Sadly this blog post has little to do with Portal or 50 Cents, should you be looking forward to a discourse of either in light of a nude crane kick. Seriously, I can’t believe I was inspired enough to go through with what I wrote a few days ago. Sorry.
But this post isn’t about True Tears either, although it has something to do with that. Just to share, I have been reading a few (well, it’s counted up to 7 or so now since about a couple months ago) English-language light novels that inspired anime adaptations. You know, Scrapped Princess, Full Metal Panic, Twelve Kingdoms, etc. I might also try to dabble in reverse, and get a hold of the Makoto Shinkai books.
This is important because I’ve never really read anything like that in my life. What is “that”? “Disposable light novels.” I’ve read stories and shorts serialized in magazines and such before, but they never occurred to me as disposable in the same way as some of these works. Full Metal Panic feels as worthless as the manga; not that it wasn’t any good–it’s actually not bad–but it has no keep value. If you were asking your friend if a certain film is worth seeing in theaters, the analog answer to that would be “it’s a rental.” It’s a bit like some of the science fiction novels I read but promptly forgot when I was younger, except the dosage was on the level of a 20-minute TV show instead of a 120-minute feature film that most “proper” books were.
I think I’ve talked about this before in the context of the ills of the anime industry as seen in the past few years. The problem is, in a nutshell, that the direct-to-home-video model of anime distribution in the US necessarily require us to tag these anime the same way as any other videos worthy of keeping a copy at home. It’s partly why companies tried to air anime, and it’s party why Netflix and Blockbuster is good for American anime fans. It’s why cheap, online distribution may curb some of the ills.
It’s not a bad presumption as the home video market post 1999 was a growing way media companies made money. For the first time ever, American TV shows made more money on DVD sales than from the initial profits made for the broadcast arrangement. (But what now? Where will the bicycle go now that it is peddling up a steep hill? Ah heck, bad question to ask when it’s not the point of my post.) But stuff sold because they were mainstream stuff, and enough people cared about it; spending $20 on a season of 24 was easier than to timeshift them yourself for reviewing. People bought anime because they were good and people were curious. There was a fad factor but also a various set of external influences made buying anime harder later on, with retail and economic conditions changing.
What is the point of this train of thought is that in light of timeless literary classics I tend to read, I make a mental distinction between things that isn’t worth remembering 5 years down the road and things that are worth remembering. A lot of anime, manga, and similar media falls into the former category.
But maybe the question we should ask is, rather: why are some nonsense stuff selling and others aren’t?
Maybe it’s all just a lie? Some are better lies than others?
Maybe what I’m trying to say is that what anime promises us is not really what we think it does. Maybe it’s not even a lie; it’s not deception. But at the same time we may flock to new shows, good or bad, like a fat kid flocks to a cake store. But the cake is something to be seen, or to be eaten; not both.
In other words, it’s not that the problem with the anime industry that we’re indulged with a ton of “non-A” ranked shows, licensed or not, but we are not consuming it the same way it is ought to be consumed. Light novels are fluff reads for kids on the bus or on the train going to school. It’s not what will adorn your antique book collection. It’s fine to make some B-rated show your Friday night pasttime with friends, but to sell it much beyond that is deception of some sort. Maybe you’re fooling yourself?
Perhaps that’s true with many of my own favorites. The test of time will tell if the cake is a lie. Or maybe we’ll get a revelation and go on a diet. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy my fake cake as they are.