Content Warning: Discussion of guns, gun violence, and smoking in the third paragraph and onward.
I’ve been on a bit of an old anime kick lately. Which is probably not what you think it is, given my relative late-coming to the anime scene (college) and my refusal to ever really engage with it beyond a few highly-recommended classics due to my general preference to only watch shows with other people. I mean, a lot of people will recommend a show to you from their childhood or teenage and then refuse to watch it with you because they know it will ruin their nostalgic memories of it. It’s like they know it’s bad, but refuse to tell you that because that would mean admitting the quality of it is contained within the rose-colored glasses of yesteryear and the lower standards of youth. By refusing to watch anything but the stuff people would watch with me, I’ve managed to mostly avoid this pitfall of “shows I loved years ago.”
So when I say “old anime,” I mean stuff like Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, Soul Eater, Gurren Lagann, etc. Old “classics” that I still enjoy today (even if I only mean old in terms of modern TV shows and not even US Dubs of anime in general), even if I’m maybe a bit more aware of the faults of some of them than I once was and maybe don’t hold them in as high a reverence as I once did. I mean, I spent my entire college career with people raving at me about Cowboy Bebop, but no one would watch it with me, so it wasn’t until I was spending some time stuck at home, sick, in my second apartment in the Madison area that I finally watched it. Lovely choreography, amazing visuals, an unmatchable soundtrack, but also pretty dang vague. I don’t know if it was me being sick while watching it that made it seem so vague about the point it was trying to make, but the impression of the plot and storyline has lasted for years. And just so I don’t get destroyed, I’m referring mostly to Spike’s plot and some of the incredibly vague things he says. Everyone else and their plots were all pretty clear.
Still, they’re fun to go back and watch, even if I do wish they had more modern releases with better audio and maybe Blu-ray editions, if only so I don’t need to change the discs as frequently. With the exception of Trigun. I’ve kind of been avoiding it for the past few years, given the rising prominence of gun violence and my rising distaste for human-directed gun violence in my media. It’s a little easier if the humans (and various sentient creatures) are incredibly fantasy-looking, such as those who appear in Destiny 2, but I still mostly prefer shooting non-sentient or evil aliens, monsters, demons, and so forth. Trigun, though, is all about a guy with a gun. Everyone has a gun (or a multitude of guns) in that show, all the action that happens is gun-adjacent, and the show makes sure you see the results of gun violence. All in service to a pretty pacifistic message, of course, given that the protagonist is someone who does his level best to avoid killing other people.
The show also does a good job of showing ways that someone with the right skills can avoid violence all together, and the show also makes sure it is clear that sometimes violence is necessary to protect people, so I’m not as concerned about that. I just don’t really like things that depict guns as a cool thing, anymore. I’m not really into the idea of making guns cool, even if there’s still a part of me that loves games like the Borderlands franchise, which is all about cool guns and using violence to solve problems, and Destiny 2, which features a sort of in-world incredulity that the protagonists are always taking down rampaging gods and then somehow turning them into guns that shoot cool rocket clusters or bullets made out of the whispers of a mad god or whatever. Some of those things are pretty cool sounding and genuinely funny to see, but they also feel like a part of the larger problem that is gun worship in the US.
I’m not saying anyone else needs to stop playing those guns or that they’re intrinsically bad because they depict weapons of war, just that I’m still in the process of working out how I feel about them as part of my broader reflections on the sick, horrifying gun problem the US has. It’s like smoking being depicted as cool. Yeah, that shit is super bad for you and maybe it’s not a good thing to make characters who are cool look cool while they’re doing something incredibly harmful, but people still do it. Is it bad of them to do, or can we take a more nuanced look at the way attempts to fit in or be cool can be hazardous to our well-being, even if they make us seem admirable while we do them?
I tend to think the latter, but at the same time, I think that’s only a conversation we can have because we’ve come down as hard on smoking in the US as we have. It’s not quite taboo yet, but it’s still fairly frowned upon in the places I live, work, and socialize. If maybe we can get there with guns, it might be easier to make room for more nuanced conversations about their depictions in media.