That Weird Area Between New and Nostalgia

The film mentioned in the sentence that started the subject of this post.

Something that’s been on my mind since the last post has been the question of how quickly interest in a series dies. Judging by Madoka Magica it could be a mere week following the conclusion. On the other hand, some series live on inspiring such statements as “Akira is the Casablanca of anime.” The way something gets from the here-and-now to classic poses many questions, some more than others.

If only he hadn't been there that night

On Classics

Revisiting the Akira comparison again, Casablanca is held up as a classic film even approaching 70 years since its release. A reason for this might be the fact that it was amongst the most shown films in syndication for over 30 years. Most everyone who had an opinion on it had seen it and had found it a classic despite any potential flaws in its characters and story.

Akira can been seen as a classic in this same style. It was release 23 years ago, was one of the first titles that broke through in the West and as a result most older fans have seen it and find it to be one of the best animated films of that period. Another thing to keep in mind is that was this same logic that led to the creation of the 2nd M.D. Geist film in 1996 as a classic of a whole different kind.

This is exactly the level of discourse that gets covered in SCCSAV terribad weekly

Ratings Convergence

I’ve held this idea that as time passes, rating systems begin to shrink in scale. From numerous iterations of good and terrible, eventually it becomes a matter of classic, memorably awful or completely forgotten. The group viewing sessions within SCCSAV tend to follow this same pattern. Sessions are devoted to new series, but the older ones tend to comprise of classics (general or genre specific) and memorably terrible.

Getting into one of these categories really just comes down to the number of people who have viewed it and forming a common consensus of it. There are probably people who really love Mars of Destruction or Apocalypse Zero, while also hating Gurren Lagann or Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Just the idea of holding opinions like this makes the ideas themselves marginalized. It isn’t necessarily an active process, but defying common opinion simply becomes harder and harder with time.

A minor character who symbolizes much more than appears on first glance

On Newer Series

Consuming any form of media is always time dependent. Even the fact that series get lumped in with individual seasons or given a season number for something running longer points to an association with time. This leads to a number of statements that can be made such as “the winter and summer seasons are worse than their spring and fall counterparts” or “I can’t believe this has been running since 1999.”

These statements also form part of the process of forming a consensus which starts from the very beginning. There’s also a tendency regardless to want to watch something at the earliest opportunity if one wants to discuss it. Discussions go back and forth among those who continue to watch, while those that do drop a series cease to be relevant until a certain point.

This was from a year ago, will Working be remembered fondly next year or the year after?

The Area Between New to Nostalgia

So what exactly determines how the bridge is crossed between these 2 areas. Even amongst those who could be called database animals there are probably series that never come close to crossing the gap and can only be remembered for 1 or 2 details. The key driver in my opinion is merely the amount of discussion on a series, which brings me back to those who drop a series.

Those who do drop a series usually hold it in little regard and contribute little, if at all, to the discussion on a series. As more people do drop out for longer titles or at the conclusion, those who did manage to complete it may also decide that it was not worth discussing at all. The pool of discussion continues to shrink as time goes on, but I think the difference between something being looked upon with nostalgia has nothing to do with the depth of the conversation, but instead it goes back to the simplified rating scale.

Someone saying something is good from 3 months ago isn’t going to mean as much as that same person endorsing something from 15 years ago. Word of mouth has a way of working like that in creating generations of fans all starting from the initial discussions and common viewing experience to pass on the consensus opinion of the time.

Sometimes I wish there was a manual for this sort of thing

Conclusions

To simplify matters above, visual media starts out as a disposable product. After that, people talk about their shared experience and an opinion forms on it. As time passes, that builds in a simplified manner defining something as good or bad. For those that are less lucky, it becomes little more than a footnote or piece of trivia.

As always, I appreciate any thoughts on the subject, whether or not I’m spot on or wildly off-base on this topic.

10 thoughts on “That Weird Area Between New and Nostalgia

  1. There is something to be said about commonality and media saturation as well. Casablanca wasn’t one of thousands of films released in it’s year. It’s remembered more fondly because there were fewer movies back then and it was one of the best. Likewise, taking a USA perspective, Akira was one of the ONLY anime movies aired in the States at it’s time, and is remembered fondly even if youngsters watching it for the time NOW will think it’s a confusing mess of nonsense.

    BUT, if you stop to consider the number of movies and anime that are shoveled at the youth of today, it will be interesting to see which ones stand the test of time. Will Angel Beats be as fondly remembered as Akira by those who are calling it “brilliant” now? Or is it just a flash-in-the-pan, a footnote of tomorrow, destined to be marginalized for the shlock that it really is? Will the youth of tomorrow watch Haruhi or Madoka and roll their eyes, wondering what the hell was so special with them?

    One thing I like to watch for is whether the popular/big ticket anime (and other shows) of today are “timeless”? Is there even such a thing, really, in our modern age? Will the kids of tomorrow dismiss Cowboy Bebop as an old-school, poorly-animated piece of junk, like they do these days with early-90’s shows? Or will they still be able to appreciate it in an artistic sense?

    • I think there’s a lot that can be said about modern media simply being disposable. It meant more way back when simply because there was less around at the time. Angel Beats probably won’t be remembered very fondly in the future, nor will Haruhi or Madoka. Plus, I’ve already seen Cowboy Bebop being dismissed in just the way you’ve described it.

  2. People who drop series are really the “free radicals” of this discussion. Once they drop a series many assume that their opinions just drop off the face of the Earth. But really once someone drops a series that can contribute in a number of ways.

    Despite only seeing (as often is the case) a majority of a series, they drop a series early on, but want to share their opinion on why they dropped it and it can be a surprisingly strong opinion at that. That could contribute negatively to a series reputation and possibly how it is remembered. Also those people could eventually turn into a show’s staunch supporter, as was the case with me when I finally buckled down a year or two ago to marathon One Piece. And it is the people who pick up the show late who I think really contribute to a show’s nostalgia factor. Those of us who watch the series as it comes out, discuss, blog and champion these series (for good or bad reasons) are really laying the foundation for a later generation of fans to get sucked into the material.

    It was websites dedicated to shows like Evangelion, Gundam and Rurouni Kenshin that really got me interested in some of the late 90’s early 00’s best shows, and future classics. Whether they watch an episode or a season themselves before seeking comrades and knowledge, or not, it is their desire for those people and their opinions that brings them into the fold.

    That’s why I do my blog. I don’t focus it for my fellow anibloggers or anime veterans; I focus it for anyone new and curious about a series, or who stumbles on the site. We help build the nostalgia, for better or worse.

    • I’m sure there is a large contingent of people who will vocally express dissatisfaction upon dropping a series, but I still think most quit silently. As far as coming back to a show, I think the opinion of something that runs long is subject to survival bias. I suppose nostalgia itself is a giant exercise in survival bias, though.

  3. Having just finished reading Tipping Point, I’m going to force a comparison with the three principles of epidemics with anime nostalgia, damned if it fits! Let me define ‘nostalgia’ in this case as considered classic by many people, since personal nostalgia will always vary from person to person.

    The first characteristic is contagiousness. In terms of anime, it is how many people have seen the show in question, based on its initial appeal and word of mouth spread from small circles of anime fans to a wider audience. It’s important that the show continues to be contagious many years after it aired to be considered nostalgic by the fandom. All popular series from recent years are contagious, like Angel Beats or K-ON!, something everyone has seen or heard about. Shounen Jump titles are designed to be very contagious.

    The second characteristic is stickiness. The anime must have a message or intrinsic quality that “sticks” with the audience, something that makes the show eternally memorable to those that have seen it, be it few or many, because nostalgia has to last. Haibane Renmei and Barefoot Gen are sticky; universally acclaimed pieces despite only modest popularity.

    Last characteristic is the effect of circumstances. This concerns environmental influences like the presence of licenses/subbing groups, the number of other anime available, or a time when a fandom is especially receptive for something fresh, because nostalgia for something is often associated with a specific period of life or event. Madoka probably would not have made the impact 20 years ago, without the decades of Sailor Moon and Precure to prime the fandom for a magical girl subversion. For American fans, the Toonami block of Cartoon Network is nostalgic because for most of us it was our first taste of anime-as-anime and the beginning of the swell of Japan pop-culture interest in America.

    In conclusion, to be properly nostalgic to the anime community, a title has to be at least contagious and sticky; well known across fandoms and time. If it succeeds at also fitting the third criteria, one that’s really outside of any one title’s control, then it becomes immortalized in the community’s consciousness. Akira, Evangelion, and Haruhi would be examples of anime that hit the magical formula of all three characteristics.

    • Oh yea, The Tipping Point. It’s a pretty fascinating book on viral stuff, and certainly can be applied to anime (I actually wrote a lengthy post some time ago applying these ideas to K-On! *shameless plug*).

      Anyway, I’d like to add to this with ideas from The Tipping Point. The post mentions discussion as being the key to memorable classic/ terribad and those who fell into oblivion depend a lot on what kind of people do happen to pick it up and enjoy it. There’s the salesmen, maven, and connectors, and if an anime happens to appeal to all three types of people, it will get spread quickly and virally among anime fans. Of course, this is especially important for newer series, and might be what tips newer series to becoming classics in the future.

  4. I somewhat disagree.

    The amount of discussion or a rating isn’t any sort of indication of classic-ness. For example, no one actually discusses Casablanca. It’s simply a recommendation. That’s how classics and staples work… everyone’s seen it, so all that you can do is say “oh, you should watch this too!”.

    On a similar note, current discussions from anime enthusiasts simply aren’t a good indication of a series’ staying power. They’ll discuss anything, especially whatever current show is at least “bronze” quality if nothing spectacular is current showing.

    Yet, I believe that long running series that aren’t split into obvious seasons (200+ episodes) have about as much staying power as your mom’s soap operas. Yes, General Hospital will be remembered and will be currently discussable by anyone watching it, but… who the hell would recommend something so long, non-current, unstable, and overall just less accessible than the far better shorter series/movies?

    I think that what one other commenter said about classics being determined by the lack of quantity of media at the breakout point of the medium is true. To use what probably isn’t too great of a website, observe: http://www.filmsite.org/momentsindx.html, the closer you get to this year, the more serious the “great” movies are. Comedies and light hearted movies generally pop up past the 1950s, simply because the volume of these genres increased tremendously that nothing stood out anymore. The same will probably be true of anime. Few if any light hearted shows can survive the test of time, simply because they weren’t there first and very clearly won’t be last. Only shows with unique ideas/styles can potentially qualify and will be remembered. Yet, it’s also a crapshoot and very circumstantial.

    • I don’t think we are that far apart. Casablanca just happens to be one of those cases where people find it watchable nearly 70 years later. Anime enthusiasts will generally discuss anything they’ve seen because it isn’t a very common conversation to have in everyday life. The point I was trying to make with longer running shows is that even though they have a distinct audience, it usually tends to encompass more people the longer it runs even as people fade in and out with keeping up on the latest episodes. You generally get the same thing week-to-week even though the characters may change.

      On the point about quantity of media, I also agree. Up until even the rise of cable TV, there were limited outlets to view anything, so if it aired it had to be good from a general standpoint. Anime in a way was in a similar spot until the rise of satellite networks in the last decade or so. Unfortunately, the production system hasn’t changed to reflect the current situation. The expensive crapshoot has become the default state.

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