Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the series the fall between the cracks of anime fandom, or perhaps more accurately, ‘quality’ shows (if we’re to pretend for a moment that the notion of quality isn’t simply a margin of subjective taste) that end up slipping below the radar for a while, or even permanently.
As anime streaming has meant we consume shows more and more within a heavily discourse and hype driven weekly basis, the first three weeks of any given season become a heady period of The Unknown. What’s good? What’s worth spending your precious time on? Three episode test. Dropped. etc etc. We’re ruthless now. We burn out easily, we consign shows to the trash within one episode – no more than a click of a button on MAL and its a relic of a ‘poor season’.
And it got me thinking about shows that either lingered in this zone of low to average mass interest, and how some manage to claw their way out to become real cherished gems. Recent examples include Tsuki Ga Kirei and Rakugo Shinju – especially in the latter case and its triumphant second season, its easy to forget that when the first season of Rakugo aired, many initially passed over it – dismissing it as obscure, overly intellectual or simply not hyped enough. It was only in time, and as discourse spread that it was a ‘work of quality’ that its MAL rating began to creep up and its status established as a modern classic. Likewise with Tsuki Ga Kirei, many initially binned it off after episode one as a by the numbers romance series – only returning to it later in the game when people began to rave about its masterful, naturalistic style. The show is now sitting pretty with an impressive 8.4 average rating on MAL.
There are also shows that fare less luckily. There are some, like The Great Passage, which are a victim of circumstance – consigned to an ill fate on Amazon, unpromoted and unloved, this series – another naturalistic, low-key masterpiece – never got the attention it deserved when it actually ‘aired’, and by the time US fans started covering it, it felt like the hype was already gone, further compounded by Amazon’s paywall strategy.
And as for this season? Allow me to present the case of 18if, a bizarre stylistic exercise helmed up by Koji Morimoto of Macross Plus, Project Eden intro and Studio 4C fame. I’ll be the first to admit the show has its flaws – inconsistent in both animation quality and tone. But its also one of the most adventurously and visually interesting shows this season. And yet it currently languishes with a 6.2 MAL rating and was so unpopular it didn’t even get picked up for weekly reviews on ANN. The consensus is evidently out – this show just plain isn’t worth watching. And yet, it continues, a new episode released every week – and especially in a ‘portfolio’ style show like this where every episode takes on a different style, and mini narrative (like Flip Flappers), every episode feasibly has the potential to be a knockout, even if the bulk of the show is poor.
Time will tell if 18if picks up in terms of long-term discourse – but I think for the time being, it – and shows like it, which suffered to lesser degrees – present an interesting example in how fandom gravitates (or rather, doesn’t gravitate) around certain shows in the current streaming climate.