I have an aesthetic appreciation for anime, and I always have since my early teens, but I really don’t like the way other fans of anime act on the internet. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, you like anime, and are following anime-related accounts, chances are you’ll come across a lot of memes clearly made by 14-year old kids about how anime is superior to cartoons because cartoons are supposedly made just for kids, and some memes about how if you don’t like anime then you’re probably just some idiot. Only in the age of social media, folks.
A lot of these memes are based on really shallow arguments that the people behind them clearly have no interest in proving. like how cartoons look like they’re made by children on Flash or CG (which would mean they’ve never watched any of the old episodes of The Simpsons), that they’re only made for children or family audiences (which would mean they’ve never watched anything made by Ralph Bakshi), that they are all censored and naive and if they aren’t made for kids then they are essentially mindlessly crude humor like Family Guy (again, if they watched Ralph Bakshi’s work, along the very first season of The Simpsons, they wouldn’t think so), and that they are all inferior to anime based solely on those generalized claims. They make very generalizing statements about cartoons, and about anime. They seem to judge anime as a medium positively but they only seem particularly invested in the popular contemporary anime shows and mangas , and it feels like not a lot of attention is particularly paid to anything outside of that, especially older animes. Going back to cartoons, it’s worth remembering that all the Western animation most of us are usually exposed to is Disney films, children’s cartoons, The Simpsons, South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy, so I can see where the asumption comes from, but it’s terrible how they generalize all forms of Western animation based on what they’ve been brought up with without looking outside of that.
I ask all those who are are deeply interested in anime as a medium and are invested in critically examining the shows you love: do you really believe that there is not a single anime show, or movie, that isn’t great, let alone outrageously so? And before you answer that, how many anime shows have you seen in your lifetime so far? I admit that I personally have not seen every anime there is, and in fact I haven’t personally watched a lot of anime every anime fan on social media seems to love, so in some ways I haven’t felt the emotional investment many people may have, but the fact I that I maintain an interest in the artistic medium itself is enough for me. To tell the truth, I don’t think all the anime shows that I have seen are all really good. In fact, I’ve seen a few that are actually very flawed (perhaps not totally bad, but flawed), or only OK, and I still really like anime as an aesthetic style that I work with, without ever feeling compelled to make the same blanket judgments about anime and cartoons that social media anime fans would make.
I also have a major problem with the phenomenon of otaku, becasue it feels like its proponents proudly boast anime as their primary obsession above all else: academia, social life, other forms of artistic media, family, even the possibility of a romantic relationship. Somehow that fits in a strange sort of way. In the West, the word otaku has been taken to mean someone who was either an anime geek, someone obsessed with anime and Japanese culture, or a guru on these subjects, and is generally as a positive term, at least among people who consider themselves otakus. But in Japan, the word otaku tends to be a negative term used to describe obsessive people, and not just people obsessed with anime either, particularly people who are extremely obsessed and isolated. They might use it the same way we might describe the person who’s 30 years old but never goes outside, never interacts with people beyond the internet, possibly without taking baths or showers. It’s also been associated with men who cuddle body pillows depicting fictional characters (referred to as dakimakura). Some of the memes they put up, or at least the ones put up about them, seem to imply both the Western and Japanese definitions at once.
What’s the problem? The problem is that it’s fundamentally unbalanced. There’s nothing wrong with having a substantial interest in Japanese culture. In fact, as I said earlier, I maintain an interest in anime and Japanese culture, but the attitude I see from anime fans and self-described otakus on social media is not only noxious and immature, it’s also pretty harmful to the world of anime fandom as a whole. The current social media generation of fans seem to pride themselves on their obsession with anime and bark its superiority over other forms of artistic media, all without any kind of immaturity, and I’m sure a lot of people sharing the memes aren’t such extreme fans in truth anyway, just boasting behind anonymity within social media. It feels like they just continually make stereotypes of themselves and their subculture in their attempt the set themselves apart as a unique and misunderstood subcultural movement. Or, you could just say, that’s when you get when you have a bunch of people in their early teens making memes for everybody. Either way, it feels like people in the age of social media do a lot to turn fandom into fandumb.