Anime is more popular now than ever before. It brings me a lot of joy to see how even my local conventions have grown in size, with people of all ages attending and being able to find common ground in their passion for this hobby.
Even so, stereotypes surrounding anime have changed little in the past 20 years. When I began really getting into anime just after the turn of the millennium, the medium was already the target of the same mockery we hear today. Those completely detached presume it’s all giant robots, ninjas, and Pokémon, while those somewhat familiar will know that mocking moeblobs, fanservice, and tentacle porn will be much more triggering for the average fan. At that point, it’s tempting to fight a pointless battle and argue that none of the abovementioned stereotypes are descriptive of REAL anime… but is that really true?
Certainly, not all anime fits into these genres or features all those tropes, but a fair amount of them do. When I got into anime, I tried very hard to avoid interacting with these stereotypical elements at all. I avoided mecha series and fanservice like the plague, I swore off shounen anime, and the less said about my tastes in hentai the better. You can wall it all off and create your own niche of a taste, completely atypical of an outsider’s image of an otaku, but what will you gain from it? You are purposefully missing out on a lot of content and it’s not like anybody who you’d like to prove wrong will actually care.
Our personal tastes can also not be used to argue the state of anime as a whole. Shounen anime make up the biggest franchises in the medium, so even if you are a seinen-connoisseur who only watches political drama anime, there’s no denying that iconic series like One Piece and Dragon Ball better embody this medium as a whole. Sophisticated, mature anime exist and are a great indication of the depth the medium can offer, but their existence doesn’t affect just how influential the more well-known action series are.
Similarly, anybody looking to talk about anime’s most influential creators would be ridiculous to ignore Toshio Maeda, even if they hate the stereotypes surrounding tentacle hentai. Even just hentai in general, while often used to poke fun at anime fans, is incredibly important for the medium. You’d be surprised just how many creators find their roots in the hentai scene or even how entire series started as pornography, only to refocus themselves and become mainstream hits.
Since realizing this, I have steadily been breaking down my self-imposed barriers over the course of the last two decades, something that series like The Big O are very good for. They take those stereotypical elements and put them front and center, but then tackle them in a very different way or in a shorter format than the more well-known series. Maybe the melodrama of a modern Gundam series doesn’t suit you, but you can still really get into The Big O‘s noir setting and more mature subject matter. Maybe you get so into it that, afterwards, trying out one of the Gundam universes suddenly seems a lot more fun.
After all, these stereotypes and tropes came to be because so many people realized they were super fun. Watching giant robots duke it out is cathartic and opens up countless possibilities for storytelling and interesting sci-fi, watching Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater taught me how fucking cool shounen action series can be, and I’ve been in love with magical girl series since Lyrical Nanoha. Once the door to a trope has been opened to you, you’d be surprised how much fun they can be.
I won’t tell anybody to immediately adjust their tastes, but if there is a stereotypical aspect of anime that you’re avoiding, then it’s worth asking what made it so prominent in the first place. Maybe, with a bit of investigating, you can find a show that fits both the stereotype and your personal tastes. Once that happens, a whole new side of anime will open up to you.