in the way you might think. Much of this is deeply entrenched in the concept of tatemae and honne: your public and private face. These concepts deeply inform much of Japanese cultural and social norms. You have the face and opinion that you present to the public—the façade you are obligated to show—and then you have your true desires. Very often, these are entirely counter to one another. So while your tatemae might be the respectable head of a company, your honne might be to dress as a baby and have a woman feed you with a bottle. But one is never supposed to interfere with the other. Specifically, your honne is never supposed to taint your tatemae. Trying to wholly separate these two is taxing, unbelievably so, and it leads to a LOT of weirdness. This makes the implications of sex and what it means within Japanese culture difficult to pin down. While the country is littered with host and hostess clubs and love hotels and porn vending machines, they have extremely strict censorship laws. You will never see an entire penis in Japanese pornography (incidentally, this is what gave birth to the beast that we all know and love: tentacle porn). The average age that a Japanese teenager experiences their first kiss is 19. They have one of the lowest birth rates in the 1st world. Sex is something that’s always lurking in the background, but rarely confronted. All in all, it’s intensely problematic, particularly for teenagers. I can tell you that that doesn’t stop them from being obsessed with it, just like teenagers from any other country. I cannot tell you how many times I had Junior High students ask me if I liked to play the sex. True story.

What I’m getting at here is that Aku no Hana is saying something important about puberty and the sexual messiness that it inspires and how problematic that can be when you’re a stupid kid who is nothing but a wet pile of hormones and misguided impulses. It’s truly a shame that that wealth of subtext is being overlooked so that otaku can scream about how hideous the art is.

Which, while I’m at it, the art isn’t terrible. At least not the background art. It’s actually stunningly beautiful and completely true to life. I mean, look at it:



It’s fucking gorgeous! The detail knocks the wind out of me and brings back fond memories of living in a town that looked quite similar to this one. That illustrated realism, in combination with the rotoscoped realism lends itself entirely to the oppressive tone of the whole show.

Because yeah, this show—where in admittedly a lot hasn’t happened—is ominous. One could even say creepy. I haven’t read the manga, so I could not tell you why that is or what’s going to become of it all, but I can tell you that this show succeeds at mood and atmosphere.

The director of this show, Hiroshi Nagahama, when approached to adapt the manga into an anime, originally said no. He didn’t see the point in creating an animated version of the manga. He thought it was a creative waste and unnecessary since the manga already existed (this is a guy after my own heart). Eventually, he acquiesced, but only in order to do something experimental that reflected the awfulness of the characters and the situations that they find themselves in. Hence the rotoscoping technique. The manga creator, Shūzō Oshimi, was totally into this shit. Bless his heart.

This creative experiment is part of why I love this show so much, only 2 episodes in. The larger part of it is because it harkens back to the spirit of what brought me to anime in the first place: the sense that I had never seen anything like this before. Anime was an art form that filled me with a delight that only truly new things bring. The style, the stories, the distinct difference of it all was something I couldn’t tear myself from. Aku no Hana has that same feeling. It’s a sign of a potential sea change.

So to the haters, I want to ask, why you so mad bro? If you want to watch traditional anime that plays it safe and delivers characters with hair that defy all laws of gravity and color theory who stare at you with huge dewy eyes, well there are huge amounts of that out there. You could literally watch any other show airing this season and get that fix. And Aku no Hana doesn’t give a fuck about what you want from it, because it’s going to be what it is, which is something completely new.

Which also plays into my biggest issue with the complaints about this series: the Western entitlement of it all. Here’s the thing you always need to remember—the Japanese do not care about you. They do not care about selling their products to you, particularly as it pertains to their entertainment. They create art for themselves, period. And for them, this is a medium that’s been around for generations and Aku no Hana is something that’s genuinely revolutionary within the context of anime. They have every right to want to push anime, as a medium, forward leaps and bounds by creating a show like this. And they don’t care whether you like it or not. It would be like the Japanese complaining about Ulysses because it’s not like light novels or any other book out there. It’s all about context guys.

And I for one, am going to ride this through to the end.

Which, speaking of ends, that ending theme guys. HOLY SHIT. I can’t even. I’mma find it and post it. That’s a threat.

If you disagree, agree, or feel something in between those feelings, let me know in my inbox!