It’s 2:00 AM. You and a buddy have been playing some game on co-op and now that you’re about halfway through, you think it’s time for a little snack break. You grab a soda and cook up some pizza rolls, then you and your friend plop down on the couch and turn on the tele. Nothing in particular is on right now, so maybe you just watch some Gordon Ramses show on BBC or whatever random show is playing on Adult Swim, or an HBO rerun – just whatever is on. You watch the episode, finish off your snacks, and when the show’s over, you and your buddy go back to Gears of War or whatever. Tell me, do you ever watch anime in a context like this?
That show you watched, I’m sure you wouldn’t call it one of your favorite shows. You probably won’t buy the DVDs, you probably won’t blog about the show, and, hell, you probably won’t even watch the episodes at the time they actually air. And yet, when you have nothing better to do, you’ll watch that show, and you’ll enjoy it. You won’t race to Twitter and talk about how much the episode sucked or was amazing. It might even be an episode you’ve seen several times before and, if pressed could quote from! And yet, you are not going to show it any fanfare. Why?
I have seen probably two or three hundred episodes worth of Family Guy. In the seven or eight years it’s been on Adult Swim getting rerun incessantly, I’ve probably seen most of the show two or three times, and some episodes as many as ten. But have you ever once heard me talk about Family Guy? You haven’t, because I am not a ‘fan’ of Family Guy, even though I could tell you almost anything about the show, quote any episode, and watch it any time I’m bored and it happens to be on.
And to put it simply, Family Guy doesn’t expect me to be a ‘fan’ of it. Maybe Fox wants that of you, but there’s a reason Adult Swim has aired two episodes of this show almost every night for seven years – because they know that the show is as successful as it is because when you are randomly channel-surfing at 11PM or 2 AM, it is a show you will stop on for some quick laughs before you get tired enough to pass out. Sure, there ARE die-hard Family Guy fans who will buy all of the memorabilia and DVDs and know every minute detail of the show, but more likely you just watch it out of boredom and buy the Stewie T-shirts because you think you are clever (getting off-topic…)
The Japanese have shows like this, too. And even more specifically, they have anime like this. It’s called ‘late-night’ anime. I was actually inspired to make this post by the new author of Shelf Life over at Anime News Network, Erin Finnegan (who, by the way, is fucking awesome. I love Bamboo Dong, but they truly couldn’t have found a better replacement!) who points out in her review of Kaze no Stigma part 2 the nature of late-night anime:
“Based on my own trips to Japan, I have this theory that Kaze no Stigma is a typical late-night TV anime series. If you watch it at 2 AM on a Monday in Japanese without subs, and fall asleep on your couch, you could pretend that you yourself are visiting Japan and seeing what the often-mediocre late-night anime block has to offer.”
Now, think about this – these late-night shows know that they aren’t great. It’s not like people make a generic light novel adaption on an ultra-tight budget and expect critics to be calling it the ‘best thing of the season’. Some of these shows do take the time to give you a little extra – some like Queen’s Blade which go the extra mile in delivering as much fanservice as possible to the insomnia-suffering otaku who just wants to rub a good one out before he wanders off to bed – but for the most part, these shows aren’t striving to be your new favorite anime.
It’s just meant to be some light, silly service for otaku that maybe need that extra mind-numbing before they can knock themselves out. It’s for the guy whose spent all day flaming the latest Haruhi on 2channel and needs a way to cool his nerves. Of course, there will still be fans of these series, like people who have read the light novel and are big followers of it, or those who genuinely get interested in the plot or characters, but the show isn’t asking you to be that guy – it just wants to fill in the empty space.
Which is why I find it a little problematic when we have bloggers judging these shows with utter seriousness. It somewhat bothers me to see someone putting all this effort into flaming Queen’s Blade for being stupid, derogatory fanservice, when, well, that’s all it was ever meant to be! It’s a late-night turn-your-brain-off show! It just doesn’t work the same if you’re bringing in your expectations and getting judgmental. Really, just relax and either ignore the show or watch it as the mood permits – there’s just no meaning to bashing on a late-night anime. It’s never going to be a high-quality program or anything, and it has no aspiration to be.
Right now, I’m watching Seitokai no Ichizon and loving it. I haven’t blogged about it once, and I won’t ever again. I am not rushing to watch it when each episode airs, nor am I going to put it on my favorites list or write a fanfiction about it. But the show is good fun that, when I’m bored at 2 AM, is a fun little watch to partake with my otaku friends while we’re taking a break from marathoning Shin Mazinger or something. Nothing more, nothing less. Try it some time.