Before I moved cross-country, I had a friend — let's call him Ben — who had discovered anime by way of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. What he loved most about that particular series was the chess game (the metaphorical one, not the literal one) played by the main character against most everyone else — the scheming, the plotting, the deviousness, the politics. Other anime didn't interest him as much, because the vast majority of them, save maybe for titles in the Gundam franchise, didn't have anything close to such an element. They were "too silly". I respected his point of view; after all, I'd entertained similar thoughts myself. But I did have to wonder if he was holding his own tastes to an impossibly high standard — and why such a standard had come into being in the first place.

This isn't an argument against having good taste. I'd rather more people have good taste than bad, because a) it would make my job easier, and b) it would provide me with more conversational partners. But there comes a point for both lay fans and critic-type fans where, paradoxically, one's tastes get in the way. My suspicion is that it's not the tastes themselves that are the issue, but the way people are educated into having them.

One of the dark little truths about anime — about a lot of cultural things, really, but anime as well — is that the way we get into it rarely reflects the actual day-to-day experiences we have with it. The way people get deeply into anime is typically by way of a title that's so jarring, so surprising to the sensibilities, that everything else suddenly seems to have had the color and volume turned down. Then they dig into anime as a whole, and find the reason certain titles are called "gateway drugs" is because they provide a high unrivalled by any other controlled substance on the schedule. In plainer English, everything else is just that much less. A certain degree of letdown is inevitable, and from that comes the way some fans cling stubbornly to a clutch of titles that for them were formative experiences.

I don't think this kind of clinging, the kind that leads to the maintenance of an unmeetably high standard for anime, comes from the shows themselves. Rather, it comes from the way some fans educate each other into fandom -- where the enthusiasm, the act of sharing itself, becomes more important than the material being shared. But the enthusiasm that exists between fans about a given piece of material doesn't always survive when the shared camaraderie vanishes. Sometimes it's because the title doesn't age well; sometimes it's because the people in question are more interested in having a shared experience, any shared experience, than because the contents of the shared experience actually matter. (I've mentioned before how @botoggle put it on Twitter: when people saw AKIRA and asked "What else is there like this?", few, if any, had the nerve to be honest and say "Nothing". What's more, they needed to have the nerve to also say, " ... but it shouldn't make any difference.")

There are multiple downsides to this, some of which I've touched on before. It becomes harder to see past one's original, formative experiences, and simply take in what's new as it is, without the baggage of one's expectations. What's paradoxical is that it's often very hard for people to get into a narrow but deep niche like anime without outside guidance, but too often that guidance turns into a defense of a few precious things at the expense of everything else, present and future.

I couldn't say if Ben's interest in Code Geass was due to someone else selling him on the show, and him discovering that outside of that context, there was little else that made the cut. In other words, maybe it wasn't only the show itself that electrified him, but the process of being sold on it by someone with a little fire in their eyes over it.

This is not an experience I want to belittle. Few things in this life are as electrifying, as life-affirming, as having someone open a door for you that you would never have thought to try the knob on, let alone walk through. But what comes after that matters more. If everything after that needs the same fervor to support it, then of course nothing is ever going to live up to that indoctrinal moment. That doesn't just include offbeat stuff that needs to be met halfway, but even things that are not meant to be anything more than good, basic entertainments. All of them fall short, because there's a piece missing: the fervor that welcomed the viewer into it.

I don't think this is a universal attribute. Not every anime fan got sucked in this way, and not all of them that have are influenced like this. But I worry about the ones who have had an impossibly high standard set for them by others, whether or not they realize it.



About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@GanrikiDotOrg) is Editor-in-Chief of Ganriki.org. He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for Anime.About.com, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.