A few days ago, early evening, my mother was getting ready to watch her evening news. “Well, it’s time for my cartoon now.” She said this because in the past a children’s cartoon block used to run from 7:00 to 7:15 PM, right before the evening news. The news had since moved up, eliminating children’s programming altogether. “Funny you should say that,” I replied, and before I could finish my sentence she caught on and said: “Because we shouldn’t take the news all that seriously, right?”
It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say, but she was right on the money. The news talks about problems most of us feel hopeless to do anything about, either because we don’t know how or because we can’t be bothered to. We know, however, that such a terrible world isn’t something to be desired.
I’m not too sure what kind of attitude Japan has toward the heroic ideal, but if I look at things like sentai being relegated to children’s domain and the numerous anime shows being produced to parody hero-types, I believe it has similar attitudes toward it as the West. Being a hero is juvenile, the media says. Edward Snowden released those top secret documents because of delusions of self-grandeur, they say. Being a boyscout is dangerous, expert data scientists say, because you never know what you say online is going to darken your hue and trigger alarm bells. In fact, you shouldn’t preach righteousness or practice Justice at all. In the end, those thoughts are just contradictions of hypocrites.
Yet those juvenile ideals are still there, clawing at our conscience over our lack of participation.
The hero debate is especially difficult in anime fandom because it’s too often riddled with insecurities. I’m not too intimate with how the current generation of anime fans think, but my generation grew up being ashamed of watching cartoons, because the people that didn’t share our tastes tended to look down on us. That we were fucking annoying also had something to do with that, but not everything. Leaving childish things behind seemed like a good idea if you wanted people to take you seriously. Most of us dropped the Chuunibyou act and got accepted into the tribe.
Let’s take a look at the case of Emiya Shirou. Despite being one of the best written characters that you’ll have a chance to come across in anime, a sizable part of the community went gung-ho over a few of his badly phrased and awkwardly translated lines. Shirou embodies our wishes of a righteous world and our struggle to deal with the imperfections of the real world. In recent episodes, he has gone I’d say unnecessarily out of his way to characterize his ideal as personal greed. Still, many fans from different anime communities like to take cheap shots at his demeanor, with many others publicly agreeing with them out of the aforementioned reasons. After all, what good is there to agreeing with a righteous hypocrite?
I actually think that kind of fan attitude should be diagnosed with Chuunibyou. Shirou’s ideal isn’t achievable, but to chase after it is a beautiful way to live, as he puts it. It helps to know people who have lived righteous lives and accomplished good in their respective fields to really know what righteousness in practice actually amounts to. It’s not ideal, but admirable.
Another thing to consider is that being this edgy actually hinders your anime experience. I’m not just talking about righteous characters here, but giving a damn about what vocal minorities or even the majority of anime fandom thinks. You are your own explorer and if you’re going to tie your tastes down over what is perceived as childish, you’re not enriching your experience. I’ve seen far too many fans slip into conformist trains of thought because they wanted to be accepted by the community.
The thing to remember is that the goal post for avoiding immaturity keeps shifting. This time it was Shirou’s ideal, but what about something like political intrigue in Legend of Galactic Heroes? Hardly a childish affair, as politics have real impact on our lives. My friend said: “After you’re done with this show, you’re going to really hate politicians.” But isn’t accepting the omnipresence of political corruption also part of growing up? Many people of college age fall into depression after learning how the world ticks. We could say LoGH is just pointing out the obvious, therefore these are things that students should be aware of anyway.
Is all anime immature then? I think there are various flavors of dumb, if that’s what you’re hoping to hear. But I don’t think shitting over a character because you just happened to accept that the world is an unfair place can in any way be categorized as mature.