First World Problems – but hey, everyone’s experienced this. There is simply too much anime out there for one person, no matter how much of a dedicated fan you might be, to watch. So pretty much every anime fan has a backlog or a to-watch list floating around somewhere, whether it’s in your head or written down.
Here’s an interesting thought to ponder: assuming that everything on your backlog is something you want to watch, what makes you prioritise one series over another?
I’ve always been of the opinion that one’s taste in anime says a lot about you as a person, but I think an equally convincing case could be made about one’s viewing habits in general. As people, we all face choices in our lives, after all, and it’s our decisions that define who we are. So whether the thought process is conscious or not, something is making us decide what anime to watch during whatever occasion. We often watch anime because a friend or a critic recommends it, and just as often we pick up shows without knowing a thing about them beforehand. In these cases, while personal taste might factor into your choices, you wouldn’t actually know you will like it until you try it. In other words, there are other factors that determine our viewing habits.
I got my idea for this topic when I read Flawfinder’s post on Hajime no Ippo - namely, he pointed out how very few people have actually seen that anime, despite it being regarded as one of the landmark sports anime (It’s also getting a third season this Fall). This got me thinking: why would this be? Many anime viewers – including myself – prioritise newer, shorter anime over older ones, even though most current season anime is rather disposable. If you’re watching 20+ anime per season, chances are a fair few will seem mediocre and you’ll barely discuss them at all once the season ends. It’s a depressing thought, but that’s the reality for a lot of hardcore fans.
It was this realisation that prompted me to rethink my viewing habits and put most of the current season stuff I was watching permanently on hold (aka dropped). Don’t worry, I’ll live. Don’t get your panties in a twist. Instead, I decided to watch some older series, the ones which various friends of mine have strongly recommended to me and to which I have always said, “Yeah, I want to watch that! I’ll get to it eventually!” But you know how it is – you end up just putting it on your backlog where it just sits there for all eternity, no matter how much your friends badger you about how good it is.
So I did some thinking about what kind of logic would make you put up with mediocre shit (subjectively speaking, as in you personally think it’s okay but not all that great) over something other people constantly tell you is so utterly SUGOI and will CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER. I came up with a short list of factors:
1) Series length. Generally speaking, unless you’re a hardcore Shonen Jump fan (although in which case, you are more likely to favour manga over anime anyway) we prefer short series over long ones. A long series, no matter how well regarded by the critics, such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes, can be very intimidating to start when you have limited time up your sleeve.
2) Hardcore fans of the medium prefer to have watched more series rather than simply investing time into just one anime. It makes it look as if you know what you are talking about when it comes to anime more than that guy who just watches Naruto and One Piece, even though that guy has probably technically spent more time watching anime than you have. MAL users are especially prone to this kind of thinking. Completed anime lists are like penises – you just can’t help but silently compare length size.
3) It’s easier to talk about ongoing anime than about series that aired many years ago. A show you just watched an episode of a couple of days back is fresher in your memory than something you watched months or even years ago. And even if you did recently watch an older series, it can be hard keeping up a discussion when the other person in the conversation can no longer remember all the finer details.
4) Hipster logic. Now, I don’t intend to paint that in a purely negative light. When people constantly praise shows on terms that you would personally not praise an anime with (e.g. [insert anime] is SO DEEP and LITERARY), it can be intimidating. It’s raising that anime up to the level of elitism and making it somewhat inaccessible for the rest of us. This is ironic when these shows are being lauded precisely because they rarely ever “feel” like anime. So arguably they’re more accessible to Westerners than the average Japanese cartoon. But it can be difficult getting over that “It can’t be that good” sentiment, unless you are feeling tired of regular anime.
Are these reasons or justifications bad things and is a person shallow because of their viewing choices? Not necessarily. For many fans, anime is as much a social activity as it is a personal hobby, so there is no requirement in watching older anime in order to feel like a better fan. I mean, how many of us can say we’ve watched Kimba the White Lion or Doraemon? Important though they might be to the Japanese culture and to the history of the medium, blah blah blah, there is only so much time and commitment we have for anime. We’re all better off watching things we enjoy and not thinking too hard about how it comes across to others.
But yes, I think it is at least worthwhile to think about what sort of values and priorities go into picking what we watch. How can we optimise our enjoyment? Are you watching something just because everyone else is watching it this season, or could you potentially have more fun by becoming invested in a long, deep and complex franchise, like UC Gundam or Macross? These are things you should definitely think about for yourself.
As for me, now that I’ve dropped pretty much everything this season, I am a happier Frog. It’s liberating not having to keep up with everything, and there’s plenty of interesting stuff in my backlog just waiting to be watched. For instance, I recently saw Kino’s Journey, which was a pretty cool show, and now I am actually watching Hajime no Ippo. But this doesn’t mean that I’ve lost all interest in ongoing anime – I will get back to it when I am in the mood, at my own leisure. After all, there’s the Infinite Stratos sequel next season. How can I say no to that?!