Illustration: Sam Woolley/Gizmodo
Some have called it a myth. Others say it's an elaborate trolling campaign. And the handful of mega-otakus who claim to actually engage in it don't quite understand what all the fuss is about; yet, every now and then, you'll see it crop up again and again on anime forums all across the internet, drawing paragraphs of rage, bile, and outright confusion. All this for a practice that affects no one but the person who decides to do it: watching anime at anything other than the default speed.
Many of these discussions occur on diary sites like My Anime List (MAL), which allow users to document the anime they consume as they watch episode-by-episode, rating each series and adding up the total amount of hours they have seen.
Naturally, users that devote a significant amount of their life to the once-obscure medium that produced crossover hits like postmodern sci-fi pioneer Ghost in the Shell and jazzy genre melting pot Cowboy Bebop garner a certain amount of respect on the site, within reason. Users stick to their "diary" with varying degrees of seriousness: there are several profiles that document thousands of hours of content watched, including hundreds of hours of shock-grade hentai listed and rated, a step that one of my otaku friends described as "excessive."
"There's a general sense that the more shows a person has seen, the more valuable their opinion on anime," says MAL user Kezone. "Personally, if a person has seen so many shows it seems to be their entire life, my respect lessens, but I don't get that sense from the broader community."
While the idea of documenting your media habits for the world to see might seem odd to some, it's hardly specific to anime. Several of my more movie-going acquaintances started using similar film-tracking sites like Mubi and Letterboxd as early as 2012 -- I dimly recall one telling me he was trying to prevent "watching ten minutes of a martial arts movie before figuring out I had already seen it."
Though I can't say I ever quite had that problem, these friends inspired me to dabble with Letterboxd. At first, adding in the dozens of films I could remember seeing over the years gave me a rush, the sort of muted thrill a stamp collector might get after filling a page of their book. Over time, though, my interest in the site began to wane -- after scanning my friends' profiles one too many times, I felt the thwarted enthusiasm of a voracious reader walking into a library and realising the impossibility of reading even a handful of shelves, let alone the entire collection.
When I used Letterboxd, I could sometimes feel the pressure to watch a popular or acclaimed film simply to follow the crowd and build up my credibility rather than following my own aesthetic instincts. And though many of the anime fans I contacted for this story dismissed this as backward logic -- your diary should follow your consumption, rather than dictating it -- there were several who described this same sensation.
"I've finished shows that I've hated just so I could put them on a list," says KousakaK. "It's probably not really good for me, though."
Others compared the experience to "levelling up" in an RPG. "Like loading bars or experience bars in games, the bars in MAL give me a certain satisfaction when completing a show," says Clanky72. "Without that, I would be watching anime in a slower pace."
Some users describe the process of cataloging and rating anime as a sort of friendly competition, usually between friends or schoolmates. MAL and related sites also issue fun challenges and achievements to incentivise a completionist mentality. For most users, sites like MAL are a harmless diversion, a tool to facilitate their existing hobbies -- for a stalwart few, however, it creates a culture of consumption.
Considering the somewhat-addictive quality of the platform, the perceived value of expertise, and the wholesale conflation of your identity with your media consumption in many quarters, it isn't exactly shocking that certain otakus choose to bump their speed up by ten or twenty per cent to get an edge. What does surprise me, though, is the sheer amount of enmity that the practice garners from their fellow fans.
Though there were a fair share of more even-keeled responses, the backlash was swift and immediate, with several respondents accusing me of being a "speed-troll" myself. "I thought it was just a meme," says CorruptedSanity. "I think it's stupid, and if anyone actually does it, they're just padding their 'completed' list," says Older_Than_Dirt.
As for the speedwatchers themselves, they all do it for very different reasons. Several interviewees said that they try to stick to a "no-drop policy" -- essentially, once they start a show, they stick it out 'til the bitter end, even if they absolutely hate it.
If the experience gets torturous enough -- such as with the mediocre Yu-Gi-Oh rip-off Duel Masters -- it's easy to see how these die-hards might be tempted to up the speed on their video player to just get it over with. "I've only use double-speed twice, and it was with Naruto filler seasons and Mister Keaton," says Michael. "At the time, I had a stricter no-drop policy. After that, I decided to let go of the no-drop policy, and I've never used double-speed again."
For most, though, the speedwatching comes from a place of rigour -- of stoic adherence to strict personal rules. Some try to frantically vacuum-up each and every anime that comes out each season -- others simply try to commit to each show, as to give them a fair chance.
"I generally speed up all seasonals," says pgmhecateii. "It's not really something one should be proud of." "I do have some 'rules' I've made to always finish an anime and not drop any," says Rafael de Jongh, a committed adherent to 1.2x or 1.3x speed.
"I want to have the full experience, and only then you should be allowed to provide your total opinion about it...the speed boost does give it that slight pacing improvement some anime series really do require."
While it's easy to be caught up in the wave of popular consumption -- especially when your media preferences continue to be shunned in some corners -- even the hardcore speedwatchers agree: anime might be life, but it can't be your only life.
"I prioritise personal and business life above anime consumption, so I'm not really going to watch more for the sake of having more watched," says De Jongh. Even still, he will soon reach his 4000th series watched, and he plans to note it on his profile.
"I don't really see it as a competition," he says. "I just like to watch anime."