“Maybe I forgot how to think at all.” At the beginning of Porter Robinson’s music video for ‘SHELTER’, Rin is dreaming these words as she comes out of sleep in the simulation where she lives alone, but not lonely. She has whole worlds to build, running through rolling fields or resting at the crest of a glacier as she controls and creates her surroundings on her tablet. She has no time to be lonely, no time to think about where or why she is. ‘SHELTER’ could easily have been yet another dystopian future where we’ve destroyed ourselves with our technological obsessions. But this story chose to make the best of what we will inevitably lose, and reminds us that the science we love to demonise will allow us to survive, in our minds and in our art.
Having just posted a blog on anime guiding me through anxiety, the video came at an opportune time to make this a kind of companion piece. That is, assuming ‘SHELTER’ is anime, considering the argument that erupted around the video’s removal from Reddit’s /r/anime subsection. Jeko of UEM! has picked up on Rin’s “happy apathy” as she plays with her world, deconstructing and reconstructing it to her will and imagination. I’ve hit walls like that before, where I lived a fantasist’s existence of the world being shaped around me, feeling like everything would fall into place, and not quite being able to suppress the dread that something was severely wrong with the steps I was taking, or lack thereof.
Anime carries particular messages for me, lessons and experiences I’ve never found in western media, and ‘SHELTER’ is twinned with that importance when I watch it. Those big eyes are more than a stylistic choice, they’re emphasising the emotions and thoughts of a character, throwing wide open those windows to the soul. Without words, anime has an inherent ability to express terror, despair, loss, loneliness and hope through those wide sparkling eyes, those movements of a character shot in such detail that it becomes something beyond the real, linked but on a higher plane.
Big eyes do not an anime make. I’m not ridiculous enough to suggest that. But anime, to me, is a feeling above an art form. It’s sitting down to watch something that I know will open my mind to deeper emotion, demolishing the walls and coaxing free all that I force down inside. Like Rin’s repressed memories can’t help but be driven to the surface in her creations, I’m led to face my inadequacies and embarrassments and accept them. I can enjoy who I am in all awkwardness with such extravagantly out of place, broken characters on screen. Even when I didn’t understand that was happening, I know now that it was always unfurling subconsciously, as a flower blooms invisibly to the human eye.
It is memory of the times that made us, after all, that gives us strength. Turning points when you had to sacrifice something or someone, or let go of a treasure that had withered away, perhaps when you’d taken them for granted. Coming to the realisation that with every loss, there is a gain if you’re willing to chase it. There’s a greater need for all of us than to flake away in a shelter of our own weakness. We all have the capacity to create, to build something that will last and inspire others to take heart. It’s all about whether we lose to the fear, or take that chance with Rin.
So, yes, because of all these feelings that arise when I see ‘SHELTER’, I believe it is indeed anime. And either way, if the thinking is that all or at least most staff have to be Japanese in order to make an ‘orthodox’ anime, then heaps of the shows we see aren’t anime at all. You can’t write off the multitudes of Korean and Chinese animators employed on the cheap by Japanese studios. And surely, if anime’s definition is that restrictive, it’s taking away from the spirit of freedom and friendship the creators and fans adore. Making an anime was Robinson’s dream, so when his video was removed from /r/anime on those grounds he understandably found it “heartbreaking”. Death threats to Reddit staff shouldn’t have been a response to the removal, and this has become another exhibit of fandom gone rotten. But it saddens me to think such a beautiful work was barred from a pocket of the web where it was enjoyed and praised, and I’m glad to know it’s been relisted, even if under unsavoury circumstances.