- Newfoundland, Canada
- I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Anime: Nostalgia Entertainment?
There was one scene in Angel Beats! that I didn't touch on much, even though some of the ideas conveyed by it were potentially powerfully poignant, and likely very telling. I didn't touch on it much because it was suggesting a general truism of sorts about anime today which transcends Angel Beats! itself, and hence I didn't want to spend much time on it in an actual Angel Beats! review. That truism is that modern anime intermittently intensely idealizes school life.
Yurippe herself is calling it "paradise" here, in a scene where Yurippe is miraculously shunted into a reality of sorts where she may live the life of a normal, healthy, stable high school girl.
So it's clear that, for Yurippe, the life of such a normal, healthy, stable high school girl constitutes a paradise. Given Yurippe's background, that's perhaps understandable; one can understand why someone with a very troubled and unusual existence like her's might yearn for something much simpler and typical. However, I think that this scene also clearly shows the very high esteem that modern anime holds when it comes to school.
In an older blog entry, I elaborated on how prominent and frequent school-based animes have become in recent years, particularly as a total percentage of all the animes that are out there. In fairness, school settings played prominent in many older animes from the 80s and 90s (and likely before that), but I don't recall school life itself being displayed so comprehensively, or viewed in an almost utopian light.
Ranma ½ had plenty of school-based episodes, NGE used it as an occasional backdrop, Tenchi Muyo! had a few notable school-related scenes, El Hazard starts out in a school (and has a major villain who takes great pride in his status of Student Council President), Fushigi Yuugi likewise starts out in a school, every so often Sailor Moon would have a school-based focus to one of its episodes, and this also applies to Card Captor Sakura and InuYasha. However, none of them were truly about school; the atmosphere of the school setting itself was not really a major driving force for any of these animes, and really not for any 80s and 90s animes that I personally saw.
I think that the anime which can perhaps be credited as being the first of the modern school-based animes is Azumanga Daioh.
Azumanga is the most recent anime I can think of, that I myself have personally watched, where school life is what the show is typically all about.
And I thoroughly enjoyed Azumanga. When I watched it, I found it dynamic, fresh, comedic, and cool. It presented school life not as an outright paradise, but still in a light where all of the faults and foibles that come with school life nonetheless enriches us and gives us great lasting memories. In many ways, this is similar to Kyon's growing appreciation for the SOS Brigade in the Haruhi novels: the SOS Brigade makes for a lot of work, and it can be a royal pain at times, but it also makes for an exciting and interesting life with plenty of vibrant, lasting memories.
It should be noted that Azumanga had a very sentimental graduation episode to conclude its anime. I have to admit that it left a strong emotional impression on me. I liked how Azumanga casted school life in a largely positive light, contrasting it with how school is treated largely as a place of undesired conflict, bullying, and arduous study in much of western entertainment.
However, while this makes Azumanga a nice change of pace from what I had played, read, and watched before, it also is now apparent to me that it's presentation of school has become par for course (if not understated) for modern anime shows.
And this, I think, helps to explain how anime has gone from this...
Love Hina is a slapstick-driven romance harem comedy. Negima! differs from it a bit, and obviously has some school elements to it, but likewise often has a slapstick-driven romance harem comedy feel to it. Other animes that had such a feel includes Saber Marionette J, and the afforementioned Tenchi Muyo!
With the slight exception of Negima!, though, these animes had little to do with school. In fact, the male lead of Love Hina (Keitarō Urashima) starts out as already being out of high school, and trying to get accepted into Tokyo University (which itself is not featured a whole lot in the anime). Yes, he's already an adult, and the same holds true of Keiichi Morisato in Ah! My Goddess. Here we see how two of the more prominent animes of a decade or more ago tried to appeal to the young adult male demographic by featuring actual adult male characters living something akin to a normal adult male life (only with the infusion of wonderfully entertaining female characters, of course ;) ).
The modern anime Amagami SS is likewise aimed at the 18 to 30 year old male audience. Amagami SS is, like Love Hina, a harem anime of sorts. Much of its appeal lies in a diverse attractive female cast, all interested in one particular male lead, after all.
However, unlike Love Hina, its setting is a high school and its male lead is a high school student, and school life itself is frequently a focus of the anime.
And school life is a predominant focus for the anime based on this seinen manga...
The change in anime has been rather large when you really stop to think about it.
From slapstick-driven harem romance comedies with diverse settings, frequently adult male leads, and little school focus; to comedy of a less physical nature, teenage male leads if male leads are there at all, and a steely focus on school life.
What accounts for the change?
I think it's because anime is increasingly nostalgia entertainment.
But it's not nostalgia for a particular type of entertainment (as we see in the live-action Expendables movie with its classic 80s-style explosive action and ultimate muscular tough guy characters), but rather nostalgia for school life itself.
That, I think, is what anime is increasingly appealing to, and knowing this is perhaps essential to understanding K-On!'s appeal with the adult male demographic.
It could also explain why I don't see as many adult leads like Spike Spiegel and Major Motoko Kusanagi in major animes as I used to.
Perhaps the modern adult otaku is not interested in having his or her peers displayed onscreen, complete with elements of the typical lifestyle of the modern adult Japanese man or woman.
Perhaps the modern adult otaku would rather look back at simpler and more carefree times, such as those times in school.
Or perhaps he or she yearns not merely for those times in school, but for the adolescence he or she never had; the adolescence that they regretted not having.
In Amagami SS, and in K-On!, we see school-based lives rooted in playful friendships, simple past times, and cordial tranquil relationships. Plot is arguably sacrificed for atmosphere, as its a relaxed idyllic school atmosphere that is key here.
So, this is the change that I think anime has largely underwent in recent years.
Is it a change that will continue to benefit anime (K-On! sells well, after all), or will it ultimately hurt anime?
That I'd like to read your opinion on. :)
Please feel free to share, as I'm open to all sorts of viewpoints on this.