Occasionally I find my writings on the anime community interesting to think about when looking at everything in whole I’ve viewed the entire community’s response towards. Whether it be what we’re watching, how we’re consuming things, what we’re consuming, or how our community grows and responds to specific things, commentary on the anime community as a whole large community is interesting to me. This is primarily because often when I write down “anime community” I pause for a moment and think about how big of an umbrella I’m putting everyone who consumes this medium under. I’ve used “anime community” to describe anime YouTubers, AniTwitter, fans that only watch new anime, fans that only watch old anime, somewhat casual watchers, people who read manga, and the list goes on and on. While all of these communities are basically revolving around the same thing I consistently wondered what fueled my wanting to describe everyone who watches anime frequently as a member of this overarching anime community, then I read a post by a friend and fellow bloger of mine, Buggy. Today, I want to talk about communal experiences and most specifically, communal watching.
So first things first, let’s get into how exactly I’m going to define communal experiences as and how do they differ from communal watching. For the purposes of this post, communal experiences include anything that the community experiences together. Whether this is a popular anime YouTuber making a specific video that blows up, Anime Strike being introduced and the controversy surrounding that, or something like a specific artist drawing something and it gaining a lot of traction. Anything that the community at a majority notices and puts emphasis on is something that the community experiences together, and therefor is a communal experience. Communal watching on the other hand, for the purposes of this post, only pertain to Japanese media and somewhat more specifically anime (though not excluding manga, visual novels, light novels, etcetera). Communal watching falls under the umbrella of communal experiences, but not all communal experiences are communal watching; a sort of square versus rectangle sort of thing, if you will. While you could argue I could have used different phrases or you could disagree with how I define each of these phrases, these are the ones I’m going to use for the sake of this post and keeping everyone on the same page.
Communal experiences, and by extension communal watching, are great things. They bring people together to talk about things they enjoyed and can help people find new things they might like which in turn grows the community by organising together people with a common interest, leading to there being more fans able to foster and recruit even more people to join the growing the community. This is likely oversimplifying how communities in general are formed, but this is also the thing I like about the anime community in general. It groups everyone interested in a common thing together to enjoy something together which only further propels it’s popularity and the anime community is no exception. Being able to quickly share your opinions on any matter with a group of people all experiencing the same thing along with you helps people stay engaged in a medium, making your opinions known helps guide other members of a community towards recommending things you might enjoy, and exposing yourself to the opinions of others can (although might not always) help you come to understand opinions you disagree with or well round your own opinions to be more inclusive.
Communal experiences shape a community, and with this common opinions arise like that specific shows are bad and specific productions are ones that you absolutely must see regardless of preference. In our community, shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop could be considered must-watch shows heralded as near masterpieces, while shows like Oreimo and Sword Art Online can be considered as joke anime to watch or shows in which serious enjoyment isn’t really possible. With that said, the primary reason I wanted to talk about this today comes to surface: I have an extreme love-hate relationship with communal experiences and somewhat with the anime community at whole (although this could easily be a misattribution due to the parts of the community I’ve witnessed) due to the fact that broad opinions can easily be contagious without explanation, but at the same time communal experiences have been very important in general for the growth of interest in the medium of anime and other Japanese media in the west in general.
So that I don’t leave off on an overly downer note and make everyone believe I hate the anime community, let’s quickly get into why I dislike communal experiences so I can end on a more positive note. In my opinion, communal experiences and the community’s overall generalization when it comes to opinions of shows creates an excuse to avoid creating reasons as to why each individual feels a specific way about a show. The easiest example of this to point at in recent history is the massive wave of people suddenly disliking the, what was popular for it’s time, show Re:ZERO. Putting aside my opinions of the show, with the quick succession of events showing the main character falling deeper and deeper into misery, a large majority of people previously heavily enjoying the show began to suddenly dislike it. Even my Twitter timeline of following about 80 people at the time was slowly getting more and more flooded with people with a sudden dislike for the show. What was interesting, however, is that with this slow flood of people disliking the show, eventually it hit a point where it was no longer about what initially irked them, but rather that the community began disliking the show so it was the contrarian thing to do. Out of what slowly turned into hundreds of people I saw massively disliking the show, the reasoning of “because it’s bad” came up so often I still only remember three people giving legitimate reasoning as to why they disliked the show now (or from the beginning).
I’m not going to use a meaningless buzz word like hive-mind, but rather I’m going to call this a collective opinion and I’m going to say that it’s more of a curse than a blessing when it comes to airing productions. Any show with a fairly large initial following will gravitate a lot of people towards watching it, and in return when the show slips up even slightly everything will fall apart because of people looking for a reason to dislike the production and how quickly their opinion will spread if the show continues messing up in any meaningful way. As this opinion spreads, certain circles slowly adopt it as their popular opinion, and soon enough there’s a large enough group that will grasp at straws as to why they dislike something merely because they adopted it due to a desire to match what they perceive to be the collective opinion; or rather maybe a large enough opinion to counter the collective opinion and as a result no longer look for a reason that their popular opinion is one that they believe in.
In all honesty, why should you. There’s hundreds if not thousands of people that “agree” with you and by now you’re convinced the show you’re watching is bad regardless of how many people enjoy it. This is why shows like Yuri!!! on Ice got so many opponents. It became less about specific dislikes and more about mocking the funny smears or moments of not-so-stellar animation and hey, are these characters gay that is just unacceptable how dare Japan give us such fujoshi bait. In reality however, the production at hand can be as bad or as good as you like, flaws in an overall extremely popular production will create this sort of inevitable contrarian opinion because for the sake of disagreeing.
While we could go on for awhile and say communal watching in general is a sort of way to spoil yourself, this is more of a per-case basis and things like mute lists for Twitter exist to consume the show in a pseudo-vacuum environment while still talking to people about it regularly. With that said, what good does communal experiences do? Well, everything else. Communal experiences is what give us the ability to discuss everything from the last Boku no Hero Academia episode to the latest video from X influential anime YouTuber with each other and have a standing ground to relate.
Communal experiences are why shows like Re:ZERO and Yuri!!! on Ice gained popularity in the first place, what gives us the ability to regard popular shows as highly as we do with several opinions to back up our own, and what helps us guide each other towards productions one another would like via recommendations. Sure, this might all still be negatives to some people, but the fact that communal watching is why shows explode with as much popularity as they do is a very good thing because a vast majority of people do enjoy those shows. Along with this, having a common ground of shows that we can safely expect everyone to have seen and discuss about freely regardless of their opinions on them would only be possible through communal experiences. On top of those two things, I don’t see how you could ever spin finding something new to enjoy as a negative.
Communal experiences and communal watching are positives less in how they dictate what’s good and bad, but more in how they give everyone a common ground to share a common interest. Like psychological horror and cute girls? You might like Gakkou Gurashi. I can ask a group call “Has everyone here seen Rebellion?” and know instantly whether or not I can continue a train of thought. I enjoy popular productions like Re:ZERO and Yuri!!! on Ice because there’s a reason they got popular and if I disagree then at the very least I saw what all the hoopla was about. Experiencing this medium together is an interesting thing and equally a blessing as it is a curse. I wouldn’t be able to have any of the same conversations as I do now if not for the anime community; in fact I wouldn’t even have this weekly series if not for the anime community. While watching and experiencing everything in a vacuum might be nice, a community gives us all a voice and a way to relate to one another through something we all love, and I think that’s pretty amazing.
I want to apologise about this post coming out a day late! The time I usually set aside to do my editorial I had this terrible back pain that just wouldn’t go away so I took the liberties of pushing back the release date of this editorial to Saturday; I hope you all don’t mind. Anyway, thank you all so much for reading this week’s editorial! If you have something you’d like to add to the topic, feel free to leave a comment, I promise I do read them all. Alternatively, if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog you can follow me on Twitter. I’ll see you all next week but on the right day this time around!
The featured image for this post was drawn by 結城辰也.