Island may have been a throwaway seasonal anime, yet it’s a show that stuck with me for a long time. Not because of its story or its quality, but because the first time I got to see it was at a terrible groupwatch event. I ended up arguing with the other participants and eventually left entirely, because it turned out that everybody there was used to speedwatching their anime.
Anime typically started out at 1.4x playback speed and this would be increased whenever the group felt that the series wasn’t engaging enough. By the end, playback speed could end up at over 4x, rendering these series more-or-less unwatchable. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t like this much at all.
I struggle to imagine any scenario where fast forwarding through any anime would have a positive impact on my enjoyment of that media. It’s an impractical way to watch anime, not to mention disrespectful to the creative effort of all the talented people who made that content for you. Especially when you’re speedwatching a series that you claim to enjoy, just because “it’s too slow”.
I have heard several counterarguments and justifications over the years. For example: “It’s perfectly possible to still follow an anime’s story even when its sped up.” Or how about: “Anime are deliberately slowed down so they end up at the exact runtime necessary for TV broadcasting.” Arguments that can sound reasonable, but quickly falter when you actually dig into them.
Anime are the amalgamation of animation, music, voice-acting, directing, and so many other creative principles. Speeding all of that up, even by slight increments, destroys much of the artistic intent behind them.
This is especially notable in sound, as increased playback speed warps the music and dialogue completely. It even affects tiny details like sound-effects, which can lose their punch if sped up even slightly. In my experience, people who speedwatch usually argue that the effect isn’t noticeable or they can mentally convert what the music should sound like. Sadly I do not have such superpowers, so all I can say is that sped up anime sound like garbage.
I might not have enjoyed Patema Inverted much, but it has a killer soundtrack to it. To this day, I am still grumpy that my first exposure to it was hearing these songs distorted at 3x speed.
As for filler, I find such accusations to be greatly exaggerated. It treats the slightest of pauses like they are the infamously prolonged scenes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’ve even seen proponents of speedwatching point at voice talent and argue that they speak too slow just to pad out the runtime. Yeah, spoiler alert: nobody actually talks like they talk in anime. That’s not malice, it’s just acting.
Even if, hypothetically, an anime had a deliberately slow moment in it just for padding’s sake, why would you speed up ALL OF IT. Just skip a scene if you really hate it that much.
While Island may not have been spectacular, it did a perfect job of highlighting the self-defeating philosophy of speedwatching:
- Creating tension for the dramatic story is made impossible because the higher speed ruins the anticipation, in turn souring the atmosphere of the entire anime.
- Comedy scenes become considerably weaker because the timing off the jokes is completely off when you fast forward through them.
- Rinne Ohara is voiced by legendary voice actress Yukari Tamura, who has in-anime singing scenes. These naturally end up sounding shit when speedwatching.
- Following and being invested in the mystery is a lot harder if you’re speeding through the show, especially in a distracting environment like a rowdy groupwatch.
At that point, the question becomes whether you were speedwatching through Island because you didn’t enjoy it OR if you didn’t enjoy it because you were speedwatching. I can respect skipping filler episodes or selectively skipping a scene because it’s just plain terrible. However, I’d struggle to take seriously the opinion of anyone who watched a show sped up. For the simple reason that they apparently didn’t care enough for it and so decided to actively ruin their experience of it further, just to end it quicker. In the words of a friend of mine:
“If you watched it sped up you didn’t actually watch it”
As a final point, I wanted to ask why this is even a thing. From my position, I see two main lines of reasoning. Firstly, the rise of anime-tracking websites like AniList and MAL has given people new ways to show off their experiences in anime. AniList is full of big numbers that tell everyone how many hundreds (or thousands!) of anime you have seen and how many days you put into that effort. Seeing those numbers go up is satisfying, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find people speedwatching to boost their stats and increase their bragging rights.
Another cause could be the shift towards a demand for more immediate entertainment. I don’t mean for this to sound like the grumblings of an old man, but attention spans are certainly shrinking. I even notice this in myself. I often catch myself switching between Discord chats while watching anime, or having to back up because somebody sent me a Reddit post and I didn’t internalize what happened in the anime. I then get angry at myself and pay better attention, because I care about watching anime; because I care about appreciating the creative labor that went into making it.
All of this sounds like an attack on people who speedwatch. In truth, it’s none of my business how anybody else watches their shows or what they feel is the ideal way for them to appreciate anime. I don’t feel antagonism towards speedwatchers. What I do hope is that reading this might inspire some self-reflection. You only get the one chance to watch any anime for the first time. Would you have enjoyed your all-time favorites as much if you’d sped through them at 4x?