The winter season is all but over. Without any new episodes airing for at least a little bit, my talk with fellow fans has turned to resolutions to make a dent in their anime backlogs.
This is completely foreign to me. I don’t keep an anime backlog.
Furthermore, I don’t like the way people talk about their backlogs, bemoaning their enormity, or forcing themselves to get motivated to tackle them, or promising to stop being “bad” and start watching them. It sounds like work, and I already have enough of that.
As an anime reviewer, I already have three anime I “need” to watch every week. Labeling a long list of other shows that I have to watch in my spare time doesn’t appeal to me. So when I think about a show I haven’t watched yet and might enjoy, I try to forget about it.
Well, I try to forget about it. After Ping Pong: The Animation won an award last week, everyone was talking about it. I couldn’t forget about it until I’d watched all 11 episodes in one magical week. Yes, I have a full time job and plenty of other stuff to do, but here’s the thing: when a show is really great, you make time for it.
I think there’s a subconscious reason when a show ends up on your backlog instead of your watch list. Maybe it’s not memorable enough that you need to check it out in the near future, as was the case with me and Ping Pong. Maybe it’s a classic that doesn’t resonate with you, but you’ll feel guilty if you don’t at least make an effort. Maybe it’s something a close friend keeps nagging you to watch. Maybe you and your friend have significantly differing tastes, but you would feel bad disregarding her sincerely enthusiastic pleas.
In other words, I think there can be a lot of negative emotions tied up in a backlog, including guilt, obligation, and that feeling that “I should.” This is only compounded by the fact that you’ve essentially put something that should be fun on a to-do list.
Like I’ve said before, I don’t have an anime filter, somebody who watches considerably more anime than I do and recommends the best of it. So when I hear about a show, my first impulse is to test out an episode to see if it’s for me. That helps me decide quickly if it’s time to drop it, or just keep watching. That lets me shortcut shows from the limbo of the backlog straight to my “watching” or “dropped” lists.
Sites like Anime Planet make it easy to quantify every part of our anime viewing experience, from what we’re watching to what we’ve watched, to our favorite characters and recommendations. I think this can be fun in moderation, and I have an account myself. But I think it’s easy to go overboard, and make anime feel like work.
I think it’s important to revisit why certain shows have wound up on your backlog, unwatched for so long. Are you really too busy to watch them right now, when I know you’d make time for your favorite shows in a heartbeat? Are they there because you feel like you should watch them, even if you have no motivation to do so?
If you’re dreading your backlog, remember that it isn’t a job. You can delete the whole thing if you want. With millions of anime out there, accept that you’ll only watch one percent of it in your lifetime. Don’t waste that time on anything but the best.
Screenshot via Ping Pong: The Animation