Sunday, August 20, 2017

Missmediajunkie v. "Your Name"

God, fans can be annoying.  Young, passionate, vocal fans can be especially annoying.  And speaking as someone who was totally immersed in this particular subculture for over a decade, anime fans are the *worst.*

"Your Name," the latest anime feature from Makoto Shinkai, is a massive popular success.  It's broken records in Japan and China, holding the top spot at the Japanese box office for an unprecedented twelve weeks.  Critically, it was also very well received, winning a near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score.  UK critic Mark Kermode even found it a spot on his 2016 top ten list.  There was even some outcry from fans when "Your Name" wasn't nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

So I was very receptive to the film, despite not being much of a fan of Makoto Shinkai's previous work.  I'd seen "Voices of a Distant Star," "The Place Promised in Our Early Days," and "5 Centimeters Per Second" in my otaku days.  Shinkai's always been praised for using gorgeous imagery in his work, particularly his photorealistic backgrounds, but the actual animation and character designs tend to be pretty simple stuff.  The stories always revolved around melodramatic teen romances, often with some fantasy or sci-fi elements thrown in.  They weren't bad, but they weren't my thing.

"Your Name," I'm happy to say, is the best Makoto Shinkai feature I've seen yet.  The body-swapping story is a lot of fun, with a couple of great twists in the middle, and the characters are easier to warm up to.  However, I found that the film still had a lot of the problems I associate with Shinkai's work.  It's too long, gets way too bogged down in tepid teen drama, and is prone to using a lot of common anime visual shortcuts.  There's an absolutely insufferable montage in the last act set to a maudlin pop song that took me right out of the movie.  Still, overall I thought it was a perfectly good piece of anime.

And every shred of enthusiasm I had for the film has been completely obliterated by the fans of "Your Name" over the past few months.  I knew from experience that Makoto Shinkai's supporters are a very protective and passionate bunch, and I can sympathize with them to some extent, but every discussion I've seen of this film has been characterized by frenzied hyperbole.  Any criticism is met with instant, furious hostility.  It's gotten to the point where I don't want to talk about the film with any self-professed fans anymore because it's too frustrating to deal with the overhype.  

Things really got hairy back in April when the film had its US release, and I was being bombarded with recommendations for "Your Name" constantly for a few weeks.  Eventually I just had to ignore them, because engaging in any actual discussion about the film was just getting me into arguments that I didn't want to get into.  I am not looking forward to the inevitable home media and streaming platform releases which will no doubt unleash another round of this.

Let's just get it all out right now.  No, I don't think "Your Name" is one of the best animated films ever made, and Makoto Shinkai is not the new Hayao Miyazaki.  No, I don't think the film deserved an Oscar nomination, especially not over the far more visually interesting "The Red Turtle."  No, I don't think the story is particularly original, or deep, or amazing.  And no, while anime is often undervalued by non-fans, I don't think this one warranted much special attention.  

What really gets me is that I like the film.  I'd be happy to recommend it to the right kind of viewer in different circumstances.  However, I've let the hype get to me in the worst way possible, and I'm letting my opinion of "Your Name" become increasingly colored by bad experiences ancillary to it.  This has happened to me with other movies before, most notably with the "Watchman" adaptation, but I liked "Your Name" considerably more than "Watchmen."

Ultimately this is really my own problem.  The fans do what the fans always do, and a few months down the line it'll be another middling film with too much hype that exasperates me all over again.  I either need to develop thicker skin, or find different environments to discuss films - ones that attract fewer of the fanboy types.   

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