Remember years ago when you were watching anime and your only exposure was either from TV or DVDs? Remember the experiences that came with watching shows around the time they were airing? Shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star, Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Hidamari Sketch, and InuYasha? Remember the conversations dominating the anime fandom as these shows were airing? Well, I don’t, because I wasn’t part of the community back then.
Something that continues to elude me is my futile pursuit to attain the same experience others had back in 2006/2007 when The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (followed by Lucky Star) was airing and discussions were blowing up around it. The conversations coinciding its run gave an extra layer of context, that although can still be learned and understood today, had a big visceral impact on the audience at that particular time. It’s as though for Haruhi and Lucky Star, the framing of the work was emphasized by its time and place more-so than a lot of other anime.
Why is that? What was so special about Haruhi and Lucky Star that made them into these iconic landmarks within the anime community? What made watching these shows during this time such an enriching and heightened experience as opposed to watching them now? Well, a lot of it has to do with the climate of the anime fandom at the time. Depending on who you are and what you bring into Lucky Star, for instance, the viewing experience will be different. Understanding the references in Lucky Star versus being clueless about them will be two very different experiences watching it; with Konata making constant references and using cultural terms relevant to otaku at the time, and going meta in its references to Haruhi (having the same studio, same voice actress, etc.) both shows are sort of like period pieces in that sense.
I don’t believe there’s a one-to-one equivalent in say having gone to a convention versus having seen Haruhi as it was airing, since one is entirely transient, whereas the other is accessible regardless. But I do believe for Haruhi in particular, there is a sense that the feeling of connectivity and culture between the audience and the work was much more engaging during its run; something that can only be understood on a basic level by those of us who weren’t there to experience it at the time, and left distant from the ones who did and have vivid memories of it. Haruhi was a big deal (a social phenomenon) in otaku culture for the better part of two or three years.
Anyone who was part of the otaku community when it was still collectively going crazy over Haruhi and watched Lucky Star shortly thereafter, could probably relate to the show very easily. If you watch either of these shows today, and weren’t part of the anime fandom until recently, it’s a given that you won’t be on the same wavelength as anyone who had been there in their heyday. That’s where there’s a lack of interaction. That extra visceral experience of having seen something as it’s happening. You weren’t there when these shows were influencing and shaping otaku culture just as much as they were referencing it. The infamous Haruhi and Lucky Star dances took the community by storm, where it would be pretty common to see a lot of videos of people re-enacting the dances in their house, at cons, and even live performances.
The reason why I bring all of this up in the first place is because it highlights something I missed – context. Both the cultural context of witnessing a shift in otaku culture and the back and forth influences between these relevant shows and the community at large; and the personal context that makes that time so nostalgic for everyone who experienced it, allowing veteran otaku to reminisce about their early otaku days, a time when the term “otaku” likely meant a lot more to them then than it does now. Like a time capsule locked in their memories. Or as Digibro puts it “…so much of why I love the show has to do with the time and place that it was released, the people I watched it with, and the culture surrounding it, that I can hardly imagine what it would be like to watch it fresh in 2014 without any context going into it.”
Of course, this doesn’t apply to every show, just the ones that were so influential at the time (and even then, not necessarily all of them). I don’t feel like it being explained to me, or me going out of my way to research what the fandom was like back then to give the shows added context will improve my viewing experience, but who knows? I’m sure they’re both good shows worth watching without that context. Guess I’ll find out soon enough. I’ll probably do a post on them when I do end up watching them. So, stay tuned to find out if I do get a more enriched experience or not when I finally get around to watching them.
Does anyone else feel this way, or am I alone here as well?