Recently, I’ve been selling off vast swathes of my anime collection via services like Ziffit and eBay – clearing out weighty boxes from my cupboard that had mostly lain untouched for a good year or two. Discs that had been watched once and then consigned to my own veritable ‘bargain bin’ of distinctly C-tier anime.
I should make it clear here that I’m not talking about the Evangelions or Madoka Magicas of the world. No – those discs will probably stay lovingly in my collection for decades to come. I’m talking about the likes of Virus Buster Serge, Blue Dragon and Psycho Driver. Some of these hadn’t even been cracked out of the shrink wrap from when I’d bought them in an HMV sale.
When I’ve discussed the idea of moving ‘beyond’ the idea of an anime collection – and the merits of going ‘streaming-only’ as your primary means of anime consumption, it has inevitably been met with some anger on anime forums – the den of the most hardcore of collectors. And while I absolutely ‘get’ the collector mindset – I was one for many years, after all – what I want to try and unravel here are the psychological framework that allowed me (and perhaps others) to move beyond what was once fanatically precious to me. From coveted physical object to ‘experience’. Because – after all – surely it is the experience of watching anime that truly matters most?
Experience trumps physical medium – Casting off psychological ties to the object
This, for me, eventually became the single biggest motivator to shed the bulk of my collection. I can pin-point a very precise point where I had watched pretty much every agreed-upon ‘good’ show in the anime canon. What was left were the above-mentioned C-tier dreg shows, which I had mostly amassed on disc form precisely because they were out of print. There was this bizarre intrigue to watch these relics of the anime industry that were fast becoming lost to time – unavailable on streaming services precisely because they were unpopular.
But as I started to wade through these shows, I begun to understand precisely why. Because – for the most part – they were bad, really bad. I was watching them to ‘complete’ them – to justify my purchases. Not for any enjoyment. I started having to set ‘goals’ to make my way through them – four episodes and then a coffee. Half a season and then a break to play a video game. It became pointless.
But in a way, by reaching this kind of pointlessness-of-viewing – I begun to adjust and realise what my motivations for watching anime actually were. The driving power of completionism began to fade away – replaced by a simple truth – with so many of these shows that I had bought now re-evaluated as worthless (I had only watched them once, and would never watch them again), what was the point of keeping hold of the discs?
If it was the experience of watching that counted, was there any point at all of keeping the physical discs to shows of dubious quality? With the ‘canon’ consumed, the bulk of my viewing was already shifting to primarily ‘new’ shows only via Crunchyroll – already aligning my viewing to one of digital-only consumption. Suddenly, I no longer had to worry about battered cases, difficult to extract DVDs and the chore (ha!) of switching discs in the player. Suddenly everything could be accessed from one portal on my PS4 – effortlessly gliding between a new show on Crunchyroll to an analysis of it on YouTube.
The draw of the ‘disc’ was dead. The thrill of extracting a dusty old copy of Slayers from a jiffy bag and ticking it off on my ‘to-watch’ list fast fading. Instead, it was replaced by an assurance in one simple truth – by casting off the shackles of ‘compulsion’ viewing and maintaining as complete a collection as possible, I opened the doors to a more streamlined viewing experience – one in which ‘quality’ and ‘enjoyment’ became infinitely more reliable.
Moving beyond the ‘scarcity’ mindset
One of the most frequent arguments I see for maintaining a ‘full’ anime collection is the sense of physical objects having a ‘permanence’ that goes beyond streaming options. These objects are ‘owned’. They are firmly, and resolutely ‘yours’ and the whims of a third party streaming provider can’t ever take them away from you.
But it is in these rebuttals that I became curious about what I’ll term the ‘scarcity mindset’ – the idea that the act of keeping an anime collection might be being actively enforced by the psychological ‘fear’ of not being able to watch something exactly when you want. The idea that by keeping your discs, you ‘win’ vs. the big, anonymous corps because the power of ‘gatekeeper’ remains invested in you, and not them.
This is understandable – after all, a great deal of my own collection practices were predicated on obtaining discs that were out of print (or about to go out of print) in the UK. I ‘needed’ to know that these objects were safe in my possession.
But this issue I began to realise was that a ‘scarcity mindset’ was one fundamentally predicated on a perceived fear / lack of confidence in future scenarios. It was a kind of psycho-emotional tie linked entirely to negativity (ie. that in a future scenario, you can’t watch said anime, so to counter this, you must keep said anime in your physical collection). As such, the physical object begins to exert a powerful psychological force beyond the simple enjoyment of watching the show – suddenly the modus operandi for keeping the object is not simply to ‘watch’ it, but to guard against a possibility of ‘not’ being able to watch it in the future.
I remember a distinct piece of advice from ANN’s Zac Bertschy, given in an ANNCast from a few years’ back where he talked about his love of Evangelion, and how he advocated a kind of rationalism for curating a collection of anime paraphernalia. A kind of ‘choose one, precious thing, and stick with that’ mindset.
It is with this kind of mindset that I approached deciding what to get rid of from my anime collection. Over a process of some months, I’d already re-organised my shelves to put focus on the series I had enjoyed most – shifting these discs to the front and tucking stuff I rarely watched to the second row (or into the cupboard). Lo and behold – with the ‘lesser’ discs removed from sight, I came to realise that when it came to selling them off, they had very little psychological value any more, and were easily parted with.
By applying this curatorial kind of prioritisation to the collection, certain objects achieved a value far greater than others – and through this process of stark contrast, it became far easier to see what ‘had’ to go.
What’s left… (yes, It’s still quite a lot…)