Is Anime Terrible?

Hey internet, guess what? ANIME SUCKS!

This never gets old.

Before you all freak out, let me explain by saying that, yes, it does suck. But no more or less than any other medium/aesthetic. Anime sucks, but so do video games. And films. And books. And-you get the idea. Basically, anime sucks about as much as anything else in the world of art.

So why is it so hard to explain that to people?

Not too long ago, we had the 87th Academy Awards ceremony, during which Birdman (aka, the movie with the really long sub-title) won the Oscar for Best Picture. Long-time critic at Badass Digest, Devin Faraci, wrote an article criticizing the film and defending the genre, i.e. superheroes, that it deconstructs. I’ll save the trouble of summarizing his thoughts, you can read them here, but there was a throwaway line near the end that made me cringe:

“I rag on anime all the time because it's clearly intended just for deviants, but if I was 13 today and coming up in the world that exists I would be all about the weirdest anime stuff, at least partially because it's perceived as a low form.”


Anyway, while I disagree with Mr. Faraci’s assessment of anime, a sentiment he’s shared on numerous occasions, I won’t call him an idiot for it. But I want to point out that Devin’s claim struck where it hurts, particularly because, well, I’ve heard it before. I’ve heard it from people on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and even some of my close friends and family. Simply put, anime isn’t shone in such a favourable light in the West…at least, relative to other mediums. Superheroes, comics, animation, video games, film, books, they all get their dues in some way, shape or form, but anime? It has fans, but, save Studio Ghibli, the Pokémon franchise and maybe Dragon Ball Z, it's not big. And the aforementioned examples are pretty niche.

Why is that? What is it about anime that makes it difficult to penetrate our culture? What is it that makes it get clumped together as a blob of “ugh” or “garbage”? What is it that, essentially, leads to comments like the above remark? Well, I think it boils down to two problems: 1. perception, and 2. ignorance.

Let’s start with the first point: anime is a confusing place in the world of animation, at least to the West. For one, it’s all-encompassing. And I don’t mean in the “family-friendly, safe for kids but also okay for adults” way, because that’s not the case. True, like the West, there are anime shows and films that are family-friendly. Rather, it’s more in a “something for every age” kind of way.

In the West, maybe, MAYBE, you might get one or two animated shows and movies a year that are meant strictly for adults. And even then, they rarely gain an audience outside the niche market of 30-somethings who behave like kids (because, y’know, that’s usually what they’re aiming for.) In Japan, however, anime has age tiers, with shows ranging from little tykes to fully-grown men and women. They contain themes you’d often find in live-action dramas in the West, sometimes even in their kid’s shows. Ergo, it can be a jarring culture shock when introducing anime to people who normally don’t see this sort of stuff.

And two, going off of the previous point, they tackle really heavy themes sometimes. Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, may be an action series, but it’s also a 51-episode story about grief, loss, government corruption, the length one goes for justice and even how human beings can commit wrongdoings under the pretences that their actions are just. Wolf’s Rain may be a fantasy/science fiction series, but it’s also a 30 (or 26, depending on who you ask) episode story about finding hope in a world that’s slowly decaying. Even Princess Tutu, a kid’s anime, is one of the darkest and most-disturbing fairytales I’ve ever seen. Like the all-encompassing aspect, this can be jarring to someone who views animation as a “kid’s medium”.

Both points tie together because they contradict perceptions of what anime is. Far too often, the average person I speak to who isn’t knowledgeable about anime assumes that, like Western cartoons, it’s all kid’s stuff. Y’know, like Pokémon. And I sympathize because, honestly, I too thought the same once upon a time. But that could’ve also been a result of what was being broadcast on TV when I was growing up.

So yeah, perception is a huge part of why anime is often not taken seriously over here. But I don’t think it’s exclusively anime that gets that treatment, as animation in general is also shut out by a lot of people. For example, my Zaidy (or grandfather) and I are big film nerds. Whenever we get together, it’s one of the first topics to be brought up. But where as I’m open to every kind of film genre or medium out there, even if it’s one I’m not big on, my Zaidy avoids animation because he doesn’t like it. I’ve tried asking why on several occasions, but I doubt he’ll change in the near-future.

Similarly, my younger brother is staunchly opposed to animation, and will refuse to watch an animated show or movie because he thinks it’s childish. Again, I’ve tried arguing with him on it, but he won’t budge. To him, animation isn’t up-to-snuff with “real movies”. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s a fact that my brother doesn’t like it. So it’s not exclusive to anime, although he likes that even less.

And that’s part of the problem: people still perceive animation to be for children here. That’s because of how the medium has evolved in the West and whom its target demographic is. Whenever I see a Disney movie in theatres, there are always little kids, some of them babies, in every row of the auditorium. The same could be said of Dreamworks SKG, Pixar and any other animated film that comes out in North America. So when an anime film makes its way over, you can safely bet that it’ll only make a dent in the box office, if at all, if it’s geared to that demographic. And when it’s not, it’s not gonna do as well.

If you want proof of that, look no further than Princess Mononoke. The film is fantastic, capturing themes of environmentalism in a way that I’ve never seen before or since. And while it has a dedicated, Western following now, back when it was first released in 1999 people didn’t know what to make of it. Critics were confused by its complexities despite loving it, audiences were confused by its maturity despite loving it, and it didn’t do well because, yeah, people were confused and didn't know what to think. They were so used to animated films being for kids that this one, meant solely for adults, was a real head-scratcher.

But the bigger issue is ignorance. And not only because ignorance is bad in general, but because ignorance is a big factor in why anime doesn’t get the respect it probably deserves. You can have the wrong perception about something, that part can be changed through a reality check or reorientation. But ignorance? Depending on how severe it really is, that’s harder to change.

Going back to my family, the perception of animation being for kids actually plays off of ignorance. My Zaidy thinks anime is meh, while my brother despises it. So much so in the latter’s case that he’s even taunted me about it in the past. And my dad, who’s impartial, has expressed disappointment over my love for anime in the past, stating he’d much rather me “watch sports” with my brother. So I can’t win.

But even outside of my family, I’ve heard some pretty ignorant comments about anime. Not including Devin’s statement, anime’s been called “harmful,” “perverted,” “stupid,” “pedophile-endorsing,” “ugly” and dozens of other words that I won’t dare use. It’s been associated with pornography, been called “the death of intelligence” and has even been taken out of context to prove a “point” about how “damaging” it is. And what’s worse, whenever someone has tried to point out that that’s not true with examples, the examples have been reworked to further misconstrue said point. It’s like arguing feminism with an MRA, evolution with a fundamentalist Christian, or religion with a militant atheist: you can’t win against willful ignorance.

That’s the key here: willful ignorance. Not partial ignorance, that can be fixed through education. Not unintentional ignorance, that can be fixed through education. Not even cultural ignorance, that too be can be fixed through education. No, willful ignorance can’t be fixed. Because the person being ignorant doesn’t want to change.

How do I know this? Because I was once that way myself. There was a time when, believe it or not, I had zero interest in anime. I thought it was dumb, childish and harmful to my intelligence. The West was clean and pure, the East dirty and corrupted. I eventually warmed up to it as I got older, but I first had to let go of my ignorance. It was hard, and even now I’m still really critical of anime.

Willful ignorance, remember that. It’s not like these people are ignorant because they don’t know better. (They don’t, but that’s besides the point.) They’re ignorant out of choice. There’s no “give it a chance”, because they don’t want to. They’d much rather be that stubborn mule that sits near the stream and refuses to drink from it; in fact, they’re so stubborn that they’d be willing to write columns on it, videos about it, even get into arguments about it for the sake of validating their irrational opinions. Sometimes, it’s to troll others. But most of the time it’s done simply to express that they don’t care to change:
“Much like my feelings on video games, I feel that the world would be a better place if anime disappeared, even if there are at least a couple of quality stories being told.”
“Yeah, anime is pretty bad.”
Merely two examples of anti-anime sentiment on the internet alone.

Which leads to the overall point I want to make, which, again, is twofold. Firstly, anime fans need to stop bludgeoning people who don’t like anime over the head with recommendations. Because how do you know that’ll work? Yes, Cowboy Bebop is awesome, I’m not denying that. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will like it! Besides, if you keep trying to force the mule to drink the water, it’s only gonna get mad.

Secondly, anime haters need to stop acting like anime is a disease. This goes for Devin too, who, sadly, won’t listen to me anymore because he’s Blocked me on Twitter. But for the rest of you, it’s not nice or respectful to stereotype. Because anime can, in fact, be great. Some of the greatest shows ever are anime-related. Some of the greatest movies ever are also anime-related. It’s not a matter that’s up for debate, the critical praise and accolades speak for themselves. Calling anime “fetish porn” would be like calling movies “trailer trash”: it’s offensive to those involved in making them.

And yes, anime has flaws: it can be cheap, repetitive, stilted, exposition-heavy and really weird. But if there’s a good story to be told, does it matter? I think not!


  1. Well said through-out, I am quite the anime fan myself and I live in Australia, started watching anime roughly 2 and a half years ago and have watched over a thousand hours overall (not sure exactly but i roughly counted it all about 2 months and a few more animes back). Gotta say that i have a couple friends who watch it and a couple who don't and it is the same as you say with people who do not watch anime being ignorant and not giving it a chance. I was introduced to it by one of my friends and since then have easily overtaken him in the amount I watch. I have been through phases of just not watching it for a while but i always come back, I have been called addicted but then again i guess i am just like any other person with something they enjoy doing.

    Just felt like i should say what you have said is quite accurate


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