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It isn’t possible to dislike anime, even if you want to

July 18, 2013

It’s the same wherever I go and with whomever I’m talking to. They ask what I like: I shrug. I ask what they like: they tell me. I suddenly remember what exactly I actually do like: I tell them. They look at me like I’m a grey-beard loon and shuffle discreetly backwards by several paces.

I exaggerate, of course, but as a general rule people do not really understand Japanese media. I don’t blame them really; much as I will often protest that it’s not that weird, once you get used to it, I must also confess that the primary attraction is its quirkiness. The other day I discovered a pop star that exist only in theory, but does hologram concerts. The East, how mysterious it is! If you say it quickly enough it sounds like The Yeast, which is quite mysterious. Who knew something so inedible-looking could be so good on toast and yet could cause such an uncomfortable infection.

If you asked an anthropologist why he or she thought there is such a gigantic rift between their media and the typical media of Western societies, I’m sure they’d have some complicated answer for you that links back to every cultural and historical aspect you can think of and a few more besides. But the fact of the matter is merely this: anime, manga, J-pop and all the rest of it are very insidious things. They creep up on you in the night and invade your dreams. They eat you alive from the inside out. They take your soul and replace it with a big, sticky wall of eccentricity.

One day, I found a commercial for citrus juice that involved a young woman running up to an anthropomorphised lemon and hugging so hard that it cried before promptly exploding. That was it. No elaboration, no explanation, no words. Just that and a picture of the product. Effective? I have no idea, but it was very entertaining and after my confusion had faded somewhat I watched it endlessly, breaking into repeated gales of laughter.

After this, I quickly set about searching for many more commercials just like it. As we all know, YouTube is a vast and fascinating place. Anything that you type into the search box will fetch up hundreds upon thousands of barely related videos. I used to play this game called “Wiki-jumping”, where you clicked on hyperlinks within any one text page on Wikipedia and followed the links, counting how many pages went by before you found yourself back at the original page. I don’t think you could do that with YouTube; in a few short clicks, you are cyberspace miles away from your original starting point.

So it was that I discovered every other befuddling little strand of J-media: J specific video games including “Dating Sims”, which have absolutely no market in the West, and of course a whole host of anime and manga. Anime alone could keep you occupied for the rest of your life – like the sitcoms of America, some of them last years and are immensely popular. You could easily split the population in twain and have “the Naruto generation” and “the pre-Naruto generation”. It could be the new BC/AD.

Probably what is most interesting about anime is that, despite being separated into sub-genres, it is really a genre in its own right. Fantastically ridiculous even in its most serious form with marmite visual humour and extreme melodrama, every sub-genre is essentially the same; science fiction, fantasy, comedies and dramas all have that whiff of bizarre lingering about them like that curious musky scent hovering over your day-old socks.

I defy anyone who says that they can’t like anime. You can like anime. You just have to watch it until you no longer care what is conceivable or physically possible. Watch the most peculiar and controversial show from the murky depths of the internet until every other anime broadcast seems positively demure and sensible by comparison.

It doesn’t have to be dark or subversive, however. It is one of those media forms that is incorrigibly bright and cheerful almost to the point of being sinister. “Why are they smiling like that!?” you’ll ask yourself. “What are they planning…? Let me go watch Saw II in peace and be rid of this evil!”

An hour will pass. You’ll feel refreshed from your break away from the chilling pink and yellow flashes of light accompanied by constant cries of “YOOOH!”, “EHH…?” and “KUSO!!” Perhaps you’ll have a cup of tea and watch The Simpsons. Thank God there are perfectly normal, small yellow creatures that haven’t aged in twenty years that you can watch to distract yourself from the unsettling feelings descending onto your subconscious.

Another hour will go by and you’ll discover that you are uncharacteristically bored with your choice of viewing. You’ll turn off the television and get up, fretting and pacing the room. You won’t know what to do with yourself. When, finally, you can’t bear the agonising curiosity no longer, you’ll head to your computer and type in some words. Maybe you’ll tentatively type “anime” into Wikipedia. Maybe you’ll tap it into Google and click the first link. You’ll dither hither and thither until you have no choice but to just pick something at random.

Then you’ll watch. You’ll watch like you’ve never watched before. Taken in by the characters and storylines, you will temporarily forget that there is a three dimensional world in which you live, with three dimensional food which you must occasionally eat.

Somehow, you’ll make it through the next few days, gaping at your screen with a half eaten sandwich you’ve had for three hours still clamped in your hand. If you were wise enough to pick a short series for your first anime binge, the show will now be ending; your favourite characters decided, their fates set out before them and you strung along like a pitiful lamb, powerless to intervene in their lives. If it is a fantasy, they may well die. You’ll cry. If it is a romance, they may or may not get together. Either way, you’ll cry. If it’s a science fiction, it will end in a mass of chaos and confusion and you’ll cry. If it’s a drama, your tear ducts will have dried up a long time ago.

There are only two scenarios in store for you, now. Either you will be bowled over by the ending and you’ll need to talk about it, but you have not yet come out as an anime fan to your real life friends and you are rather afraid you will be instantly ostracised. Hours will pass into the deathly silent night as you emphatically discuss the brilliance of your new-found obsession with strangers on the internet, all the while imagining them to be the exact opposite of yourself; you know, that archetypal fat, spotty nerd who has a permanent carpal tunnel.

Or, you won’t be satisfied. You’ll think that Kaori should obviously have gotten together with Yuu and they should have saved the world using their green-laser-shooting toenails. That was how it was meant to be, damn it! You will ponder what the writers could have been thinking. You will head to the nearest forum and rant about how things should have been and anxiously wait for someone – anyone – to agree with you. Or disagree, in which case you will pound them with your new-found branch of anime reasoning.

Either way, you’ll end up on 4chan and you’ll stay there for the next three years. Every time you boot up the site you’ll give a furtive glance over your shoulder, just in case God or your little sister is watching. As you scroll through all the images and comments, you’ll desperately tell yourself that you’re just curious, you’re not really a geeky freakish perverted weirdo otaku weeaboo and that you do, in fact, have a very full and meaningful life that absolutely does not revolve around keeping up with the latest anime trends and scouring the internet for new material to feed your addiction.

As a wise man with a malfunctioning vocal aid once said: “It is your destiny”. Anime culture gets us all eventually – if you have a remotely nerdy or socially reclusive disposition, you’re next.

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