Anime Intellectualism

Anti-intellectual sentiments are rife in popular media today. Many people have a strong aversion to discussing the media we enjoy in a critical light. If you want to talk about obscure or indie shows, you’re being pretentious. If you want to thoroughly analyze the subtext of a work, you’re accused of looking too deep into it. God help you if want to actually talk about representation and social justice in the anime you enjoy; you’ll be branded as one of the accursed SJWs.

PHOTO: Takashi from Cromartie High School, complaining about things being tiresome.

Point being, I know there is a lot of hostility out there. I’ve dealt with no shortage of angry morons who mistakenly believe that incessant whining will change my opinions somehow. Who get suspiciously defensive when you talk about controversial topics in anime. Or who hate it when their observations of a show are challenged by others.

Personally, I get a kick out of listening or reading other people’s analysis. I love lengthy video essays that dig into anime topics, even when they challenge my own beliefs. Yes, a video like LadyIneia’s analysis of sexism in My Hero Academia stings because I love that show, but that actually inspires me. It makes me want to contrast these different opinions against my own passion for this series.

Idiots may be plentiful, but so are the people who relish opportunities to analyze media and think about their deeper meanings. People who love seeking out deep shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena, or Serial Experiments Lain. Shows that risk dragging viewers into rabbit holes of fan analyses that go back years. Or people who take on more mainstream anime, to discuss the hidden depths tucked away beneath their accessible layers.

PHOTO: Bubble Girl from My Hero Academia.

Yet, a fondness for viewing anime through an analytical lens carries risks of its own. Just like how anti-intellectualism kills conversations by refusing any critical thinking towards media, so too has an obsession with intellectualism its own pitfalls.

The most common example I noticed is people presuming that there may only be a single answer to any question. When we have enjoyed one of these refined anime and deliberated on their meaning, it can be tempting to presume that our interpretations are the right conclusions. Especially if those ideas are collaborated by a community of others. A community perhaps revolving around an influencer, like a popular YouTuber.

Where some would hear a differing opinion and contrast it against their own—perhaps adjusting their understanding of the topic based on this new viewpoint—there are those who defend theirs and only their interpretation. Any who don’t understand the anime in that same way must be misinterpreting the series somehow.

This is just as narrow-minded as anti-intellectualism. There is very rarely a singular way to look at a work of art. Even when an author outright states every single meaning, wily intellectuals toss out “death of the author” and raise their own ideas anyway. This is important, because people from different origins can look at a work through a wholly different lens. Collecting all these different views in one definitive opinion is impossible. Yet, it’s important that we endeavor to keep listening and learning from them anyway.

Imagine how many different interpretations there might be about a deeply divisive anime like Legends of the Galactic Heroes. You could analyze that show for months and still not have the final answer on the morality of its characters or the ideal political systems for its world. Nobody has the definitive answers, and LoGH is far from the only series like that.

PHOTO: Ringo from Penguindrum having a mental breakdown in the rain.

Even more blatant is the presumption that anyone who doesn’t like an anime must’ve failed to understand it properly. It discredits the possibility that a show may just not resonate with literally everyone, by putting the blame for that on the viewer themselves. They must be missing the symbolism, they must be biased against my anime, they must be bigoted.

To this day, the most hilarious criticism I have received are insinuations that I must have a “shounen bias”. Or accusations that I must be incapable of emotions. To some, it’s impossible to conceive that anyone might have seen a show, picked up on its deeper meanings, and still didn’t like it. It’s deep, so it must therefore automatically be good! If you didn’t like it, then you must be dumb, or a sociopath. Go watch your braindead shounen anime, you psycho!

PHOTO: Hiromi Oka cries (again).

It’s petty and, honestly, self-defeating. If you dismiss anyone who is critical of a show, other them for liking the wrong anime, or get upset when your interpretation of the symbolism is challenged, that’s just a smarmier alternative to anti-intellectualism. It shows a similar dismissive attitude towards the opinions of others and an unwillingness to risk having to adjust one’s existing opinions.

Those are some harsh words, I realize. And I am at least a little angry. When idiots come to this website and post hateful comments, that doesn’t bother me. Depending on their usage of slurs, I literally won’t even notice before my spam filter instantly casts their “feedback” into the shadow realm. We can all laugh at their narrow-mindedness; their refusal to accept any critical engagement with any anime whatsoever.

PHOTO: Duck looking uncomfortable while alone in dance class.

It makes me sad, then, when I see smart, passionate people be just as narrow-minded. When I am accused of not understanding a show just because I didn’t like it. When Twitter users argue over what boxes I can be fit into so that my opinions can be freely dismissed. Or when people post a snippy comment disagreeing with me, only to then refuse any attempt of mine to have a productive conversation about it.

You can’t beat anti-intellectualism by mimicking its methods. If we want to discuss anime on a deeper level and inspire others to do so as well, then its pivotal that we are also critical of our own opinions. If you ever disagree with anything I write, let me know. I’d be glad to have a chat about it.

9 thoughts on “Anime Intellectualism

  1. It’s a topic that certainly needs to be discussed. I’m definitely opinionated when it comes to what I watch, and I hope my thoughts make sense even if they don’t always fit the norm. Sometimes I’m surprised for not getting backlash for some of my opinions. I hope I haven’t come off as preachy whenever I mention some of my stronger opinions about shows or movies. Sure, I made a rant post a few days ago that gets scathing, but that’s besides the point. The thing is I definitely don’t want to come off as some moron or delusional person whenever I have some of these discussions.

  2. You probably watched it wrong

    All jokes aside, I myself very often other people based on their watched lists, and comparing their scores to mine. I think I give myself a pass though as the only reason I am looking at their lists in the first place is that the have posted something so stupid that I need to do a deep dive to figure out if it’s worth even replying. If someone trashes LoGH as boring, tea drinking fujobait only to find their list is made of 90% ecchi harem I can write them off.

  3. I have so many thoughts and feelings on this topic and I’m glad you wrote about it. I remember recently that there was a discussion on MAL on LoGH – where someone asked why people who listed as their favorite show often came off as ‘superior taste in anime’ which annoyed the OP. It was a very nasty, but pretty on the nose example of what you were talking about. Plenty of people commenting just to troll, a few that were determined to defend their superiority, and a lot of “bruh, it’s anime it’s never that deep”. It was wild but also oddly informative?

    It’s also fascinating how anime intellectualism/anti intellectualism has been leaking even further into fandom. The difference between what fanart/fanfic was made five years ago verses now speaks volumes about how fans take in and interpret a work. The overwhelming amount of coffee shop AU’s or character group chat fanfics is as interesting as it is slightly distressing. But a topic for a different time I think.

    1. Thanks for sharing an example of your own. In a way it’s comforting to know that I am not the only one seeing this happen. If it’s not too much trouble, could you describe what you mean in regards to how fanfics/fanart changed? I am not quite sure how to picture that, though mostly because I rarely seek out that kind of content.

      1. You’re most welcome! It is very reassuring to know you’re not alone, and I’m not alone in seeing this.

        Regarding fanfics/fanart (I’ll use fanworks to cover it all now), I use to create a fair amount of them back in around 2008-ish to about 2013 for referance. From what fanwork sites I used back then, and deviantart, I saw a lot more diversity in the works. A lot of AU’s were more creative with settings – fantasy worlds/sci-fi/fairy tales were pretty common. There was a lot more ‘crack’ (nonsense/non-canon) stories that were taken at face value and really enjoyable because of how ridiculous they were. Even the crack ‘ship’ culture was more interesting because fans demonstrated a really solid understanding of the original characters and how they fit in the work, and then re-working them into the new setting with the focus being on two characters that barely interacted before. I’d even say that there was a lot more interest in cross-over culture, not just franchise-wise but two completely unrelated stories being blended together just because a creator was a fan of both.

        I exited the fanworks space as a creator around 2014ish, and became just a consumer. But I noticed as time went on that the range of fanworks started decreasing. I figured I might have aged out, certain fandoms I liked died/dwindled away, or I didn’t see certain trends emerge and lost complete interest in 2015. I’ve since gone back a few times just to see, and being a bit of an elitest here – the quality is really low lately.

        I think the current generation of fanwork creators are scared of the fandom itself. The communities if you don’t think and act just like them are significantly less welcoming. There’s also, like you said about anti-intellculism – a large part of fandom that refuses to read anything that’s deeper than canon (or their headcanon). They want the sugary sweet coffeeshop AU’s were the worst thing that happens is someone stood up, or a group chat where there’s just goofy one-liner from the show recycled. There’s a larger focus on romance, canon or not, verses anything else. The speculative side (think what happens next sort of stuff) of fanworks are mostly gone and I think that’s mostly due to how works are released these days. Anything deeper about characters or their potential dynamics are superficial and ‘this is my headcanon’ verses an actual story or art piece.

        I hope this makes sense, and 100% just my opinion so different people will (hopefully) have different insights to fanworks then I do!

      2. Wow, thanks for taking the time to explain all that. It made a lot more sense and it’s interesting to hear how these fandom spaces changed. I did hear the occasional story about artists being bullied or elaborate tales on /r/hobbydrama, but I figured these communities must’ve always been like that.

        Maybe your perspective on how the attitude of fandoms shifted could make for an interesting article or blog post someday. Though in that case it’d be a bit of a shame that you already shared the gist of it here.

      3. No problem! I apologize for the text dump, so I’m glad it made sense!! I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my experiances/what I saw made their way to /r/hobbydrama. I’m sure that communities always have the ‘mean girls’ since the beginning, but who and how you become one (or are seen as one) has probably changed.

        I’ve talked about it on and off and in a less concentrated way before. Irina from I drink and watch anime did a post about fanfic and I did a big comment there too lol. Maybe I’ll revisit it someday though between their post and your post as inspo~

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