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Maes and daughter Elicia Hughes from FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

You are watching an anime and you finally reach the end of the road. You either have several reactions. You sit there wondering what message/meaning/lesson you needed to take away from it, you may be having an emotional moment or you could just be staring blank at the scrolling credits wondering what you watched. When it comes down to it, the context of what the story is able to convey means a lot as an anime viewer, or any consumer of literature or movies. Context can mean the difference between you having an emotional connection to the story or being completely turned away by it. So pull up your best chair and get comfortable as we attempt to tackle the all important why and how.

The first experience I ever had with anime and how impacting it could be was with the film, Spirited Away. It was the first time I realized how story telling could really impact the audience; though everyone will take away what they will differently from the person next to them. I remember being in awe, as well as a profound sense of happiness. It was the first time something so simple had such an impact, that it would keep me enthralled in it to this day. It was because of the story that I was able to take away what context I could; what meaning I could take with me. I remember running out with my mother to find a copy of this film, as I had to show her how amazing it was. That impact was a life long love for anime and an appreciation for the art. That being said, that isn’t all the story context can do for someone watching anime. Much like I wrote prior in articles covering why plot or emotional input matters, all drives back around to this. Say you are watching an anime that took a couple of episodes building up a character, giving them life and back story, only to just quickly kill them off and sweep the under the rug. Show the characters they interacted with, unaffected and moving on with their lives just fine.. Where they unimportant to the story? Did we even care? We may question why they spent so much time in, investing in the character but we might not feel too concerned. Now, take that same time frame, make the character love-able, yet annoying to characters in the anime. Show them having a caring family life. Then kill them off slowly through the episode. You might just end up with a mixture that gives fans some shock. Now, give that characters death meaning in the over all story. Let it consume the other characters and cause them to act rashly or strike out for vengeance. Now you cause the audience to stop what they are doing and realize what that character has done for the story progression and maybe character progression for some characters. A death can go along way to show us how well a story is written. The context of that death influenced a multitude of choices. It changed the stories path.

The feelings are real.
The feelings are real.

Finding that context and dissecting it is truly something that is of a different caliber. You have to have extreme patience in finding it and wondering what it really means. We all have differing opinions on the matter which makes the context fuzzy at best. The author may have intended it to be taken one way or they could have left it entirely open to audience on the matter. Even what I am talking about may not be exactly what I think it may be when it comes to the anime I am thinking about and or watching at the time of this writing; even this article’s context can be taken either way. It is an extremely satisfying aspect of writing and can be fun, if not torturous at times. Though, when it all boils out and is strained away, we can’t help but realize that the story context matters in what we watch and how we watch it. It may even drive us to a particular set of anime that we like to watch. Why? Because we know how they will play out; at least that is what we like to assume before hand. The story can surprise us when we least expect it to do so.  We can go in and think that the context that we are taking is following the same formula as other anime but, then it throws us for a loop when it goes into a completely opposite direction than what was intended. Take for example an anime that might build up a relationship, show us their hardships and the struggle to obtain that level of relationship, only to just abruptly have them moved to two different locations of the map and conclude it there. But this was supposed to be a love based anime right? They were destined to be together, queue emotional scene, make us cry and all well, right? Well, that isn’t always the case at all. Some may follow that route story wise, giving pattern to the context we are used to pulling out but then the story can change on a dime and throw out the context we have come to find from these types of anime. What matters here is the sense that we understand that, context is only as relevant to the story, as we are to understanding it’s meaning. Putting it much more simply. When we feel we understand what a particular story’s meaning is, we may very well begin to misread the context and misplace the values that are supposedly being taught or given to us.

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Now why is this worth writing about? It is simple, it is something we all naturally do; or at least should do. The truth of the matter is, with the anime culture it tends to get convoluted and lost in translation; both metaphorically and literally. With so much focus on ‘plot’ versus plot and the ever increasing reign of fan-service based anime, the story and it’s context diminishes. Not in the sense that it isn’t utterly important, it just tends to lose its value along the way. However, there are anime out there that are able to convey a certain story, lesson and value, while still retaining a fan service approach. It just takes a different digging method and deeper though in finding what the context is trying to give us, so that we can better understand the story principals. It is still there, just buried and stretched. Regardless of what the genre is, finding and understand the context is all that matters when it comes to understanding the story better and thus understanding what that story has for us to learn. Once we figure all that out then other anime become easier to understand, not matter how convoluted the structure may be!

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For those of you still here, I hope you all enjoyed this article. It took a bit of time to get this puppy together but, I feel very satisfied with how it turned out. I hope it just translates well from how I thought it over. The concept is a rough for me. As long as I have been watching, I am still learning new things about anime and about story. I just wanted to share this with you all and hope that it helps in understanding how to look at things when watching anime. Anime is so fluid and dynamic that ever series, even season is different and unique. They can be lessons we know, they can have such obscure contexts that we may not ever fully grasp an anime but, at least we will have an understanding and thus a better appreciation more so. As always feel free to give us a comment below or a shout-out on our twitter page!

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