Annalyn’s Corner: Being a Humble Viewer

Last fall, I wrote a paper on how I think about literature—including anime. I’ve wanted to adapt and share pieces of it with you, but eleven pages of academic writing don’t translate well to blog posts. I read over it again this past week, intending to write about the role our worldviews and religions have in our personal anime-watching experience. Instead, this section stood out to me:

First, I emphasize the relational piece [of literary criticism, aniblogging, etc.], because we neither [watch anime] nor write in a vacuum. We often share what we think about works of art, whether through personal conversation or mass communication. The relational side of my criticism [or anime analysis, etc.] recognizes the power of both literature and criticism [including aniblogging] to either edify or harm all parties involved. It is sensible to our responsibility, as critics, to speak our opinions carefully and humbly. Our role as Christ’s servants and ambassadors is primary. As far as we are able, we must not misrepresent God and his attitudes toward the author [or mangaka, director, etc.] or toward other audience members.

I wrote and polished that paragraph myself, along with further support later in the paper. But I don’t always remember that lesson. In fact, I forgot it as recently as last week.

When I started watching Clannad, all I could notice were the cliches and the huge eyes.
When I started watching Clannad, all I could notice were the cliches and the huge eyes. “What do you know,” I thought. “Another school anime that begins with cherry blossoms.” But I watched with an open mind, and I ended up really liking it. Without an open mind, I’d have missed out… like I’m missing out with certain other anime. (Screenshot from ep 1)

Attentive listening, good literature reading, and attentive anime-viewing have more in common that you may realize at first. All require humility and patience. It’s easiest for me to remember this when my grade depends on it. But I’m not always so responsible as I watch and write about anime.

I don’t like everything I read for school. Still, I trust my professors. I expect to find value in the assigned literature, and I usually do, even if it take me over a hundred pages. To do this, I must be an attentive “listener.” If my eyes glaze over after three stanzas of Coleridge, I go back and re-read them. At the end of the day, I still prefer Wordsworth (or, better, Poe). But I understand Coleridge ‘s poem a little better. I start to grasp the images and themes he thought were important enough to weave together. I come away a better writer and student, and I’m rewarded by fulfilling discussion about Coleridge’s culture, themes, poetic elements, and more. That wouldn’t be possible if I kept ranting about his overuse of garden flowers.

Of course, that’s classic literature. But what about pop culture? What about anime? Shouldn’t I just sit back, have fun, and judge based solely on my personal preferences? Well… it’s true that anime is slightly different than reading assignments. But I still need to approach it thoughtfully. I’ll focus on the relational reason for now.

Any time I discuss anime, it becomes a community thing. I should consider my words and their effects more carefully. This is true on the level of personal conversation. For example, I don’t want my friend to misunderstand my distaste for Sword Art Online‘s ALO arc as disdain for their taste in anime. It’s even more important online. When I write a response to anime on Beneath the Tangles or Annalyn’s Thoughts—or even on Twitter—it’s no longer just a personal response. I must think about my audience. Am I representing this anime fairly? Do I need to include a disclaimer? Is there anything my audience needs to know about this show? Ideally, I want to write posts that will edify my readers. I hope to write something interesting, encourage you, and/or offer a different perspective for you to consider. I can’t do that unless I watch anime thoughtfully, with an open mind.

A week and a half ago, I tried to start Free! Eternal Summer. I didn’t like the first season (Iwatobi Swim Club), but everyone said that Eternal Summer was better. Unfortunately, my annoyance with the first season’s last couple episodes hadn’t worn off. I came into Eternal Summer with an unfair bias against it, and I fixated on everything I considered laughable… then I wrote a post about it on my other blog. In my state of mind, I gained nothing valuable from Eternal Summer‘s pilot episode, so what I wrote had very little value. I’m sorry I wrote it.

I should have taken this scene, near the end of ES’s first episode, more seriously. But I was too busy rolling my eyes to notice anything positive except the nice visuals.

I still want to give Free! Eternal Summer another chance. But this time, it will be in a different state of mind. I’ll read others’ blog posts about it. I’ll try to understand a fraction of why the creators wanted to tell this particular story (besides, of course, the money). I’ll take it seriously, because fans love Free! for more than the swimmers’ muscles, and I don’t want to dismiss their opinions. That’s arrogant.

When I wrote my paper last fall, I recognized that humility should be the first part of a Christian critic’s (or reviewer’s or aniblogger’s) response to a creative work. I forgot about that. Next time I watch Free!, or any other anime, I need to remember that I have a lot to learn, and my opinions aren’t always right. They may be valid, and may be worth sharing, but only if my readers can benefit from hearing them.

Here are some of the questions I’ll be asking as I watch anime in the future. Maybe you can use them, too:

  • Why do people value this work?
  • What is beautiful about it?
  • What need does it meet or appear to meet?
  • Why might the writer/director/etc. have decided to include this part?
  • Do I agree with the values this work promotes? Disagree? Why?

A good listener tries to understand and value what the other person says, even they disagree. Asking sincere questions helps establish a sense of respect. I’ve found that the same is true when you’re reading literature or watching anime. When I ask questions and pay attention to the answers, I start to value the story on a relational (or at least academic) level. It’s no longer just about me.

21 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Being a Humble Viewer

  1. That open mind can also mean you have turned off your (often quite necessary) safety filter that you use to eliminate harmful things. Some of those harmful things may be necessary to the tale and some may not of course. I always try to give a series a fair shot before I dump it – sometimes more of a fair shot than it perhaps deserves!
    I could point at Plug Girl Juden-chan! as a show I gave too much time to before dropping it on the second episode for it’s unnecessary violence toward the heroine (even if she seemed to think she deserved it) and crude humour – perhaps I was hasty? Or I could shockingly say I dropped Kill la Kill because there were so many other things to watch that season that it failed to properly light my fire even after 6 or 7 episodes. But the safety filter needs to remain I think, alongside the fair shot: I would not have wanted to miss Cross Ange but I came perilously close to dropping it after episode 1 – luckily I stuck it out for my now mandatory 3 minimum and by then I could see the bones of something rather good.
    I do , however, think your idea of holding a post-mortem review of a show to see what it did that attracted the fans and why they stayed when I couldn’t or didn’t is a good one.

    1. Thank you for commenting! You’re absolutely right about the safety filter. I think of it as my “anti-virus software,” and it’s constantly running while I watch anime. When something doesn’t set well with me, I stop and evaluate it. There are some things that do more harm than good to watch, and that often varies from person to person. I haven’t seen any of the anime you mentioned. But I did have to drop Watamote halfway through, even after writing a few posts about it. I appreciated that one, but some of the main character’s hobbies and dirtier thoughts put unwelcome images in my mind.

  2. Being a generous reader is something I had to learn in school. For example, instead of dismissing ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ as “stupid commie junk,” I actually had to appreciate it for what it was — a good book that stood the test of time. I actually had to respect someone’s intellectual experience, someone’s perspective other than my own, and like you said, that doesn’t just go for books. That also goes for anime, manga or anything else.

    Sure, not every work of art is great. Sure, it’s okay to have strong opinions about things you dislike (or about things that are bad). Even then, it’s still good to be a respectful viewer. At least give something a fair shot before you toss it by the wayside.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Jo-Shu!

      I really appreciate what you’re saying about respecting “someone’s intellectual experience, someone’s perspective other than my own.” And your note that it’s fine to have strong opinions. Well said!

      I haven’t tried “The Grapes of Wrath” yet, and I don’t plan to unless it’s assigned (or maybe if I really, really miss studying classic literature after I graduate from college). I read some of Steinbeck’s shorter works in middle and high school, and I did not like them. I wasn’t nearly so generous a reader back then. In my mind, books were supposed to be enjoyable, and his books were depressing. I know I’d appreciate them now, but they still wouldn’t be fun.

    2. I came into “The Grapes of Wrath” expecting great things, and boy was I disappointed. I would have to say that this book is worse than his other works, and the ending is what solidifies it. If you already don’t like Steinbeck then I don’t recommend it as I’ve met Steinbeck fans who don’t like it.

      1. Oh dear. Yes, I’ll avoid this particular novel. There are many people who appreciate it for some reason or another, but I don’t need to read this one for myself.

      2. I’ll say this: even now, I don’t really like it. At most, I appreciate it (and I totally agree about the ending, that was weird). The only Steinbeck I really like is The Pearl, and that’s mostly because it was short. It didn’t overstay its welcome. It didn’t drone on about the corn. It just said what it had to say and stopped.

  3. If you’re a humble viewer, that must make me a “proud” viewer, because I seem to answer “no” to every question you pose.

    Seriously speaking, though, there are several views I have on this. One is that I’ve carved out a tiny niche for myself, which is being the “Television Without Pity” (RIP) of the aniblogging sphere. Two, I find that if a show is good enough, I’ll end up liking it no matter how cynical I am (Kill la Kill, for example). But most importantly, I find that the trials and inner demons I’ve fought throughout the last 7 years have taken some of the joy out of anime watching for me. I wrote about it recently, how InuYasha was once one of my favorites, and now it’s not. I wish I could go back and be that innocent 22-year-old who loved any anime, but I can’t. But I’m not a total cynic – there still are the series that bring back some of the old joys of anime, if ever so briefly.

    1. I wouldn’t say I’m always a humble viewer. I’m just trying to be humbler than I used to be. I’ve written some rather pretentious reviews… one from four years ago especially makes me wince. I emphasize “pretentious,” not just “negative.” Negative reviews are often quite fitting, but I’ve gone about it the wrong way at times.

      You have carved out a niche, and it can be entertaining to read. I especially wanted to read your posts on Kill la Kill, because I noticed that you actually liked it a lot, but I got distracted. I’ll stop by sometime in the near future.

      I’m sorry that some of the joy is gone for you. That’s a valid part of your perspective (and now I want to read your InuYasha post, too… I obviously haven’t kept up on my blog reading lately). For me, almost the opposite is true, since anime has been a bright spot in my life. I found joy—often fake joy—there when I didn’t see joy in the real world. Of course, that was truest when I was 16 and just starting to watch anime. Cynicism grows as I learn more about life, watch more anime, etc. The more I’m exposed to good art, and even to goodness in reality, the harder it is for me to accept certain shows. Still, I personally feel more peace when I give a show a good chance, rather than impulsively dismiss it or fixate on the negative aspects (and that’s a challenge at times).

      Thank you for commenting, Tommy! As always, I enjoy reading your thoughts!

  4. I’m a born again Christian and I absolutely loved the first season of Free! I can’t wait to see Eternal Summer. I found the plot to be solid, the comedy very enjoyable, and the characters’ relationship endearing and sweet. Especially Makoto, who was very thoughtful and sensitive to his friends’ feelings–he was a great example of a true friend in a very quiet sense.

    I’ll be interested to hearing your thoughts on Eternal Summer when you do see it.

    1. Thank you for sharing what you like about Free!. It helps give me perspective. And Makoto is sweet. I like how he gives the group a little stability. 🙂

      I plan to finish Eternal Summer this summer. I’m not sure where I’ll blog about it. Depending on how much I have to say, I might just write a brief post on my other blog.

  5. Wow. Thank you so much for this article. Heh, I wrote something similar on the topic of video games for an Advanced Composition class this past semester, and I’m loving how the mindset of approaching media critically and humbly helps to open up whole new worlds of experience to me as a viewer, and as a Christian. The hard part though, seems to be “how far is too far?” Where do you draw the line between searching for good themes and keeping yourself from worldy influences?

    1. I love it when hobbies and class assignments overlap. 🙂

      You make a good point in the last part of your comment. In this post, I was focusing more on surface-level responses to anime, rather than the moral side of things. Still, I’m learning to look for all sorts of themes in anime and other media. The most dangerous “worldly influences” are often thematic—incorrect ideas about the world and about people, misplaced values, etc. that help form the story and character development. Sometimes, they’re explicitly stated by the hero or a mentor figure. Often, they’re implicit in cause-and-effect. To me, it’s just as important to to identify ideas I disagree with as those that line up with a Biblical worldview. If I identify them, I can compare them with what I know from the Bible. If I don’t examine these themes, they are more likely to influence me without me realizing it. Of course, there are times when it’s best to just walk away from an anime that makes you uncomfortable. The line is different from person to person and anime to anime.

      I originally planned to write a post that’s more related to this comment, but decided to wait on it. Perhaps I’ll dive deeper into this topic in another post.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Sam!

  6. This was a post that mad me think. I know it’s really easy to form strong opinions about a work of art forms (including anime). However, as we write reviews on other’s people’s art you have to remember that your review is your form of art. Would you like your art form to be beneficial to others with an open mind and genuine analysis or would you rather your art be more of a venting ground? I’m so glad to read that you choose to take on the role of reviewer to assist others. I don’t like to read reviews where the person is complaining, praising, or plot summarizing the whole time and there’s no real analysis, so thank you!
    Your questions to ask yourself when reviewing were helpful! I’ve been writing essay on my favorite shows just for fun. These questions are like essay promps, and the english nerd I am will take full advantage of them!

    1. A fellow English nerd! Yay! 🙂 I like that you refer to reviews as our “form of art.” People rarely look at such writings as art, but a well-written review can be beautiful in its own way.

      I don’t often write posts I’d label as “reviews.” If I had more time (and no other hobbies), I’d love to write more in-depth reviews and responses to these questions. I have other questions, too, that I adapted from various literary theories/criticisms, that I’d like to apply to more anime. I really should be more purposeful about that.

      I just checked out your blog, though I’m resisting reading any posts yet. Wow, between that and your comment, I’m feeling inspired to write more posts using these kinds of questions. I love that you’re writing essays for fun. I’ve been giving myself fun reading and writing assignments since summer break began. I feel like I’m in good company now. ^_^

      1. I’m glad! This summer is the summer for writing! While I currently have writer’s block for my screenplay, so I’m giving more attention to my blog by analyzing as many shows as I can. Analyzing other people’s art helps me with my own! …And having a humble open mind will only strengthen what you have to say about it 🙂

        1. Wait, screenplay? I’m writing one, too… *checks social media for followers* Oh, you found me on Twitter a while back! And now I’ve found you.

          Back on topic: I’ve found the same–analyzing other art definitely helps with my writing. 🙂

  7. I judge anime all the time. The more I watch, the quicker I am to make a judgement. As if I’m some mighty anime judge that slams the gavel down on those I don’t like very much. Honestly, I make myself watch at least 4-5 eps. and then make a decision if I stop watching, because sometimes I just don’t like an anime regardless of what others say about it. I need to be more open to anime, or media in general. Whatever it is that we do, let’s have an open mind unless it’s negative and not beneficial to us.

  8. It’s a lot easier to judge anime, now that there’s so much of it! We’ve come a long way from those bad ol’ “Watch Whatever’s On The Shelf At Hastings Even If Some Episodes Are Missing” days. I find myself forming opinions about anime much more quickly nowadays–mainly out of necessity; I can’t possibly find the time to watch absolutely everything I want to see…I’ve just seriously aged myself, haven’t I?

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