It is hardly a stunning revelation that ease of obtaining digital fan-subs and streaming anime has changed the anime fandom in an irrevocable manner. The good, the bad, the ugly of the major effects are talked about on this blog and countless others for several years now. What has struck me more and more is that the subtler effects are more interesting at this point because they are not the hot button or polarizing topics that effects like piracy and licensing are but they are just a powerful and influential. The topic I have been recently fascinated with is the way we inherently perceive anime has changed. The fact is anime fans anywhere in the world can be part of the fandom almost as if we were Japanese fans. The time between when the Japanese fans get an anime or manga and when many places in the world get a translated copy can be as little as an hour. We the foreign fans are for the first time living at the speed of Japan. And this change as changed the way many people interact with and react to the mediums of anime and manga.
As a bit older fans, we can recall the days before digital fan-subs pretty readily. My friends and I bought out that Best Buy shelf of VHS anime and rented anything we could our hands on at the Blockbuster down the road, usually multiple times over. I can also remember the slow build of elation realizing I could get and watch anime online, sitting there with my 56k dial-up pushing it for all it was worth. And finally transition to bittorrent primarily and more recently streaming for some shows. I can say with clarity that my passion has not diminished, after all I have been watching anime for more than 15 years, but the way I watch it and for certain the way I appreciate it is different.
Two events really drew into focus this major change in our attitude. The first was the large number of negative reactions to the current reactions to the Winter 2011 anime schedule and the other was the Patton Oswalt article for Wired. They both made me realize that we no longer consume media the way we used to and therefore our perception of the anime and manga has changed forever. We get everything instantly today which has led to an increased idea that everything is disposable and worthless. Rewatching something is a rarer and rarer concept. Praise seems faint and far between especially the longer the commenter has been in the fandom. The fact is that we are so immersed and have so many choices that the value of everything seem to been deflated to so many fans. Great shows that would have been analyzed and reanalysed are now merely given a nod and then forgotten. Mediocre shows are as seen more as abhorrent crimes that are killing the industry more than just forgettable now that everything is accessible. Even the worst shows seem to have even lost their place as comedic diversions. Part of me wonders that if we could switch whole seasons of shows from say the early 1980s and the early 2010s would the reactions actually change that much. Has the quality changed or just our perception? Can anything have the staying power and good will that a title would have gotten 10 years ago?
There was, by necessity, a “take what you can get and be happy” attitude that accompanied my earlier days. It was not odd to be watching the same anime over, even if it wasn’t very good. I’ve seen M.D. Geist more times than I’d like to admit, but by the same token, you also watched what you liked twice as much. The first half of the first season of Slayers (which was seriously out for like 3 or 4 years before we got anymore) I’ve seen probably 15+ times, the same can be said for the Record of Lodoss War OVA, and you can double that number for any movie at the time. Jumping ahead to the late 90s and the growth of DVDs as well as the variety of anime, those numbers start to drop. I still watched things I didn’t like, but I was less likely to watch it so much, and even things I loved like Cowboy Bebop I have only seen all the way through maybe three or four times (I’ve seen the first two episodes probably a dozen or so times). However, even those numbers have dwindled for me today. I can’t actually recall the last thing I rewatched just because I liked it so much; the last big scene in the second Eva movie, I guess, but right there I didn’t watch the entire film again.
This almost seems to be a case of being careful of what you wish for because you might just get it. Early anime and manga fandom was starved for anything it could get and sometimes hunger proved it was the best sauce. That can be the only explanation for M.D. Geist having a legitimate fandom as opposed to a joke fandom. Now that we have access to everything it seems people are more unhappy than ever. It is easy to see this as a call to accept things as they are or to force yourself to enjoy mediocre titles. I’m not asking anyone to re-watch (or watch for that matter) this season’s Trouble Chocolate or Lime-iro Senkitan. Garbage is garbage and should always be treated as such. In fact with so many options it is the time to be selective and choosy. But the selection should be done with an open-mind and a positive attitude. Lets try to focus on the benefits of living in a time of plenty and how to improve what can be fixed.
It seems fairly reasonable that overtime as a watcher you will become more selective and perhaps even more critical. I know this applies to me, while I’m not the pickiest person out there, I certainly don’t watch every show that comes my way. But that’s just it, everything comes my way; I can go watch pretty much any anime put out in the last five years without too much hassle; I can make a statement like “the 2010 summer season was quite weak” and actually back it up; and I can browse the latest merchandise for the latest popular show. With so much anime available, having a keener eye is necessary. But becoming more cynical is not a natural part of the process, that is all individual attitude and personality.