In Defense of Anime as a Media Form

What sets the storytelling apart

Anime is not a genre that is perfect by any stretch of the word. In fact, I have been vocal about my dislike of the many anime tropes and the reductive way in which women are often portrayed. 

However, I do enjoy the genre, a lot. My brother has recently tricked me into paying for our joint Crunchyroll account. And like the good big sister I am, I am trying not to whine and cry about it too much. 

Last weekend, my brother asked me to watch an episode of “Jujutsu Kaisen” with him and I did.

I am regretfully hooked. It’s taking all of my willpower not to go watch every single episode, forget about my homework load, and go binge-watch it. When I like things, I usually enjoy them to the point of obsession. I have read my favorite book series up to ten times. I buy merchandise, watch shows, read books, and check fan reviews. Read the books on the author’s backlist, etc. I even make paintings of my favorite characters, even though my fan art is garbage and will never see the light of day. 

So needless to say, I am not very good at patience, or self-control. It’s a testament to how much I love my brother, that I didn’t pull an all-nighter after finishing episode four, but even more, a testament to the show that I have the urge to watch it with such vigor, 

Watching this show reminded me of what shows like this, specifically shonen anime, add to the literary world as a whole and why western audiences tend to enjoy Asian media like anime and K-pop so much. 

Some Historical Influences of Anime

In a paper published by the University of Southern Mississippi entitled Consuming Anime, the paper said this “Saitō refers to anime as Japan’s ‘greatest cultural export,’ perhaps more ‘globally relevant’ than the content transmitted in Japanese universities”. 

The effect that anime has, as an art form, is global. Art can transcend a lot of social barriers like race, ethnicity, cultural background, and gender. While all of these demographics are a lens through which we view art, compelling anime, like most stories, has a way of drawing you to the point that you disconnect from reality. Even if it’s only for a moment. 

I think anime provides such a phenomenal way to disconnect from reality because the stories are often very different from the types of stories we have in the west and often draw on different literary inspirations and philosophies,

These already give this type of media a leg up, especially if you aren’t familiar with its tropes and sub-genres. Since in the west, we aren’t familiar with the source material that inspires these stories our natural curiosity draws us into the story because the ideas feel wholly unique and inspired. 

For example, One Piece, arguably the most popular anime of all time, is heavily inspired by Dragon Ball Z, and the main character for both shows draw inspiration from the massively popular novel “Journey to the West”. This book is widely known in East Asia and I would compare its literary influence to how Shakespeare has influenced writings on this side of the globe. Monkey D Luffy and Goku both seem inspired by the character Monkey from “Journey to the West”. 

The stories told in Anime are often more interesting and inspiring than a lot of what I am watching currently on TV. 

Graphics Credit | Madison Pilon

Additionally, a lot of the magic systems feel wholly unique because they are often inspired by religious beliefs, philosophies, and folk tales that are unique to the area. An easy example that comes to mind for me is “Naruto”. The magic system “chakra” dates back to 1500-500 B.C. and originated in India. Also in “Naruto”, the 9-tailed fox originated from Chinese mythology and the more tails a creature has, the more wisdom and power it has. 

The stories told in anime are often more interesting and inspired then a lot of what I am watching currently on TV. Graphics Credit | Madison Pilon

While I am no expert on anime, history, or culture, I don’t think it a stretch of the imagination to say that one of the reasons that audiences are so drawn to these stories is because their cultural inspirations are a way in which we the viewer can experience another culture. Stories are as old as humanity. 

Not only is it popular because it breaks the perceived status quo that western media has, but the art style itself is also unique and evolving. Just like the writing is inspired by different source materials, so is the art. It has its rich history and origin in traditional Chinese artwork and Anime as an art style deserves just as much respect as any other artistic genre. 

Modern Anime

Now let’s return to the anime I am referring to, “Jujutsu Kaisen”. While I have been enjoying anime more and more these last few months (especially SpyxFamily), I thought that I was simply too old for shonen anime to appeal to me anymore. 

A lot of the tropes aren’t for me and the constant disrespect faced by a lot of female characters, especially the sexualization of minors, was super gross and greatly hindered my ability to enjoy the stories that they were trying to tell. It made some of the content unwatchable for me. 

In addition to some terrible characterization, some of the fandoms were just vile. The “My Hero Academia” fandom is widely regarded as particularly icky and didn’t make me have a strong desire to return to anime. 

But everyone and a while, a show will come along that even will pique my interest. I heard rumblings about this show treating their female characters with some dignity and respect on youtube a while back. However, being a full-time student I haven’t had a whole lot of time to invest in anime or TV at all. 

When the opportunity came along to watch an episode with my bro, I accepted. My little brother told me I would fall head over heels for Gojo, and he couldn’t have been more correct. I had a crush on Kakashi Hatake in ninth grade so if I had a crush on him, then chances are I was gonna love Gojo. 

So the show has that going for it. But it also reminds me a lot of Naruto. Don’t worry, this review will be pretty spoiler free since I am only four episodes into “Jujutsu Kaisen”, or JJK for short. 

The core team reminds me a lot of teams 7 and seven. Yuji Itatadori, would be Naruto. Megumi Fushigiro reminds me of Sasuke, and then Nobara Kugisaki reminds me of Sakura. Then, of course, Satoro Gojo reminds me of Kakashi. I liked the dynamic of team seven when I was in high school, and I like it now. Something about the three-man team just works for me. 

Additionally, even though I am still learning and trying to understand how the magic system works, I find Itadori’s bravery and seemingly superhuman abilities even before he became a sorcerer very compelling. He’s a hero that’s easy to root for. 

In addition to compelling, if not simply written characters, there is still that cultural element that makes the story feel unique. It has the characters of “Naruto“, the feel of “Blue Exorcist” and the life and death stakes of “Attack on Titan”. Good news folks, I liked all of those shows. All this show needs to be successful is for the writer to be a good writer. So far, they are delivering. Set in Tokyo I am excited to see how these fantastical elements merge with a modern setting. 

All this to say, anime as a genre is fascinating. It feels like a genre that is so much more creative than a lot of what I see in the west. I have consumed so much western media that I find a lot of the plot points predictable and boring. 

I want to read and watch stories that are inspired, that are breaking the bounds, or what I know to be true about storytelling. Most of all, I want compelling characters and good writing. Even if the story is simple, like in “A Silent Voice” what matters most is that the characters feel real. Even though I can’t quite put my finger on it, something about anime characters often connects with me in a way western media just can’t manage. 

Maybe it’s their dedication to goodness. They desire to protect their loved ones and do the right thing no matter the cost. Maybe, on a subconscious level, I enjoy it because it reminds me of spending time with my little brothers. Regardless, a good show should take your breath away and should keep you on the edge of your seat. I guarantee you, that a good anime should be able to do just that. 

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