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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
© 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.