I took summer school classes between my sophomore and junior year of college, because why pay attention in class during the regular year when you have rap lyrics to write? I was supposed to get a roommate, but he never showed up. So, having the entire dorm room to myself, I created a biological preserve for pizza and anime. "Pizza and anime" is what druids will chant when I am inevitably resurrected in some kind of doomsday blood ritual, and I couldn't be happier with that fact. I've done the calculations, and I've spent about a month of my life on anime.
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Pizza IS life, so you can't really bring math into that equation.
I don't regret the 42,000 minutes that I've spent on anime, because, for the most part, it brought me joy. This is a column about why some anime rules. I'm not here to defend the ones about embarrassed high-schoolers or weird sex, because A) I can't get into half of that, and B) the other half hits too close to home. But if you've ever been watching Gundam Wing and thought to yourself, "This is the raddest shit ever," this column is a fist-bump to you. Enjoy it, because we all know it's not something that's going to happen a lot.
#5. Finding Good Anime Feels Like An Accomplishment
Subtitles and actually having to seek shows out turns off a surprising amount of viewers. A majority of the entertainment that we watch is only watched because it's presented to us. It plays at a theater within driving distance or it airs on a channel that we frequent. It's what often leads us to believe that the glut of movies that we watch now are worse, on a basic level, than the movies that we watched back in the '70s. Not true. We're still getting all of the good shit from the '70s, like The Godfather and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Taxi Driver. That's all still being presented to us at a fairly steady rate. But if we lived back in the '70s, when shitty movies were presented to us at the same rate as the good ones, we'd probably be nostalgic for the '30s. Not searching for things skews our idea of how our modern entertainment compares to past entertainment.
Anime, on the other hand, is very rarely presented to us, unless someone with money has decided that American kids will love it and buy its Nintendo 3DS tie-in fighting game.
The ones that we are presented with are usually the ones with the most digestible concepts. People get in giant robots and they fight. People own monsters that they use to fight. A guy writes names in a killer notebook and thinks. They're the ones that require the least amount of hand-holding because, for the most part, the people in control of what goes on TV think that the people who watch TV are the dumbest creatures in existence. The same concepts over and over will eventually start to wear on a person. And since anime doesn't have a real "golden age" on American TV that most people can misconstrue as something that was perfect, all you're left with is a bunch of people that just really don't like anime.
That's why it feels so special when you find one that you really enjoy. I'm not saying that you can't enjoy a bunch of shows about digital monsters.
But there's something about digging through the bowels of the Internet to find one with adequate subtitles that gives you a slight sense of vindication. You've gone a few steps further than what most people would do in their quest for entertainment.
It's not that you're better than them, though. Statistics about people not reading books after their time in school ends are often used by your parents' Facebook friends as proof that people are just getting stupider, but when was the last time that a book was presented to you as something that you "must" do anything with? So much of entertainment is consumed only because it's being tossed at our mouths. When you find a good anime after looking for one, it feels kind of cool.
#4. It Also Feels A Little Rebellious
Censorship is a strange, constantly evolving beast that combines the best of the world's irony and moral guidelines and twists them together into something that gets all of those manga-flipping snakes off that monster-forging plane. The creators of a cartoon about people that solve their problems through fighting want their characters to throw a closed fist just as much as you want them to. But the reason that they refrain is because they don't want to be slammed with the note "During the fight between Wolverine and Blob, we noticed that there was a child in the background. Could you put a mustache on him so that we're not implying that a kid is being mentally traumatized by all of the violence?"
The first time that I ever regarded an anime as "different" from Western cartoons was when I watched Dragon Ball Z. What turns a boy into a man is a blend of puberty and experiences, but what turns a boy into a weirder, older boy is Dragon Ball Z.
I didn't latch onto it as quickly as my peers, but in middle school, my classmates were stunned by the fact that animated characters were beating the shit out of each other and spitting up blood as if they were carrying it in their mouths all day, waiting for the right occasion.
You watch cartoons for years, and then, when you finally reach an age where everyone is telling you that cartoons are for little kids, along comes an anime like Dragon Ball Z to make you rethink your view on growing up "properly." That's where the reaction of "It's not cartoons, it's ANIME!" comes from. You're right at the point of your life where everything starts to change, and suddenly your childhood starts fighting to the death with itself.
"Keep your cartoons off my goddamn lawn!"
I started watching anime again in the middle of one of those long-distance relationships that transforms from affirmations of "This is special! These often fail, but we're different!" into a slog through an emotional quagmire that ends with one person wondering if they were being cheated on the whole time, or just in the last few weeks. After months of racking my brain and trying to better myself to the tune of "What Do They Want? How Can I Be More Appealing To Them?" I threw myself into something that would require no posturing or seriousness. Watching anime was a big middle finger to the idea that I had to become a different person because I was in college now, and in college all relationships should be serious, exhausting affairs where you take turns either demanding attention or throwing your hands up in futility. Oh, and speaking of things with a limited shelf life ...
#3. That Some Shows Last Forever Is Actually A Good Thing
Let's just get this out of the way: My favorite anime of all time is One Piece. For those who have never watched it before: It's about pirates with special powers that sail around and fight other pirates with other special powers. My taste in anime now is largely the same as it was when I was first exposed to Super Saiyan. If it features punching that is, in any way, faster or stronger or weirder than how a normal person would do it, I will watch at least 20 episodes worth of it without fail. This line of thinking extends to other forms of entertainment, which is why I consider The Raid and The Raid 2 to be the finest films of the last decade.
Look at all that punching!
Here's the "problem" with One Piece in the eyes of people who've tried and failed to understand anime: So far, there have been over seven goddamn hundred episodes. By the standards of almost anything aside from the soap operas your elderly kin watch, that's an impenetrable fortress of backstory and catching up that today's busy lifestyles just don't provide enough free time to conquer.
Beyond that, there's a notion that any show that goes on for more than an unspoken number of episodes is automatically a bad one, because having a lot of something good is always bad. This not only ignores Newton's Law of Pizza but is also a viciously dumb way to judge the quality of a show. That something has kept enough people's attention to compel someone to spend the money and resources to keep it going for an extended amount of time somehow automatically equates to a lack of quality is absurd. Sometimes it just means not everyone has found a reason to abandon it. Luckily, I started One Piece when it was at a much more manageable 400 episodes, and about a seventh of those episodes made me feel like I was trapped in some kind of classical conditioning experiment. The show became my roommate during those summer school semesters, and every once in a while he'd forget to shower for a few days.
But, see, the huge number of episodes in some anime series is exactly what keeps people interested in them. If you spend weeks on a show with no long breaks, you're going to come out of the other end of that experience far more devoted to the eventual outcome of the series. The break between seasons of American television gives us time to cool off on shows. It's this gap that allows stuff like American Horror Story to stick around.
That break is necessary for the show's longevity. With that break, every new season offers at least some glimmer of hope that it will be better than the last. The trailer will look great, the buzz will be deafening, and then about four episodes in we collectively realize this season will be as much of a disappointment as the past few have been. If they were capable of producing something every week and maintaining the overall quality and just generally dominating their time slot for time eternal, they'd probably do it. That break, in the long run, makes audiences more forgiving of terrible shows and, even worse, less willing to admit when they've carried on for way too long.
If there's a new episode to see every single week in the foreseeable future, it's going to remain important to you even after you've binge-watched all of the old ones. There's a stereotype of people who are into these "forever" shows, like anime and soap operas and pro wrestling, that portrays them as fanatical gremlins. And while I'm far too tall to be a gremlin (I'm more of an anime bridge troll), I can't deny that the sheer amount of some of these shows has endeared them to me. In a few cases, I wish I could time travel back to 20-year-old me, smack his computer off the desk, and shout, "BLEACH IS NEVER GOING TO GET BETTER, YOU MONSTER." And One Piece is really the only long-running one that I've kept up with to this current date, because I dream about time travel a lot. But I enjoy it, and I can't deny the fact that part of the reason that I enjoy it is because it's always been around.