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.
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 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.