Why We Rewatch Anime

I started rewatching Clannad last week. I’ve viewed my favorite episodes of the series multiple times, but I’ve only made my way through the show in its entirety once. Based mostly on those particular episodes, my opinion of the series has risen over the years, and though I remembered thinking that it was often clunky when I first watched it, I assumed a rewatching would justify my elevated rating of the series. It hasn’t – not so far. Clannad is pretty and emotional and audacious…and clunky. I realize that if I’m going to complete this second-go-around, it won’t be easy (though the prize, I think, is worth the effort).

I used to rewatch shows all the time. When I first became an anime fan, I would watch the same series and movies over and over and over: Evangelion, Tenchi Muyo, Trigun, Princess Mononoke, Rurouni Kenshin. I’d memorize every bit of dialogue in those shows, and I can still pull out an article about any one of them just because I knew them so intimately. But these days, I rarely revisit these or other shows; there are just too many series available. I’d rather even watch new, mediocre shows than go back to my favorites.

I don’t think I’m alone. My guess is that while many of you probably have your “go to” selection of series that you’ll return to, the vast majority of your viewing is in “first time” watching. Experiencing the new is more worthy, it seems, than re-experiencing the past. While there’s worth is looking at the artistic integrity of some great series, like the storytelling of Wolf’s Rain or music of Kids on the Slope, or certainly in developing new content from some familiar series, like a blog post or school report, the choice between past and present seems clear.

But for its foibles, I feel like Clannad is teaching me that maybe newer isn’t the better choice. When I rewatched the first episode of Clannad, and in particular the scenes involving Nagisa, I got that feeling in my heart – you know, the one that twists you a little, makes you emotional, turns you a little sad, and even threatens to squeeze out some tears. “But wait!” I thought to myself. “I’m not supposed to feel this way for another forty-five episodes!”

clannad nagisa shall i take you
Feels and feels and years of feels

It’s true that I’ll never again be surprised by what happens in After Story – or by the last episode of Cowboy Bebop, or magic of Spirited Away, or addictiveness of The Perfect Insider. But I can feel the nostalgia I associated with those shows and relive a bit of what it was like to view them for the first time, long ago, but with the knowledge and excitement that what’s to come will deliver, because I won’t waste my time rewatching shows that I don’t find wonderful. This is in contract to how I approach new series, with a hope that they’ll turn out great, but no promise that they will.

I’m glad I felt that little shaking in my heart during episode one. It took me to a place in time when I was younger and less busy and more excited about anime. For a moment – and maybe for many moments in the next 52 episodes – I’ll remember the experience of who I used to be. And though perhaps less significant than viewing a photo or reading through a yearbook, I’m receiving the added benefit of entertainment, 22 minutes of story and animation in each episode as I enjoy myself in the now while reminiscing about myself in the past.

dango daikazoku
And ofc each episode is followed by the most emotional ED of all time

And while I can’t live there, I can’t deluge myself totally in nostalgia – I don’t have the time for it nor would I want to – I can slow down sometimes and remember how I used to be, which I think helps me become a better me now. Just as I would be missing something if I get too caught up in the ride of current shows, I miss the profound potential to love those around me more, to see people with kinder eyes if I relax, remember, and refix my gaze. The past then becomes something not just left to memories, but something better – that which reminds me of where I was while resisting the temptation to move back there, or even to stay fixed where I am now.

11 thoughts on “Why We Rewatch Anime

  1. I’d just rewatched Engaged to the Unidentified so many ties I have lost count…… rewatched it 2 days ago, and last night, I rewatched Wolf Girl and Black Prince, maybe my 6th rewatch.

    I’ve run out of good, decent animes to watch.

    1. Engaged to the Unidentified is a bit of throwback. I think it’s getting harder and harder to find those kinds of shows I know you like. 🙁

      1. That is so true, TWWK. I am not a prude, but I do find fanservice and highly sexualizing the female characters ( even those who are clearly elementary students ) too much for me. The anime world is littered with too much .garbage of this sort it’s giving animes a bad reputation. I want more of the Moribito kind of anime. No huge knockers, no panty shots.

  2. Not to be blunt, TWWK, but aren’t you missing the point of rewatching xD? Watching for nostalgia is one reason, I suppose…

    …but the second viewing of an old series SHOULD NOT be you watching the same thing, unless it’s some very light action flick. Right now, you are rewatching Clannad. Clannad opens up with Nagisa’s famous monologue: Do you like this school? Having completed the series once, you now know that she is talking about loss and suffering in life. Will you come to love something, even if it means facing the pain of eventually losing it? Will you meet me here, fall in love with me, knowing that we are not meant to share a long and happy life? First, it’s the “school”. Then it becomes the “town”. But Clannad is asking if we can accept “life” with all the pain that lies in store for us.

    There is no way you can understand the full scope of that during your first watch. And so the scene you watch that second time is no longer what you watched the first time.

    And Tomoya’s off-hand answer? “Just find new fun things.” Seemed reasonable enough on the first watch, didn’t it? But now you know how empty those words were coming from Tomoya’s mouth at the time, because you now realize how much he has yet to grow as a person to say that and mean it.


  3. It gets to the point that for some series, watching once almost doesn’t count. Watched Madoka once? Great, but you’ve been misunderstanding the meaning and importance of basically all conversations in the first half of the show. Watched and liked K-On!, but not much happened in the end? Rewatch the very first episode and be taken aback: who the hell are those people!? When did they all change so much!? Recently I rewatched Kanon 2006 with my family. When Ayu switches hands for her promise with Yuuichi, it can be seen as a nod to the mechanics of her faux-existence… but I had to rewatch that series many a time before noticing at all.

    And then there is the other side of the coin, not detailed insight you can gain from watching something twice in a row, but insight given by your life experience and the changes to who you are. If you haven’t grown at all, the meaning of a work might not change for you. But if enough time has passed, you might be surprised: I was into that character? Isn’t he selfishly hurting those around him? And I thought the antagonist was just a coward… can’t be so smart after experiencing a situation like that first-hand, can I? So, like you mention, artistic work functions as a mirror, which can be a fine tool for self-reflection and self-improvement.

    (2/2) (Coding issues forced me to split reply into two)

    1. Haha, maybe I am missing the point. So I tried to encapsulate your reason in this phrase: “While there’s worth in looking at the artistic integrity of some great series…”, the idea being that we watch again because there’s a intellectual enjoyment in doing so as opposed to that more emotional connection.

      But yeah, I totally get you – and now I want to go back and check out that moment in Kanon (Clannad has me wanting to revisit that series, which is actually my favorite from Key) – the idea that rewatching is experiencing it anew because you have that foreknowledge as you approach it. I rarely do that these days, unfortunately, as that experience has to take a backseat toward watching for the reasons of others – watching with a family member to help them enjoy a series (as I’m doing with Clannad), experiencing something that helps me become a better person, which spreads to those around me (Clannad would probably fit here, too, haha), or watching the purpose of writing, like here on the blog (Clannad strikes again).

  4. I rewatched Clannad 6 times. It just hits me again and again. I pay attention more to little things too, and I have never found the rewatch a chore to endure at some points. It may not be perfect, but for me it’s the closest thing, since it hasn’t left its spot as best anime, despite the many other animes I have watched since then.

    1. There’s something to be said for “perfection” meaning how a series affects us, as opposed to being technically perfect. Sometimes the two meet and sometimes they don’t, though Clannad is both a fine series and so emotionally fulfilling – for me, too, more than any other anime series.

  5. I was literally just thinking about this and then you write an article about it haha. Yeah, I myself want to go back to rewatch some older anime, I never do that and I find myself forgetting most of the anime I know and love.

    I hope to take some time this year and catch up on some. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  6. Strange, because as I’ve become older I found the opposite. I now struggle to bother with watching new shows, unless they really are excellent. Instead I prefer to rewatch older series that I know are quality.

    I often wait until after an anime season is over so I can get a better review of which shows I want to actually watch.

    1. I think I would do the same as you if I wasn’t blogging. I waste so much time on series that I ultimately don’t finish. I sometimes even get a dozen episodes into a show (ex. Darling in the Franxx) before dropping it—so many hours wasted! It’s mostly a positive, I think, that I could avoid that if I wanted to nowadays, as streaming affords us that opportunity to wait and binge.

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