Is anime criticism becoming too aware of how it talks about itself?

Recently – perhaps over the past year or so – I’ve observed a real marked trend in the overall tone and feel of anime criticism; both written, and on YouTube. Driven by the work done by outlets like Sakuga Blog and the accompanying Twitter-sphere of ‘personalities’ well known in the online community, anime criticism as a whole has been shifting toward an increasingly intellectual, highbrow tone.

If you go back and compare ANN reviews from the early 2000s with reviews from 2017, the contrast in quality and writing style is shocking. The earlier pieces often read like they’ve come straight off of McRandom’s ‘my first anime blog’, regularly talking about how fans have probably seen the series being discussed via fansubs, and regularly inject a degree of objective ‘this is best’ knowingness. Fast-forward to now, and the reviews are distinctly professional and tone, regularly breaking out into multi-paragraph diatribes of deep thematic and psychological themes within currently airing series.

A new ‘style’ or mode of anime writing has coalesced, a kind of heady mix of quasi scholarly ‘fan-studies’ discourse and intellectual Tumblr-speak. And while I find many of the pieces highly stimulating and impressively well-written, I also feel I’ve begun to notice a certain divide or potential danger of elitism as a gulf begins to open up between the ‘informed’ cadre of professional/quasi-professional anime writers and the casual ‘everyman’ fan who exists in a separate bubble of online fandom.

Nowhere better signifies this split than the recent discourse around ‘animation budget / animation quality’. Until recently, the general line of thinking within fandom was that increased budget meant increased animation quality – hence the endless Unlimited Budget Works memes, and so on. An easy assumption to make, and one that has seeped *deeply* into a wider understanding of the medium – ensuring endless jokes in the comments section of YouTube when any given series starts looking off-model.

But recently, the sakuga community began to push a new line of discourse, backed up by interviews and testimonies from anime producers themselves. They described a situation where, in fact, most anime series actually worked with roughly similar budgets – and that budget didn’t actually make that much difference to overall animation quality. Rather, it was how ‘time’ was managed and allocated that determined the quality. ie. how well-managed the production of the series was – giving animators the *time* needed to invest quality in the given animation.

Suddenly, the anime Twitterati began repeating this new ‘truth’ of anime discourse – constantly catching themselves when they accidentally fell-back on the old ‘budget=quality’ line. No longer were you allowed to say ‘this looks expensive’, now it was ‘this looks like it had time spent on it’. The gulf opened – with the purveyors of this new line of discourse on one side. Those that – either through lack of wider reading, or refusal to change their understanding – stuck to the old ‘budget’ line slowly retreating back into their own bubble, views largely unchanged and unchallenged.

And all this got me thinking about whether current anime fandom has become too ‘aware’ of how it talks about itself. Aware of their ‘voice’ as authors, as it were. While the notion of correct knowledge pertaining to the medium is certainly important and valuable in terms of achieving a modicum of truth surrounding the process of production – within common everyday fandom parlance, there’s a sense perhaps that the more fans are removed from a free, casual discussion of the actual ‘enjoyment’ of the series itself, the more the wonder of watching as viewer instead of critic is removed.

This idea is furthered in a concept I’ve seen mentioned in regard to the wider anime blogging community, in that due to the volume of series coming out, it’s become impossible to ‘catch up’ with the pace of new series airing, because whenever you’re not *watching* anime, you’re *writing* about it – ad infinitum. Here, the sheer enjoyment as viewer is sucked away, replaced by the compulsion to ‘keep up’, because to fall behind is to fall behind the leading edge of fan discussion.


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