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The Mumbling Kitsune: Growing Out of Anime

Does anime lose its appeal as we grow older?

By Nadia Oxford     August 31, 2008


Naruto
© Viz Media
Growing up doesn't happen all at once. It's not as if someone wakes up and decides it's time to trade in his kite and baseball bat for a business suit and briefcase. It's a gradual process. One summer, all the cool kids are swinging as high as possible and jumping off at the height of their swing. The next summer, everyone wonders why they even thought that was a good idea. After that comes the smuggled Playboy magazines and, depending on the flight trajectory, the girls, the booze and the drugs. Not everything gets chucked at at once at childhood's end, however, which puts anime fans in an interesting position.
 
There was a time when it was mandatory to drop everything childlike for the sake of adulthood, especially Saturday morning cartoons. Modern times have seen cartoons as a more versatile medium, something that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. But while animated comedies like Family Guy and South Park thrive, drama cartoons fall by the wayside and end up on DVD within a season or two. It seems as if adults outside Japan can't get past the idea that cartoons are for children only; it's okay to laugh at them, but other emotions are taboo.
 
American-made drama cartoons have a short lifespan, but anime series meant for older audiences have remained consistently popular on networks like Cartoon Network and YTV. For most of the United States, “anime” remains separate and foreign, somehow outside the deadly “cartoon” label. Will this bubble last, or is it just a weak shield that makes anime seem like a novelty? Will the audience for anime slowly dissipate and lose interest as life piles on more responsibilities and saps the magic out of animation entirely?
 
Nobody can be blamed for losing interest in things they were once passionate about. It's a consequence of growing up. Everyone swears they'll never become as boring and jaded as their parents, but when they find themselves with a family and a job, they realise their parents weren't especially boring or jaded; their tastes just changed.
 
In addition, nostalgia is an adult's best friend and worst enemy. There's no experience like following your first shonen anime series, for example Dragon Ball. Goku's journey across the world to find the seven magic spheres is the kind of classic adventure that appeals to any child who is in love with stories about epic fights and exploration in general. Shonen anime a huge step up from episodic Saturday morning cartoons littered with morals, and nobody forgets the transition. Following up Dragon Ball with One Piece still yields an amazing adventure full of crazy hijinks—but it doesn't have quite the same punch because the magic of the first experience is over.
 
So on and so forth as the years pass and the viewer makes the switch to the seinen genre, anime that's meant for an older audience. At first the change is refreshing, with series like Death Note going where shonen anime never tread. But the inevitable realisation comes: anime has lost its impact. Or as they like to say on the message boards, “They don't make 'em like they used to.”
 
Is that true, or is it possible that we can outgrow anime—like we outgrow other cartoons and childlike pursuits?
 
Interest in anime tends to fade slowly because the medium offers plenty of options for both kids and adults. But interest can fade, absolutely, especially since anime DVDs are not cheap. It sounds like a doom prophecy, but anime will endure. There's always a new audience in the wings, waiting to graduate from Pokemon.
 
What about the adults who have lost interest, however? Is there any incentive to make a return to anime?
 
Anime has its classics, like every medium. You might outgrow Looney Tunes, but you never forget the time you spent with Bugs Bunny, just as you never forget the first time you read Where the Wild Things Are or The Little Prince. Astro Boy, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Death Note, Samurai Champloo and hey, even Sailor Moon are just a few of the series that we can look back on fondly, or pass on to our own kids who will hopefully experience the same thrill of going on adventures they'll keep with them forever.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 5 of 5
1 
Dazzler 8/31/2008 8:31:51 AM
Losing interest? No way....we just need good storytelling along with the animi. Maruto started off strong but is leveling off with stupid storylines. New Robotech SC movie is a good restart, just need a bit more story there centered on Earth.
gimpythewonder 8/31/2008 12:57:37 PM
I think for sure I've lost some interest in anime over the years. I used to rush home to catch DBZ and whatever else was on toonami back in the day. Now I have a hard time getting into new series unless the feel really fresh or interesting. Death Note for instance. I used to get excited for saturday nights during the first year BLEACH was on, now i just watch it for habit and hoping for something interesting (can't seem to get into this bount storyline). I hated Blood by the end of its run, Code Geass is ok, but if it wasn't on after bleach i wouldn't seek it out, that seems to be a running theme for me. unless it feels fresh, I just am not that into it. Not to say there isn't some great stuff out there that I haven't sampled yet, but i sure haven't found much in the last few years to warrant the effort. so much of it just seems derivitive.
Hectotane 8/31/2008 5:48:08 PM
I don't think "losing interest" is a big problem. It's when the anime industry doesn't grow up along with you. It appears that someone over in the industry had forgotten that there are people past their 30s still love (and would buy) anime if it's much more mature and less childish. I heard about "seinin." (What about "seijou?") "The 'Black Lagoon' anime was for the 'salarymen' who wanted some form of escape from their gloomy environment," last I heard. But I find it hard to respect "seinin" since it's basically the same-old "physical violence / slapstick comedy," "hatred-for-average-guys" shounen; only with allowed nudity and sex jokes. And you have those "summer movies" (like "The Dark Knight") which breaks every and all conventional wisdom, gets an audience between "ages of 8 and 80," and makes more money than the anime industry will ever see outside of Bandai Namco. When was the last time you heard about an anime title breaking such barriers? Without causing an argument over what's "anime" and "cartoon?" I'm still a firm believer of "voting with my wallet." The changing economy can do wonderful things: get people to stop driving gas-guzzling vehicles, get them to buy fuel-efficient cars and ride busses, rent out apartments instead of buying homes. It can even force the anime industry out of its rut and its comfy box as well.
galaga51 9/1/2008 5:01:31 PM
Maybe it's not so much growing up, but just needing something different. I'm just now getting into Anime and I see no problem with it being an age issue, so maybe it's just an "everything becomes mundane after a while" issue. You're definitely right on about the price; Netflix is probably the gateway for most adult newcomers like myself. Plus, I would guess that part of the problem is the childish appearance of some anime... the bright colors, the big eyes... Beauty may not be skin deep, but in this A.D.D. world, adults don't want to watch a series for kids ... at least, from their perspective. About the only related products from Japan that are remotely successful beyond the anime-faithful are by Hayao Miyazaki, which benefit from being short and fairly well-praised by critics. It's funny that Gimpy mentioned Bleach... I'm about half way through the current discs, bouncing between that and the first season of Twin Peaks.
Keith 9/2/2008 11:21:54 PM
I find the idea that animation is something specific that one "grows out of" somewhat insulting. I can't help but wonder why animation is still considered a less legitimate medium than any given live action genre. Why should a love of anime take a second to a love of horror/sci-fi, sports, music, model making, or any other general interest one can pick up in youth that can spill into adulthood. What makes the others so much more acceptable? I blame the Hannah Barbera baby boomer generation, with their post war low production values, and absolute drivel for saturday morning plot driven recycled escapades. While I obviously wasn't there, wartime era animation seemed quite acceptable enough, with its higher than today production standards, and while almost always comedy based, still more adult oriented inuendo & content, seemed to be quite easily acceptable for all ages. But spilling into the 60's/70's with the turn & burn recycled background/music/character/plot of Hannah Barbera's hayday seems to be what gave all animation the stigma it carries in the U.S. today. No offense to those that do, but even as a long time anime fan, I'd be hard pressed to take an adult seriously who swears by a Schooby Doo or Smurf DVD colletion. I also blame the flipside of that situation, people like Ralph Bakshi who's idea of adult oriented animation was super low brow T&A fests that featured far more rotoscoping than any true animaton. You put those two stereotypes together, and you get the idea of what the general populace pegs anyone who says they're an "animation" fan into. And not to get into the whole sub/dub debate, even dub fans would find it hard pressed to defend the fact that 90% of all TV dubs wind up being even lower quality than stock american cartoon voice work, leaving it even harder to convince an already jaded populace of anime's quality, when Reba West comes warbbling at them. Of course there will always be a portion of any fanbase that grows out of/moves onward from whatever it is they were a fan of. But to single out anime fans as an inevitable market for that is overly pessimistic. That seems more of someones attempt to make it "ok" to themselves to move on, then an inevidable outcome of adulthood. But hell, I'm in my early 30's, consider myself a well rounded individual, and still persue anime as my main hobby. If anything, its being a video game fan that I've found it harder to remain a part of, but that in itself is due to the lack of time in the day between work, home, and my near daily anime fix.
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