I remember the first time I realized that not everyone, or even most people, liked my favorite anime.
I was in my college anime club. Every fall and spring, we chose four anime to watch for the rest of the semester, and we did this after viewing clips of about 25 different shows that club members provided. I brought my favorite at the time, a comedy musical called Nerima Daikon Brothers. I remember being so thrilled when people started laughing, and then crushed when I realized that they were laughing at it, not with it. And then confused. What?
This was in the late ’00s, and anime was going through a change. In that there was a lot more of it now, and we could all afford to be choosier.
Before college, I had such limited access to anime. I either had to save up money from my job at Coldstone Creamery—at the time, minimum wage was $5.15 an hour—or pirate shows using a service like Limewire. It took weeks to acquire either way. If you’re past a certain age you might also remember starting your .mov downloads before school and coming home to find them not even half complete. (This is not a defense of piracy. I feel awful about my old piracy days and have since purchased every title I ever pirated on DVD or Blu-ray.)
In the “good old days,” our anime selection was like the music selection you’ll find on a classic rock radio station. Since there weren’t resources (or interest) in bringing everything over from Japan, companies only localized shows they thought would sell well. The greatest hits of anime from the ‘80s and ‘90s, if you will. The Slayers, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ramna ½, His and Her Circumstances—these were the titles of my adolescence. So in high school, it was easy to find people who had the same taste in anime as I did. First of all, there wasn’t much out there. Secondly, we thought all anime was good because it was. I mean, it’s all subject to taste but generally speaking, only the cream of the crop came to the US.
Then I went to college. I started attending anime conventions. If you waited until Sunday, you could get anime on DVD cheap in the Dealer’s Room. I discovered Nerima Daikon Brothers after swapping for it with a friend. I fell in love with it, especially the dub. It’s cheap but silly, catchy, and fun. Today its considerable social commentary—on such figures as Michael Jackson and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi—is extremely dated, but I still put it on when I’m feeling down. It never doesn’t make me bust out laughing. (I remember once, in 2013 while I was planning my wedding, I ran into a crisis that seemed huge at the time, but now I don’t even remember. John came home to me sobbing and smiling and singing at the TV.)
What I’m trying to say is Nerima Daikon Brothers is a quirky show that makes me supremely happy, but is far from a masterpiece that has something for everybody in it.
Today, very few shows have widespread appeal. With such a big selection, they don’t need to! We used to recommend anime by saying that a show “has something for everyone” in it; today we recommend anime as a genre by instead saying there’s a show out there for each person. Nerima Daikon Brothers resonated with me, but certainly not the rest of my anime club. I recall that year having an extremely eclectic selection when all was said and done, including a tearjerker, Haibane Renmei, dark comedy Welcome to the NHK, and all-out action Gurren Lagann. The flipside was that because we all had to compromise, I ended up discovering a lot of shows that I wouldn’t have necessarily watched otherwise, and widely expanded my tastes. I started attending to watch Ouran High School Host Club and Death Note; I ended up with a taste for (at the time) brand new airing shows like Last Exile. I probably would never have become an anime reviewer if not for being a part of my college anime club.
That’s awesome, but it’s jarring how much this shift has changed the way I watch anime with my friends. Not being able to decide on an anime for club was one thing. Coming home on breaks and discovering that my eight closest friends all preferred different shows was another. Most recently, a friend I’ve been watching anime with since we were 12 told me she was surprised to see my Anime News Network essay on Cheer Boys!! being my worst show of the season. It had been her favorite. “What happened to us?” I exclaimed, remembering how as middle schoolers, there was no question that we had similar feelings about every anime we watched.
Having been friends with the same eight people for more than a decade now, our diverging tastes have become even more obvious. At first, I took it personally, like my friends and I were growing apart and didn’t like the same things anymore. It felt like rejection, the same way bringing Nerima Daikon Brothers into anime club felt like rejection.
When anime was hard to get, sharing my love of anime already made me a loner. Back then, revealing I even liked anime felt like a compromising confession, so I guess I tied a lot of my identity to the shows I liked. I see this among anime fans of my generation, who remember those early times. We tie our anime preferences to our identities. Saying “I don’t like your favorite anime” sounds a lot like, “wow, your taste is bad.” It sounds a lot like “I don’t like you.”
But I think that’s changing. Today, discovering a new anime is hardly different from discovering any other new show—they’re all on Netflix. The next generation of anime fans is massive because the selection is way bigger than I ever could have imagined. And that’s the most magical part: even with so many shows to choose from, there are still going to be a select few who pick Nerima Daikon Brothers—not because it’s one of the four VHS tapes our friend group has access to, but because something inside this goofy show resonates somehow.
I have so much to choose from that these days it’s hard to pick a favorite, though lately I’ve been partial to Natsume’s Book of Friends. Instead, it’s become far, far easier to differentiate the things I like from the things I don’t and, as a reviewer, be very vocal about it. I might even say I don’t like your favorite show. But it doesn’t mean I don’t like you.