I’m watching Highschool of the Dead as a fun show. I watch it, primarily, for the action and the sex and the production values. That is what I download it for—the adrenaline.
But, if its writing weren’t excellent, if its characters weren’t well-developed, if everything but the animation were lazy and shoddily-done, that wouldn’t be a proper defense of any flaws it might have. If something’s worth defending, it’s worth defending right, and defending well. Accusations of plot holes, weak writing, this show deserves better than a dismissive “get over yourself, it’s about zombies and tits”. It deserves a defense as impassioned and straight-faced as does Kon or Scorsese or Nabokov.
Sure, that’s me taking things too seriously, but I do that. Because I think it matters.
That’s why I dropped Shukufuku no Campanella but am watching Asobi ni Ikuyo—not every anime has to be The Tatami Galaxy, but if my goal is solely entertainment, there are far cheaper ways to pass the time than anime fandom. I watch anime because time and again it’s shown me that it can be something more, and if I can’t see that something more—if a work appeals to me only on the simplest of levels—then I can’t bring myself to dedicate hours of my life to it. Implied in my choice to watch a given anime is my preparation to defend that anime’s status as a meaningful way to have spent those hours of my life. And in Highschool’s case, as in Queen’s Blade’s before it, that means dissecting the plot of a show I watch primarily for the sex.
That’s not everyone—I understand that. I make a special effort not to engage people who aren’t interested in this level of discourse on the subject. It’s not my place to decide how seriously someone else takes something, and I doubt anything but frustration would come from any efforts in that direction. I don’t even mean this dismissively—someone else’s choice not to waste hours of their life studying foreign cartoons or writing longwinded essays about them says nothing to me about that person’s intelligence. It’s not everyone, but it is me.
I respect anime as a medium. I respect each anime individually. And, to me, the most important element of respecting something is not ignoring or glossing over its flaws. Defending some element of an anime by declaring that it’s “just anime” or “just a fanservice show” may pass for accurate explanation, but I can’t acknowledge it as legitimate excuse. I love Neon Genesis Evangelion not regardless of, but in spite of its shallow symbolism and underdeveloped characters. I don’t “forgive” the show for those things because I prefer to appreciate it as a meta-narrative of Anno’s depression, I consider it a vital part of my love of the show that I know and understand and appreciate those things which it does wrong as much as any of the work’s detractors.
[Minmay] is grossly imperfect and generally makes a mess of things – and not in a winsome, moe fashion as one may expect from such a statement. She represents my view that I love Macross not because it’s the best anime I’ve ever seen. Rather, I esteem it above all other anime because of my love for it.
This is the train of thought I apply to every anime I watch. And every book I read, and every song I listen to. If I love or hate something, it matters to me to understand why I feel that way, and what it says about me, as distinct from my own or others’ critical opinion of the work. Writing here, or on Twitter, is my outlet to fulfil an inexorable need to appreciate anime beyond simply enjoying it.
Details like the distribution of pantsless and pants-wearing characters in Strike Witches or the reasoning behind Highschool’s female cast leaving the house in various states of undress aren’t particularly relevant to my enjoyment of the work. But they’re by no stretch inconsequential to the work’s quality—critics don’t point out inconsistencies because their detract from the work’s greatness quotient in some abstract technical sense, they complain about inconsistencies that are jarring and that can pop the bubble of suspended disbelief for those who don’t actively choose to enforce their bubbles. From the perspective of the viewers, and of the producers, both of the above issues are clearly driven by a desire to parade lightly-dressed females in front of the camera; however, this meta-justification doesn’t excuse either of the above in and of itself.
The in-world logic used to justify such details is there because without it each show would simply be a series of visually-stimulating images, a great sound and fury. Anime, as any works, are made meaningful by their efforts to incorporate their visceral titillation into a convincing narrative. That narrative isn’t incidental to or distinct from their role as “fun” or “entertainment”; the two are intertwined. Highschool’s deeper narrative and thematic content aren’t divorced from or “bonus” to the way I enjoy it—rather, they are integral to.
Alternate title: “Why I Bite My Tongue When You Say You Like It Because It’s ‘Just Good Fun’”.