Ask yourself: what do you you want to get out of your entertainment? If someone were to ask you to make a detailed outline of everything you want to see in any television show, movie, game, book, album, or other form of media, what would be on your list? Not what type of genres, settings, characters or stories you would prefer, but what themes, qualities and values would you look for? When you go into a movie theater, pick up a book, put a disc into a console or reach for the remote, what is it you hope to come away with?
One thing I’ve noticed from personal experience and from spending time with other fans is that sometimes recognizing everything we want in entertainment is difficult to do. We might prioritize things like good writing, representation, a unique concept or a story that wraps up all it’s threads, but all of those things can be present in a piece of entertainment and still leave us underwhelmed. In cases like this we often discover that we have more expectations for entertainment than we originally thought. While we receive everything we thought we wanted, we walk away disappointed because it wasn’t everything we internally craved.
There are some critics who have large, specific lists of things they look for in media, but generally, that’s not the case for most casual fans of entertainment and storytelling. Our mental list of things we want out of a story is constantly changing as we grow and develop as people and as society changes around us. If we knew what we wanted to see all of the time, we’d never get excited or surprised or disappointed by anything. We’d never have that inexpressible feeling that leaves us with nothing else to say except for, “I don’t know what I just witnessed, but I loved it.” We may not be able to point out everything that needs to be included in a story for us to feel satisfied, but when we receive something that speaks to and connects with us in a surprising and personal way, we realize that it’s exactly what we’ve wanted all along.
It turns out it’s just as difficult for creators to understand what their audience wants to see as it is for fans. While a lot of entertainment is about creating art for the sake of art and telling our stories through media, it’s also an industry in which creators hope to appeal to general audiences to make a profit, which is a lot harder than it might seem. We see tropes and trends in entertainment that people are generally dissatisfied with and bored of, but we don’t see them disappearing. At least not quickly, because its just as difficult for creators to recognize the growing trends and wishes of their audience as it is for the audience to recognize their ever changing expectations.
Hayao Miyazaki, the critically acclaimed anime director and founder of Studio Ghilbi, recently made some bold complaints about Japan’s current anime industry. “Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people…it’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans.” (Source) While Miyazaki takes a very cynical approach, I think he may be onto something concerning how many creators, not just in anime, but in all entertainment mediums, don’t seem to know how to connect with their audience.