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I write this in the risk of merely affirming reads’ beliefs, but I feel that’s acceptable as I’m criticizing my own beliefs in some way. I can’t say it happened recently at this point, but at least not long ago, Hayao Miyazaki said that part of the problem with the anime industry today is that it is full of fans. Now, there’s been a lot of stuff about this, and a lot of other things that the man’s said to similar affect. I don’t want to get bogged down and spend a thousand words clearing the air before getting to say what I want to say. What background I will give is this: the man’s a genius director and master of the industry and as such his opinion does have some measured authority; I generally agree with him and that’s why I typically try not to associate with anime culture; you are free to disagree with him on any points he’s made, and that could make an interesting but separate conversation, one I’m happy to have in the comments.
Okay, now that that’s said, I’m sure nobody will be angry about anything there. Heh heh. Yeah right. Oh well, not getting bogged down.
While I do generally agree with the man (I mean, he’s got a beautiful beard, how can you disagree with a man with a beard like that?), today I want to lay out an argument for why otaku, or fans, in the industry can be a good thing. For starters, let’s look at Miyazaki’s own films. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Porko Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service; all great films, but where do they sit in the anime culture? That’s the thing about Miyazaki and Ghibli, you really can’t place them relative to anything else. They are fantastic films that the industry never forgets, but at the same time they almost exist in a vacuum.
Now compare these to something like Gurren Lagann, an anime series that was very conscious of what came before it, and seemingly intentionally affected what would come after it (and it’s not exactly a coincidence that this comes from Gainax, a studio known for being formed by and composed of fans). You could say the same about season two of Haruhi, or Beck, or really most noteworthy anime in recent history. Not-so-recent history too, but more so in recent history.
Anime as a medium has shown immense self-awareness, and this is something I don’t think Miyazaki gets. While his criticisms are valid, there is a benefit to fans being creators. As much as Miyazaki knows the industry, it’s the fans who know the medium. And it’s only fans who can push the medium as a whole forward.
Gurren Lagann took the tropes of mecha, used the fact that they knew fans would just get certain things without needing it explained, and was able to elevate it beyond the heavens. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an ingenious deconstruction of the magical girl genre, one which would have required a deep understanding of the genre, an understanding that only a fan could have.
Just like live-action movies evolved from young film-buffs growing into directors, anime can evolve by otaku entering the industry. I won’t say this is certainly good though. We still need good directors interested in creating art and moving the industry forward. We need directors and fans who are respective to the push that things like Gurren Lagann and Psycho-Pass give. As much as I love Kill la Kill, it’s a dead end; it doesn’t inspire anything further that’s truly original (and this is a concern I’m starting to have with Trigger as a whole). But neither do Miyazaki’s films.
A medium needs engaged creators. Directors and writers and animators who can look back on what they saw as a kid, and build on it, and correct its flaws. It also needs its Miyazaki’s, who say, “Enough navel-gazing! Pull your head out of your ass and make some damn art!” I don’t think there’s a problem with the industry being full of otaku. I think the problem is that it doesn’t have enough Miyazaki’s.
Oh well, he’ll come out of retirement again in a year.
Don’t Lose Your Way