Don’t get mad at your Japanese cartoon because it’s made in Japan, man

Ok, guys, listen. There’s these people out there, ok? These people operate under an assumption that Bakemonogatari–OTAKU HIPSTER show of the year–is difficult to understand. Further more, these people. You know, these people? They think the people who like this TV anime get a smug sense of satisfaction out of understanding it. I don’t know about you guys, but Bakemonogatari doesn’t strike me as something difficult to understand. In fact, I can understand the show near perfectly without even needing subtitles. What I imagine the issue is, and why these poor souls are finding the show so difficult to understand, is that, quite bluntly, Bakemonogatari is Japanese As Fuck. You know that right from the title which is a mixture of 化け物 (bakemono, monster/ghost) and 物語 (monogatari, story.)

This is also the case with a whole host of other fine animated programs from the great nation of Japan. I mean, it shouldn’t be surprising. These shows aren’t made for you–they’re made for Japanese people. As such, shows just may be steeped in varying degrees of cultural quirks you may not understand! When Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei makes a joke about the Chuo Line being late again, that’s funny. Oh, but not to you. You haven’t ever taken Chuo Line, have you? When the first arc of Bakemonogatari revolves around the fact that omoi can be read as both  重い (heavy) or 思い (feelings), that’s easy to understand, and a bit clever. Oh, but you don’t get it–you’ve never studied Japanese. But you know, it’s ok.

The issue here is that people are scared of what they don’t understand. Even offended. This isn’t the show’s fault–it’s yours. No, it’s not your fault for not being Japanese. I’m not feeling that unreasonable today. It’s your fault for being close minded. It’s your fault for expecting a foreign piece of media–made for Japanese people–to be something you can totally and completely digest. It’s your fault for not opening your mind to a culture that’s different from your own. All of the jokes in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei are hilarious, but they’re not written for you. Every story, as well as all the dialogue in Bakemonogatari is very straightforward, you just need to be Japanese to fully get it. Imagine you’re a Japanese person watching Seinfeld. Or Monty Python. It’s more or less the same kind of thing. But you know, I’ve actually spoken to Japanese people who love Monty Python, though they admit it takes some effort to get sometimes.

I should note that this issue shouldn’t be something to hold you back. Isn’t part of the draw of anime its Japanese roots? Don’t we enjoy scenes of  characters airing out their futon, or talking about kanji radicals? Isn’t it new, exciting and different from the life you’re living now? Anime requires an open mind, especially if you’re not Japanese. And it’s not because all Japanese cartoons are Choujin Densetsu Urotsukidouji. It’s because–as I keep stressing like fuck in this post–this stuff comes from a culture alien to your own. When you watch anime–even anime like Cowboy Bebop or Baccano–you’re getting a Japanese perspective of the world. You’re peering into their culture. Don’t get mad at things you find difficult to understand. Embrace them. Think about why Sleggar Law is a cocky asshole, don’t get offended by it.

I can’t say this is the only reason, but I suspect this is one of the reasons why certain shows can attract a lot of vitriol (especially from the under-educated masses of 4chan) from people, especially when they’re popular. It’s simply a product of lack of understanding on a very basic level. I’m not saying shows can’t be bad–oh, they can be–but often times when I read criticisms of shows like Bakemonogatari, Zetsubou Sensei, K-ON!, Lucky Star, Pani Poni Dash and the like, what it often boils down to is “I don’t get it, and I’m mad because I don’t get it.” And you know, its ok that you don’t get it. You can choose to open your mind or keep it closed–whatever, I don’t give a fuck–but you not getting the show isn’t the show’s fault. It’s all yours, man.

And bringing this all back to Bakemonogatari, its visual style is what Shinbo has been putting out since Yu Yu Hakusho. If you’re just noticing that he likes crazy colours and close ups on eyes now, you sure haven’t been watching anime from the past 20 years, have you?

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