When I first began this blog I got a welcome and unexpected boost from Brent at Otaku, No Video, who was kind enough to compliment my initial posts and even add me to his blogroll. This was fairly unsolicited on my part and very encouraging, to say the least. As much as I was resolved to try to attract a few readers off the bat, past experiences in blogging had tempered any expectations I held that this would actually happen. So getting an endorsement from a long-established blogger like him was, to say the least, a confirmation that I was at least doing something right, and a motivation to keep on blogging despite lingering doubts about my capacity to add anything of worth to the massive, amorphous anime/music/media-of-the-leisure-class blogosphere.
I think I’m still trying to “find my voice” and feel out the direction I’d like to go with this. But for the last month I’ve really enjoyed having an outlet for my thoughts on all these things, which I was already spending a great deal of time absorbing and ruminating over, mostly in private. Why do I feel the need to express these thoughts in such a public way like this? I’m sure it’s because I feel like (or want to feel like) these thoughts are interesting or important enough to share, and in hopes that they’ll help me connect with others in a certain way that I feel I’ve been missing out on in recent years. In a deeper sense, I’ve also long held a certain feeling that my thought process is generally muddled, and this is one of the best ways I’ve found to sort it all out and try to make sense of it. And who doesn’t like talking about their interests, especially when it’s to an audience who’s most likely to understand and “get it” without passing judgment?
Maybe the deeper question, then, is why do I like these things at all? Why do I watch anime, and what is it that I like about it? To be honest, I don’t know if I’d ever pondered this before, at least not until Brent posed the question on Otaku, No Video last week. I’m still thinking about it today and I’m not sure if I’m going to come around to any simple or definitive answer for it, but I figure it’s still worth asking myself about anyway.
For better or worse, I know I watch anime as a form of escapism. I mean, I suppose I watch a lot of things for that reason, as do most people, but as animation is naturally an extra level removed from reality than “normal” film or video, it taps into something in my imagination that no other form of art or storytelling is capable of. And why escape to fictional worlds that are mere representations of your own culture? I’ve long been fascinated by Japanese culture, and while I realize that the Japan depicted in so much anime isn’t always the most reliable or authentic facsimile of the real thing, it’s still provided me with a valuable look at the mind and culture of its people and lead me to further investigations of the country on my own. And that’s just considering your average dramas or “slice of life” series. For further escapism, anime’s tradition of stories in the realms of science-fiction and historial epics has provided me with some of the most imaginative storytelling I’ve ever experienced.
The first time I can remember watching anime and really getting into it was in 1996, when Ghost in the Shell made its original run in North American theaters. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually see the movie until years later, but caught an episode of Siskel & Ebert where the two critics gave the film a positive, “two thumbs up” review. The clips shown in the review were unlike anything I’d ever seen, the animation gritty and realistic, the backgrounds exquisitely detailed and the poetic mise-en-scène of each shot calculated and composed to comic book panel-like effect. Yes, this was all it took, and while this wasn’t the first time that I’d seen anime, it was probably the first time I’d set eyes on any that went beyond the ambitions of a typical Saturday morning cartoon. I often set our VCR to record these episodes — I think they aired on Saturday evenings, and I’d often save them for mid-week viewing after coming home from school — which allowed me to rewatch these clips countless times. This was the best I could do in the pre-DVD, pre-Internet world I was stuck in, but it was enough to whet my appetite for more. I think I’m still trying to recapture that feeling of visual awe today.
Maybe what I loved most about those clips (and the film, once I was able to rent it some time later) was how the creators used their tools to create a genuinely exciting, unpredictable and immersive world that seemed full of possibilities. It wasn’t just a backdrop to tell the same stories that had been appearing in animated films for decades, but seemed to have all the potentials of an entirely new medium, one that was certainly part of everything that I’d previously known as “animation,” but without the cultural or commercial restrictions that seemed to govern what stories could be told or how they could be shown. While I realize now that it’s steeped in plenty of its own trappings and “laws,” I still feel that anime is one of the most vibrant forms of storytelling today, one that’s constantly redefining and reinventing itself, quickly enough for even casual viewers to observe its evolution even over just a few years’ time. Discovering what’s new out there today and wondering what it all might look like in another two, five, or ten years is surely one of the reasons I keep coming back to it all. It’s hard not to be excited by the possibilities.
Just as there’s no single strain of anime that I’m solely devoted to watching, there’s likely no single reason why I watch anime at all. Ultimately, I think everyone has an ideal vision of the world as they think it realistically could be. They also hold a separate vision of it as it should be, one often fantastic or impossible, and likely to be too deeply personal to share or describe. It’s that second vision in my mind that I occasionally glimpse onscreen when I watch anime. Like dreams, my mind has been extremely receptive to its unique language and logic (or lack of, at times), until I’ve found myself inexplicably drawn into its world, no longer sure how I got in this deep and less sure if I ever really want to leave.
And it’s not like there’s anything better on TV, anyway.