Anime Is Serious Business… But Should It Have to Be? (A Study of Late-Night Anime)

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.

37 thoughts on “Anime Is Serious Business… But Should It Have to Be? (A Study of Late-Night Anime)

  1. QFT.

    You’d think this would be common sense, but some people still seem to miss the point. That’s why I laugh when people seriously complain about shows like Sora no Otoshimono having no plot.

  2. Yes on the context, QFT. Anime is way better when you watch the right show the right way.

    No on the blogger smashing. LOL I mean don’t throw rocks, Mr. Glasshouse.

    • I wasn’t smashing! Just noting something I find ‘a little problematic’. I wont pretend I haven’t made this mistake in the past myself, either.

  3. To be fair though, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had in complaining in about silly shows in utter seriousness…just as long as the author is aware of the irony -_-;

  4. Thanks for the compliments!!

    Also… it’s important to always note what timeslot anime aired in. Most anime airs after 1 AM in Japan. I mean, anime not aimed at 10-year-olds. That isn’t to say that some brilliant piece of work couldn’t air late at night, but it kind of speaks to the un-popularity of anime.

    Family Guy continues to air in the U.S. because it continues to get good ratings in that timeslot. On the other hand, anime studios pay the TV station a lot of money to air their shows. It’s not like the American system at all. Only really popular anime series are ever re-run.

    • And thank you for commenting on my site! And thanks for the insight as well. I think it’s interesting that people have a sort of miss-conception about how much Japanese networks actually give a damn about anime and about just how hard it is to actually get a real budget.

      • Just want to parrot some other person’s comment on this post, yeah, family guy is not the best example to use. I think what would be appropriate is those 80s best music collection CDs that you see infomercials for at late night. Or maybe a segment featuring Vince or Billy Mays.

    • The fact that most anime airs late at night is why I’m generally pretty forgiving of it. With the budget and TV situations the way they are, I can’t really bring myself to hate even the most egregiously terrible anime series ever. Dislike, criticize, yeah, but I tend to be much more apathetic towards them than anything else (and apathy is the opposite of love, as hating still indicates you care).

      And it’s certainly true that the simple fact that 90% of Western anime fandom is actively seeking out anime to watch completely realigns our perception and perspective on it. We put effort (even if it’s just clicking a BitTorrent link and waiting 30 minutes for the download to complete) towards acquiring it, and therefore get more upset when that effort was wasted. We become more discerning–and sometimes more fastidious, unfortunately–and inevitably desire more than 2a TV for our 8p lives.

      Which is probably why some of the more unsavory series feel so much more prominent–they get marketed towards the type of disillusioned, disaffected person who can and often will stay up to 2a on a regular basis. And will buy its merchandise.

        • lol. Yeah, I largely feel the way you do – so it sucks, who cares? I’ll just [i]not watch it[/i] then. I think that when there are [i][b]thousands[/b][/i] of decent shows out there to watch, it’s pointless to waste your time on something you obviously don’t like and then actually have the nerve to talk about it.

          Especially because, in the end, no one is going to care about your flaming and negative comments. You aren’t going to convince any fans that they are wrong for liking or enjoying the show, and you are just going to turn the show into some demonic entity in your mind. I managed to do that with Eden of the East a few seasons back and eventually I went ‘why am I hating on this so much? I didn’t even dislike it…’

          And you are right about the marketing, too. These shows will be watched by people like me who maybe don’t think the show is great, but watch it anyway, and manage to fall for one of the characters and buy their merchandise. Like Shana – I know Shana sucks and I do’nt really like it, but I would so buy a Shana figure.

  5. I could watch a lot of the shounen titles for half an episode and then go to sleep. Hell, I’ve done it with One Piece, a show I don’t particularly like (in case you haven’t heard). Action catches you eyes when you’re flipping through the channels late at night. Sex too, but unless it’s something with adult women, like Queen’s Blade, I’m not interested.

  6. I think the main reason people do this is because they consider themselves “fans of anime”. Everything that is “anime” gets lumped into a giant category, and they pit all shows against each other equally in some sort of competition to be “the best anime”. And this comes down to the fact that anime is still seen as something distinct and foreign, and consuming it isn’t “just like turning on the TV at 2am and watching whatever’s on”. The entire anime geek culture formed more out of necessity due to the rarity of shared interest than out of some genuine sense that any two given anime have anything in common other than the fact they happen to be a) Japanese and b) animated.

    While there are similar geek communities around other forms of media (cartoons, comic books, movies, video games, etc. etc.), most who partake are just casual consumers. And instead we have people who might otherwise be casual consumers forcing themselves into this “anime community mold” and realizing that — guess what — just because a show happens to be “anime” doesn’t mean they’re any more or less likely to like it than if it happened to be “cartoon” or “primetime drama” or “reality TV” or whatever else (though there are certain types of shows that are more common in anime than in other forms of media). And this is why you have people who say, as if making a great pronouncement, that “most anime suck”. That isn’t necessarily the case, but you were never expected to like it *all* to begin with.

    In other words, anime is a medium not a genre. People get this confused all the time, and this is why some make those sorts of unreasonable comparisons. When people can get over the fact that “it’s anime” and just start watching things because they enjoy them (the same way we treat most any other form of media), it’ll likely result in a happier, more fulfilling experience overall. (That is excepting those who enjoy pretending to be a critic more than they actually enjoy watching anime, since for them arguing and “taking things seriously” is the main attraction.)

  7. Hmm, I never actually thought about the difference between late-night anime verses other anime. Probably ’cause I don’t pay attention to the time that anime airs in Japan. Whenever I see the fansub on Tokyo Tosho, I’ll download it when it’s convenient. Another reason is that I’m not a night owl; I typically go to bed around 11:30 and 12am no matter what day of the week.

    One show I probably know as well as you know Family Guy is I Love Lucy. I’ve been watching that show since I was like, 5 years old and I know almost every line and can identify all the episodes just by one scene. But I don’t talk much about the show and wouldn’t call myself a fan.

    And yes, I’m enjoying Seitokai no Ichizon too ^^

  8. Lain was aired in that late-night time-slot. Sure, not everyone adores Lain, but I do and that’s the standard I use. Just because it’s 2AM is no excuse for mediocrity — why not experiment?

    This “view it for what it’s meant to be” is like saying “eat at McDonald’s and enjoy it for the fast calories it’s meant to be”. No — I’ll skip McD’s and find a way to have food that’s both fast and good, thank you.

    I don’t tend to complain about those shows — sometimes I’m surprised by how much I enjoy them (Sora no otoshimono is a good example of this) — I just don’t bother watching them.

  9. I tend to be uneasy with the ‘treat it according to the intentions of the author’ thing in general, and particularly with anime (because, hell, almost none of it is actually meant for us foreigners anyway [and I have no desire to identify as an otaku]), but I’ve got to agree that the important thing for having fun is just to watch whatever you watch in an appropriate manner.

    As for the srs bsns thing, I think for a lot of people it’s an automatic reaction based on standard cultural practise – i.e. there are plenty of people (and not just prudes) who will happily be critical of Family Guy. If I see something awful on TV then my distaste for it, any arguments I make against it to friends or in public, are part of the practise of British culture – my criticisms are healthy practise, a means of participation in the national discourse by someone who isn’t writing scripts. I think that sort of reaction essentially becomes hardwired, and we wind up kind of acting out that model of critical participation in our engagement with a culture which is at arm’s length.

    I think then that a judgemental approach is sort of a futile accident regarding anime, but at the same time I’m personally attached to it – mainly because I want to take on a critical attitude in regard to as much culture as I can, and I think it’s valuable and necessary to be ready to pick apart a piece of advertising as readily as one would a masterpiece. So, er, yeah, I’d count myself a friend in principle of every bugger with niggling complaints.

    • hm. Well, I think I can say that as long as you appreciate the fact that what you are doing is futile, it’s fine for you to keep doing it. LOL.

    • I’ve become increasingly interested of this point of view; wondering if whether the near-complete removal (absence?) of cultural context for western viewers elevates or or deteriorates our sense of criticism. Does watching a lot of anime with a critical eye, even unnecessarily so, make one a better scholar of the medium or simply make one a better scholar of what pleases himself? In all probability, for some, the lack of knowledge concerning the social, economic, and cultural contexts that breathe life into these animation productions is precisely what allows them to be a critic, however loosely defined. If so, perhaps the question then becomes What is their obligation to be objective in their criticism (assuming objectivity is even possible at this point)?

  10. I don’t see why anime is an art form matters in context of digitalboy’s point. It’s a matter of framing and not so much what’s “fancy” and what’s not. Crappy food can be art too, fwiw. It’s like saying Andy Warhol is not art :p

    • Yes, “as an art” is the wrong way to put it. Coburn’s distrust of the “intentions of the creators” is maybe better. Alternatively, “intentions of the creators” aren’t really an excuse for shoddy work.

      Life’s too short to waste time on crappy anime, especially when there’s so much good anime that I haven’t even gotten to, yet.

      Go back to one of the original sparks (way back) of this meta-thread: complaining that Zetsubou Sensei “doesn’t have a plot”. It’s true that it’s not supposed to, sure. But a Zetsubou sensei with a plot, with character development, could actually be tons better than the Zetsubou-sensei we have. That’s what makes it okay to mourn the fact that it doesn’t have a plot.

      Yes, “it’s entertaining” is okay. But, you know, it could be entertaining and be much better at the same time.

      • but as I sad before, there is no substance to your claim that it would better. I personally don’t want SZS to have plot – I would go so far as to say I would fucking HATE it to have a plot, so it’s really a bullshit reasoning that it would be better.

        Likewise, there are many people who like somehting like Shana more than something like Lain. Personally, I’ll take a Kanokon over an Ergo Proxy any day, for instance.

      • LOL that is nonsense. Because Zetsubo-sensei with a plot might also very well be much worse! I think your second-guessing actually contradicts and undermine your premise entirely and goes to examplify that, it’s one thing to be a critic, but being critical doesn’t give you a pass to be ignorant or stupid about your opinion.

        I think the author’s intention is something that’s best embodied to examine why things are the way they are. For example, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to examine why Zetsubo sensei doesn’t have an overarching plot? Because we know that is intentional.

        • Yes, it could be worse, that’s certainly true.

          Though there are elements of plot scattered in the series — the way Kafuka’s creepy insanity is gradually revealed, for example. The ED animation to Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei gets a lot of mileage out of our knowledge of the (deliberately one-dimensional) characters (as does a lot of the series’ plotlessness, actually).

          Asking why it doesn’t have an over-arching plot is a good suggestion. My own (superficial) view is because it’s an Andy Rooney schtick that was more successful than Kumeta originally expected. It gives him a framework in which he can take parodic jabs at whatever he wants (which also makes it ideal for Shaft).

  11. That’s an interesting argument. But what about in Japan? Don’t our Japanese equivalents take this stuff with just as much seriousness, if not more? I honestly don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, and I’d put the exact same argument before them. I don’t think this is something only Westerners have a problem with. I generally think this problem exists for everyone in all kinds of entertainment. Personally, I think it’s just not worth it to talk shit about something when it wasn’t meant for you to like. As far as I’m concerned, we ought to just talk about the stuff we like. It’s way more fun that way anyway!

      • Moreover, if I were to blog a late-night show and it’s not like I love it or anything, I still know I must like it somewhat to be following it. I would post about what things I found interesting or cool in the episode along with detrimental factors, but only ones that effected my enjoyment of the show as itself.

        I really should blog a late-night generic anime just to show how I’d do it.

  12. “… so it sucks, who cares? I’ll just not watch it then. I think that when there are [i][b]thousands[/b][/i] of decent shows out there to watch, it’s pointless to waste your time on something you obviously don’t like and then actually have the nerve to talk about it.”

    That is basically how I feel about the whole thing. It is much more fun for me to talk about shows I actually like and care about than to bash shows I dislike, or are just there to be mindless fun.

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