Pointless Debate #12: Escapism

Call me cynical, but there's no way that Junichi would be able to pull if he were a real person.

Recently, I was pulled up by a “fictional” person on Twitter for a reference to escapism in Amagami SS. More specifically, I called it “the sad, sad escapism that is Amagami.” Predictably this led into a debate that really went nowhere mainly because of my own time restrictions and the fact that I was in two minds about escapism in general. However, there were a few interesting things that came out of all of this.

The word escapism when tied to anime had about the meaning I expected when I asked a couple of fans on Twitter. Aria, Mushishi and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex came up mostly for reasons of music, characters and atmosphere. Without revisiting the slice-of-life debate from last week on the blogs, it is interesting to see fantastic world creation as a centerpiece of an escapism definition as much as it would for a description of the supposed genre.

The fact I have no idea what this is about probably shows what I think of the "genre" more than anything else.

In the initial debate, we agreed that almost all forms of entertainment can be considered escapism. Watching anime, attending sporting events or simply sitting outside can all be forms of escapism depending on the original context. Escapism is generally not a bad thing in my opinion, since it makes society what it is today.

The question was raised about my wording of Amagami SS as an escape versus any other form. One of the reasons I referred to it as sad has to do with the structure of the series. The protagonist, Tachibana Junichi, develops relationships with six different girls in six different stories in which he always ends up with the girl and there is no danger of a bad ending. At first, it was an initial reaction to those who would try to use this as an escape, but then I was thinking I was using it as an escape at the same time.

The other source for the origin of this blog post.

As was highlighted in my mid-episode thoughts and comments in the most recent Legend of the Galactic Heroes post, relationships aren’t exactly an area of expertise for me. So a character with little personality suddenly having improbable success over and over again, does certainly have its appeal as an escape. However, the fact I am writing this post shows that it has limited utility for me.

There are other anime-related escapes that do provide that, though. Giant Killing’s story of a football team fighting against the odds in the top division of the Japanese league provides the excitement I don’t have from watching the team I support finish mid-table every season while never challenging for promotion (though off to an unexpectedly good start this season). Blog posts on Highschool of the Dead show an interesting contradiction between intellectual debate and screencaps that constantly fight for attention, though I haven’t watched any of it. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has its own fantastic world creation complete with story going back to the present time, though I doubt the many dystopian aspects of society in the series would be seen as escapism for many.

So now a few questions for anyone who stumbles across this post. Do you see anime or any other form of entertainment as a form of escapism? If so, do you have any particular favorites? Can the way something is watched actually be harmful if it is used as an escape?

6 thoughts on “Pointless Debate #12: Escapism”

  1. I think it varies, but generally we don’t lose our sense of reality completely; we are well aware of escapism, just like we are aware when we are dreaming… usually.

    Escapism is something we learn to do when dealing with fiction [and perhaps autobiographical non-fiction?], although it can be dangerous if we over-indulge and lose a sense of self, but for the most part we can enjoy a given work freely (my opinion). I believe most forms of entertainment are escapism, but collectively within a medium, I find there is more power to lead a person towards a delusional reality, than with any one specific work from various media…. if that makes sense.

    1. I think that generally describes escapism. For delusional escapism, I would point to a different area, though I think most would say it isn’t really escapism.

  2. Arguably any entertainment can be used to “escape” from reality. However there is more to entertainment than this and it is almost entirely up to the consumer as to how the consumption plays out.

    The term escapism implies being disposable (a statement of relative value) and again I can dispose of a show you value highly. I can do so for different episodes of the same show. For example, I can watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes 86 as an essay or meditation on transitional government — making it relevant to my own nation’s history. This grounding in reality and personal experience makes it “not escaping.”

    On the other hand, I can watch Reuenthal vs. Schenkopp (and the backflips), or the big battles like Amlitzer or Vermillion and get utterly lost in the experience and excitement of large fleet space warfare. I do nothing else with this experience and am therefore closer to “escaping.”

    When I write about Macross Frontier and I have done so a lot, it’s hard for me to call the experience escapist because I’ve put so much of myself into the activity (inclusive of rewatching the episodes). But just the same I can put on episode 7 (First Fight) and watch pretty mecha shoot space bugs while Sheryl (and Ranka) sing “Infinity,” and kind of wish I was part of that world.

    I think escapist vs. non-escapist “nature” of media works is more complex than your post implies.

    1. I think escapism is more about the person watching than it is about the form of entertainment. Within the same episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes I took the sections on transitional government in much the same manner. Though there was one scene I took negatively, I could see it as a way of making characters more interesting if the political angles became too boring.

      Macross Frontier I can relate to your perspective on it as well. There’s an over-the-top element to many parts of it that seem like genuine fun, and would never be seen in any combination in real life.

      I wasn’t necessarily trying to make it a complex issue here. I think there are forms of entertainment that deliberately set out as works of escapism as much as there are media that try to force people back into reality.

  3. All anime and art is, to me, a form of escapism. But that’s a technicality. I use it to escape reality in one way shape or form, but that doesn’t mean I use it like a drug, but rather in a vain attempt to gain an “outside perspective” on real things, either to learn or to simply have fun thought-experiments. You don’t need originality to accomplish those things.

    I’m not big on “pure” escapism.. that is, escapism that’s pointless and leads to nothing but a mild form of forgettable entertainment for a couple of hours. I think far too many shows aim for this low standard, though I acknowledge that most other people probably prefer this form of escapism (so who am I to whine about it?).

    That’s why when I see shows like Amagami I wonder what the hell the point was. I can’t apply any of it to real life, and aside from the few weird scenes it’s really a basic “been there, done that” experience I didn’t need to relive yet again. If a show is really going to aim that low, then it at least needs to be pretty relentless and confident with it’s strengths.

    1. I’d probably be in the same camp as you as far as pure escapism. While it may be nice to simply turn off one’s brain for a period of time, it’s ultimately just that.

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