Objectively not great, but emotionally 3x better than any other AMV.
The (dis)connection between love for anime and anime’s good quality is something that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while, and Demian’s recent post on ‘Liking Bad Anime’ (hopefully to be followed in the future by Baka-Raptor on ‘Hating Good Anime’) was all the provocation I required. Yes, my post is a sterile piece of amateur thought and no, you don’t have to read it.
An apology is in order, as I don’t normally permit myself to write this kind of entry. Normally I try to briefly explain any necessary jargon, but I’ve just forged full steam ahead here, because I imagine readers who are interested will either understand any jargon that there is here (I’ve trimmed as much as I can), or look it up. I should probably also apologise for muddled thought, but there’s not much to be done about that.
I draw a sharp distinction between our subjective positive emotion and anime’s objective good quality. It’s relatively easy to detect and evaluate our feelings about what we’re watching, since we’ve easy access to what goes on in our own heads. I don’t think there’s necessarily any connection between how we feel about any given anime, and that anime’s objectively measured quality: there aren’t many anime which I would have the courage to condemn as definitely bad, but Kaibutsu Oujo is one of them, and I loved it. Quite a lot of tangles ensue if we confuse our emotional attachment to what we’re watching, and our assessment of its quality.
To make matters worse, I have not found a way to directly perceive quality, or even to prove once and for all that it exists. I’m going to use the unwise analogy of causation here: I’ve no proof that eating reduces my hunger – all I can say is that whenever I’ve eaten in the past, my hunger has lessened (good enough for a scientist, but not for a sceptic). Were I a biologist I could of course provide a more detailed account, but if (in a manoeuvre familiar to Theology 101 students and two-year-olds) you questioned me for long enough I’d either admit to not knowing exactly why Process A causes Process B or resort to ‘a wizard did it‘. Causation may be out there, or it may not be. Good quality has so far been similarly undetectable.
[Note that I am in no way suggesting that good quality causes enjoyment. Maybe it does, but that's not the point: the point is the similarity between causation's epistemological status and quality's epistemological status.]
Once we reach this point, we can choose, if we so wish, an entirely subjective aesthetics. Should you have a list of anime (as with users of MAL), you can feel free to assign numbers purely on sentimental grounds. Personally, I find purely subjective – purely hedonistic – aesthetics, like pure moral relativism, to be not untenable, but unpalatable.
Thing is, we behave as though causation exists. There’s an assumption of a connection there in our minds: I eat when I’m hungry because it’s worked in the past and I assume it’ll work in the future (tapeworm excepted). Similarly, we behave as though quality exists. Long arguments flare up over the quality of anime (usually with a fair bit of sentiment mixed in). If we decide that objective quality doesn’t exist and retreat into purely subjective aesthetics, or decide that we can’t decide one way or another on quality’s existence and use that as a justification for purely subjective (purely hedonistic?) aesthetics, then we’ve nothing to say to one another:
‘How was TTGL?’
‘I loved it, infinity/10.’
‘Well, I hated it. -1/10.’
‘. . . so, um, did you do anything fun last weekend?’
There’s nothing to discuss, really: the purely subjective is the purely personal, the solipsistic – the analytic and tautological, always unchallengeable but never useful (and rarely interesting). There’s little mileage in discussing how much we each enjoyed or failed to enjoy something.
For we seem to need discussion, as usagijen pointed out when she reviewed Library War:
The interaction between these anti- and pro- factions will always bring in a new light on things, because the varying insights of these factions is what brought them to such opposing ends of the spectrum to begin with. There are things which the cynics can’t see, and the zealous T[oshokan] S[ensou] fans can, and vice versa.
This is significant because she obviously has a considerable emotional attachment to the show, but instead of writing directly about that attachment (and what could one write about that? surely it would boil down to ‘I liked it’?) she’s using it as fuel to power her search for demonstrations of the show’s objective quality. Those demonstrations, and the counter-demonstrations of the show’s detractors, have some kind of value. We must persist in our Quixotic quest for anime quality – the universal, synthetic, always doubtful but somehow useful – however impossible it seems. Maybe it’s good for us, in some Reithian way.
* * *
All the above is rather dubious for various reasons (I’m sure intellectual laziness on my part is one), but one of the most pressing is that anime is, by-and-large, commercially-produced entertainment. (Adrian begins his comment on Demian’s post by stating this.) Haibane Renmei is good (I think), but it’s hardly the bloody Laocoön, is it? Entertainment’s about fun, and fun’s quite closely connected with emotional attachment. This is probably linked to what Demian says about anime’s inherent subjectivity.
(Now, I have a suspicion that all media start out being about fun, and that the elevation of certain media (like poetry) to the world of good and bad quality is a recent, unwelcome development caused by disinterest in the general population (we can has οἱ πολλοί nao?) and emotional atrophy in academia, but I won’t go into that: life is too short.)
The greatest problem I have with what I’ve written here, however, is that I don’t obey it. As we discovered a while back, I don’t revel in flair, if I do make qualitative assessments I make them brief and I spend (waste?) most of my time writing rather dry lumps of light analysis (directed at things I love). Reviews are not my forte, because I lack confidence in my ability to accurately perceive quality and then wrap that accurate perception up in pretty words.
* * *
And, after all this, can we like bad anime? Of course – in fact, it’s a non-question, as we undoubtedly do like bad anime. So long as we observe our emotion and avoid letting it tangle up our attempts at objective analysis (while still expressing some feeling in our reviews – a tightrope, really), this shouldn’t be a problem. I suppose.
I tend to follow the dictates of emotion in my own watching habits myself: if not entertained, drop in haste (without asking for arguments about quality) and repent at leisure. As with my last post, guilt happens, but then guilt’s irrational.
If He exists, an omniscient and omnipresent God presumably acts as objective quality’s guarantor much as He kept the world going by perceiving it for Berkeley. Unfortunately, I’ve no proof of His existence in the first place, so despite that speculation we’re no closer to reliable objective assessments ourselves.
Actually, focusing on analysis is rather liberating, as it lets me write about whatever I want, regardless of its quality. Anyone who thinks I prefer mecha, at the moment, out of a belief in its higher quality or moral worth is sadly mistaken. (The very first shot of Heavy Metal L-Gaim is a pantyshot, remember?)
- Apologies are due to Scottish Dave, as I probably misrepresented him something terrible here – but it can’t be helped now. All I can do to make up for it is recommend him.
- Anxiety about ratings. (Leaving aside the numerical out-of-ten ratings on my anime list, I personally sort shows into the three imaginatively-titled categories of ‘good’, ‘bad’ and ‘average’.)
- Within anime, the difference between emotion and quality is best encapsulated by the opening scenes of the forty-fourth episode of Hayate the Combat Butler.