The Impact of Gateway Anime

by eternal on February 6, 2010

[banpai akira]

I don’t usually reflect on my own history as an anime fan, but something occurred to me the other day. What is the significance of a gateway anime? What kind of impact does a person’s first experience with a medium have on their enjoyment and preferences of that medium? Most fans who choose to pursue anime seriously become more well-rounded over time, but I think that the early experiences are given less credit than they deserve.

The idea for this post came to mind when I was reading one of mefloraine‘s tweets on Fate/stay night. It reminded me of something that had always bugged me about Type-Moon: why are their games always used as gateway visual novels for English speakers? F/SN is definitely a spectacular story, and I would recommend it to every anime fan, including the type who would never dare to play an eroge. From that perspective, it’s only natural that many fans’ experience with visual novels is limited to the Type-Moon games, and maybe a Saya no Uta or an Ever 17.

This trend is not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s good to know that even the non-moe fans among us are willing to enjoy some of the great stories that are only available in the VN format, but it has its downsides. Have you ever seen a thread on a typical forum in which the poster asks for games that are similar to Type-Moon and the other story-heavy producers? The answer should be yes. People always want more of the above-average stories that they start with, without realizing that their starting point is an exception, not the norm.

I think this phenomenon is more present with visual novels than with anime because of the lack of translations. People can’t play the latest eroge from Japan or pick up a random title from a local gaming store, so it’s more likely that their “first” will be a popular story-heavy game that everyone knows through word of mouth. There’s no equivalent to the TV channels and R1 DVDs to give people a random sampling. The end result can be a completely skewed expectation of the entire medium.

(Take a break, have an old DBZ 4koma)

Anyway, I started this post by talking about anime, and anime is what I intend on talking about. I do think that the lack of visual novel translations gives many new fans a skewed perspective of the medium, but that isn’t the only impact that gateway fiction can have.

If I mention the term “oldfag”, you’ll probably know where I’m headed with this. Many of the older anime fans who went to high school in the 90s have a completely different perspective of anime than the younger fans do, and a lot of this is due to the early experiences of both parties. For the people who started watching anime when super robot shows were the norm and random OVAs were coming out every year (or probably every month), anime has a very different meaning. Compare that to the kids of the early Naughties, as they call it, who grew up on shounen anime. Dragon Ball Z has always been around, but I don’t think shows like Naruto and One Piece were a part of the 90s kids’ vocabulary. It gets even more confusing when the kids of today start off with moe anime and harem comedy on Crunchyroll and YouTube.

As I said in the beginning, it isn’t too difficult to outgrow your roots and explore unfamiliar terrain, but I think that everyone is affected by their gateway anime in some way. Even though I’m not a shounen fan, I still feel a strange sense of excitement when I witness a dramatic, over-the-top battle. Shounen battle anime has to be like Rurouni Kenshin, or I’ll probably be disappointed. Similarly, my early experiences with Key made the nakige my standard expectation for visual novels, causing me to unconsciously doubt games like Muv-luv until I eventually play them.

What does this mean for the other generations? This is only speculation, but I can understand why the old-school super robot fans want more mecha shows out of each new season, even if they enjoy what they’re currently watching. You don’t have to be cynical to want the industry to make more of what you like.

This might not be a revolutionary idea, but when we get caught up in the sea of media in the subculture that we thrive in, it’s easy to forget that we all found our way into this world through different means. Even though opinions change over time, everyone is at least slightly affected by their roots. The news of the new Soukyuu no Fafner project got me far more excited than I expected because I watched the original series before Evangelion; I still feel as if every shoujo manga should be like Fruits Basket. I know I’ve changed a lot since I first started watching anime, but it’s interesting to take note of the little expectations and preferences that linger on. Try it some time.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Scamp February 6, 2010 at 2:02 pm

“Shounen battle anime has to be like Rurouni Kenshin, or I’ll probably be disappointed”

I’ve had something similar to that. With most anime genres I can be pretty open-minded but since my first anime was Love Hina, I get pissed when a seinen romance series doesn’t have proper romance.


mefloraine February 6, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Hmm, I know that I personally started with Fate/stay night because it is readily available in English, and I do know that it’s a good one. The ones I really want to play the most, however, are the ones not translated.

But since this post is on anime, I won’t ramble on about that.

I think it’s very much possible for a person to break away from the genre of anime the started with (after all, I certainly don’t watch excessive amounts of shounen anime or shoujo comedy anymore). I’m not sure if I’d agree that it continues to affect them exactly, but I do think that people will always remember their first anime while they’re thinking about their recent anime, and the two will be compared again and again.


Ryan A February 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Yea, I don’t know. Rawr, writing a post response :)

I’ll leave this…

People can’t play the latest eroge from Japan or pick up a random title from a local gaming store, so it’s more likely that their “first” will be a popular story-heavy game that everyone knows through word of mouth.

People are just lazy. Also, I think Key would be considered a big gateway for VN’s.


kadian1364 February 6, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Experience is like a big telescope we use to watch “the stars” with, a.k.a. anime. The stars themselves never change (practically, don’t be a physicsfag on me I’m trying to work a metaphor here), we just discover new ones. The difference between how people see these stars is in what lenses they see them through. Each lens does a slightly different thing, magnification, light filtration, even color tinting. But the quirk about this particular telescope is that you can never remove the old lenses, only add new ones to the front, so that they only alter the image you can already see. Therefore it requires many newer lenses to reverse the effects of those older, dusty and smeared glass pieces closer to your naked eyes.

The much belabored point is that experience is only cumulative; more than simply nostalgia, we can never truly forget or disregard our first times, the early days, regardless of whether we consciously acknowledge them and hold them precious or not. What changes is the layers through which we see such things. Or all things, really.

Anyway, I don’t want to harp on an obvious idea, just that I’ve been thinking about this topic myself since ANNCast last week. Gateway anime is really important, IMO. lols


ghostlightning February 7, 2010 at 9:00 am

Egads, I’m certainly one of those older fans — and I was indeed a high school freshman in 1990 lols — who wish for more robot shows. But let me share something here: I never really distinguished anime when I started watching cartoons at 3 years old. I was told they were from Japan, but Japan as a country and culture don’t mean much to a pre-schooler.

I loved robot shows not because they were the first shows I saw. I was watching Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, & Bugs Bunny at the same time. While I got into them too, there was something about Voltes V, Daimos, and Mazinger Z that really captured my imagination — and since they were actually banned at some point in my distant childhood, I felt what seemed to be the first abuses of power in my life.

I would go without robot shows for a few years, until Macross came, and then all was awesome in my television world again. After Ferdinand Marcos the dictator was deposed in 1986, the new government brought back Voltes V, Daimos, and new robot shows. But I’ve sort of moved on in the late 80s and wouldn’t get into anime again until DBZ, Robotech, then Macross Plus, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Ninja Scroll. All the big things back in the early 90s US fandom.

It’s funny how we started getting into US licensed anime at that time despite our tradition of directly importing from Japan. It may have to do with the language. We didn’t care much for Tagalog dubs, and preferred the english ones.

I wouldn’t really discover robots again until my late 20s (despite watching shows like Van Dread) when I finally watched Evangelion in full, and then Escaflowne, then Gunbuster, then TTGL. Now I can’t get enough of them.

While I don’t require newer shows to be more like the shows I love, I do wish they make more of the shows I do love.


ETERNAL February 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm

@ mefloraine: I think the impact is more unconscious than conscious. Using myself as an example, I started out with shounen and sci-fi/mecha, but the stuff I’m into now couldn’t be more different. However, when I watch a shounen anime, I think of Kenshin; when I play a galge, I think of Hourglass of Summer. Everyone’s experiences are different, but as a general rule, I think it has an unconscious effect on your expectations and preferences.

@ kadian1364: Nice. Very nice. I’ll have to keep that metaphor in mind!

@ ghostlightning: Interesting. I think the first part of your comment applies to all of us: no one distinguishes between “anime” and “other cartoons” when they first start watching. It sounds like the shows that you watched as a child are pretty much the same as the ones that made you a fan, which makes things a little different, but it’s the same basic idea. I wouldn’t consider Pokemon to be a gateway anime for me, but the shounen anime from the mid Naughties? Definitely.

Anyway, only you would know how much your first few mecha shows influenced you, but they must have set something in place to guide your later fandom. Nothing is set in stone, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of influence.


Canne February 8, 2010 at 8:38 am

I like kadian1364’s metaphor. Everyone changes gradually according to cumulative experience. Everything we are is the result of everything we had encountered. So the gateway anime will always matters even if one does not know it.


digitalboy February 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I want to say that I’ve had individual gateway anime to each new genre or style of anime. After each gateway, I will like/seek/accept more of that type, but I’ve never reached a stopping point of accepting new kinds of anime.


super rats February 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm

The gateway into my second wave of anime fandom was Cowboy Bebop like ten years ago. I’ve always been attracted to things with blue notes and there is a sense of emptiness in a lot of anime, so my attraction to melancholy (separate from tear jerking drama) has kept me into anime for a while. The nice thing is for all but the most desolate shows, anime changes gears really quick to keep it from being too depressing. I don’t look for melancholy moods (or space cowboys), but when it comes around, it’s like ah, thanks for that.


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