Every so often I’ll see people talking about an anime I gave up on after a few episodes (or haven’t watched but know about through cultural osmosis), and I’ll think, should I watch that?
Lately the anime in question has been ‘Attack On Titan’. I enjoyed the first season – the premise was fascinating, and the animation impressive. I went into season two with enthusiasm, enjoying some of the reveals and the world-building. But when season three started, I just…couldn’t find any urge to watch it.
There’s a bleakness to the story that puts me off. Every fight feels so desperate, and I know that’s part of the appeal – a handful of people literally giving their all to save the last of humanity – but I don’t enjoy the prospect of preparing myself for yet more characters being killed off. I want to be able to enjoy the story as much as things like the animation or the acting, and I don’t find much enjoyment in a story about constant death and despair.
I haven’t watched any of season three, and although I get the urge to look sometimes, chances are I won’t watch it at all. And that makes me feel bad. Like I’m committing a fandom faux pas.
It should be okay to not like a popular thing. That was pretty much my whole identity as a kid – not liking what everyone else liked. Partly out of a stubborn need to be different, but partly because I just genuinely did not like stuff. Pop music, fast food, fashion, TV shows – I just didn’t have the same taste as most people I knew.
Now anime is the thing the ‘cool kids’ like, and even though I’m an anime nerd myself, I still often find that I don’t like the stuff that’s deemed cool. Never cared for Naruto or Bleach, couldn’t get into Dragon Ball, wasn’t impressed with One Piece. I love magical girl deconstructions, but rarely the old-school magical girl shows themselves. And although I know it’s okay to not like stuff, I still get this weird sensation sometimes that I’m missing out. That, if these shows are so popular, I ought to at least give them a try. There must be some reason, after all, why so many people like them.
But no. I can only watch so many shows, and why should I waste viewing energy on stuff I don’t love?
I think part of the problem is that a lot of fans of those types of shows are the fans who are also the most vocal about their fandom status and the ones most likely to be fandom gatekeepers. To put it bluntly, the ‘popular’ big shows are shounen shows with a largely male fanbase, and while I don’t like to make generalisations about gender, it’s fairly well established who’s most likely to dismiss other people’s tastes and interests within fandom. Nobody talks about fake geek boys, after all.
But they create this sort of fandom peer pressure. We get fooled into thinking that these shows actually are top-notch, the pinnacle of the anime industry. We assume that they must be good in order to be so long-running and have so much merch.
That’s where the Peppa Pig analogy comes in handy.
Mention Peppa Pig to any parent of a small child, and chances are they’ll be frothing at the mouth with sheer loathing for that porcine poppet. “She’s such a spoiled brat! I’ve never known a cartoon character so annoying!” The only reason I’ve had to watch any Peppa Pig episodes is because I have a three-year-old niece who, like three-year-olds everywhere, has been obsessed with the show practically since birth.
I’ve never met an adult who enjoys Peppa Pig. Yet she’s so damn popular. And that’s because adults are not the target audience for Peppa. It doesn’t matter what adults think, because Peppa isn’t for them. Peppa is for three-year-olds who think snort-noises are the height of comedy. Just like those soap-opera-esque shounen shows aren’t for me. Peppa is massively popular, even though there are better-quality kids’ cartoons out there. Because ‘good quality’ and ‘enjoyable’ are not synonymous.
So next time I see people raving over ‘Attack On Titan’ or some similar classic I’ve not sought out before now, I’ll remember the Peppa Pig analogy. It might be popular, but it’s probably not for me. It also works when some anime dudebro talks down your favourite show with no more in-depth analysis than “it sucks!” or “it’s gay!”. You don’t have to defend your show with an essay about its multi-layered plot and believable characters. Just say “it’s not made for you” and leave it at that. They probably think Peppa Pig sucks too, and she’s an international icon.