I have seen Robotech more than twenty times.
This is not an attempt at braggadocio, some vain attempt to impress you with my “old school cred.”
This is not an exaggeration of the truth to make it seem as though my knowledge of a show or the weight of my opinion is vastly greater than anyone else’s.
This is a simple statement of fact. Over the years I have watched Robotech more than twenty times. I love to watch that show, and I revisit it regularly. Even now I am watching Macross in the original Japanese for the second time through, both as a message to Amazon that this sort of content will get them views and also as part of my love of the work.
What is even worse is that this is not the only anime I have seen more than a few times. I have seen Ashram stand atop the burning castle on at least a dozen different occasions. I have walked the claustrophobic corridors of the Star Leaf in search of the invasive blob monster more times than I can count. I have mouthed the words “Ally to good – nightmare to you!” with such regularity I wonder if I really have lost a mondo cool friend in a past life, and am just reliving those final moments like echoes in the timestream
I have rewatched a lot of shows. Why is that, you might ask. Mainly because, in the era before streaming content, we were forced to do so. Fans of anime often could not afford or find everything that they wanted to watch. As such, the tapes (and later DVDs) of shows or movies that you did have were often watched on constant repeat.
Toonami certainly alleviated some of that burden. Here, finally, was a show which brought new anime with some regularity. But Toonami was not always around – I distinctly recall the excitement I had when we even got Cartoon Network in my home town, meaning I no longer had to watch Nic-at-Nite after 7:00 p.m.
Furthermore, anime on television was not exactly flush with new content. Toonami often replayed shows on heavy rotation – and later adult swim would do so as well. Cowboy Bebop was the background to my early 2000s in the same way that MTV was to the 80s generation.
What I think is important to realize though is how much joy it brought me to rewatch shows I enjoyed. I already knew that I liked them, and could appreciate these works by seeing them over again. Instead of part of my mind being taken up with curiosity or tension at what would happen next, I could focus on smaller details, references, and brilliant flourishes. Rewatching good anime deepened my appreciation for what made those shows so good and why I liked them in the first place.
In 2016 the idea of rewatching a show seems almost ludicrous. “Who has the time?” we all ask, frantically speed-watching dozens of shows each week to keep up with the rapid pace of social media. “I have to know what every funny gif is about! I have to be a part of the conversation!” we tell ourselves. If we find ourselves three weeks behind on a particular show it causes anxiety, a fear of being found out, a sense of nagging doubt. People will think I am a fraud because I am not keeping up!
Is it worth it all? I mean, really, is it? When we force ourselves to incessantly chase the new hotness, to try and keep up with dozens of shows each season, are we really enjoying ourselves? Sure, we find charming new works with surprising animation and twists, but just as often we find ourselves trudging through the mediocre crud that is par for the course these days. We’ve seen it before, we’re not impressed, but we press on anyway.
No wonder people burn out of the anime hobby in such a short time. We have convinced ourselves that peak fandom is half-watching sixteen shows at once whether we like them or not. “But if I don’t watch it now, people won’t be talking about it when I do watch it!” Is that really the strongest argument for forcing ourselves to watch things we aren’t enjoying? If the shelf life for a show is only four months, maybe the show was not even worth watching in the first place. Let’s be honest, even if we could stick to our self-imposed viewing schedules we still could not keep up with the sheer amount of shows coming out each year. Dozens and dozens of programs slip right through our fingers each season and yet we still – by some miraculous event – manage to live another day and still consider ourselves anime fans.
I cannot cure the glut of content. I cannot wave a magic wand and make it so that there are only four new shows in the spring and we can all take a break. But I can recommend something that might actually make you have fun watching something again – go rewatch an old favorite. Pull out that tattered VHS and plug in your VCR that has been collecting dust for years. Find that prized DVD on your shelf that you payed a premium for and give it another watch. Look through your account history and find the stream for that show you just went gaga for two years ago and see if it still holds up.
You might find that you actually enjoy watching anime all over again.