Why Are Some Anime Fans So Cynical?
by Justin Sevakis,
This has been a question that has been bothering me for some time. Why are most anime fans cynical? It seems as though the joy of anime has been sucked out of them and all they see is the bad. Yet they still watch. And complain. I wish this were an isolated incident but I have both seen and heard of people who act this way all around the US. Even this very column suffers from unwarranted cynicism sometimes. Did this cynicism arise from frustration over other anime fans who took it too far? Is it a self-defense mechanism to justify liking anime without liking it at the same time? Could it be multiple reasons all mashed together? Or is it all just one big coincidence?
I don't disagree with your overall assessment. You see a lot of cynicism around anime circles. I admit, I too am a cynical piece of work sometimes. But I don't think that all cynicism is created equal, and we should not dismiss all of it, nor should we respect all of it.
My theory is that there are two kinds of cynicism: the exhausted kind, and the lazy kind. Personally, I like to think of myself as being the exhausted kind of cynic: the kind who started in the business years ago with wide-eyed, youthful, Pollyanna-ish enthusiasm, and stuck around long enough to see many of his dreams become nightmares. To experience first-hand the nightmare of the approval process, the shady accounting, the backhanded deals and the seedier side that this industry can sometimes foster. Having to deal with fans screaming at you for something that isn't your fault, having to deal with licensors screaming at you for doing something that's obvious and common-sense that you've been doing for years. Having to yell at a convention staffer for not letting you set up the booth that you paid thousands of dollars for, losing hotel reservations for your guests, and kicking you out of an event you sponsored... all of that makes you experienced, which can often read as cynical. Or mature, if you like. I honestly don't know anyone who's been in the anime industry for more than a year who wouldn't share at least some of these feelings. Some of us just hide it better than others. (Hint: those people work in marketing.)
You don't have to be a professional to be the exhausted kind of cynic. You could be an old-timer who's none too happy about having to buy Bubblegum Crisis for the FIFTH time. Someone who got into anime for the super-violent weird OVAs they used to make and just doesn't like the sort of shows that get simulcast these days. You could be sick of dealing with the nonsense fan drama that goes on at conventions, or social media. The bitterness at work here isn't from unfairly painting everything with a black brush, it's from getting burned again and again, and starting to get a little resentful. More importantly, it's not a predictive cynicism but a reactive one. It's "Jeez, Anime Expo is having 4-hour registration delays AGAIN?" and "Guh, most of this season's shows seem pretty derivative. Look, FIVE harem shows, and three moe slice-of-life shows." These are valid statements, even if you, personally, aren't sick of these things and the statements are bumming you out more than the things they're complaining about.
However, once in a while I do find myself wandering into lazy cynicism. Lazy cynicism is predictive, and often based on nothing. It's the sort of cynicism that, to paraphrase A.J. Liebling, is "often the shamefaced product of inexperience." You see this a lot on internet forums, where people loudly complain that Funimation will probably hack up and heavily rewrite their newest license (even though they've done that only once or twice in the entire history of their company), or that a dub will probably suck (even though that person hates ALL dubs, and no cast or studio has even been announced). Sometimes this comes out of a desire to appear edgy or world-weary, but really it's just being closed-minded and harsh. These statements are usually unfair to a lot of people that work hard. I try very hard not to get into this mindset, but when you're in a bad mood, sometimes it just happens.
But to be honest, if you're looking for everybody to be happy and excited about anime all the time no matter what, you should probably not even be on the internet, or talking to other people at all. Enthusiasm doesn't last forever. We all get tired, and I don't think it's fair to hold it against the people that are, and yet hold on to being a fan for various reasons. Lazy cynicism can be toxic and should be kept in check if you want to be a nice and decent person, but weary cynicism is simply a byproduct of having been around too long, and yet not really wanting to leave. Some understanding on both sides is definitely in order.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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