How I sold up and moved on (mostly) from my anime collection

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.

Prioritising favourites

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…)

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Spiral – A truly underrated early 00s anime gem

Recently I’ve been selling off a lot of my multi-volume collections of DVD ‘singles’ that I acquired during my days of purchasing £0.01 2nd hand discs from Amazon Marketplace. They take up too much space and, once watched, often have little replay value for me. But one series I’ve kept – largely because I doubt it will ever be re-released, is Spiral (The Bonds of Reasoning) – a taught, morally grey thriller series that sees school kids turned killers. Half Battle Royale, half Death Note – on first-viewing I became absolutely charmed by this series, only to find it all but forgotten these days – despite it being one of only a select few titles released by Revelation films in the UK, in the days before the UK branch of Funimation distribution transferred to Manga UK.

The original Spiral manga ran between 2000 – 2005 in Shonen Gangan magazine, best known for Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater, with the anime coming in 2002 from JC Staff and running for 25 episodes.

I’ll keep the ins and outs of the plot brief, but essentially Spiral revolves around a boy-girl high school duo who go around solving a series of mysterious murders, while simultaneously trying to evade the mysterious ‘Blade Children’ – trained, violent killers who present a number of game-like ‘tests’ which our main duo have to extricate themselves from. What follows are a number of Sherlock Holmes-esque deductions and escapades that invariably favour logic and mental capacity over any kind of Shonen-esque brute force. In much the same way as Death Note, the vast joy of this series is in the ‘how they did it’ reveals as our heroes continue to outwit the Blade Children.

So far, so good. The script is deftly written, and the direction solid. The artwork is typical of early 00s digipaint – in fact, I’d even go as far to say much of it is *worse* than the norm – the colours are bizzarely garish in places, while backgrounds are pretty much as undetailed as it’s possible to be without everything turning into an amorphous blobs of shapes. But all this adds to show’s certain dorky charm – perfectly typified in the character design of plummy ‘perfect’ student Hiyono Yuizaki who plays like a combination of the Monogatari series’ Tsubasa Hanekawa and the classic ‘school newspaper journalist’ character archetype. Her hair ends up looking like one, immense braided pretzel.

There are other choice character highlights. One of the ‘Blade Children’ is a grey-haired loli played by Monica Rial (in her trademark loli style, of course) in the English dub chief among them. At one point, desperate to kill our two heroes, this precocious loli goes as far as to involve herself in a self-detonated bomb blast – just so she can get close enough for the bomb to be effective. This botched suicide attempt is the first in a lengthy sequence of episodes that starts to shade the Blade Children as morally grey – as we see the loli confined to a hospital bed, yet continuing to try and outwit our heroes as she and her villainous compatriot move onto poison as there weapon of choice.

Filling out the rest of the cast come more bizarrely memorable roles in the English dub – including one of the worst ‘Southern’ American accents, and one of the worst ‘British’ accents you will ever here attempted in a dub ever. But even in their awfulness, they become oddly charming – adding a deliciously hammed up feel to the incongruous mix of childish sleuthing and hard, invariably brutal violence.

At the crux of this show is a simple truth – young kids trying to rip the shit out of each-other. Bombs and poison – just another day’s work. Drawn in an almost shojo-esque, colourful style, Spiral’s visual trappings pair oddly with the darkness of its subject matter – it certainly never reaches the excesses of something like Elfen Lied, but it shares a little of that show’s garish, almost tasteless appetite for wanton violence.

All in all though – I remember this show as one of the better pure ‘thriller’ anime series out there – one that harks back to a purer age of ‘sleuthing’ tropes – and the idea of pairing a genre like that with a high-school setting was still relatively novel. If you can track down the DVDs and give it a watch (and I implore you to do so with the Funimation dub switched on) – then please do so. Spiral has without a doubt aged more poorly than other shows of the 00s – but if anything, it only adds to its charm.

Nobody has out-styled Soul Eater yet

I was reminded earlier today of how one of my first entry points to long-running Shonen series had been Soul Eater, and how – even at that still-nebulous stage of my anime fandom, it left such a distinct imprint on me as something that was ‘different’ from the norm. Even now, I still hear the show referred to fondly – whether it be some of its standout moments of sakuga joy, to the distinct, memorable characters. Just let’s not say too much about that anime original ending…

But what I want to talk about here is Soul Eater’s distinct sense of *style* – something which I feel is the show’s single most defining trait. Atsushi Okubo’s character designs – via their treatment from studio Bones – are the show’s standout visual call-point. In many ways, they stand as distinctly ‘un-anime’ – almost recalling a more Western-orientated cartoon aesthetic. Like something out of a Gorillaz video. All jagged edges, elastic limbs and loony expressions. Soul Eater, more than any other anime outside of perhaps Studio Trigger, like a fun ‘cartoon’.

This styling is further born out in a cast that is not only refreshingly multicultural and varied, but also in the show’s ‘urban’-tinged soundtrack which twists hip-hop beats with spiky, pumped up OP themes. The English dub can’t go unmentioned too – it’s one of Funimation’s finest, with a stellar performance from Laura Bailey in particular – which makes me sad she far more rarely does anime work these days.

And then there’s the anime version’s tight approach to story – each episode, while forming part of a longer narrative, also functioning very much in a standalone vein. There’s a reason why – even now – particular episodes such as the hilariously wacky Excalibur moments or the episode where Death The Kid chases the train through the desert are still imprinted firmly in my mind. The Soul Eater anime imbued itself with a sense of movement and forward momentum that few shonen anime adaptions these days manage even a fraction of – so concerned are they with stretching out each manga chapter for all it’s worth.

So looking back, I wonder whether Soul Eater was a kind of last gasp of mid-00s anime idealism; of the era where Haruhi and Gurren Lagann ruled the airwaves. An age before the copy-book sheen of the likes of Blue Exorcist, Twin Star Exorcists, Ass Class etc. introduced a glossier, more plasticly polished type of shonen. Soul Eater was a little rough around the edges – and in that, it found a roguish charm I just don’t see often enough these days.

Hikaru No Go, Kaiji, and the appeal of game-theory aesthetic

I’ve been watching a lot of 2001 series Hikaru No Go recently, mainly due to the distinct turn-of-the-millennium aesthetic it has going for it. The early digi-paint colouring might appear crude by today’s glossy digital standards, but for me, seeing the bold, simplistic colours paired with the show’s synth-heavy soundtrack conveys an instant hit of nostalgia – taking me right back to the days of when Digimon and Cardcaptors were playing on ITV.

But for me, the other key charm of Hikaru No Go is that it absolutely nails something I’ve come to call the game-theory aesthetic. Something which all ‘sports’ anime do to some degree – from the current successes like Haikyuu right through to series that aren’t even technically ‘sports’ – like Yu Gi Oh. In essence – what these shows all have is a process which sets up a clearly defined rule-set, and then serves to show how our central characters can cleanly and logically overcome those rule-sets. The thrill is almost magic-trick like – the power of the ‘reveal’; offering excitement that goes far beyond the ‘dumb-fun’ tropes of who has the higher power level when they punch someone.

No – as much as sport series might be about physical endeavour – it’s invariably the mental attitude or fortitude that sees their characters win out in the end. And this is stronger than ever in shows that are actually about purely ‘mental’ games – shows like Hikaru No Go or Kaiji; where board games or good old-fashioned gambling up this ‘game-theory’ aesthetic to its maximum. We’ve seen more recent, fantastic spins on this same idea in shows like No Game No Life – but for me, the real charm is when it’s all rooted in a kind of slightly sleazy, gritty setting of distinct realism (not that anyone could call Kaiji realistic, but stick with me…)

What I’m getting at is a world of after school chess clubs. A world of tacky arcade machines and bowling alleys with greasy floors and poor lighting. A world of well-worn rulebooks that promise that one superior ‘magic’ tactic. A kind of world that a youngster can believe in, because it’s the same world they inhabit themselves – a world where superiority at games is still the be-all and end-all in life. A world where ‘superiority in life itself’ (eg. successful life, family, job, relationship etc.) is still far off. Here – the game is the only thing that matters. A world where the guy at school with the Charizard Pokemon card was the coolest person in the world.

With its so-of-its-time cover art – which in the English translation saw its title script scrawled out in graffiti style spray paint – Hikaru No Go felt a step away from the short-lived crossover appeal of skater culture and commercial Nu-Metal. A whiff of grimy subculture carefully compressed into a heavily mainstream guise. You had ‘game’. You played ‘games’ – allying yourself to either Playstation or Nintendo. You lived according to a very simple, defined set of rules – and it’s that, perhaps, more than anything that strengthens the nostalgia of shows like this more than anything – like all the best kinds of nostalgia; presenting a world that exists only in memory now.

Nailing where the Fuuka anime went wrong

With Fuuka pretty much wrapping up its anime run this week, I felt it was time to express some of my thoughts on where I’ve felt the show has gone so wrong in translating the thrill of the manga original to the TV screen.

I started reading the manga when the anime version was first announced, quickly powering through the hundred or so chapters available as part of my Crunchyroll subscription. I quickly got caught up in the series’ neat blend of an old school love-triangle and band dynamics – in many ways, this felt like a fresh, up-to-date take on classics like Beck and Nana. When the anime was announced – my immediate thoughts were ones of joy; at the exposure others would get to a story I felt was definitively solid, and would wholly benefit from the key factors an anime version would bring – name ‘animation’ itself, as well as that essentially ingredient for a band series – music.

But when the anime started airing, by the fourth episode I felt pretty much resigned that this was going to be a lacklustre adaption. Something only confirmed when the series opted for anime-original material; swerving the infamous ‘death’ scene which transforms the manga’s plot trajectory – and instead playing it safe.

So, I’ve honed in on three specific areas I feel the anime version has faltered in:

1 – Anime original material – altering a key plot element.

Spoilers ahoy – in the original manga, around 40 chapters in, female lead Fuuka dies horribly; run over by a truck. It’s a massive, brave move for the story at this point – ripping away a central character and throwing the male lead into despondency, from which he must then rise up again. But in this shocking act (which some have criticised for being overly melodramatic and ‘cheap’) the manga finds its real heart – adding much-needed depth to a story that was arguably idling along until this point.

In many ways – the anime faltered because it only exposed viewers to the blander ‘pre-death’ material; before any of the series ‘band’ material had even got underway. Thus, what we were left with arguably skewed heavily toward the romantic elements, without presenting any of the deeper, music-centric content.

2 – Bad pacing

This is a point I struggled with for a long time. It’s not so much that Fuuka’s pacing is bad – it adapts somewhere between 2 and 4 chapters of the manga per episode; somewhat the norm for most anime series. The trouble is that the chapters of the manga are so short and brisk that they can be powered through in minutes. My reading experience usually focused around 10-chapter chunks that presented whole narrative arcs in concise portions; in contrast, those watching the anime were forced to leisurely wind their way through the same material at the pace dictated by reading the subtitles on a 20 minute TV episode. The result was drudgingly slow.

This issue might have been solved with an adaptation that took more liberty with the source material, cutting back to the core concepts to craft a more ‘cinematic’ experience (more on that in the next point). Equally – a two-cour run of 24/26 episodes may also have benefitted the show – allowing the anime to cover up to around 100 chapters’ worth of material and really getting into the meat of the core story. Of course – it remains to be seen whether Fuuka will get a second cour later this year, but in many ways, with the first season garnering lacklustre popularity and user ratings, the damage has already been done.

3 – Lacklustre, cheap-feeling translation to anime

Many of the problems with Fuuka’s anime version are visual. Most noticeably, the noticeable lack of ‘animation’ itself. The episodes are staid, flat and un-dynamic. Apart from a handful of performance scenes (and even these are far from the majesty they could at been – again, look at Beck for example of these done right), the animation is usually severely limited, practically never breaking out into standout Sakuga moments. This adds to the slow feel of the series, and presents a distinctly 2D world; lacking the sense of 3D dynamism the likes of KyoAni can afford a series. I also took issue with the character designs – which while perfectly perfunctory, lacked some of the sharpness author Kouji Seo invests his designs with in the original manga. There, there’s an edgy, sensual coolness – but in the anime, everyone feels like they’ve walked out of the apotheosis of anime aesthetic norm, and is swiftly forgotten.

Masamune-kun’s Revenge and the pleasure of mediocrity

Of all the show’s I’ve stuck with watching this season, Masamune-kun’s Revenge is without a doubt the one I enjoy least. And yet, whilst I’ve ended up dropping shows that are arguably far more artistically robust creations (eg. ACCA or season 2 of Blue Exorcist) I’ve somehow ended up still watching Masamune-kun. Why?

The answer, I think, lies in a very specific kind of anime aesthetic and viewing experience. For me, Masamune-kun epitomises the kind of show that there’s usually always at least one or two of every season. I show that absolutely hits the marker right in the centre when it comes to being the ‘most’ anime – striding the borderline between utter banality and semi-decent plotting; enough to keep you coming back every week but never stepping over into territory that’s commendable. And all this dressed up in a culmination of ‘this is what anime looks like in 2017’ aesthetic.

Every trope is present and correct. Dumb fanservice. An obnoxious male lead. An assortment of girl ‘types’ to lust after. A mix of over-arcing narrative and more individual episodic content. Bright primary colours, and the lustre of digital filter. Disposable, simple pleasure. Never taxing. The junk food of anime, if you will. A veritable McDonald’s cheeseburger or anime tropes that trigger a base principle of pleasurable mediocrity every time.

Asterisk War fulfilled this same itch for me. Taboo Tattoo even more so. Shows that get so close to being dropped, but somehow hang on – precisely because despite all their flaws, they nail that sit-back and binge-out aesthetic so perfectly that you feel compelled to shovel in more each week.

And these shows remain consistently popular. According to MAL – Masamune-kun is the 2nd most popular show of the Winter 2017 season, beaten only by Konosuba’s 2nd season. And it’s sure as hell not because of its ‘quality’. No, it’s far stab to place this popularity firmly in that ballpark of distinct ‘mass-market’ aesthetic. Is Masamune-kun a ‘cool’ show? No. Is it a clever show? No. But what it does manage to be is a) Just good enough, and b) attractively crafted.

Ironic, perhaps then, that in a show so concerned with personal appearance, that appearance comes to define the show’s appeal. But for – in this mediocrity, there’s a dumb, inoffensive, switch-off-your-brain appeal that will keep me coming back.

Hunter x Hunter’s greatest trick – making you hate the hero

Absolute mountains-worth of material has been written on Hunter x Hunter and its status as the ‘deconstruction’ de jour of the Shonen genre. I’ve seen countless videos on YouTube dissecting various aspects of the series what exactly constitutes that tricky issue of what exactly a ‘deconstruction’ even represents.

But one aspect that, for me, absolutely nailed the apex of everything Hunter x Hunter has come to represent is the way – during a very precise point in the Chimera Ant arc – it completely toys and flips with our expectations as a viewer and makes us feel hate or disgust for the hero.

This, logic suggests, should run counter to everything a Shonen series stands for. Gon – like so many other Shonen protagonists – is the epitome of male teenage energy, enthusiasm and innocence. But during the Chimera Ant arc, he effectively ‘breaks’ – entering ‘beast mode’ and tearing the absolute shite out of Pitou, in one of the series most shockingly gruesome moments.

In the preceding episodes, we have seen both Pitou and Meruem immensely humanised as characters, full of love, loyalty and caring. Ostensibly ‘monsters’ – the ants have in many ways become more human than the humans themselves. And this is symbolised perfectly in the moment in which Gon – unable to reconcile his feelings of rage and desire for revenge of Kite’s death – flips out and destroys Pitou.

Here, Hunter x Hunter lays forth one of its most powerful moral dilemmas – at this stage, Gon could have arguably walked away and let Pitou be, if only he could let go of his rage. Killing Pitou will not bring Kite back – but yet he feels he must destroy her all the same. Is this the beast speaking? The base animal instinct that tells us to destroy?

Here – the tables are flipped masterfully – we end up rooting for Pitou instead of Gon, wishing for her to survive and Gon to fail or reconsider. But in excruciating detail, we see him give in and unleash his rage – human destruction let rip on the ‘natural’ world of the animals. Gon – momentarily – becomes the villain, and everything we are told to feel about Shonen protagonists is thrown into chaos.

Accompanying the striking thematic elements, we’re also greeted with a visual element that I’ve always found fascinating too – When Gon gives in to his ‘beast mode’, he essentially undergoes a kind of accelerated aging; the series explaining it as a kind of supreme desire to overcome his obstacles that essentially ‘forces’ his body to prematurely ‘grow up’ to enable his physical prowess to match his mental desire.

Now, Gon is a long-haired dark-adonis; a supreme spectacle of humanity, all ripped muscle and angular limbs. In a series that has always been prided on its ‘darkness’, Gon is the apotheosis of the ‘dark’ side of humanity – what we can inherently become if we cast aside that self-same humanity. In the dark forest-scape in which Gon and Pitou battle, Gon is now ‘king of the jungle’, a supreme predator that stands as a living testament to ‘survival of the fittest’.

This sequence in the Chimera Ant arc has always filled me with a supreme terror at what Gon both visually and thematically represents in this point in the story – further amplified when we see the hollowed out, desiccated husk he becomes after the ‘beast mode’ wears off. In all of Hunter x Hunter’s intense moralistic brooding – for me, this part has always been its very own heart of darkness.

(For the record, my favourite Hunter x Hunter arc is the York New arc. While in almost every aspect I prefer the Chimera Ant arc, I feel York New is able to convey its message effectively in fewer episodes, and in many ways has more impact as it is the first time we’ve been exposed to the really ‘dark’ stuff in HxH. Plus, the Phantom Troupe are some of the best villains out there)

ANiUTa – half the solution to the age-old problem of legal AniSong streaming

I have to confess, my initial reaction to finding out about ANiUTa – a new ‘global’ streaming service which will allow fans outside of Japan to stream anime music from shows like Love Live and Macross – was one of joy. Finally – the solution to a problem I had been hammering on about for ages. ‘Why oh why could us fans in the West have incredible, legal streaming access to pretty much every anime as it aired in Japan, but not legally stream the songs from those very same shows?’

As something of a fanatic about both the music industry and anime – I’ve always felt the question of anime music and soundtracks is one that has been largely overlooked compared to wider discourse on anime as a whole. Whether through lack of interest, understanding or the worry that this kind of analysis might veer wildly into the frame of musicology (which can be something of a snoozefest when handled densely), there is comparatively little delving into the real ins and outs of anime music.

But as I pondered ANiUTa some more – the more it started to feel like only half a solution. Firstly, it stands as another example of the classic ‘new contender’ syndrome, which has become an inescapable part of the streaming wars – as new companies try to muscle in to an already crowded market. Each demands their own monthly subscription – and as we have already seen in the TV and anime streaming markets, there have already been many casualties.

Secondly, in many ways ANiUTa represents what the global ‘big three’ record labels (Sony, Warner, Universal) wish they did themselves before Spotify/Apple dominated the game – ie. a distribution platform owned by themselves. As a joint venture between countless AniSong labels, ANiUTa is smart thinking – taking ownership of the distribution instead of relying on a third party who will take their own cut of the earnings.

But therein lies the trouble – the benefit is on the companies themselves, with the consumer losing out. While the prospect of ANiUTa is arguably an improvement over a forlorn ‘ground zero’ in which legal streaming of AniSong is practically non-existent, it also means that the dream of having all these songs in one logical place (ie. Spotify) where listeners can consume at their leisure alongside their existing music collections seems unlikely.

Thus, the consumers are forced into a fractured listening experience, wherein some of their music is located one one service, and some is located on another. This is something we have already see in the TV streaming sphere – how many times have you wanted to watch a show that is ‘Exclusive’ to Netflix, only to find you’re screwed because you happen to subscribe to Amazon Prime instead.

I remain optimistic about ANiUTa – after all, it’s an improvement over the existing situation where Western AniSong fans had pretty much zero legal access to this material. But still – I feel it remans very much a half-measure, an avoidance of clear consumer habits, which – when it comes to the music industry – have arguably already picked their service of choice: Spotify.

Why Haruhi Suzumiya will always be the ‘hottest’ anime girl

A while back I watched a video by the YouTuber Digibro in which he discussed the notion of whether we’ll ever see another anime girl as ‘hot’ as Haruhi Suzumiya – and it’s a notion that’s always stayed with me, to this day.

Why, out of the countless anime girls from a million myriad series – all carefully crafted to appeal to individual aesthetic tastes – was Haruhi objectively the hottest?

It’s something I’ve pondered for a while – always coming back to the idea that the reason why this idea resonated with me so much was because her character created a very specific kind of instinctual longing/desire.

Going beyond simple discussion of aesthetics of the character design itself – what I struck on was the idea that Haruhi – in many ways – works so well because she represents an experience many otaku have either had themselves, or long for. She – simply put – encapsulates the experience (as I believe the folks on the Anime News Network podcast once put it) of talking to girls properly for the first time as a teenager, and all the notions of ‘coolness’ that go with it.

To that extent, Haruhi is a living embodiment of a very absolute sense of adolescence, that goes beyond base moe-tropes and makes a precision strike at a point somewhere half between nostalgia for this feeling, and the energetic ‘genki girl’ persona. She represents possibility – the possibility of the charisma and confidence you inherently, at that point, don’t have. She is the signified ‘leader’, with you as follower – and as such, she becomes the definition of the ‘pedestal’ girl; with you, the follower, always looking upward.

Another aspect of her ‘hotness’ is delineated via ‘the tease’. By all accounts, Haruhi Suzumiya as a series is comparatively tame when it comes to fanservice – at least by today’s standards. But one scene from the series’ movie follow-up has always struck with me – the part where Kyon, Koizumi and Haruhi are forced to sneak back into their own school. Here, Haruhi changes into Kyon’s gym clothes – and in doing so, takes off her school uniform while Kyon’s back is turned – before delivering the classic ‘But I’ve got a T-shirt underneath line’.

Here we see a perfect account of ‘the tease’ – Haruhi’s sensuality – which for so much of the series is never overtly addressed, suddenly wafted in front of our faces with a wink of knowing awareness. See also the various ‘I’ve experimented’ / ‘even I have needs’ lines, which I’ve seen argued gives off a  distinct ‘Even the girls want her’ vibe.

In short – Haruhi nails the ‘hotness’ aspect so perfectly because her character is fine tuned, in a way which perhaps no other anime character except Asuka from Evangelion comes close, to perfectly encapsulate otaku-specific kinds of longing and desire. While in many ways utterly artificial and unrealistic – Haruhi also strives to bring together the kinds of experiences otaku may have encountered in their own school lives to present a nostalgia tinged ‘If only…’ romanticism that is forever tantalizingly out of reach.

The rise of the Naoko Yamada fanboys

Over the last year, perhaps even more so than the hype and acclaim surrounding Makoto Shinkai in the mainstream press, I’ve noticed an irrespesible degree of coverage around Kyoto Animation director Naoko Yamada. I’d call her a rising star – but truth be told, she already is a star. As any of the half dozen career restrosprctives she has from various bloggers and YouTubers will inform you; the remarkable rise and rise of her career (via shows like K-On and Tamako Market) and ambition is nothing short of astounding.

As part of a wider movement of staff/sakuga appreciation that has swept the anime community over the last year or two, the acclaim around Yamada and A Silent Voice has been a dominant trend within the tight bubble of the anime Twitterati and key bloggers – Even eclipsing traditional ‘staff’ / auteur favourites such as key figures as Studio Trigger.

The acclaim is thoroughly deserved – A Silent Voice is a masterwork, richly imprinted with a clear auterial style. But what fascinates me is the speed at which the ouvre of Yamada appreciation as a fan-created product has snowballed. A kind of mythologising that often usually happens well into a director’s career, is for Yamada happening in the very midst of it.

I’ve expressed thoughts in the past as to whether the current trend of sakuga analysis has lent itself to a kind of anime elitism that marks itself out above and beyond the populist crowd which is arguably the core consumers of anime (think Naruto or Sword Art Online). But equally, it’s hard to deny the evolving and essential nature of new fan discourse that gives further prevalanece to staff.

The question is one of an informed fandom – and on that front, were certainly in a better off place than we were before.