Disposable Entertainment: The Cake Is a Lie…Like a Fat Kid Loves Cake

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.

14 Responses to “Disposable Entertainment: The Cake Is a Lie…Like a Fat Kid Loves Cake”

  • Ginga

    I say has everything to do with marketing… and in this case an innocent mistake. Case in point – last Christmas I asked for the special edition of the Fullmetal Alchemist movie. My mother picked up a volume of Full Metal Panic instead. I decided to keep it (or at least watch it once) because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. (and because it was just downright adorable XD. Bless you, Mum, you try your best.) … I’ll stop talking, now. >.>;

  • Owen S

    I need confirmation on this before I can comment any further:

    What you were saying could be basically summed up as “Hey fanboys, stop making your trashy anime out to be an epic classic, because frankly, it isn’t, and you’re lying to yourself”. Y/N?

    If that was what you were implying, especially in the last two paragraphs, I thought it could have been phrased more overtly. Weren’t you one for not mincing words?

  • omo

    I wouldn’t say it’s lying to yourself. It’s an illusion of sorts.

    And I think often times these “trashy” anime are pretty good. It’s that they lack lasting value.

    But very good Owen. You picked up the jist of what I was saying ;)

  • Martin

    I guess that, like books and all forms of popular media I suppose, there’s a majority of watchable and a minority that’s great. For every Shinkai, Kon or Anno piece there’s a number of movies and series that are fun at the time and forgettable later on. One of the reasons I started blogging was to have a record of what I’ve watched – looking back into my archives is a handy way of reminding me about what I thought of it. Because heaven knows some of it was forgettable! That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining though – you mentioned FMP, which is a good example of a show I watched, was entertained by but ever since has sat on my DVD shelf collecting dust.

    I’d say it wasn’t ‘trash’ per se (that’s Ninja Resurrection!); rather, it’s ‘transient’. Not all anime is designed to be a classic in the making; I daresay it’s probably intended just to fill twenty-five minutes of your evening each week and make you buy a few DVDs.

    An excellent post as always, Omo. ^_^

  • Zeroblade

    I figure we just watch shows which have instant gratification and suddenly tout them as epic anime, rather than watch shows with more substance. Perhaps sort of like the difference between “enjoyable (fluff) vs. appreciable (classics)”.

  • omo

    Enjoyment, assignment of value, praise and fandom are not objective things. But $1 from my pocket is about the same as $1 from yours.

    I guess when we look at things from a dollar-and-sense perspective it becomes divorced from the stuff fans normally care about–how much fun, enjoyment, etc. And it has to be reflected in the dialog we have.

  • IKnight

    I feel compelled to point out that Dickens – Dickens – published his novels episode-by-episode in cheap, trashy magazines. And his cake was as veridical as they come.

  • omo

    Dickens is a hack, everyone knows.

  • IKnight

    Well, yes. Dickens was a hack and one of the English language’s greatest novelists, at the same time. (At least he wasn’t like Defoe, who was the literary equivalent of a whore.) Of course, lots of Dickens’s fellow writers of serialised novels did write pretty poor stuff.

    I think from now on my response to ‘Yoshiyuki Tomino’s a hack’ will be ‘Yes, and?’

  • omo

    Well yeah…? Not sure what you’re saying.

    FWIW I don’t really like Dickens, and while I’m partial to Tomino and his stories, he’s not exactly someone who makes great anime.

  • Andre

    An anime I instantly thought of after reading your post is Tenge Toppa Gurren Lagann. After watching it months ago and seeing the almost instant backlash against it it got me thinking: “In five,seven, ten years time will I actually consider this one of my anime classics” Right now I’d probably put it in my top ten anime of all time just because of the feeling it brought me. I haven’t had that feeling of excitement when I watched anime since those days long ago of having to wake up way early in the morning to catch the latest anime movie on Sci-Fi Channel or DBZ right before Saturday Morning Cartoons started. Some may call it fluff or the one of the great cake lies but I must constantly push on an ask, “Why should allow someone else to dictate my taste in cake.”

    Maybe its not that the cake is a lie but that the truth just has a different flavour to each fatboy. Anyway I’m with you all the way on enjoy the cake.(Even the fake ones have value.)

  • TheBigN

    That’s why I worry about rewatching some shows, as I wonder if the cake tastes just as good when I try it again. Which makes it special when the cake is just as good or even better than it was the first time. :P

  • omo

    Truth. Overindulgence has a purifying effect.

  • digitalboy

    I could say I know what you mean because I have these .hack novels that I would never consider reading again, but I also don’t know what you mean because I’ve read Boogiepop and Others 10 times.

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