When I was growing up in the 2000s, anime was not a cool thing; it was trash. I was already not in an environment that was exceptionally unwelcoming to different things, so anime was seen as ‘too childish’ or immature. It didn’t help that the limited anime we did get back then looked like it catered to a younger audience. So, it was often accompanied by exaggerated expressions or bad stereotypes. And, hey, early anime wasn’t exactly as nuanced as it is now. So, it’s no wonder it was considered trash.
The main reason anime is still considered tasteless by a few is because of how some popular anime still make use of some pretty trash tropes such as harems, ableist jokes, and casual sexism, to name a few. And I can understand where some people are coming from with that. However, I feel it’s extremely unfair nowadays when anime has evolved, much like its fan base. And I think we should acknowledge it for that.
At the same time, I can understand some fans frustration with the medium. Anime, at one point, was very singular. You didn’t have much variation in terms of themes and representation. Sure, you had a few outliers but never a continuous stream of consistent different stories coming out. I mean, just look at the Big 3 of the last decade, which were all just different flavors of Shonen. But now, the scene is very different.
Sure, we still have some genres that are a little generic and tacky (Yes, this is a dig at Isekai anime specifically.) but overall? Anime has become synonymous with good storytelling. You have anime movies breaking box office records, people actively anticipating certain releases, and international platforms such as Netflix investing in the industry. So, here’s why I think that ‘anime is trashy’ is a bad take.
Trash Anime: It Isn’t Just About Fighting The Big Bad Anymore!
At one point, some of the biggest anime were just glorified ‘Chosen One’ stories with no actual meat to their plot. You had fancy abilities and more characters being introduced than a fighting game roster.
Shonen is still a widely popular genre and one that has grown since its days with Dragon Ball. And Anime shows with an overarching villain are still popular, don’t get me wrong. I mean, look at how widely successful Jujutsu Kaisen is. But it isn’t the only type of anime seeing mainstream success.
This year we saw the impact Spy x Family had on the anime world, with its adorable found family trope and general fluffiness. Same thing with My Dress-Up Darling, a slightly risqué anime about an unlikely friendship between two polar opposites over their shared love for cosplay. And then, you had Sasaki To Miyano-Kun, which is an adorable queer romance between two boys in high school.
Anime has become so much more than a superhero fantasy. There are genuinely quirky, heartfelt stories being told across genres. And they aren’t the exceptions to the norm anymore.
The Evolution Of Female Characters In Anime:
Part of why I feel early anime hasn’t aged well is because of how it treated a major chunk of its characters as stereotypes to be objectified. Instead of full-fledged characters with their individual arcs, you had them as either the damsel in distress or a goal to attain.
Women in anime were almost always relegated to being side characters to support the male main lead. You were either a Cheerleader, a Nagging Nanny, or the Ice Princess for the protagonist. There was no in-between, where the female character had their own journey separate from the lead. It’s why you saw very few female-centric anime back in the day. Simply because the creators of said anime never considered girls to be watching them too.
Of course, now we know how women are a huge chunk of anime viewers. It’s how we’re getting rid of tired tropes such as harems and lolicons. More and more women have entered the development process as well, creating anime that cater to the female gaze instead, which is inherently not as sexualized. And that makes a huge difference.
Anime Represents More Than One Demographic
Anime has transcended its own limits. It’s become more than just a fun pastime, it can be anything, like an ideology being explained or even a political statement. The anime adaptation of 86 – Eighty Six, a military sci-fi light novel that focuses on racism and oppression, is proof that there is mainstream success in creating stories that reflect the current climate we live in.
And then there is the slow but steady evolution in queer anime, which went from fetishizing some pretty dark stuff to creating well-written stories about love and loss, such as Given, Dokyuusei, Bloom Into You and etc. legitimately.
As someone who grew up adoring anime, it’s been amazing seeing how big it’s grown in the pop culture sphere. And it makes me truly happy to see the stories reflect my own experiences. Anime hasn’t been trash for a long time now, you just have to know where to look!