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A Thought: Anime isn’t real, except on the Internet, and it’s driving me mad

An in-between piece to help me sort out some thoughts in my head and explore and how I want to sequence 'The Boy Who Cried Anime' series. I will be borrowing Zander's "A Thought" theme to organize these ideas

A shelf stocked with Anime DVDs

When was the last time you saw something resembling Anime sold as a physical product in a store that could be walked into?

Unless you were itching to own Spirited Away or some other Hayao Miyazaki movie to “diversify” your DVD collection, this wasn’t likely. The last time I personally went looking for Anime in a retail space was at a local Cheapo’s. I was surprised to find a sizeable wall of spines with titles like Haibane Renmei and some stray volumes from what would otherwise be several complete series.

I’m not doubting that Walmart, Best Buy, or any other store with a dedicated entertainment section wouldn’t be stocking a few titles here and there. But that’s where the buck usually stops at, a few complete series and Miyazaki movies. And the only people buying even just the Miyazaki movies are likely A) the parents or close acquaintance of somebody who hinted at their interest in said movies or B) the budding Anime DVD collector who hasn’t yet discovered online retail channels.

Not that the typical Anime viewer cares. They’ve already cracked the code to getting their paws on Anime: a free and unlimited supply, all at the embarrassingly low cost of punching a few keywords and clicks through a search engine. There is also the hypothetical cost of feeling bad that you’re not forking anything over in exchange for the cartoons you care so much about. It’s as if the magical island(s) of Japan simply waved their far eastern version of a wand and, alakazam! A pastime replete with years of freely viewable content is born! Bless Japan’s heart for being a non-Western country so that us thieving “fans” don’t feel as bad in our unlawful redistribution of their commercial property!

Yeah, I’m not down for this. Anime gets enough bad PR as it is. The ongoing neglect of proper distribution of its high volume of titles in favor of a wild west landscape of access where anything goes is nothing new. What is new is Ghost in the Shell, the Hollywood edition. As of this writing, the adaptation has verifiably tanked in the U.S., with the Japanese and Chinese theatrical releases just around the corner.

A few questions line themselves up: Will Hollywood continue to cook up more of these adaptations? Will theatergoers who wouldn’t otherwise become Anime viewers in a lifetime without these adaptations get curious, do some digging, and… what? They watch a few shows on some murky website, and feel confused with a skew towards either disgust or fascination mixed in? Or maybe they find a legal streaming entity like Crunchyroll or Hulu, pay the ticket price, and everything is hunky dory?

What does it matter to me, or anyone else for that matter, how people will be encountering Anime in this post-Scarlett-Johansson-fronted-GitS world?

For some time now, I’ve been sharing ideas about what it meant for one to watch and participate in Anime with people from all walks of life. I try especially to engage with people who have had minimal and even adverse experiences with the medium. My main aim was to gain allies in my pursuit to correct misperceptions of the many things that intersected with Anime. Pulsating right beneath this epidermal goal was the need to answer, “Did Anime really need to be figured out?” My gut would kick in every time I asked this. Its proverbial finger in my chest, it would tell me, “You already feel it deep that you’d have to sweat more getting rid of these questions than you’d do running after the shadows of the answers you seek. Even if the road ahead is dark and full of doubt, don’t stop moving. Have trust in yourself. Press on.”

What a strange series of thing to say, especially when we’re talking about something like Anime, right?

I have no excuse for why these questions, among the many more I’ve yet to mention, have kept my attention for so long. Maybe the excuse is that even when I’m not watching any actual Anime series, the many bubbles of the so-called Anime community are crowding around ideas and debates that captivate me dearly. I wanted to sort out if there was any meaningful difference between how these viewers and analysts of Anime thought about things compared to those who didn’t watch Anime.

Did I mention how many of these viewers and analysts weren’t Asian, much less Japanese, even while considering the national origins of Anime? What did this say about Japan and its position as one of Asia’s biggest exporter of cultural properties? I can’t shake this feeling that other Asian countries can’t depend on Japan when it comes to claiming Japanese cultural properties to be identifiers of Asian-ness like we used to.

Or is that just me? Am I the overbearing one leaning on Japan to create things that are worthy to claim as badges of Asian-ness? What causes me to know more about things from East Asian countries like Japan than my own country of Vietnam?

And so forth. I am doing all I can to find an answer that will help me shut this case down for good. I don’t even mind if, at the end of all these slippery questions, I find out there wasn’t anything substantial about them overall. Maybe these puzzle pieces had no actual picture to reveal. Until I find out for sure, things like unlawful streaming and the fraught dependence on Japan for shared signifiers of Asian identity will go on to pester me.

I might just switch over to talking about and analyzing some other allegedly Asian cultural force, like K Pop or fashion and beauty, and leave all this Anime noise behind. But then I’d ask myself, “What would cause you to make that so-called switch?”

As I continue to hammer out my perspective, I promise there will be a worthwhile light at the end of this dizzying tunnel I’m guiding you through. In due time, we will build the base on which talking about Anime won’t endanger our public reputation. Instead, it will become the starting point for us, our friends, and everyone else to be more informed global citizens. For now, put on your helmet and buckle up.



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