The Purpose of Anime and Manga (Part I)

…is entertainment, I got it. However, it isn’t always as simple. There are complexities and nuances to the experience of watching anime and reading manga that, even if it arrives at an entertaining end, accomplishes (or can accomplish, at least) a few other things.

Stories in general are entry points to different aspects of culture, both familiar and foreign. While some of us may not be particularly interested in Japanese culture (I like reading Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Kundera without being particularly interested in Eastern Europe), others are in a big way. Anime and manga aren’t very reliable sources in a factual or research sense, but like I said they are entry points to further inquiry.

Also, there are different shows for different entertainment purposes. I find this kind of categorization perhaps more useful than genre-based taxonomies (which can get silly pretty fast).I’m going to go into these here, as I look at how I use anime for different purposes.

The purposes are numbered (for my own reference), but appear in no particular order.

Purpose 001: To make time stand still so I can relax in a way that my problems matter less in the next half-hour.

Best-in-class: Aria, the Natural

by ghostlightning

The first show in the “trilogy” has a lot to do with introducing the characters and setting (and yes, it takes its time to do that too). The final show, has the theme and plot points culminating with dramatic force. It is in this particular installment, with the most number of episodes, that time really does seem to stop. I can feel how each season on Aqua is twice as long as it is on Manhome. The days in the lives of the undine seem exceedingly thin slices of a narrative that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

I live my life very purposefully and specifically – and these undine apprentices do too. However in Aria, the Natural it won’t seem so. It’s a beautiful kind of nothing ever happens, and yet so many moments seem so beautiful. My wife and I wish we could just pack up and go there (Oh yeah, we kind of did).

Purpose 002: To feel like a kid on a truckload of caffeine and sugar on Saturday morning

Best in class: Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-Hen on Television

by otou-san

Even the name… it’s such a tongue-twisting miasma of craziness that you’re put off balance even before you sit down to watch it.

Gainax learned long ago, with Gunbuster and later Gurren Lagann, that to fully recreate the Super Robot experience you had as a kid, you have to adjust the scale. You’re older now, presumably physically larger (even if just around the middle), and Mazinger may not look quite as impressive as he did when you were eight and he was adapted (horribly) as Tranzor Z in your Saturday morning lineup of toy commercials.

While Gainax solved the problem of scale literally, cranking the sizes of their robots to 11, Yasuhiro Imagawa took a slightly different approach. He amplified the feeling of being a cracked-out kid, high on weekends and bright colors and loud noises and sitting too close to the TV with a bowl of Kellogg’s Super Sugar Frosted Magic Fuck-O’s while Go Nagai’s most enduring creation sped across the sky on his Scrander, defeating evil pretty much without fail.

The violence is bigger, the super-villains are stacked higher, Sayaka’s legs are longer, and everything explodes fifteen times more magnificently. Giant robot fans will remember those days, not just in their minds, but in their stomachs and hearts as well — if you’re ready to hop on a delirious and giddy sugar rush back in time, then you need to see Imagawa’s Shin Mazinger.

Purpose 003: To escape (from the prison of reality lololol – ghostlightning ed.)

pontifus love hina panel

Best-in-Class: Love Hina

by pontifus

A typical Ken Akamatsu plot goes something like this: harem protagonist and harem are kicking back at the hot springs/pool/beach; haremette #12 does something unusual, which must be addressed by harem protagonist and haremettes #1-11; as it turns out, haremette #12 is involved in the labyrinthine plots of a hidden organization of magi and an anthropomorphic A.I. with ties to an ancient turtle empire; hilarity ensues.

Akamatsu-sensei is quite good at lulling the reader (or at least this reader) into other times, places, and (increasingly outrageous) circumstances. And that, I think, demonstrates his skill as a writer. “Escapist” is often applied as a pejorative, but escapism isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. I mean, try it sometime. Try to write a story that thousands of readers can’t put down, a story that genuinely entices readers out of the world they inhabit and into another.

And escapism is important. Sometimes we need to step away from the world we know, lest it wear us down or drive us crazy. I happened upon Love Hina during a time when I could’ve used a chance to set worldly logic aside, get my personal bearings, and pull myself together — as a teenager, in other words — and so, much as it champions some of the things that people despise about post-2000 harem, it’ll always remain a cornerstone of my fandom precisely for the fantasy it supplies.

We Remember Love is publishing this post series twice a month – given that I have many purposes for my anime (and manga), just as you might have.

These purposes often occur in hindsight, but in some cases (more often than you think) you figure out your purpose of watching a particular show after a few episodes. So, you can claim purposes when watching ongoing shows, and especially ongoing manga.

Do you watch these shows or read manga for similar purposes? Let me know how these shows work for you?

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in The Purpose of Anime, today's special guest writer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to The Purpose of Anime and Manga (Part I)

  1. SonOfMrGreenGenes says:

    God knows how many times I said out loud “WTF?” while watching Love Hina, but it is surely one of the most effective harem-esque series I’ve ever seen.

    …Although their obsession with turtles scares me a bit.

    • I didn’t take to Love Hina when I watched it, and to this day I am not a fan of the harem style of story. That said, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing. I think within the style there are giants, and Akamatsu’s Negima was interesting for me, even if I never did venture beyond the first few volumes.

      I think I can tolerate (because I don’t really enjoy such indulgences) harem influences or tropes in non-harem works as opposed to harem works (like Negima) that use other influences (like battle manga). Such examples of the former include Berserk, and High School of the Dead, and perhaps how the protagonists in mecha anime seem to attract the attention of many girls who at some point rival each other for his attention in turn.

  2. otou-san says:

    Pontifus:

    much as it champions some of the things that people despise about post-2000 harem

    Sort of like saying Chuck Berry champions some of the things that people despise about post-50s rock and roll, no?

    You don’t get to pick who or what is influenced by you. And most of what he does that later became such horrible cliché (even the stuff that was already somewhat cliché) works so well in his hands. But yes, it’s escape. It’s part of why I’m not as big a fan of Negima as some people — I actually find a lot of the battles tedious, and would rather watch the pattern you describe unfold instead. If that happens to culminate with a battle, perhaps on top of a zeppelin or whatever, then so be it, it’s more enjoyable than the usual linear shonen-manga quest style.

    • Pontifus says:

      Sort of like saying Chuck Berry champions some of the things that people despise about post-50s rock and roll, no?

      Heh, yeah. It’s habitual apology on my part, maybe. Bad habit.

      I read Negima for the shota harem bits and weird one-off adventures, more or less; the shounen battle manga stuff I could take or leave. I guess I’m inclined to call the length of some of the fight arcs parodic, since Akamatsu manga typically send everything up anyway, but if immersion is the issue, I’m not sure that some potential cleverness underlying convention matters as much as the conventions being there in the first place, and not being what the reader wants, as it were. So, yeah, I think I get you.

      • otou-san says:

        I guess I’m inclined to call the length of some of the fight arcs parodic

        I’d never thought of it that way; I suppose it’s possible but some of those fights are really intricately drawn and he’s on the same crazy schedule as anyone else. Still, I’m glad someone feels similarly about Negima, sometimes it seems universally regarded as superior to Love Hina (although the art has improved).

  3. adaywithoutme says:

    I just wanted to note that I read and enjoyed this post. I don’t really have much to say at the moment about it, although I do think I’m going to meditate upon the question of “why?” and may even end up writing a post about it. Always gotta have some navel-gazing on my blog! I’d just leave a comment later on, but I get the feeling I may wish to gas-bag about the issue more than I’d feel like leaving in a comment.

    • Or you can come up with your own write-ups for specific shows and your purpose in watching/appreciating them and I’ll publish it here ;-)

      In many ways I’m less concerned about THE Purpose (with a capital P) but rather our own personal reasons for things that others may end up sharing. I noticed this among the Gundam fans I’ve met through the years — very few of them, even if they love or hate a particular show, share the very same reasons for doing so.

      Never mind the “perfect fandom” idea, but it does intrigue me how many people prescribe to “fix” the things they watch and read. Outside a workshop on the craft of creating whatever, I don’t think it’s that productive to go about saying what the creators should have done (it’s also rather arrogant). I find it far more preferable to remain within oneself and state clearly what you would’ve enjoyed and why, and noting what you didn’t enjoy and why… the why can be very interesting, if written well.

      It’s because the feedback is never directed at the creators anyway, but rather to a community of readers that may form informal fandoms; the nature and dynamics of which are indeed very interesting to me in particular.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Oh, I would like to do my own write-ups. That would be quite fun! Do you have any plan for when you’d next like to have another post such as this? I will have to start thinking of specific shows…

  4. Bonesy! says:

    Shin Mazinger’s a perfect show to rewatch when I don’t feel like watching any of my other shows, it’s always so engaging and fun to watch.

  5. sadakups says:

    Sadly, some (if not a lot) of people actually see anime as a means to start useless debates and spark a lot of hate all over the internet.

    In my case, it’s #1 and #3. I use anime, and other non-anime shows that I watch as a means of escape. It’s like drinking beer minus the hangover, unless I’m being masochistic and I’m either watching a confusing one or watching a terrible one.

  6. Pterobat says:

    Unfortunately I can’t say much in reply to this post, since I’ve gotten into a state where it’s very hard to think of anime as offering something special and unique to its body of work–perhaps it was a backlash to the distaste for Western material that other fans seem to possess.

    Anyway, it seems that you made some comments on my blog, which I would like to reply to, having just found out they were there (I thought I had set Bloggger would notify me, but I guess not). Since some time has passed, I thought a large e-mail addressing all the comments at once would be best.

    Could you send me your address to my e-mail address, which I’ve offered here?

    • Only if you think in broad objective terms, which I prefer not to do.

      If you notice the approach here, it’s very specific and personal with the intent to share and find others who feel the same way. I don’t watch Shin Mazinger for the same purposes as otou-san. I didn’t have his American sugared-up breakfast context, but I find it interesting that he had that experience and how it contrasts with my own: I saw Mazinger/Tranzor at a much younger age than he did. I remember using a Mazinger Z and Aphrodite A bath towel that I had since childhood well into university.

      So it’s a matter of sharing our contexts as fans, rather than arriving at a fundamental truth about the medium, though that can happen too I suppose.

  7. Baka-Raptor says:

    The purpose of anime is to ruin my life.

    Best in class: Inu Yasha.

  8. Emperor J says:

    Call me cynical, but I can’t help but think that To Make Money should be in this post series. I also find it a little difficult to think of any reason that could be unique to anime here.

    • Since none of us work for anime companies… yet, we don’t have that purpose.

      If you think about it, there are no claims for these purposes or any purposes to be unique to anything in these posts. I certainly can get something out of film that I also got out of reading fiction and vice versa.

      But the post series is about sharing what we got out of particular shows, as an alternative way of recommending them (note the lack of spoilers). I don’t put a lot of stock in most reviews, but those I do enjoy reading are those who are clear about coming from a personal space and make an invitation to an experience rather than prescribing standards and aspiring to authority.

  9. Sebz says:

    To blog about it? Or make your life productive in other ways?

    • Sure, as a general purpose why not?

      But as you will notice, the post series is more concerned about the particulars, and perhaps you’ll discover new shows to try based on purposes you may relate to.

  10. Sekou says:

    The older I’ve gotten, the more I have combined all three of those purposes when watching anime or reading manga. In a strange way, certain anime have even become cathartic for me.

  11. I have to say purpose #1 is the most enduring, to me at least. When I find anime that consistently fills that niche then I find myself coming back to it again and again. With purpose #2, not so much. It’s like a sprint, or eating candy. I often watch it fast, soak in whatever entertainment I get out of it, and move on. I do come back from time to time to watch the fights though. For purpose #3 , I’m having a hard time thinking of anything that comes to mind. That’s probably because in between seasons my watch list is a absolute clusterf*ck and I can’t keep anything straight.

    • Rest assured that these aren’t the only purposes. You’ll find that most of us have different purposes and rationale for watching anime. I recently commented on how I like anime and why robot anime is great, and so on:

      Giant robots are fantasy. They are to me however, the most efficient and best way to portray animated violence. Here is my rationale:

      I like anime, because I like illustrations (like from manga).
      I like illustrations when they move (ergo anime).
      I find that the best kind of movement, the kind that best expresses excitement, tension, and drama… is in fighting.
      I find that the kind of fighting that has the most possibilities of attacks, weapons, and variety, involve giant robots.
      Giant robots of the “super robot” kind lend to fights that seem like chaotic pro-wrestling matches (like WWE).
      Giant robots of the “real robot” kind lend to more military kinds of combat, allowing for organization and complexity. Gundam pioneered this.
      Therefore, “real robot” anime is my most preferred kind of anime show, and Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn is currently the best expression of the values I presented.

      AU Gundam shows, depart from my preferred kind of robot action, and are more similar to shonen battle shows, or perhaps specifically Dynasty Warriors video games, or the Sengoku Basara anime wherein an individual unit lays waste to many mooks using flashy powers.

      As for “horrors of war” you get that in Mobile Suit Z Gundam, notably in Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, War in the Pocket, 08th MS Team, and in the first episode of Unicorn.

      My favorite shows are Macross however, and here are the pegs:

      Dogfights. I love them. The aircraft conceit of Macross’ giant robots is for me, the finest expression of a robot fighting unit. Macross DYRL? had good stuff along with one of the most massive if not the most massive fleet battles, Macross Plus had the greatest 1-on-1 robot duels in anime, and Macross Zer0 had the best fight choreography and animation (CG) period. None of these examples evoke the scope and compelling history that the Universal Century Gundam shows inspire in me.

      Ultimately, I love Macross because I am a lifelong fan. As I’ve said, I don’t even think it’s the best franchise. It is however, my most beloved. Silly idols included, who are virtues in my eyes.

      Having said all that, the Original Movie Trilogy of Mobile Suit Gundam, to me, is the apotheosis of real robot anime, to this day, even if I favor Z Gundam more… as much as I consider TTGL as the apotheosis of super robot anime. That claim will be substantiated in a future post.

      Gundam fans watch and like their pet shows for different reasons, and it all comes to shit when people start expecting others to be watching for the same reasons but with varying standards. I share and promote my reasons, purposes, and standards, but I don’t expect everyone to subscribe. And even if some people do agree with me, I don’t expect them to let go of their own purposes and reasons.

  12. I’ve never actually thought about my purposes in watching anime…huh. There’s something to dwell on awhile.

  13. Myssa Rei says:

    I mostly watch anime for the first and second reason, not so much the third. Even doing it part time, I can’t escape the fact that I work in one of the more stressful industries around, and on top of that am taking a Master’s degree in a field that’s not all lucrative. I NEED a balm to forget the bad day at work, and ease my mind.

    • I think the reasons in this post: escape and nostalgia, are rather common — and the latter is often a function of the former anyway. Stick around and you’ll see finer hair-splitting and what could be novel and interesting purposes for watching.

  14. The reason for me is to have something to ponder at the same time as I have something to entertain and engage me. That’s what regularly leads me to Sci-Fi/Fantasy before other genres of entertainment I think since it tends to be entertaining at the same time as it regularly leaves me to wonder about some things or get my imagination going.

    It’s basically my comfort food after work where I unfortunately don’t get to do a whole lot of quite thinking. I realize that for many people unwinding means clearing your mind of excess thoughts and concerns, but for me it’s somehow the opposite. I’m happiest when something is keeping me thinking and examining what it presents.

  15. rxsiu says:

    Once again BL, I must thank you for giving me a prompt to do some introspective thought…

    I wholeheartedly agree on the escapism idea; first and foremost, I use anime as a chance to delve myself into a different world and experience what the characters experience. If I can’t seem to get myself into the anime, I don’t hesitate to drop it (like I’ve done countless times – see ZZ, DNAngel, etc.). Some series, like Zeta Gundam, really engaged me because I could relate to the characters, be it due to similarities in age, philosophies, etc. (in this case, Kamille, who as far as I was concerned, acted more or less as I would have in his situation). Through characters and their interactions, I get opportunities to experience things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to in real life. I don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to say I’ve been shaped by the anime I watch. Assimilate qualities and traits that you like, make an effort to not be like the characters you dislike. It may be naive view of the world, but a wider range of experiences (first or second hand) never hurts. The resulting naivete in me is, however, disappointed by some things in the real world though, such as the general lack of honour in people. I think I turned out alright.

    I only wish I have the time to rewatch more of the anime I’ve seen and loved in the past, if only to have the chance to reflect on moments and characters with a more mature mindset.

    • Who is this BL? He sounds scandalous!

      L00L

      Your idea of rewatching is good and important IMO. I certainly do it a fair bit. It’s just a matter of making trade-offs. I get to watch as much as I do because I’ve given up video gaming entirely (until Super Robot Wars J got translated and now I hardly watch anime L00L).

  16. Marigold Ran says:

    The thing that’s missing from most anime and most Japanese games is apathy. Everyone cares for one another. The only anime I can recall that shows apathy is Grave of the Fireflies, and that’s considered by everyone to be incredibly depressing. Even in supposedly “dark” or twisted worlds like Black Lagoon, or One Piece, the main characters all care for one another.

    In all the examples mentioned above, the characters PAY ATTENTION to each other, even in the Mazinger series, where the enemies are forced to pay attention about each other.

  17. Bruno J. Global says:

    I know this should be related to your post, but I can’t quite point out how. Anyway, I’ve decided to publish my sing-along Tagalog translations of songs, as well as feature similar works from other fans, in an AnimeSuki thread: http://forums.animesuki.com/showthread.php?t=100269. Enjoy!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Okay first of all, I didn’t expect to find SHINING ZEUS in that post. Second, I watch anime mostly for reason 2. 1 and 3 are usually reserved for vidya. While purpose no 3 does sound appealing, i’m sure it must be very disappointing the moment you step away from it. Shin Mazinger was different from Gurren Lagann for keeping its distance from the viewer. Well, even with Kouji’s speech “hey kids”, i didn’t really connect to the characters (they were all too crazy and awesome). Rather, the show was like reading an animated mythological poem set to classical music.

    • The “Hey kids” thing is a Nagai Go tradition, even the Devilman manga has it. I like how you put it: “reading an animated mythological poem set to classical music.”

      Classical music, metal, and 70s Blaxploitation music all work. The OST for Shin Mazinger Z is ridiculous badass.

  19. Pingback: The Purpose of Anime and Manga (Part II) | We Remember Love

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  21. shumbapumba says:

    ‘tongue-twisting miasma of craziness’ … ‘He amplified the feeling of being a cracked-out kid, high on weekends and bright colors and loud noises and sitting too close to the TV with a bowl of Kellogg’s Super Sugar Frosted Magic Fuck-O’s while Go Nagai’s most enduring creation sped across the sky on his Scrander, defeating evil pretty much without fail.’

    haha great writing! Entertaining post! :D

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