Why do we find anime so enjoyable? (Some of us, at least.) There are doubtless innumerable reasons, so this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive exploration. But with the launch of Anime-gataris this season, I feel like the anime industry—or better, the anime community—is consciously reflecting on this question: Anime-gataris spends a good chunk of its run time raising objections to anime and then trying to answer them.
I plan on doing a series of posts on various reasons why. But in this one, I shall be more personal.
Prior to grad school, anime to me meant Pokemon and Dragonball Z, neither of which I had any interest in. The occasional episode of Yu-Gi-Oh or Inuyasha while flipping through the cable channels, but nothing special. But in grad school a friend of mine also happened to head up the local anime club, and he invited me along. (He’s now a priest, incidentally. I can’t wait to hear one of his sermons. Every time he mentions anime, I’ll take a shot.) He introduced me to Naruto, Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, and Fullmetal Alchemist. I started enjoying anime.
Then I got married, wrote and defended a dissertation, started having kids, and life took off. Anime vanished from my agenda.
And then my life fell apart. A family member was diagnosed with a serious illness. Major changes had to be made in how we lived. Everything I thought was certain was uprooted overnight.
Slowly, over several years, my family and I pieced our lives back together. I found the time and energy to focus on things that I had ignored for a while. My siblings and I are spread out over nearly two decades, so I decided to try to strengthen my relationships with my younger sibs. One of these was very much into manga and anime; I started watching series that he recommended so I’d have something to talk about with him.
And then—the illness took a turn for the worse. Everything fell apart again. And as I struggled to keep the family going, my escape—one of the few things I could look forward to, which kept me going throughout the day—was anime.
If this were a standard story of a Christian going through a dark time, you’d expect me say that it was my faith in God that got me through, or that I felt closer to Jesus during that period, or something. But this isn’t a standard Christian story, it’s my own story. I never felt further and more abandoned by God than during this time. Sure, I believed then and now that he was with me—I mean, if you’re about to drown in a flood and all you’ve got to hang onto is a twig, you’ll hang onto the twig—but I didn’t get through the day thinking particularly holy thoughts or praying extra or something.
I was thinking, “Hey, another episode of Gate comes out tonight! I wonder what’s going to happen?”
Isn’t that escapism?
As far as escapism goes, there’s reasons why it’s good for you. JRR Tolkien wrote at length about this in his Essay on Fairy-Stories. If a man lives in a prison, Tolkien asks, can’t he think about things other than prison walls? The prisoner doesn’t actually believe he’s outside the prison—that’s delusion, not escapism—but he may certainly think about things outside. Escape in this sense, Tolkien argues, actually allows us to see reality better, and it even allows us to see the reality of ultimate hope. I’m not going to lay out his whole argument here; it’s worth reading in its own right.
There are also biological reasons why escapism can be good for one. If a person is under a lot of stress, even the tiniest forms of distraction or pleasure reduce the stress hormones in the body and help him or her not to burn out.
If anime could help me reduce stress, maintain hope, and persevere, I was all for it!
There are of course other reasons to watch anime. But for me, it has been, almost literally, a life-saver.