Years back, when I introduced myself to people, I would say that I love anime, but I prefer the adult stuff. Invariably, some smart guy would ask me if I’m into hentai (or ero anime, to be politically correct), and I’d add that when I say adult, I mean mature. More snickers follow. It’s kinda embarrassing.
Nowadays, I just say I’m into anime.
Lately I’ve been watching the first Pretty Cure show, which is an anime for kids. It’s got an unsophisticated format of wacky episodic hijinks with the occasional smattering of plot (as far as a long-form magical girl anime goes), but the writing and animation go beyond the call of the paycheck. For an anime that spawned an entire franchise, it has some genuinely emotional moments. It feels like the staff cares.
Why would I be watching a cartoon aimed primarily for little girls? That’s the million-dollar question. Friends ask me this all the time, and my answer is always: because it’s good. If something is good, it will find an audience, intended or not.
I’m the minority here. Of course people would ask funny questions. It got me thinking myself–why am I not watching stuff that’s more for my demographic? Surely there are a lot of shows for my age, right? Yeah, but the fact that I’m watching Pretty Cure and not other shows just speaks for its quality. I guess it’s simply because Pretty Cure offers something unique.
Sometimes the reality is such: I’m tired, and the world of adults is being a jerk to me, so why would I watch serious adult shows for serious adults? It is escapism, yes, but I’ve just gone to the world of rainbows and girly toys and insufferable mascots to revisit something in my life: my youth and the untainted ideals I used to have.
When I was a kid, I wanted to watch the gory, bloody stuff that isn’t legally available for my age. Sometimes I do get to see them, and nobody bats an eyelash. How is this different or strange from me as an adult watching anime made for children? Pretty Cure is about two girls who are vastly different from each other and drawing strength from that fact. It’s also about the common decency in people, of not just standing there and let the bad guys win, because hell, it’s just wrong and we don’t let that sort of thing happen. Even if the magical girl gig is giving you pimples from the lack of sleep. My regular anime diet is the late-night otaku fare, and those have really weird lessons that I’d rather not parse, lest I get arrested.
There is a lesson I learned along the way, and it’s this: “adult” does not necessarily mean “mature”. The two are conflated too often with each other. Maybe a movie is rated for mature audiences only, because of profanity or sex or drugs, but there’s nothing remotely mature about the plot or the characters. Maybe a show is harped up to be deep and philosophical, but it ultimately has the eloquence of a high school student who’s misquoting Nietzsche. Ask yourself, how does a work of fiction hold up if you try to derive something meaningfully adult or mature from it?
This isn’t an attack on the darkness and cynicism that permeate adult-oriented entertainment. A lot of them are good, their reputation well-deserved. The problem is people’s attitudes toward them. Complexity is lauded in favor of simplicity; it’s strictly better. Realism is used as a measuring stick for everything. Cynicism is adulthood and vice versa. Stories are praised for being innovative, nevermind if their narratives fail to meet their own goals. Stories should be judge by themselves, by the goals they set for themselves, and if they meet them or not.
To those who rag on others who are watching things too “kiddie” for their age: The people who want to be seen as adults are the ones who are childish. They’re caught up with appearances. Strip that away, and they have nothing.