Required Viewing Lists Aren’t

Earlier today there was a discussion on Twitter about anime that are required viewing for anime fans. Some usual suspects got thrown around (Eva, Haruhi, Cowboy Bebop), and some other colorful choices made were brought up (Code Geass, FLCL).

I was actually in the middle of typing my own list (a very mecha list, mind you) when I was struck with realization. This could work for a tight and niche genre, but anime in general is very wide and diverse. An anime fan could be a fan of a set of shows far different from another’s, yet both would still count as anime fans.

Furthermore, such lists tend to be divisive–either you’ve seen this show, or you haven’t. With the words “required viewing”, the latter is implied to be a negative. But does that hold true absolutely? How would Gunbuster be of any interest to a galgame adaptation fan? And if you try to make a list that would cater to every kind of fan, you’ll only end up alienating everyone.

If this were just about being a fan and watching anime to enjoy one’s own time, consulting these lists would be mildly accurate at best, and harmful at worst. You’re bound to find good shows, but are they good for you?

I guess the bottom line here is watch what you enjoy and like. The classics, the masterpieces, the “required viewings”, they will come to you naturally. As long as you have fun with anime, you’re bound to run into them sooner or later, once you’re ready for them. You probably won’t even need to look for them! If someone’s going to think negatively of you, then that’s their problem. Who’s enjoying themselves?

Maybe we could rephrase the list into “anime that worked very well for me, which I think are hallmarks of the medium and every fan who hasn’t seen them should remedy ASAP”, but that might be too long.

Yep, too long.

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16 Responses to Required Viewing Lists Aren’t

  1. Bonehimer says:

    While I agree anime fans shouldn’t worry TOO much about having to watch X shows, can’t agree with anime being such a diverse medium we can’t come up with a few required lists. Look at cinema, Its a far bigger and more diverse medium than anime but you can’t claim to be a movie buff without having seen Metropolis or Citizen Kane.

    A galgame adaptation fan doesn’t need to watch Gunbuster just how a Spaghetti Western fan doesn’t need to watch Dawn of the Dead, but any movie fan should watch Night of the Living Dead and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

    • schneider says:

      But what makes a movie fan? Based on your words, I guess it’s someone who “is a fan of good movies”, where genre isn’t very important. And I’d like to challenge the elevated position of those films you brought up–if you haven’t seen those films, then you don’t know a thing about movies? That’s preposterous.

      I’m not saying that we can’t make lists for anime at all, but we can craft our lists in an appropriate context. In other words, required viewing lists should be for anime fans who are passionate about watching good shows and continuously staying out of their comfort zone. Otherwise you’re not doing a lot of other fans any favors.

  2. Taka says:

    My personal view is from a more academic standpoint. I don’t agree with just “watch what you like”. What I say is “these are the things you should watch to get a complete picture of the nature of anime.” Then follow with various standout examples from various genres. Then you can feel like each show you watch, good or bad is giving you a more refined picture of the medium.

    • schneider says:

      It works in an academic context, but the vast majority of anime fans don’t really care about that. As it is, required viewing to me tries to paint a face of anime that says, “all anime fans should know these stuff”.

      …and I don’t even have a complete picture of the nature of anime, FWIW.

  3. The narrower the preference, the more appropriate the list. The more intense the emotion, the more appropriate the list.

    For example, if you’re a Macross fan, there are several shows I think would be required aside from all of the shows in the franchise:

    1. Space Battleship Yamato (at least the first season)
    2. Voltes V & Daimos (not all aliens are evil enemies)
    3. Mobile Suit Gundam (real robots)

    The following are shows that reference Macross in such a way that it’s disrespectful as a fan to fail to acknowledge the love remembered:

    1. Gunbuster
    2. Otaku no Video
    3. Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu (both seasons)

    There are many other shows who reference Macross, and at times, lovingly, but these three give the Fabulous Max Jenius effort.

  4. Joojoobees says:

    I think you are very right about the importance of genre. Generally, when talking with someone who has little to no experience of anime, I point out that the term “anime” is almost as broad as “Japanese Television”. Obviously it doesn’t include gameshows or news, but this helps me frame it this way: No one really talks about liking “American TV” as a genre. They might talk about cop shows, or situation comedies. Watching a classic like the original Star Trek doesn’t help you make an informed decision about whether you would like the latest situation comedy. Similarly, in anime, watching Do You Remember Love isn’t going to tell you whether you like all of anime.

    In the situation I’m describing things are a little different, as I’m generally talking with someone who saw one episode of who knows what, and they have decided that they dislike anime in general. Whereas lists like you describe are more appropriate to someone who is eager to watch what many consider to be the best. But both situations benefit by acknowledging that anime isn’t a true genre.

    • schneider says:

      Thanks for summing up my point with exceptional clarity.

      There’s a certain group of people for whom these lists will work, not the varied, colorful beast we call an “anime fan”. Such people have a burning passion to watch more shows, to go outside their comfort zone, to experience fresh new styles and perspectives. Others just can’t be bothered (and that does not make them inferior fans by any means, IMO).

  5. JoeQ says:

    Mind sharing your Required Viewing List (for a mecha fan) anyway? I at least would be curious to know which shows you picked.

    • schneider says:

      Mobile Suit Gundam movies
      SDF Macross
      Gunbuster
      Neon Genesis Evangelion TV
      The King of Braves GaoGaiGar

      More or less. Patlabor TV is an elective, though a highly-recommended one!

      • JoeQ says:

        Looks good to me, though personally I’d add Giant Robo and maybe replace GGG with TTGL.

        • schneider says:

          I don’t really consider Giant Robo to be a mecha anime. It’s more of a HK-cinema epic anime that just happened to have giant robots. I love it to death, but I don’t think it’s that relevant for mecha fans.

          I carefully deliberated between GaoGaiGar and TTGL. GGG won in the end because it’s more representative of the super robot subgenre than TTGL, which is a more innovative work that pays homage to its predecessors. I do believe that TTGL is the better show, though.

        • JoeQ says:

          True, I certainly wasn’t watching GR for Robo (ALBERTOOO!). Still, I feel that Imagawa should at least get a mention and while Shin Mazinger or G Gundam might fit the mold better, they’re also more obscure (despite the franchises) and of lesser quality than GR.

          GaoGaiGar does indeed represent the traditional super robot tropes better Gurren Lagann, but I think the latter deserves a place on any modern mecha fan’s viewing list due to it’s tremendous popularity and overall fuckmazing level of quality, not to mention how the show is just bursting with love. TTGL was propably the main reason why I became a super robot fan in the first place and thus able to appreciate the charms of more traditional shows like GGG. Had I watched GGG first, I’d propably just have dismissed the show as a childish and repetetive toy commercial (not that that isn’t true, lol) after a few episodes.

  6. Stormshrug says:

    The question of the English language ‘literary canon,’ which is hotly debated within the field of English literature, seems pertinent here. Nobody disagrees that there IS a literary canon – a set of works that shape literature and criticism as we know it. It is ultimately very difficult to pin down, in any objective, intrinsic terms, why the ‘great works’ of literature, and not many of their more obscure contemporaries that are largely lost to history, rose to the top of that heap. Sometimes, it seems to be sheer coincidence that pushes one work to the top – Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for all it is a pillar of English literature, did not really stand out from many contemporary works in terms of widespread recognition until one of the first English printers decided that he liked it, and it was worth copying and disseminating.

    That said, despite the possible randomness of how it was selected, there are certain works that have undeniably shaped the way we read and write. To lack an awareness of these works is to deprive yourself of many interesting lenses through which their successors (or predecessors) can be read.

    So, to tie this in with anime, are there works that are “necessary” to know to have a full appreciation of anime? To have a full enjoyment of it? Perhaps. There are certainly works that have had a huge impact on many or all other works (I’ll go for the freebie and guess that nobody would disagree that Osamu Tezuka’s works have had something of an influence upon anime as we know it).

    On the flip side, I am simply not going to watch certain series (or read certain series), because I’m just not interested. My time is limited.

    My personal compromise, which I accept is imperfect, is that I try to stay informed about influential works as much as possible, but don’t actually read/watch the ones that I don’t care about. That way, I understand some of the references, and know where they come from. And if knowledge of these references and seeing them in other works drives me to seek out the original text someday, great. But if that knowledge doesn’t make me want to read the work, well, I’m perfectly content to recognize the chains of influence without subjecting myself to uninteresting works for the cultural cache of doing so.

    • schneider says:

      Good words! I follow the same practice of staying informed about influential works. Influence is easier and less subjective to qualify, too.

      I think personally filtering out what kind of works you consume is important. Watching anime is usually not academic, so there’s no reason to sit down and watch something you don’t enjoy at all.

  7. ToastCrust says:

    I think the important deciding point is whether you qualify a fan as someone who just simply watches a lot of anime, or someone so intensely interested they’ve pierced through and began paying attention to the production, technical side of the equation.

    For the latter, I think a “required viewing” list is a natural step, because that’s where your concern is drawn towards things such as the recursion of certain scenes (that is, the repetition of very similar shooting of certain scenes, like the legacy of the staircase sequence in Battleship Potemkin, for a cinema example), you care about how the past led up to or shaped the present, etc. In such cases, influential shows like Evangelion or Astroboy/Tetsuwan Atom, etc. can be considered “required”, in so far that you don’t really understand how things have reached their current point, or why certain things are the way they are if you haven’t watched it (of course, you can read the theory written explaining these things, but how can you profess true passion if you haven’t dirtied your hands with the actual thing to form a true opinion? Repeating someone else’s opinion without verifying it by actually watching is “posing”, so to speak).

    In cinema, a lot of films are treasured because they are “the first” to do something, because it identifies the origins of certain conventions, etc. The closer you get to the present though, the more that falls apart, as firsts get less important. People care about Rome: Open City, because it’s arguably the movie that started the Italian Neo-realist era of films, and is something of a standard example of it (there are still living arguments though, about whether it really counts, or if it’s a proto-Italian-Neo-realist film), but people don’t really care about Sex and Zen because of its apparent pedigree of being the first 3D erotic film.

    The universe of the “film buff” is kind of impossible to detach from the world of cinema academia, thanks to how many early, passionate film buffs… became academia for cinema (and its directors, etc.).

    At the same time, I get the feeling that “film buff” is different from someone who simply likes watching films… but the line is blurry, huh?

    As for anime, you’ve got to feel the legacy of cinema bearing down on you, so the idea of “required watches”.

    But hey, you know what, I think everyone should watch Citizen Kane; it is simply that good. Genre is just an artifice made for efficient marketing and demograph recognition; it hardly defines what you’ll actually enjoy or dislike.

    Another sort of general “required viewing” anime list you can produce, is merely ones that strongly represent a certain type of anime, one that people believe can properly embody the “soul” of a certain type of it, and can gauge their interest in it accordingly. But, of course, people don’t like such lists, since it doesn’t demarcate differences between e-peen sizes and the like. And people hate lists that don’t let them tell others to GET ON THEIR LEVEL.

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