Mamoru Oshii is one of the giants of the anime world, and certainly known internationally too, since most folks into anime or film are at least aware of Ghost in the Shell for one, even if they haven’t seen it.
Now, over the years it does seem that he’s drifted quite comfortably toward ‘old man yells at cloud’ territory at times… and while I definitely disagree with a few of his aspersions when it comes to other directors, I do wonder about this 2016 quote:
“I’m not watching anything. There are zero titles I’m interested in. I mean, I’m over 65. Trying to get into anime aimed at young people is impossible. That’s true for Japanese films in general, not just anime. Everything is made for a young audience.”
I certainly can’t speak to the veracity of the translation, nor the state of cinema in Japan, but I think some of what’s there is a fairly straightforward comment that partially rings true for me.
And it’s clear to see the hyperbole in his claims: ‘everything is made for a young audience’ etc etc, but the issue of age is something I’ve been wondering about for the last decade, especially in regards to myself. I’m still not sure I have fully satisfactory answers either. (Although, one thing that is interesting perhaps, is to contrast the comment Oshii made with his upcoming project Vlad Love.*)
So, am I too old for most anime?
I do wonder. Admittedly, Oshii has a little over 25 years on me, but I’m not a young adult anymore, not by any stretch.
And it’s true that the majority of current shows are not aimed at older folks, but then, nor were shows of the past, for that matter. And when I was in the target audience, it was like an endless buffet! Oh, I also wanted to note that ‘aimed’ is a word that relates surely more to marketing, rather than audience reception.
That’s an important distinction, I hope.
Because even if a show is ‘aimed’ at a certain audience, that doesn’t mean other audiences should not be expected to participate.
All I have to do is think of a film like Aladdin or My Neighbour Totoro.
Each movie could be considered a ‘kids film’ but I enjoyed those (or similar films) when I was in that age bracket at 12 etc, and enjoyed them in the years after, all the way up to today. The implication that I should have already abandoned supposedly childish things like ‘wonderment’ and ‘happy endings’ is sad, and probably even a sign of bitterness.
(Doubly important for a writer not to give those things up, I reckon!)
Now, I haven’t been told those things personally – but I do believe that society, in general, loves phrases like “act your age”. And it’s those kind of ‘parent voice’ phrases that I think have long-infected discourse around the entertainment we choose.
[…Hmmm, I’m getting the feeling that I could easily make this post way longer than it already is, but I’ll try to rein myself in a bit! Maybe split it into two. Because while this is meant to be a discussion-style post (one of my goals for this year) I don’t want to hit you with an endless wall of text either… but it seems I do have a bit more to say :D]
Despite my declarations above, I definitely feel that I am essentially ‘too old’ for some anime… but more on that later, perhaps.
Instead, I want to address something I’ve inferred from Oshii’s statement, and which he may not have meant at all. But it seems to suggest that the anime focus on youth is a problem if you’re older. That you’re ‘locked out’, perhaps. But what precisely is ‘lost’ for me as an older chap, if the most popular, current shows speak very clearly to teens and young adults?
Nothing at all, if other shows are also being made.
Which they are.
And plenty of entertainment had that youth focus in the past and it will do so in the future.
And I can also watch those shows if I like, even as an older viewer. I can do it and perhaps remember being a teen, and remember going through that kinda awful, frustrating, sometimes exciting time in my life. It allows me to at least reflect upon whatever growth I’ve managed, but also, I find that it’s another method to keep me in touch with my empathy.
For instance, if a character in an anime (or any medium) is struggling or succeeding, whether that character is a kid, a teen, a young adult or an elderly person, then I should be able to see that on the screen and understand, and not denigrate or belittle those struggles, and also to feel happy for them when they experience triumph.
Even if they’re fictional creations I should feel that. And again, not just as a writer, but I hope I can continue to do that as a person too. I hope what we maybe all hope – that life doesn’t beat that optimism and empathy out of us!
So, there’s a Part 2 coming but for now – how about you? Do you feel like you’re getting ‘too old’ for anime? For certain genres? For certain tropes?
*I should add, it can be easy to see ‘change’ and mistake it for ‘hypocrisy’ and so I hesitate to guess at the apparent incongruence between these two observations.