Life is hard, painfully hard for some, annoyingly difficult for others, but hard nonetheless. This should really go without saying, but it’s a relevant statement. Observing and experiencing this first hand is something undoubtedly most, if not all, people have done. Amidst the sheer difficulty of life and the plethora of responsibilities people get more of as life goes on, there become patches of time where that difficulty becomes too much. This isn’t abnormal by any means, rather it’s something I believe to be unavoidable. How everyone copes with this temporary or even long-lasting period of difficulty varies, but an easy way to feel separate from it all. A way that has likely become more apparent with how easy the Internet has made it to exercise, is escapism. It should also go without saying that the medium of anime in general is an incredibly easy one to use as a form of escapism. The reasons I’ve heard western fans that have been around for several years longer than me got into it was this vast sea of fantasies to get lost in. Fantasy tales that seldom were told in an even remotely similar way in the west. While fantasy and action isn’t the primary reason I’ve heard newer anime fans got into anime, using it as a tool for escapism is far from a unique reason for entering the medium in a deeper way. Today, we’re going to talk about escapism and using anime to retreat from reality.
Let me start off by saying escapism is by no means a bad thing. It’s something to be exercised with moderation and I don’t want to suggest even for a moment that falling back into escapism altogether is a bad thing. Like I said last week, this medium is unique in a lot of ways, and how frequently it’s used to escape reality, as opposed to other mediums of entertainment. I mentioned in my introduction that reasons for that could easily be the grand tales of fantasy that people could get lost in and that of which they’ve never seen done even slightly similar in other mediums, and I feel like that’s an important one to focus on — how anime differentiates itself from other mediums by being unique from them and offering unique experiences.
Without a doubt, many if not all of the people heavily invested in this medium are hooked for just that reason. From the epic space battles, to the random-esque and spontaneous comedies, to the gritty action shows, or even down to the siscon and lolicon shows that make literally everyone uncomfortable. While the medium of television and film have moments similar to this unique brand of Japanese storytelling, and without a doubt at least some of the books in the western market place have occasionally reached this similar stories with their extremely high production rate, but no other medium has a seemingly endless catalogue of similar experiences. Did you like Oreimo? Why not try this season’s Eromanga-sensei? Did you like Sword Art Online? Why not try Hai to Gensou no Grimgar? For each existing showing, there’s something similar to a large enough degree that you could be just as vastly interested in it, while simultaneously opening your mind to new genres and experiences.
The medium of anime is anime fans inspiring anime fans. People who like anime go on to make anime, and therefore we have this endless cycle of shows similar enough to grab the attention of people who liked other shows and letting people get into a wide enough variety of shows that I’m yet to see anyone who’s been in this medium for over a year who says they dislike an entire genre altogether. Well then why does this matter? This matters because if people want to escape to any fantasy, they can. The general ideas of being trapped in a killer video game or alternate world are there. The general ideas of being in a situation where your sister was somehow actually extremely cute and date-able in a way that isn’t off-putting whatsoever (somehow), we have them. Anime is weird, and the fantasies that we have deep inside that we want to escape to, regardless of how we do so are there no matter how weird.
So anime is here and ready for literally anyone to fall into. That reason alone is why I think so many people got caught in the wave of anime through escapism. I don’t remember exactly how I got into consuming this medium more in specific aside from that Trigun was the show to start it all, but retreating to shows like Non Non Biyori or Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?, even if just for a moment, helps. This medium helps escape from reality and undoubtedly it will continue to grab more people this way through every character we can relate to, every heartwarming scene, every badass battle, because they grab all of our attention and give us something to forget about everything else with. They provide an opportunity to leave everything else behind for a brief period of time and experience a new story in full.
So that’s why we escape to anime, but why exactly does that matter? Well, to me, it brings an important insight into this medium. How much of the core western audience entered the fan-base through escapism and how much continue to use it as such is interesting to me. To a lot of people outside of the anime community and too ignorant or hard set on their negative expectations, using this medium as escapism is bad. It pulls us from reality and keeps us in a fantasy world setting us up to abandon our responsibilities and retreat whenever things get too hard. It’s the same accusations put towards playing video games; this medium is bad. Period. In some ways (in regards to the “escapism is bad” comment), they’re right. The Japanese hikikomori, or NEET, is a prime example of this. If reality is too hard, and if retreating to escapism is so much easier and feels better than facing reality, it’s no surprise that people choose to stay escaped forever when presented with the opportunity. By extension, it makes sense to associate negativity with escapism and with a medium more commonly not used to exercise escapism.
It’s easy to see where the defence against escapism is. The fact that Japan has a term specifically for people Not in Employment, Education, or Training is telling that this is a clear problem and can easily and logically be attributed otaku culture. However, as I’ve discussed in past editorials and as I try to make clear in my posts here, logical and easy doesn’t mean painting in broad strokes is the necessarily the right answer. While it’s logical to draw a clear pattern of “Escapism is bad, otaku culture is used for escapism, therefor otaku culture is bad” that, as many people in this community can likely attest to, isn’t accurate or fair in most circumstances. Like I mentioned before, escapism isn’t synonymous to bad.
Escapism is hardly the worst thing someone can do and in fact, research has found that it can have very positive effects on people (link to a couple academic journals on the matter where the sources usually are) and can help cope with reality more than take away from it. There’s such a negative dogma around it due to the way hikikomori and the idea of taking a break from responsibilities are painted, but the number of times we tell others to relax, to do something they enjoy, we’re encouraging them to exercise escapism. By actively telling people who taking a break is okay, it baffles me that to some people, the idea of validating those breaks by yourself is frowned upon.
I know all of the usual arguments that anime can’t save you and never did. Arguments that running away from your problems isn’t going to solve them. Arguments that indulging in escapism is bad for you. For every good example and research proven positive result, there’s a bad example and a research proven negative result. Rather than discuss this forever, I want to go on a bit of a different route. Last year, I went through one of the hardest hitting personal crises in my entire life. I lost inspiration for everything, I didn’t want to do anything, I got ideas constantly but shot them all down because I was convinced each one wasn’t good enough. I was overdosing on reality and I didn’t ever give myself a break. I let failure, denial, and abandonment absorb me in their fullest while leaving behind faith, belief others had in me, and all of the hard work I had put towards everything until then. It happened before I got back into writing for Anime Corps and did my week where every day a new editorial came out, and I was completely lost. Reality became too much for me.
As I mentioned in the Q&A for this blog’s third anniversary, Non Non Biyori helped me through that and I refuse to believe by any stretch of the imagination that it didn’t. It let me fall into a world of complete zen with extremely lovable and unique characters all with their own quirks and personality traits. It let me forget the reality I had become so hyper-enveloped in. It made me feel comfortable enough to laugh at the dorky attitudes of the characters and the silly jokes. I won’t claim it saved my life or its the reason I’m here today, but without a doubt it pushed me through one of the hardest times in my life. Escapism is capable of doing not only that, but inspiring people to move on and do exactly what they were lacking the motivation to do.
Not just escapism, but anime in general, teaches us important lessons when we’re first getting into the medium through the details that the narratives themselves focus on. By noticing this and by letting ourselves get inspired to never give up by Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann, by indulging in the happy every-day lives of cute school girls in Kiniro Mosaic, by laughing yourself to tears through the expertly placed spontaneity of Nichijo, by holding your favourite anime in extremely high esteem and what it means to you, you’re learning a lesson. From those lessons you can live better lives, take what those stories taught you and apply them to the reality that pushed you down so hard, and grow because of them by using what escapism gave you to the best of your ability. Escapism is very easy to misuse, and it’s very easy to see as validation to permanently remove yourself from the reality you fear. However, it can also do so much good. This medium, like many others, is amazing. It wouldn’t be doing it justice by using it as a justification for a not-so-amazing choice.
Thanks so much for reading today’s post! This was actually a topic I held onto for a long time and was waiting for the right way to deliver it. I knew I wanted to talk about Non Non Biyori and what it meant to me, but I wasn’t sure if I could insert it in a way that didn’t turn this into just storytime with Tsuyuki. Also, I tried out something a little different with the images in the post ’cause it’s been bugging me how big the show posters are so screenshots seemed like the next logical thing to try. Not sure if I like them, though. Anyways, that’s enough rambling about the post. As always if you’d like to see what I’m up to whenever I’m not writing for this blog feel free to follow me on Twitter. I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post is a screenshot from the anime Tsukimonogatari.