Nostalgia - The Third Lessonby T Strife, Sep 10th 2009
It must have been close to ten years ago now that, as a part of an assignment for a Visual Art class at high school, I walked out of a small art gallery in Sydney with a small booklet in hand.
The exhibition, naturally, was centred around Japanese Animation. I think that Akira may have been the main focus, with a part of the experience being a video documentary feature on the film that has probably since become lost in a sea of DVD bonus material.
For what it's worth, the gallery was called Silicon Pulp; the exhibition Atomic Sushi. I have no idea if the place is still doing business or not.
I can't even remember if the booklet was free or if I had to part with a couple of dollars for it.
However I remember reading it. I remember gushing over the pictures of all these exotic shows that were only available to me in my imagination and I remember the basic points from the main essay – points that would become a highly familiar mixture of gloomy foresight sprinkled with the fairy dust of hope that I would encounter time and again as the years ticked by.
“Anime is in danger!” it proclaimed, loud and proud of the medium's heritage, but fearful for the immediate future. “Street Fighter 2V, Bubblegum Crisis 2040, Dragon Ball GT – the anime of the mid nineties is sacrificing originality and creativity in the name of remakes, sequels and videogame adaptations! Woe betides us all!”
I'm obviously exaggerating the tone somewhat, which may in part be because of my own frustration at being unable go back to my room in Australia and dig out the booklet for this column, but the core point was made quite clearly – summed up. It was saying that anime is no longer as exciting as it used to be.
All of which is all good and fine.
But why am I still reading the same thing now in 2009? Wasn't BGC 2040 produced in 1998?
The most obvious answer that I'm coming up with is simply this: different film and television scenes go through creative surges and lulls as a part of their due course, but irrespective of the balance there will always be something to celebrate and something to condemn. Therefore, such essays and rants will always be able to justify themselves in some small way.
Every few months I stumble across Internet ramblings similar to the short essay from this booklet. They're typically not as well-written and show fewer signs of research, but they share a common concern.
What concern? That the standout anime from the past few years are all adapted from videogames, sequels to past successes and adaptations of manga.
Um, hasn't this always been the case?
Realistically, I don't much care for Naruto or Bleach – I find them to be formulaic, thinly stretched-out and poorly animated, but coming off the back of a decade that popularised Dragon Ball Z and Rurouni Kenshin am I really in any position to point out crumbling brick and mortar?
I have to wonder if a part of our fixation with the crumbling of so-called originality has something to do with becoming jaded. Back when I was fifteen and watching Evangelion for the first time, it was an eye-opening experience. It was certainly a standout work, but that's not the only reason it enamoured me as it did – everything about it was different: the art style, the stylised violence, even the inclusion of a pet penguin can be fresh for a newborn fan. Moving on to discover other shows opened up more new experiences, and as I ventured into University anime clubs and their screenings of Tenchi Muyo!, Ranma ½ and Revolutionary Girl Utena, I adsorbed a lot of formulaic devices and clichés as if they were completely new – because they were new, to me.
But I eventually became familiar with them, and by the time I got around to viewing Escaflowne, cat-girls had become a tooth-grinding ingredient as common as stock in soup. That didn't detract from it being a skilfully produced show but it did detract from the magic that can only be experienced by an outsider who is embracing the entertainment output of Japan for the first time.
So now when I watch Eureka 7 it has to work harder to impress me than Macross Plus did so many years before. I'm familiar with mysterious, emotionally drained female characters and I've seen countless different mechs soar through the sky. These things are no longer enough in themselves, and the show is forced to impress me exclusively through the quality of its execution.
And you know what? It's doing pretty well so far.
But still – what I wouldn't give to be able to view that show on the back of a diet that only consisted on the most popular series coming out of America.
Anime, like all things, is something that you can only really, truly discover once, and that time will be a short era of wonder. If you are still enraptured in the discovery with a sense of wide-eyed awe, please make sure you treasure the moment.
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