[This is not a post about merchandise].
It’s easy to understand why we try out new shows. New season, new shows, we check out the ones we think we’ll like and those we feel will be fun to discuss. In a recent comment I made trying to arrive at the dynamics of K-ON!‘s popularity, I mentioned a bit of meta-influence going on [->]. Popularity generates more popularity (including un-popularity, but attention is the key element here), and obscurity generates more of the same.
I wonder though, how many of these immediately popular shows become favorites of their respective viewers (assuming they deliver what was expected of them).
I don’t entirely trust a MyAnimeList profile [->] to indicate a viewer’s real favorites, but I will go as far as to say that the anime that went into this list has been considered and placed there to achieve a certain effect: to tell others about the profiled, to distinguish the profiled from others. The list of favorite shows is constructed to tell a story about the profiled. It exists to ‘brand’ that person.
The Diderot Effect
To ethnographers [->], the entire process in building a coherent, commercialized self — a brand, by assembling brands in a collection has a name: The Diderot Effect. The late-seventeenth-century French essayist explored this would-be modern condition in his “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown,” presenting the discussion on how we choose the ‘artistic experiences and sensations’ [->] that we do. In this post, ‘artistic experiences and sensations are related media from modern Japanese audiovisual culture.
Here is Diderot’s argument on how things fit together, how things predict and complement one another. As he looks up from his desk and glances around his study, Diderot notices that it has been transformed by mysterious forces. It was once crowded, humble, chaotic, and happy. Now it is elegant, organized, and a little grim. What happened? Diderot suspects that the cause of the transformation is right before his eyes. It is his new dressing gown. A week after he began to wear the gown, it occurred to him that his shabby desk was not quite up to the standard of his robe. So he got a shiny new one. Then the tapestry on the wall seemed a little threadbare and new curtains had to be found. Gradually, the entire contents of the study were replaced. Why? Not because he wanted a new study but because he needed a sense of coherence, a sense that nothing was out of place, a sense of center, what today would be known as brand coherence. He wanted the stories to fit.
From James B. Twitchell, Branded Nation, (2004) p.25
This is easily enough seen in the purchase of anime|manga-related merchandise. I started out making an impulse buy for a Gundam Exia model kit [->], but since I am a Macross fanboy and that’s the story I present to the otakusphere I cannot not have Macross merch. And so I bought one [->], and then others [->] [->], and then some more [->] [->] [->], et-FUCKING-cetera [->] [->] [->] [->] [->] (there’s more, but you get the picture).
The consumption of merchandise, aside from feeding a need to possess also feeds a compulsion to create identity. In the case of anime consumption, the anime list is an effective form of distinction. It communicates one’s tastes quite comprehensively (if not completely accurate, given limitations of the subjective rating system). However, we can perceive the internal logic of the owner of the list, on how such a person may rate slice of life/comedy shows higher compared to mecha shows, etc.
The quickest way to do this is to look at the top-5 favorites list on the person’s profile. Here are four anime fans who I’ve met as bloggers, alongside my own list. This ranking is fluid — I know mine is; but is accurate up to 30 April 2009.
What I’m saying is that beyond the particular enjoyment these people get from the direct consumption (i.e. watching the show in real time), we also enjoy the idea of being able to enjoy these shows as much as we have, and in the way that we did, and what that says about us. I’m not speaking for the group — I didn’t survey these people or anything. It is a supposition based on my understanding of how brands work.
Looking at my own list I see a whole lot of mecha anime, with Cowboy Bebop being the only exception. It serves to communicate how despite my open-mindedness in consumption and varied taste in shows, I’m by and large a robot anime fan; there’s a core in my being anime fan, and in that core you see awesome robots. The practical use of this list is that it gives me some credibility in my running an anime blog that publishes many mecha anime posts. It would be a little more difficult to establish such if I had put Honey and Clover, or Aria, in my favorites list despite my very high regard for these shows.
ghostlightning = robot (Macross) fanboy
What ‘brand’ of anime fan can be read from the lists of the other four? There’s more to it than merely ‘shoujo’ or ‘mecha.’ I purposely made the reading of my own list simple (the nuances of which I can elaborate somewhere else). I do notice that the #1 picks (luckily I have seen all of them) are all capable of engaging the viewer on a strong emotional level. This tells me that while the people on the list may value cool, edginess, and timelessness, but perhaps above all they value shows that make them feel strong things. But what about the rest of their choices? I’ll let them present it themselves if they’re so inclined.
But what do you think? These profiles are displayed publicly. They are meant to communicate something to the reader. What do these lists tell you about these people? Feel free to share it here. It will show how effective the composition of the list is in accomplishing our/their overt or unconscious goals.
If you’re so inclined, what are your favorite five shows? What is your list telling us about you?