Toward a Quantification of Love FOR ANIMU Part 1a: The Value of Rewatchability through the Lens of Eternal Recurrence

In last week’s article, we talked about evaluating anime in terms of their ability to deliver rewatchable moments for us viewers. The place of the “rewatchability ratio” as the first in our series of evaluation ratios is no accident because it is one of the most important factors from which I personally derive utility in viewing an anime. As such, before leaving the topic entirely, I felt it would be interesting to take a look at one of the reasons why rewatchability is so important to me.

Those of you who read the previous article may have noticed my extremely high threshold for rewatchability (over 100 viewings). In fact I tend to watch a particularly enjoyable episode 3 to 8 times almost immediately depending on how much I like it. For my absolute favorite episodes (ex. the endings of Last Exile, Gurren Lagann, and Wolf’s Rain TV) I watch them for days on end (probably in excess of 50 times) and return to them periodically when the fancy strikes. In addition to these viewings (whole episodes), I will rewatch moments within them (ex. Kamina’s death, Anemone’s reunion with Dominic, Youko’s Inaugural Address) about 3 times per viewing, averaging around 150 viewings within 1 month of seeing the episode for the first time. Further, at work, I have a collection of my favorite anime eps, as well as bits I have spliced, which I listen to just like you would a radio drama. That’s about 7.5 hours a day, 5 days a week (excluding holidays), 12 months a year.

This behavior fundamentally alters the way I derive utility from anime I watch. Generally, I tend to have fonder memories of anime that provide me with rewatchable moments simply because I generate more utility per minute due to selective rewatching. For example, I actually love Brain Powered (an anime generally agreed upon to be atrocious) because of exactly 2 moments in the later episodes that I watched more than all the episodes of the entire series combined.

Two Moments Overrode the Fail

Two Moments Overrode the Fail

But the concept of utility is really a nebulous one. While we can certainly say that we derive utility from watching anime, dissecting the factors of an anime that bring us utility is a far more difficult task to undertake. This is due in no small part to not only subjectively, but at times subliminally (sometimes we don’t really know why something brings us utility), determined utility criteria. As such, I find myself looking for non-quantitative ways to explain utility derived from my anime consumption patterns.

Milan Kundera has given me an interesting way of framing my utility from this behavior via the concept of eternal recurrence.

First, a background. The quick Wikipedia definition of eternal recurrence is:

“Eternal return (also known as “eternal recurrence”) is a concept which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times…

The basic premise is that the universe is limited in extent and contains a finite amount of matter, while time is viewed as being infinite. The universe has no starting or ending state, while the matter comprising it is constantly changing its state. The number of possible changes is finite, and so sooner or later the same state will recur.

…Nietzsche calls the idea “horrifying and paralyzing”, and says that its burden is the “heaviest weight” (“das schwerste Gewicht”) imaginable.”

They Sought a World of Eternal Recurrence

They Sought a World of Eternal Recurrence

In his book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” however, Kundera seems to posit an opposing hypothesis which assigns an equally terrible insignificance that pervades ones existence in a transient world (which we assume is the real world). In fact, his remarkable book begins with the following:

“(H)ow can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated with the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine… (there is a) profound moral perversity in a world that rests, essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything is cynically permitted.”

More from Wikipedia:

“Assuming that eternal return were impossible, humankind would experience an ‘absolute absence of burden,’ and this would ‘[cause] man to be lighter than air’ in his lack of weight of meaning. Something which does not forever recur has its brief existence, and, once it is complete, the universe goes on existing, utterly indifferent to the completed phenomenon. ‘Life which disappears once and for all, which does not return’ writes Kundera, is ‘without weight…and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime…means nothing.’ Each life is insignificant; every decision does not matter. Since decisions do not matter, they are ‘light’: they do not tie us down. However, at the same time, the insignificance of our decisions – our lives, or being – is unbearable. Hence, ‘the unbearable lightness of being.'”

Lulu Wanted Time to Move Forward

Lulu Wanted Time to Move Forward

In his words, where an existence defined by eternal recurrence can be paralyzing in its weight, an existence defined by the non-existence of return can be equally terrible in its lightness. Further, Kundera questions whether eternal recurrence, is really that terrible at all:

“But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?

Te heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.”

The dichotomy between weight and lightness, between permanence and transience becomes the central focus of the book and its characters.

But what is the world of fiction, and anime in particular, other than an artificially created world of eternal return? Working under this assumption then, that events that occur in the realm of eternal recurrence have more weight, are more real than events that occur in an world where things happen only once, these imagined worlds take on a weightier reality than our own lives, even our own recorded history. How can an anime character escape from his context when that context is revealed again and again in its entirety? Have we managed to transcend the unbearable lightness of our existence through narrative?

Not exactly. I propose 3 levels of experiencing a text:

1. The text from the eyes of a character within it. This is a world where things only happen once. (ie. To Simon, Kamina dies only once)

2. The text from the eyes of a viewer who has suspended disbelief. The viewer accepts the events in the text as true for the characters within the text. The viewer is a visitor to their world. Not outside looking in. (i.e. To me, Euphie is a real person, and she died in episode 23).

We Become Riveted Just as Rin Was

We Become Riveted Just as Rin Was

3. The text from the perspective of a viewer who is no longer actively reading it. (i.e. Kamina is a character in Gurren Lagann, an anime sitting on the DVDs on my shelf).

In the first and third levels, the experience retains its transient nature. To Simon, Kamina will only die once, I will also watch his death specifically before my final exam only once. Thus, as we get farther away from the time of the event/specific viewing, the power of its context is lost or changed.

However, what is of interest to us is is the second level of experience (#2) wherein we are, for a moment, immersed in the text. I’m sure you are all familiar with the “waking” sensation you get at the end of a particularly engrossing movie or show. For that brief moment wherein your disbelief is suspended, the events unfolding before you are true. And more importantly, by the very nature of a narrative, all the necessary context of an event lies before you and will be present in subsequent rewatchings. If a world of eternal recurrence is one where things happen again and again in all the power of their context, then by rewatching something repeatedly while my disbelief is suspended, I enter that magical realm where events eternally recur. There is an immortality that I share with these characters as an observer in their world.

Can We Also Leap Through Time?

Can We Also Leap Through Time?

Moments in anime, as we experience them are light. More than that, they are not even real. But because they are replicable in all the power of their context, they can be, to us, more real that the food we ate this morning. However, shouldn’t there be an unbearable weight associated with this kind of existence? Not in this case. For one thing, since my role is that of an observer, I share none of the responsibility for the events unfolding before me. More importantly, prior to my suspension of disbelief, I make a conscious choice to rewatch only events that give me pleasure. It is a world of eternal recurrence, but devoid of undesirable events. An eternal existence where only good/awesome/pleasurable things happen to me.

More Like this: The Fanboy/Girl Who Leapt Through Time

More Like this: The Fanboy/Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Hmmmm… A world where only good things happen repeatedly… sounds like heaven to me!

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24 Responses to Toward a Quantification of Love FOR ANIMU Part 1a: The Value of Rewatchability through the Lens of Eternal Recurrence

  1. Fucking amazing post, and i did read the whole thing. What you have essentially done here is proven that anime is, in fact, what we define as ‘heaven’. And anything that can prove that is the epitome of fuckwin. You have strengthened my ever growing desire to rewatch things. I ofen find myself doubting that a rewatch is a a good thing or that I should do it when I could be experiencing new things, but you have removed a large amount of that doubt form me and I seriously feel like rewatching RahXephon 19 again now. Maybe TWICE.

    I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around our sheer number of rewatches though. I can assume the scene in Nadesico ep 4 was especially relatable for you.

  2. schneider says:

    Hey Brain Powered, I should watch you too! Hime = Sochie

    Anyways, that was a great post explaining your chronic rewatching. But how does your time spent watching new shows compare? I generally don’t rewatch because I’m always checking new anime out, or sloughing through the ones I’m mired deep in (currently Macross 7).

  3. animekritik says:

    That was extremely interesting. Mind you, ultimately Nietzsche embraces the eternal recurrence and puts it at the center of his worldview.
    I kind of second schneider here, though, doesn’t chronic rewatching severely cut down on chances to watch new anime..
    Also, don’t you start noticing flaws after a few viewings, doesn’t make at least some of the moments less and less special as you rewatch?

  4. cuilan says:

    What were those two moments in Brain Powered?

    I liked your take on re-watching anime, but it could have been better without the Wikipedia quotes. I prefer reading from you, silly.

  5. lelangir says:

    “Eternal return” sounds like a name straight outta G00

    return returnal
    eternal eternity

  6. ghostlightning says:

    Yeah, I used to think you watched a whole deal of new shows, but I think your anime viewing has diminished a lot, especially after accounting your chronic rewatching.

    I’m rewatching Gundam 0083 Stardust Memory, and I’m really liking it more, the 2.1st time around (I had dropped it after the first ep when you first showed it to me remember?).

    I got the habit from you of trying to watch as many shows as possible at the beginning of the season, then systematically dropping the shows that don’t hold my interest. This ‘culling’ mechanic has allowed me to attack my backlog (LOGH, Nadesico) and somehow make time for sporadic (i.e. Lucky Star, TTGL, Macross Frontier) and full rewatching.

    @ animekritik

    Re noticing flaws. Yes, flaws come up – but goodies that I’ve overlooked too! It also gives me perspective on my current viewing list (specifically Gundam 00, through my rewatching of Gundam 0083).

    @ lelangir

    LOL. Return Returnal seems like a winner. Should be given a mobile armor to pilot.

  7. Kiri says:

    Really innovative subject and well-written post. Applause! I don’t think I really have anything to say in response though, only that I’d agree with Lulu and Nietzsche to say that eternal occurrence in our own world would be a terrible thing. Within the context of anime, it’s interesting because, as you say, we are mere observers. I think this subject is also really neat in the context of Higurashi, where essentially, the same thing happens eternally with random permutations.

  8. relentlessflame says:

    What you’ve described is, essentially, the rationale for or the underpinnings of “anime as a form of escapism”. I suppose you could also say that these moments count as “minor moments of euphoria” — when art transcends its medium and impacts the viewer in a fundamentally profound way. It seems to me that, for many anime viewers (and certainly for myself), the entire anime experience is a continuous search for these transcending moments, which fits into the concept that these moments have a weightiness that is more than the transient nature of our day-to-day lives (though not enough actual weightiness to be burdensome, since they are ultimately available to us “on-demand”). In this way, it is not difficult to see how, to some who are especially emotionally attuned, anime can be not so dissimilar to a drug, and why it would not be hard to find yourself addicted.

    But there are a few curiosities I’ve noticed about this:

    First, most anime discussion in general (certainly on the blogosphere and on forums) tends to focus on the transient rather than on the transcendent. When sharing the anime experience, why do so many choose to dwell on the mundane (the criticisms, the play-by-play, the shows they dislike, etc.)? Perhaps they’re trying to give “weight” to those transient moments so they don’t just disappear entirely into the “eternal recurrence of the universe”? I always wonder: if we’re looking for the transcendent, why don’t we spend more time talking about it and what it is to us?

    Second, many anime opinionators seem convinced, almost to the point of obsession, that there is a common objective standard of “good” and “bad”, and fundamentally have a hard time accepting that one person’s “euphoria” is another’s transient moment of, at best, “lightness” (if not nothingness). Is this too simply an attempt to give “weight” to one’s own transience and so believe that your experience is somehow larger than your own existence? (And/or to find solace in the shared experiences of others to prove you’re not alone?)

    This constant struggle between transience and transcendence is pretty fundamental to the human experience, but it seems to me that very few have given the whole thing very much thought. I suspect that at least part of the secret to fulfillment in life is in seeking the transcendent having accepted one’s own transience — or, to find “weight” to complement our own “lightness”. If anime is one of the vehicles that enable that, so much the better for having found it!

  9. Funeral says:

    Amazing post. Definitely makes me want to rewatch a lot of the shows I haven’t seen in quite a while and watch new shows as well so I can have the pleasure of rewatching later on down the road.

  10. I’m generally not to big on rewatches/replays. I’m always looking for new experiences and new stories when it comes to my consumption of just about any form of media so unless I see a benefit to it like potentially finding something I missed the first time through then I’d usually prefer to move on to something else.

  11. mechafetish says:

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy

    Glad you like it!

    Oh man, I don’t think I’m ready for RaXephon 19 again. I was shipping them hard (against all hope) at this point and the events of that episode were soul crushingly painful for me.

    I saw Nadesico more than 5 years ago on VHS (although I did watch the whole series twice). It was a bit difficult to rewatch stuff at the time because you had to rewind and fast forward a lot. Digital media has done a lot to change my anime consumption patterns. I do plan to copy the digital version from Ghostlightning and then watch it again. I’m sure there will be additions to my rewatchable moments.

    @ schneider

    Hehe Hime’s “Shoootoooo!” is Win… but Fail… Its WinFail… Its Wail.

    Re my time management, please check out the tldr comment below since a lot of you guys asked about it.

    @ animekritik

    Thanks for the info! Actually, I’m not as familiar with Nietzsche as I’d like. I’m currently attempting to read Thus Spake Zarathustra, but I’m slogging through it very slowly.

    As for your comment on flaws, I tend to do a lot of rewatching when I still have a hangover from a particularly great series after the initial viewing. In this instance, I don’t feel like watching anything else for a few days so I just cycle my favourite eps for a while. This period also covers rewatches with my younger brother and Ghostlightning. At this point, I do start to notice flaws, but these help me narrow the enjoyable eps down to my few “rewatchable moments”. Also, with a few exceptions, Ghostlightning and my younger brother tend to be such insufferable nitpickers that I spend more time defending the shows than criticizing them so I wind up getting past a lot of them.

    For more on my time management, please see below.

    @ cuilan

    Sorry about the copious amount of quotes. Just felt they were necessary.

    As for the 2 moments in brain powered:

    1. The bit where the US Military fired nuclear missiles on the Novis Noah. (This is my personal favourite)

    2. The bit where they were getting ready for the final battle against Orphan, up to their departure. Specifically, I love the tender moment between Yuu and Hime where she says she’s not scared. I found it a beautifully human moment.

    @ lelangir

    LOL return returnal for the win!

    @ Ghostlightning

    It’s true my anime consumption has gone down a bit recently. I only average 1 – 3 eps a day now. But I don’t think it’s because of rewatches at all. I just find that I don’t have as much time to allocate to it because of other stuff like Tennis and well… nowadays anyway… blogging. I do tend to rewatch moments while I am working or studying because it is impossible to settle down into a series in these situations. For more, see below.

    For your reference, I am currently watching:
    1. Ride Back, 1 ep a week (Ongoing Series)
    2. Aria, 1-2 eps a week (Backlog)
    3. Planetes, 1-2 eps a week (Backlog)
    4. 12 Kingdoms, 0.5-1 eps a week while skipping eps I don’t like (Rewatch)
    5. Eureka Seven, 0.5-1 eps a week while skipping eps I don’t like (Rewatch)
    6. G-Gundam, 0.5-4 eps a month (Rewatch with Ghostlightning)
    7. Turn-A Gundam, 0.5-3 eps a month (Rewatch with Ghostlightning)
    8. Monster, 0.5-3 eps a month (Rewatch with Ghostlightning)
    9. Kannagi, 2-4 eps a week (Rewatch with younger brother)

    Toradora is on hold until the series is complete because, chronic shipper that I am, I cannot take the soul crushing suspense at the end of each episode. Ditto for Gundam 00, but for slightly different reasons.

  12. mechafetish says:

    @ Everyone

    A lot of you seem interested about the economics of rewatching such moments so many times. Actually, I find that time taken to rewatch moments/parts of episodes need not be taken from time for watching new anime at all. Just as a background, I tend to rewatch moments:

    1. When I have a hangover from a particularly great series after the initial viewing. In this instance, I don’t feel like watching anything else for a few days so I just cycle my favourite eps for a while. Usually, this is where I narrow the enjoyable eps down to my few “rewatchable moments” and copy those to my hard drive and portable media players.

    2. During breaks from work. I know you all take these too. Hehe. As an alternative to surfing the net which can get repetitive within a ten hour work day, I can spend a few 5 minute breaks watching 2 -3 rewatchable moments.

    3. During breaks from studying. Same as the above except for a 2 – 4 hour study session. In this instance, rewatching is preferable to surfing because your mind does not need to process new information. As such I find it more restful.

    Also, when I’m writing particularly difficult papers for school, I tend to rewatch the more inspirational rewatchable moments. For example, I finished my post-graduate thesis proposal with much help from Simon in Gurren Lagann Episode 27.

    4. In transit (I spend approximately 2 hours a day on various forms of transportation). I’m actually not a very musical person, so I tend to spend half my time listening to music and half my time rewatching my favourite moments. I know for a fact that Ghostlightning got A LOT of rewatching done for the final episode of Macross Frontier in transit from place to place.

    The above examples are unique top myself of course, but as you can see, they represent a significant amount of time that DOES NOT cut into any of my activities, anime related or otherwise.

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  14. schneider says:

    Holy shit, I think I’ve found a new use for my PSP then.

  15. Turambar says:

    I don’t think I have personally found the purpose rewatching serves for me, in the sense of rewatching for the sake of an eternal recurrence of euphoric events. Moments that I deem rewatchable are already well etched into my memory. While watching such moments unfold on screen brings out a much immediate, fresh feeling, running such moments over in my mind gives an equal amount of enjoyment even if the images are blurrier, and dialogue and musical scores full of blanks.

  16. rollchan says:

    I love Brain Powerd.

    Although Animax-Asia aired aired the OP theme not nekkid. 😀

  17. Versus says:

    Brain Powered – never heard of it before, but a quick wikipedia look convinced me to check it out as soon as I fond the time.

    [quote]The basic premise is that the universe is limited in extent and contains a finite amount of matter, while time is viewed as being infinite. The universe has no starting or ending state, while the matter comprising it is constantly changing its state. The number of possible changes is finite, and so sooner or later the same state will recur.[/quote]

    I know it’s a more metaphorical approach and I am no physician, but doesn’t that conflict with Einsteins theory?

    If the matter is finite and the time infinite, according to his famous formula (E = m * c²) we also get infinite Energy. And since Energy is equivalent to matter we also get infinite matter in return … which concludes to an infinite number of states/changes.

    Just a little thought about it, I could be wrong thou.

    It’s true as a viewer we share no responsibilities for the actions taken, but I don’t think we (as viewers) remain as pure observers since at some point I tend to identify myself with the characters – to the point that sometimes when an event takes place that really doesn’t suit me, I just lay back, close my eyes and think of “what would be” (before actually watching more – sometimes I even drop a series if it really bothered me).

    Then again may be I just have to much imagination 😉

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