Tag Archives: Nostalgia

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.

Evangelion and the Power of Fandom

29 Apr

By: Stephanie Weirich

Evangelion.3.0.Theatrical.Booklet.600.1344630

Right about……now the Otaku internet is being flooded with thoughts on and opinions about Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Some will be little more than breathless praise while others will surely be vitriolic rants about plot holes and ruined endings and some will even manage to be objective and thoughtful. In light of the zeitgeist, there’s something else I’d like to talk about, something a tad more personal, more feeling based. A feeling I got as soon as the familiar and colorful flash of Asuka’s fighting in outer space overwhelmed my screen. A feeling of intense and wistful pleasure otherwise known as nostalgia and regardless of how good or bad the film was (which it was an uneven mixture of both in my mind) that feeling was not displaced or even dampened. And that’s something worth talking about.

First, allow me to clarify a thing or two. I fully believe the Evangelion series—including the Rebuild series of films—to be a masterpiece of the anime medium. Are there better shows out there, both from the same time period and from our present time? Most assuredly. However, do those shows provide the same experience that Evangelion does? I would argue not, because Evangelion is a singular series that offers to people a singular and powerful experience. This is made even more remarkable by the fact that it has this enduring power for both the Japanese and the Westerners that have been exposed to it.

When Evangelion was first aired in 1995-1996, it managed to do something that few other anime series managed to do in Japan and that was compel people who had very little interest in the medium to become obsessed with it. These characters, particularly the central figure of Shinji Ikari, connected with the Japanese and the national psyche in a way that still has resounding impact to this day. It is the sole reason the Rebuild series of films exists now. People loved these characters, they loved their struggles, they felt protective of them when things went wrong, they discussed at length what pushed them to keep fighting, the picked apart their psyches and damaged hearts. They felt empathy for these fictional characters. And ten years on, when they decided to make the Rebuild series of films, those feelings still held true for all of those people who grew up with the show, for the people who now shared it with their children, for the people who revisited it regularly, for the people who reserved a soft spot in their hearts for it permanently.

neon-genesis-evangelion

Strangely and beautifully enough the show had the same impact on Western fandom. It is a very rare thing for the anime series that we hold dear to have the same lasting power in Japan. While many older fans view titles such as Cowboy Bebop, Trigun or Outlaw Star as enduring classics, they haven’t had quite the same impact on Japanese audiences. Those titles, I believe, resonate more with Western audiences because there is something distinctly Western about them. There are very intentional foreign influences on them that make them seem much less Japanese and far more relatable and resonant with Western audiences.

This makes the enduring power of Evangelion in both Japan and the West that much more powerful and strange. It’s a distinctly Japanese show with very distinct Japanese themes and messages that managed to hit us at our cores and affect us—Japanese and Westerner—in the same way.

The question then becomes why? Why is Evangelion the show that has had that impact?

I think that for the Japanese, that’s a very simple answer that has everything to do with the central themes and the character’s reactions to them. Shinji is an avatar for the universal experience of male youth in Japan. He is a child who is no longer seen as such. He’s past the age where there’s any coddling or sympathy paid to his plight. He is expected to shoulder fully his encroaching adulthood while given very few adequate tools to do so. He is expected to deny his own will and desires for the sake of a greater good that cares absolutely nothing about him. He is the representative for all Japanese who feel—particularly while young and tentatively maturing into adult Japanese-dom—that they are expected to give up their individuality and gaman suru, or persevere. He is the wide eyed Junior High student who is expected to throw away all childish impulses and stand tall as a true member of Japanese society his very first week out of elementary school. He seeks connections he can’t have, both craving and being terrified of them. He wants to share and hide his emotions. He wants to trust others and run away. Shinji is the very essence of what it means to grow up Japanese.

Also, every parent in Japan has this sweatshirt.

Also, every parent in Japan has this sweatshirt.

Additionally, the Human Instrumentality Project that lies at the heart of NERVs plan is essentially the choice all people within Japan must make—do you retain your individuality as painful as that might be in a society that values the communal over all else, or do you throw it away to maintain the status quo? That is a theme that deeply resonates within Japanese culture regardless of how it’s dressed up in pseudo-philosophy and Judeo Christian symbolism.

For Westerners, I think we also pick up on these themes and empathize with them to a certain extent. But I do believe that there’s something even more powerful for us at play. As I said in the very beginning, that is the pure feeling of nostalgia it invokes.

This is where I’m going to get personal, so bear with me. Evangelion is the first anime series I ever saw. I had an ex-boyfriend that one day brought the boxed set over and made me watch the first 6 episodes in one go. It was a deeply perplexing situation for me. It inspired within me a mixture of emotions that weren’t altogether pleasant. I was angry with the adults in Shinji’s life who forced him to do something he clearly didn’t want to do for very little incentive. I was angry with Shinji for being such a complainer. I wanted to challenge Gendo Ikari to a fistfight. I felt deeply uncomfortable while also being intensely curious about what it would all mean in the end. And I admit, that first time I watched the series as a teenager, I didn’t understand it fully by the time I finished it. But I wanted to. I very much wanted to. More importantly though, I wanted to see more. Evangelion was really the seed that grew into the flower that is my passion for anime and by extension my passion for Japan.

Every time I see him, my hand makes a fist instinctively.

Every time I see him, my hand makes a fist instinctively.

My first year in Japan happened to coincide with the release of Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance. My otaku students were loaded up with Evangelion pencil boards, files, stationary, pen cases, stickers, etc. The Lawson’s down the street from my apartment was selling figurines like gangbusters. There was a constant stream of ads on TV and in print imploring you to see it. It was a free for all of Evangelion fandom again. As such, I decided to watch the series again for the first time since my original viewing.

I sat on my horrible and tiny white couch, chain smoking and drinking the occasional beer, riveted to the screen. It all made so much more sense now. I was much more patient with Shinji’s outbursts, with his tears, than I had been the first time. After all, I was teaching students just like him (well, just like him minus the whole piloting your mother and fighting monsters thing) every day. I was becoming increasingly familiar with their frustrations, with their fears of the future, their discontent. I even had a Rei in nearly every class—a student, male or female, who spoke to no one and had no one speak to them. I had teachers that were like Misato, just trying to understand the current emotional state of their students, caught between a desire to coddle them and slap them for their pathetic lack of personal responsibility. Some students had fathers like Gendo, difficult men who worked more than they saw their children, who didn’t show up for even important events like graduation. Again, my feelings about Evangelion were confusing, complex. I felt that bittersweet elation, the pure and unsustainable high that only a new obsession can inspire while also feeling deeply saddened for these characters—and by extension my students and co-workers. I was invested in this show and the impact it had all over again.

Asuka brings all the boys to the yard.

Asuka brings all the boys to the yard.

I can very clearly remember killing time between classes, desperately trying to cool off after teaching in airless classrooms with no air conditioning, combing the internet and looking for fan theories about what it all meant. I remember hours spent jumping from one Wikipedia article to the next. I can remember lunchtime conversations with my students about who their favorite character was and why (for the boys, it was always Asuka. For girls, it was usually Kaworu). I can remember sitting in my apartment, my downstairs freezing from the air conditioner being set to high, the sounds of summer cicadas humming outside my back window while I devoured episodes all over again. I can remember each nervous cigarette I smoked as the events unfolding become more intense, more disturbing. I can remember each blisteringly hot trip to the Lawson’s or Youme Town (the local mall) to buy new figurines. I can remember the heady joy of it all and how it reminded me, if even for a brief moment, what it was like to first become a fan of anime.

I remembered all of this again while watching Evangelion 3.0. While the events unfolded before me, this wave of memories and wistful, bittersweet nostalgia for those heady days—both the heady days of my initial fandom and the even more heady days of my life in Japan—washed over me. For whatever flaws the film has, the experience was not a wasteful or bad one.

Though it was disturbing.

Though it was disturbing.

To put it simply, Evangelion changed my life in irrevocable ways that I am still discovering. It was the first series to expand my world past the narrow confines of my own American adolescence. It made me deeply consider the struggles of kids who were just like me in a completely different country. It made me feel that we weren’t so different after all. And it was one of the first things that made me want to know more about the country that was raising them. It is one of the things that ultimately led me to live in Japan, to have the experiences with the people I met there in the places I saw and will never forget. And it played an integral part in that experience while I was there. This is why it hits me right in my heart now and floods my senses with memories that will never cease to be singular and special for me.

That is the true power of Evangelion and why it will always be a masterpiece regardless of how the Rebuild series turns out. It brings us all back to a singular and joyful time in our lives in a way very few things are capable of; it brings us back to our burgeoning fandom. It connects our personal adolescent and now adult struggles with those same struggles that a group of people are having on the other side of the world. It opens our eyes and makes our world a larger and better place. It connects us all—Western and Japanese—to ourselves and to each other. And for that it will forever be a worthwhile and singular experience that we should be immensely grateful to have.

So thank you Hideaki Anno. Thank you Evangelion. Thank you for changing my life for the better.

Do you have something different to say about Evangelion? Or is there another series that makes you feel the way I feel about Eva? Let me know in the comments!

Kaworu is dying to hear about what you think.

Kaworu is dying to hear about what you think.