Let me confess something: often times I have no idea what I’m talking about.
I don’t have any background in critical analysis, so I learned most of how to interpret subtext through reading other critics’ essays and seeing how they did it. Even so, there are still many shows for which I have trouble piecing their themes, narrative arcs, presentations, etc, into a coherent message that I can appreciate.
When I saw the first episode Concrete Revolutio I could see it wanted to talk about Justice. A few weeks later, it was still talking about Justice. By the end of the two cours, all I got from the show was: something about Justice.
When I saw the first episode of March comes in like a Lion, I was impressed by the suffocating portrayal of Rei’s depression. Fast forward to the present, and I think Rei is still depressed. I’m still not exactly sure what the show wants to tell us about depression. Does it want to contrast Rei’s depression with the Kawamoto sisters’ resilience? Is it trying to chronicle the daily life of a person with depression? Is it trying to show subtle changes in Rei’s mental health?
In these situations, I might stumble upon essays written by more astute folk, and their interpretations may help me understand and thereby enjoy the show. When I first started watching Flip Flappers this season, I saw it as nothing more than an energetic girl dragging a reserved girl on beautifully-animated adventures. However, after reading the wonderful analysis work at the Josei Next Door blog, I began to see the story as Cocona’s coming-of-age journey where she confronts her insecurities and repressed emotions. Once the story was framed that way, I was able to invest more in the characters and enjoyed the show a lot more.
But isn’t it good, you may ask, if other people’s interpretations helped you make sense of and enjoy work more? Yes, but I tend to fall into two traps. First, I often take their word as the definitive interpretation, which is against the spirit of rational discourse. Second, I have an ongoing battle my ego: why didn’t I connect these dots myself? Why can’t I come up with an original thought? When I first started writing opinion pieces on anime, I would even search the web to see if anyone has written about the same topic. Even now, when I read a brilliant essay, I wipe my hands, say: “well, this person has said it better than I could ever have”, and shelve away any possibility of writing my own thoughts about it.
At the end of the day, these are issues I know I still need to work on. I need to accept that sometimes, shows will fly over my head and I will need the help of other bloggers in finding meaning in them. At the same time, I can’t read only one critic’s interpretation and take it as absolute Truth. It is often not feasible to come up with original ideas, and there’s no harm in writing unoriginal posts if they are meaningful to me—especially considering my resolution to blog more for myself from now on. And of course, as is honest practice, if I got an idea from somewhere, I need to cite it.
You can read about the 12 Days challenge in my intro post here.