I have an anime problem.
Specifically, I have a problem with watching anime from my backlog. Years ago, when I had just gotten back into watching anime in earnest, anime felt like a wide open world, filled to the brim with all sorts of series that I would jump at the opportunity to watch. Now, years later, the situation is exactly the same – there’s tons of shows out I would love to watch, and the list only continues to grow. That, unfortunately, is where the anime problem comes in. Unsurprisingly, as part of the Backloggers, I do have a bit of a backlog of anime that I would like to watch at some point in time. I’ve been able to chip away at it, to be sure, but recently, I’ve encountered this issue where I look at my backlog, and I internally just grind to a screeching halt. What do I even watch from this list? What do I dedicate my time to? How can I possibly choose something from all of this?
That, friends, is where my secret weapon comes in. What’s the best way to choose a show and chip away at your backlog?
This is not me being facetious – I actually do mean that. In the past few months, I have tried on numerous occasions to pick something from my backlog to watch. Each time, even if the show is great, I at some point hit a wall where it starts to feel like work. Natsume’s Book of Friends? Hell yeah, great stuff. But oops, I don’t feel like watching it now after four episodes. Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor? Wow, this show is a train wreck and I love it! Too bad I just dropped off the boat after five episodes. Boruto? What a fun first episode, giving us a view into the futurized world of Boruto’s Dad! It’s a real shame that I loved the first episode and then just proceeded to not watch anything beyond that!
It is, in a word, frustrating. The drop, and the thought that watching the show feels like work, is never really a conscious thought, per se, but that’s the ultimate conclusion I have come to. It just starts to register less as “I’m enjoying this anime and allowing myself to sink into and enjoy it” and it feels more like “I am chipping away at my backlog, and this is just something to fill the time.” It’s not a great place to be in as an anime fan.
But that’s where things start to get pretty weird. See, at the Backloggers, we do seasonal podcasts, so we watch seasonal shows on principle. I love keeping up with new stuff, both for myself and for the blog, and that’s no problem. But for our other podcasts, we pretty exclusively work through our collective backlogs. To do that, we have a two-fold system – our rotational recommendations, and our mystery garbage pile. For our rotationals, we each pick three shows and put them into a pool. Then we just roll a random number generator to see what show we’re watching. There’s no deliberation, no “eh, I don’t want to watch that,” no nothing – the decision is absolute. The mystery garbage pile is a secret under wraps project Owningmatt has been working on on and off for a bit, but it is also a large system of random rolls that gives us almost any possible show in the past five years. This is where the weirdness comes in – every single time, I get hooked in some way. It’s not because every show is good (trust me, some of the shows we have pulled were not good), but it’s just the feeling surrounding the show.
Please god I just need one good show that I can stick with PLEASE
It’s a really bizarre thing to say, but the fact that I did not necessarily “choose” any of these shows to chip out of my backlog keeps the “this is work” kind of thoughts at bay, and it is a liberating feeling. I really, genuinely enjoy watching these shows, even if they are not the greatest. Heck, in some cases, it feels even better if they aren’t the greatest. But the bottom line is that the absence of the choice, for some reason, gives me the feeling of just diving into anime with reckless abandon like I did years ago.
Now obviously, I do this with the Backloggers because that’s just what we do. But after realizing how liberating this feeling was, I started to apply it in other ways to anime watching. Just this past week, I wanted to watch something, but had no idea what to do, so I (no joking, completely serious) went to Crunchyroll and just clicked the “random” button at the top of the homepage. The next thing I know, it’s hours later and I’m halfway through the first season of Blue Exorcist. In all honesty, I have had this show on my backlog for years, and I have looked at it countless times and just thought “eh, not right now.” But by getting myself caught up in the Jesus-senpai-take-the-wheel approach of watching anime, it let me just let go and just enjoy it without thinking about if I would be enjoying watching something else, or if I should be spending my time differently. So, I sort of just trashed my backlog and decided that I’m just going to go with the flow for a while. Again, to say that this decision is liberating would be a huge understatement.
This little shit right here? Absolute lifesaver. Brilliant stuff.
Around the same time that I came to this revelation, another one hit me, as well. I don’t even remember the conversation, or who started it, but the Backloggers ended up each putting out a list of shows we would recommend that the others watch. Not long after those went out, I looked over Matt’s list, and I saw Shiki around the top of the list. I had heard about it, heard it was spooky and good, and I had been interested in it. And so, even though it was a show from my backlog, I just threw myself into the show, and a few days later, I had blasted through the whole thing. It was incredible. Once again, I had not chosen a show to just work through my backlog – the show was a recommendation, and it did not even really feel like I had chosen the show. It felt like it had chosen me.
Now, all of this is really cool to reflect on, in a way. In this absolute hellscape of 2020, where everything is pretty awful, one of my biggest hobbies had begun to feel like work probably in part because I was trying so hard to enjoy it and to keep my mind off of other things. Leaning fully into that complete lack of choice was so liberating, because it felt like I could just let something happen and just roll with it. I didn’t have to make any decisions with any real degree of stakes, no matter how small, and going along for the ride was delightful.
The thing is, not choosing what I watch has also led me to watch some really interesting shows (both as part of the Backloggers and in terms of my own personal watching) that I don’t think I ever would have picked on my own. A couple months ago, we ended up being assigned Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori by the mystery garbage list to watch for the podcast. None of us had even heard of the show, despite that fact that it had aired in the spring 2018 season. This wasn’t even an old show! And from reading the summary of the show, it sounded like an absolute nothing of a show. But since we let the list take the wheel, we watched it anyways, and my god, am I glad I pushed through with it, because it was one of the most comforting, delightful shows I’ve watched in recent memory. Had I just stuck with my own preconceived notions about the show, I would have never experienced the joy that I got out of Rokuhoudou.
Pictured: myself, having found some good anime that I didn’t choose to watch
This no-choice experiment also made me realize something else – I realized how much I missed anime as a social experience. Watching Shiki was great in part because yes, I did not really seek out this anime – I had it recommended to me. But I was so excited as I watched it because of the thought of talking about it with Matt, and because this was a show that I could watch and then actually share in the sheer joy of it. Years ago, all of us at the Backloggers lived within about half an hour of each other, and we would pretty frequently go hang at Kyle’s apartment and just plow through anime deep into the night/morning (until I went home because I would hit 3am and promptly feel like I was about to go into a coma). It didn’t even really matter what we were watching. We were just watching anime together, and good or bad, we had that space to have fun, to share it with each other, and to really experience it as something larger than just an isolated, individual experience.
Nowadays, we as the Backloggers are pretty separated, whether it is by physical distance, job/social/familiar responsibilities, or, you know, a global pandemic. We don’t really have the same kind of social anime-watching dynamic as we used to, and I realized that I had been missing that greatly. I finally realized that while the burden of choice was definitely one part of the problem, another equally large issue was that I missed anime as a social hobby. I missed the sense of community that watching it really fostered in me, and the joy that it brought with it. With our rotational posts, the mystery garbage, and watching recommendations from my friends, I always felt like I wasn’t just watching anime to pass the time – I was watching it to enjoy it with others. To talk about it, send shitty memes about it, and to just bask in the sheer enjoyment of it with others. And now that I am throwing myself headlong into this no-choice anime lifestyle, I’m starting to feel those sparks again with this art form I love so much.
The squad has rolled up with anime recommendations. Better strap yourself in.
If you’re starting to feel burnt out on anime, or choosing anime, I don’t blame you. Times are weird, and it can make the whole process and experience feel a lot less enjoyable than it once was. But if you find yourself in that sort of rut, I recommend that you try not choosing. Let sites like Crunchyroll or random.org choose for you. Trash your own backlog and ask for recommendations from friends. Reach out and see what other people in this vast, wonderful community of watchers have to toss your way. If you let yourself go from thinking about what you “should be watching,” then you’ll have an excellent time with what you are watching. Let yourself have some fun, because we, uh, definitely need some of that right now.