In every otaku’s career, he arrives at a point where anime no longer satisfies: all the characters, plots, gags, and backgrounds seem to have been used 1,000 times over. The show we’re presently watching seems like a cookie-cutter copy of the last one. Unless you’re a certain kind of viewer, you have only three options available to you in order to break out of this rut: 1) attempt to learn new things about Japanese culture; 2) revert to an old hobby; or 3) learn about a new culture.
But first, let’s start with the case where it’s one’s own fault. I confess to have fallen into the second fault, which caused the first period of anime doldrums. Your ennui is your own fault if you’re the kind of viewer who 1) only watches what’s mainstream; 2) sticks to a particular genre; or 3) only watches new seasons. As at one point being a samurai genre only fan, I can say that the best solution for the second case is to find a new genre. If you believe that you’d only watch shoujo with a gun pointed to your head, watch Fruits Basket or even Sailor Moon–you might be pleasantly surprised. Those of you who stick with slice-of-life shows need to give Full Metal Panic a try; those favoring mecha anime Rurouni Kenshin; and those with a predilection for comedy Wolf’s Rain. Those of you carried away in mainstream need to find an off-beat show, and you’ll likely find one that speaks particularly to you. For example, Book of Bantorra or Kara no Kyoukai might be up your alley.
Also, I know the joy of introducing one’s friends to the next great anime, but modern shows suffer from a lack of creativity (increased commercialization of a form of media always does this), and they tend to have a similar style of animation. A fan like this needs education from an old otaku—one who has been a fan since the days when anime was considered a subculture. (Fortunately, these are quite numerous and often in their early twenties.) However, if one cannot find such a fan, there are many works, like Anime Classics Zettai by Brian Camp and Julie Davis, which are quite handy in providing a list of great old shows. The magazine Otaku USA has many contributors from the subculture days who are only too happy to encourage appreciation for the classics.
Anyway, now to offer advice to those of you who find yourselves legitimately bored of anime. Those of you who wish to quickly restore your interest in anime ought to take the option of learning new things about Japanese culture, particularly by learning Japanese. Some of you may consider this an overwhelming task, but learning basic Japanese is not too difficult. Learning new syllabaries (We have an alphabet, the Japanese have two syllabaries: katakana and hiragana) is a fairly simple task, Japanese is incredibly easy to pronounce, particles make determining the function of words in the sentence simple, and Japanese incorporates many English loan words. The difficult part comes in learning kanji, the more complex verb forms, and translating long sentences by ear–which subjects you may tackle whenever you feel ready. (You see, the Japanese arrange ideas differently from us, particularly in cases where we use relative clauses. Instead of having a relative clause following the noun it describes, they place the relative clause as one long descriptive phrase before the noun it modifies. By the time the English speaker has made sense of this and reversed the order of the noun and its clause, five lines of dialog have gone by.) But, having a beginner’s level of knowledge of Japanese will make it sound like a real language rather than “pera-pera” (the Japanese version of “derka-derka”), one can begin to see the liberties the translators take, and one can consider how they themselves would have translated certain lines. All of this adds another level of enjoyment to your favorite pastime.
For those of you who still find this idea too daunting, try studying Bushido, Zen, Taoism, martial arts (i.e. through books unless you wish to really immerse yourself), their literature, or history. Any of these fields will allow you to see deeper into the Japanese mind, and understand more cultural references. Reading Yagyu Munenori’s The Life-Giving Sword will help you understand the talk about the life-giving sword vs. the death-dealing sword in Rurouni Kenshin. Some other good books are Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, Hagakure, Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Okakura’s The Book of Tea and his The Ideals of the East. Reading about Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan Karate) and Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido and perhaps Japan’s greatest martial artist) also make for great reading. On the more literary side, Natsume Soseki (the father of Modern Japanese literature) wrote a very popular work called Botchan and Jun’Ichirou Tanizaki is famed for his dark heroines (any time you enjoy watching a dark heroine in anime, you can thank him). You can also read classics like Genji, Tales of the Heike, orThe Tosa Diary.
But option two, reverting to an old hobby for a few months, is perhaps the surest way to weather the anime doldrums. People thrive on variety. Also, one likely has a more difficult hobby which has been put aside for the easily attainable highs of anime. After a month or two away from anime, it will seem much fresher. One of your friends will have been apprised of your situation. One day, he shall walk through the door with some awesome new title which will restore your interest.
Since a human being is often greater than the culture he dwells in, one should not focus on just one particular culture for too long. One feels constricted after a while. Did you know that many of the people who were interested in Japan during the twentieth century were Classicists? There are many parallels between the Classical Antiquity of the West and pagan Japan. For example, Stoicism feels much like Bushido, so you might benefit from reading Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, which will allow you to examine these ideas using a different perspective. Even in Roman history, we find characters who act like samurai. For example, Livy documents the example of the General Regulus. Regulus was captured by the Carthaginians and sent back to Rome in order to be exchanged for Carthaginian prisoners and to convince Rome to ask for peace. Instead, he argues against these things before the Senate and, even though he could easily have broken his oath and not returned to Carthage, he does so only to be tortured to death by these people. Your humble author, a Classicist himself, could go on ad nauseam.
However, one may also stick close to Asia and read about the Chinese. All of Asia was greatly influenced by this country. Chinese Classics like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms are still very popular in Japan. As another option, I do believe an anime fan would find themselves very comfortable among Norse Sagas. Pagan cultures tend to have many similarities–like having a tendency toward tragedy. Then again, one can really broaden one’s perspective by studying a completely disparate culture.
While I do hope that none of you are presently in this state, may these ideas come in handy at some point in the future!