Evolution Part 3
Evolution Part 3

Developing Tastes: The Evolution of an Anime Fan (Part 3)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going through the ever-changing tastes of an anime fan. Part 2, released last week, covered the majority of anime fans. In that article, I talked about how the majority of anime fans are Level 1s and 2s – those who build their tastes around genres, subgenres, and ultimately studios. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out Part 1 to get up to speed.

For this final article, I’m going to tackle the veteran anime fans, and their anime selection preferences, along with their contributions to the community at large.

Level 3: “This creator produces the best anime!”

As the Level 2 fan continues checking out series from specific studios, over time they eventually opens themselves back up to series not in their preferred genres or subgenres. It is at this time that another realization is made, and it propels the fan to Level 3 – creators (directors, writers, manga-ka, even animators) are much more responsible for the outcome of a series than anything else.

A great example of this is writer Gen Urobuchi. Some may be familiar with his name as the writer of the fantastic Madoka Magica, or perhaps the popular Psycho-Pass, or maybe that he wrote the novel that eventually became the Fate/zero anime series. However, a Level 2 might not ever know about all of these if they only knew that, for instance, Madoka Magica was produced by Shaft, whereas the others were produced by Production IG and ufotable respectively. Even further, none of the series mentioned above are in the same genre. Madoka Magica is a dark take on the magical girl genre, whereas Psycho-Pass is a dystopian sci-fi detective series, and Fate/zero is more in the dark fantasy and battle royale genres.

A Level 3 fan would, however, seek out other works by Gen Urobuchi on name alone and would most likely be satisfied with their choices since all three series mentioned above share themes of humanity, struggle, and sacrifice. The Level 3 fan researches works with a scope that lower levels would never think of. Level 3s are checking Anime News Network links for individual creators, reading blog posts, and consulting various wikis in an attempt to find even more series from the creators they enjoy.

A penchant for news.

Level 3s are much more likely to follow social media channels regarding anime production and keep up to date on news in the industry. In fact, it seems that there is a distinct transition of news and social media consumption between Level 0 and 3. Level 0s are more than likely to find out about shows after the fact, via their chosen taste makers. Similarly, Level 1s might see items as they happen. Level 2s are likely less-inclined to follow general news items, but will keep up to date on specific studios, or at least read items that they come across, if focused on a particular studio.

It is at Level 3 and above does the anime fan preemptively follow news items in the anime industry, and looks forward to things coming out in the future. They might follow industry panels, attend cons with studio representatives, and somehow find themselves becoming the tastemakers of their peers.

Level 4: Level 0 on Steroids

The branching out process doesn’t end at Level 3. The transition from Level 3 to Level 4 happens when the anime fan realizes that the best anime works, in their opinion, can come in all shapes and sizes, can be from any given genre, and produced in any time period. The Level 4 comes full circle to the Level 0 and recognizes the genius involved in myriad works. The Level 4 doesn’t seclude themselves in genres and subgenres.

What the Level 4 looks for in anime is passion, craft, talent, and great storytelling in all its forms, from visual to auditory, from writing to acting. Level 4s will keep an eye out for new film releases, track the success of up and coming studios, read blogs on behind the scenes production and film criticism. They get excited about acclaimed works, and will go out of their way to view series that they find important, even if that means having to travel to far off theatres, track down out of print DVDs (and, heck, even digging in the crates for VHS tapes), or obtain releases through the vastness of the internet (not that you should do that yourself or anything).

A Level 4 trap.

However, just as there are pitfalls in all the other levels, like a Level 0’s lack of selection or a Level 3’s often too-narrow focus, there is a major pitfall that a Level 4 can find themselves in – elitism. Since the Level 4 has traversed most of anime fandom by the time they’ve reached this level, they sometimes feel that they are superior to those at lower levels. They know the craft, and they appreciate it in a way that they think that lower level fans may not. Level 4s might consider liking certain genres or following popular series as trivial, when time and energy can be spent and appreciating the finer points of the medium. Some lack the interest to discuss mainstream works with newer fans, despite the obvious enthusiasm of the latter.

Level 5: Anime is serious, anime is fun.

Level 4s can easily burn out from anime. Tracking down works, approaching everything with a critical eye, and perhaps even playing the role as a tastemaker is bound to cause many “casualties” along the way. But if a Level 4 rides that tide to the end, they reach a final transformative realization – that anime, as it pertains to their life, is a hobby. It’s meant to be enjoyed, and that the enjoyment can take many forms – some works require brain power or deep criticism to fully get everything out of the experience, whereas other series are entirely meant to be enjoyed in the moment through the action and emotion. The Level 5 understands and supports the passionate fandom from Levels 0 on up and shares in their revelry from time to time.

Many a Level 5 aims to ensure that anime is celebrated for the right reasons. They look to make the community a better place, not a bitter place. They have a sense of humor about their hobby and they look at their past obsessions in a positive light. And while they might not watch as much anime as they did in years prior, they still enjoy the time they have checking out the latest and greatest or digging up a long-forgotten work.

The Long and Winding Road

I’ve written this trip through anime fandom and developing tastes in a linear way, but I’d like to digress here to say that although fandom has a general upward trajectory as the years go by, it is never a straight linear process, at least in terms of series choice. It all comes down to the time that a fan can commit to their hobby. Level 5s, given little time to do any research, might stick with the popular stuff for a while, until their schedules allow them the time to dive back in. What doesn’t change, however, is the attitude that fans develop. The distinctly negative fans you see are either burning out or have already burnt out, for a multitude of reasons I can’t even begin to mention here, and what’s left is a cadre of supportive fans at the far end.

What’s funny about what I’ve said above, and perhaps what I’ve said in this entire trip through the fandom cycle might just be a basic truth of humanity. We either spiral out on our own bitterness, insularity, and resistance to change or we plow right through those low points into openness, acceptance, and hopefully a good sense of humor about the whole thing. Anime has an ability to motivate us, to move us, to show us things about ourselves we would have never imagined. And that’s a damn good reason to love this hobby.