Medium vs Convention (Or “Why I Don’t Hate Anime Anymore”)

People will occasionally tell me “I don’t like movies,” “I don’t like video games,” or “I don’t like poetry.” Or something else like that. Then I press them for reasons. Sometimes it’s a matter of the medium itself. Screens give people headaches, input devices are confusing, or the written word on a page doesn’t have enough explosions and fight scenes for one’s liking.

Other times it’s a matter of illiteracy. A person might be insufficiently familiar with the medium to understand what’s going on. What does a jump cut signify? How did I die? What do all these images and metaphors mean?

Those are both instances in which the problem lies between a medium and the audience. But occasionally I discover a third reason for disliking a medium and it has nothing inherently to do with the medium itself. Styles and conventions.

I used to think I hated anime. I like some TV shows. I even like some animated TV shows. I love Avatar: The Last Airbender. And I don’t have anything against the nation of Japan. However, I am quickly bored by fight scenes, I think magical girls are an uninteresting concept, and I don’t appreciate pandering or over the top lewdness. And the only animes I was aware of were either stressfully violent (Attack on Titan), childishly magical (Sailor Moon), or intolerably lewd (I’m not going to tell you).

What I failed to recognize in my own thought process was what I often recognize quickly in others – those are all matters of content, style, and convention. Anime often features those kinds of subjects but it doesn’t have to. Mom and dad always made me try new foods at the dinner table so I figured I owed anime a chance.

A friend recommended Death Note, which isn’t PG but at its core it’s about something more than gore, magic, or fanservice. While it may feature these things at appropriate times in service of the story, its core themes are hubris, playing god, the value of life, etc. As a fan of Firefly, I also bumped into Cowboy Bebop which may not have as strong core themes as Death Note but has a very rich setting and some impressive individual stories.

Having come to understand the differences between the medium and its conventions, I stumbled into a whole catalog of series that use highschool settings as backdrops for social dramas and romantic comedies that explore different dimensions of social life including the role of class, emotional distance, and even more thoughtful aspects of gender and sexuality. To varying degrees, these often feature potentially disagreeable conventions (Toradora is notably tame) and an individual’s tolerance for different kinds of material may be lower or higher but if you can discern the core experiences of a series you may find something worth watching to which the conventions might have previously made you blind. In this manner, literacy towards the medium also comes into play.

I still hate Attack on Titan, Sailor Moon, and others but it’s not because they’re anime. It’s because of their content and conventions. The medium itself has a lot to celebrate. There might be a bit of a learning curve and you may not know where to start. In the grand scheme of life you don’t really need to, but knowing the difference between a medium and its popular conventions can be an important tool for figuring out what kind of media you want to consume.

I’m hardly a Japanophile and I’ll always have to watch dubs not subs, but I don’t hate anime anymore.

Seriously, who wants to spend a whole show reading the lower third?

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