Ten Potentially Controversial Assertions About Anime

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So, there’s a post idea making the rounds. The idea is simple: List and explain ten unpopular anime opinions you hold. I found out about it at Anime Yume, but it originally came from somewhere else.

And so, I present to you the list, in no particular order.

1: Innovation is overrated.

Aku no Hana 4
Experimental? Certainly. But where will it be once the nuance wears off?

Much of the praise surrounding shows like The Flowers of Evil or films like Redline is related to how they tried to do something “new” or “experimental,” and I respect that. However, I ultimately think that far too much focus is put on nuance or innovation, and that in the clamour for anime that does something “new,” there’s a loss of appreciation for quality, and in the end, quality is what matters. When the nuance wears off, a work will have to stand on its own and if it can’t stand on its own quality-wise, it’ll be forgotten about, and rightfully so.

 

2: Sales numbers matter.

Stella 1
Great show. Poor sales. Why?
That’s an interesting discussion that shouldn’t be dicouraged.

A lot of people are put-off by mentions of how well any given anime did market-wise. They say that sales numbers don’t equal quality, that high sales don’t signify a superior anime. I agree with that sentiment, but it’s often used to dismiss discussions involving sales numbers, and that’s bad. Sales numbers matter. It’s important to have quantifiable metrics in an industry that produces an end-product for consumers and while, yes, anime is art, it’s also important to remember that anime is a product of an industry, meant to be brought to market and sold. Low sales numbers might not signify a bad anime (Stella C3-bu was great, but sold very poorly), but it does mean something, and identifying that something is a very important discussion to have.

 

3: Most dubs are fine.

Code Geass 4People like to compare the English dubs of anime with the original Japanese performances, and I think that’s a little unfair. The language can be translated, but there’s no real way to translate a performance. Are there dubs where the cast obviously didn’t even try? Certainly, and this was especially true way back when. Most modern dubs, however, are at least passable. Few will ever be at, say, Cowboy Bebop level, but most are just fine.

 

4: “Tropes” are a product of the way we think about things.

The Tsundere archetype is real, but let's be real about why it's a thing.
The Tsundere archetype is real, but let’s be real about why it’s a thing.

There’s a lot of complaining about “tropes,” “archetypical characters,” etc. (Especially in the moé debate.) This is misguided. Categorization is a heuristic. It’s a way we break down complex concepts (Such as the specifics of an instance of a particular trope or character archetype) into simpler concepts (The “And I Must Scream” trope or the “Tsundere” archetype, for example) to make them easier to think about generally. They’re not 100% accurate to every specific instance, but they were never designed to be accurate to every specific instance.

 

5: Elfen Lied was a solid show.

Elfen LiedWere the show’s violence and nudity gratuitous? Certainly.

But the show did a remarkably good job at addressing its central theme and even used its gratuity to its advantage to really drive home the point it was trying to make. Some parts were so visceral that I found them genuinely difficult to watch, and that almost never happens for me. The show gets a lot of crap for its violence and nudity, but that’s all in service to a theme, and it’s important to keep that in mind.

 

6: Besides being a really good anime, there’s nothing otherwise remarkable about Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy BebopFor all the praise it gets, Cowboy Bebop doesn’t have much going for it. It’s a great show, but it didn’t really accomplish anything besides being a great show. It didn’t launch a franchise like Gundam, or change the course of anime like Evangelion. We don’t hear about Post-Cowboy-Bebop anime. It didn’t even launch much merchandise. Yet somehow, this stand-alone show managed to hit it really big in the fandom, and that perplexes me.

 

7: Sekai Saionji, not Makoto Itou, is the reason why all the bad things in School Days happened.

School Days Ep7-13
Ugh…

Don’t get me wrong: Makoto made a whole lot of stupid decisions and is a pretty disgusting individual, however, none of that would have happened if Sekai hadn’t, halfway through helping Makoto date Kotonoha, decided to seduce Makoto. Thus set in motion the series of events, since Sekai proved to Makoto that it’s easier to just get sex from random girls around the school. The fact that she expected him to stay with her is laughable, since their entire relationship is based on sneaking around behind Kotonoha’s back. She created that monster.

 

8: There’s too much focus on stuff that isn’t the anime in anime fandom.

Wake Up GirlsWake Up Girls discussions turn into Yamakan discussions far too often. The entire hype surrounding Space Dandy was based on Watanabe being the director. We get anime criticism that talks about how Show X was “made to sell figures” or about how Show N’s character designs are “dakimakura-ready.” None of this is particularly useful or pertinent to the anime itself. When the question is, “Is the anime good?” talking about stupid crap the director’s said in the past, or about how the show was designed to sell things serves no one. Anyone can look up a show’s director, or can look at a show’s promotional material. How much does any of that really matter as far as the anime being good or bad?

 

9: Aniplex of America knows what they’re doing.

a4af65ffdaf15923086f6f78068cd251b8781f57I propose two scenarios as far as the Aniplex discussion is concerned, and I’ll bet one of them is correct.

Scenario 1: Aniplex has carefully examined the anime market in the US and has priced their releases at a price that they believe the market will bear, marketing their product toward a hard-core, collector anime fan audience. They’re marketing toward people who buy this stuff because they want to own it, and I mean really want to own it. They’re not marketing to people who just buy whatever anime looks good every once in awhile. They’re marketing to people who spend money on anime, and are willing to drop over $100 on a show they want to own. Naturally, the Japanese parent company has some say in the pricing structure, especially with Blu-Ray (Reverse-importation concerns and all), but AoA knows the market and knows what they’re doing in it.

Scenario 2: Aniplex of America is completely beholden to their Japanese parent company, must do everything they say, and makes no decisions of their own with regards to pricing. In this case, Aniplex (The parent company) is pursuing a sales model similar to the one used in Japan, in which case complaining definitely won’t help anybody.

 

10: It’s impossible for fanservice to “detract from” a show.

vlcsnap-2012-08-18-20h14m17s224People talk about how “X was good, despite the fanservice,” or how “The fanservice was distracting in Y,” and I wonder where people are getting the idea that anime is manufactured in parts at different facilities and then bolted together and released. The fanservice isn’t created independent of the rest of the show. It’s there because it was meant to be there. I mean, it’s okay to not like fanservice, but don’t pretend that it just showed up uninvited and started wrecking up the place. The only thing that fanservice being “distracting” means is that the viewer is too easily distracted by sexuality and quite frankly, that’s a personal problem, not a deficiency in the show.

 

So, readers! Agree? Disagree? Have some controversial assertions of your own? Drop a comment!

17 Replies to “Ten Potentially Controversial Assertions About Anime”

  1. I agree with most of what you are saying especially #2 about sales numbers. I can tell you from the industry’s perspective numbers DO matter not opinions on the internet. In fact the industry is more than willing to meet fans halfway if they are willing to put forth the foundation to help a title succeed. Here’s a quote from Marvel Comics as to how they deal with the fanbase

    “If a particular type of story sells, if a title sells, if an artist is hot, if a writer is hot — whatever — that affects how we make the decisions that we make the next month. Not the chatter we hear,” he said. “Because that chatter can’t always be trusted, whether it’s because it doesn’t necessarily represent the audience as a whole, or because of the fact that fans often say one thing, but they do another.”

    The only opinions of yours I disagree with are #3 and #5. I disagree with #3 not because the quality of dubs is horrible (if anything they have gotten better) but I am one of those people who places cultural value on anime since its a Japanese art. And while its true that I won’t understand most of the cultural aspects being explained it gives the awesome opportunity to learn and expand my horizons. And the reality of dubbing is that no matter how faithful it is no matter how well done it is, they will have filter some cultural references to make more accessible to an international audience.

    Also I wanna get as close as a Gaijin can to the original artists work because that’s what I wanna see.

    As for #5 I just disagree with that one because I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t form an opinion on it.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with the cultural value of anime, however I think most modern dubs, while certainly not the best option for getting in touch with the home culture of the medium, do a good job at still being a good option for getting a similar level of entertainment value. Not to mention, the accessibility afforded by dubs is important to those of us who’d like to see the anime fandom grow, and I’m glad we’re at the level where most dubs are at least decent.

  2. Thanks for the mention =) I agree with you on #1-#4 and #8-#9. I probably agree with #5 too but it’s been about 7 years since I watched Elfen Lied and I don’t remember it that well. I do remember thinking it’s a good anime at least, and being utterly horrified by many of the scenes (the scene with the puppy…oh my god 0_o) so I would likely say it’s solid if I watched it again. Also can’t comment on #7 since I haven’t seen School Days. And as much as I love Cowboy Bebop, I can sort of agree with #6. It’s only really a classic in the minds of Western anime fans and I think the reason for that is because, yes, it’s a great show, but also because it has so much Western culture in its setting, music, themes, story elements, etc,.

    The only one I kind of disagree with is #10 because purposeless fan service in an otherwise serious show can be disruptive to me and can hinder my overall rating of a show if it’s too much. But I do understand that fan service is part of an anime and thought was put into its implementation. I don’t mind it if it makes sense for the story or doesn’t shatter the mood. And if used well as a joke, it can even make me laugh XD

    1. I think the notion that some fanservice in otherwise serious shows is “purposeless” stems more from said shows not properly contextualizing their fanservice parts, rather than the fanservice itself being without purpose. I’d posit that it only seems out-of-place because the story and premise of the show failed to make the fanservice feel like it belongs there.

  3. Nice article Anubis. I agree with most points except #10. Like Yumeka, I agree “purposeless fan service in an otherwise serious show can be disruptive to me and can hinder my overall rating of a show if it’s too much.” Fanservice, of any kind, serves a direct purpose to, well, service the fans. If the fanservice fails to do what it is supposed to do, then it is what I would deem purposeless fanservice. If a show is mostly serious in nature and devoid of sexual based tropes, and then, suddenly, several episodes or even story arcs into the series these tropes pop up out of the blue, I cringe and wonder why they felt the need to add them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE fanservice when it is used properly to accentuate the story, like the sexy pic from Highschool DxD you have above. However, when it feels like it was thrown in without much love or care, then I have a problem. Case in point, Emuro from Chihayafuru. The story of Chihayafuru is very sweet and fairly family friendly. Yes, there are some jokes about boobs before Emuro was introduced, but I felt they were all good natured fun, in line with the tone of the series. Emuro, though, is a stereotypical perv with no redeeming qualities to his character. His introduction is a “Hot for Teacher” trope and he is obsessed with being able to grope her. Now the timing of his introduction also really took me by surprise because it was during a crucial match which would determine Chihaya’s fate in her sport. The serious moment is overshadowed by a trope and it really broke my suspension of disbelief about the match and its implications.

    How can I take it seriously anymore when I’m now thinking about their ace player wanting to molest his teacher as a prize for winning the match? His goal is in conflict with Chihaya’s goal of meeting her estranged friend/love interest on the grand stage again. One is serious and moving and the other is just plain dumb; who joins a competitive club, that has nothing to do with sex, when all they can think about is boobs? Seriously, that was his only thought once being on the precipice of winning, not the achievement of winning itself but something he can just watch porn for. Why even play the sport if that’s what drives you? I suppose he exists for comic relief, but c’mon, the story did not need to go there for laughs at a time like that. Sorry for the mini rant, it just really frustrates me when fanservice is used poorly, and in this case does not even match the target audience of the series which is primarily young women.

    To summarize my thoughts on fanserivce, it is great when it fits the feel of the series and accentuates the characters. If they are sexy, and it’s a fun comedy romp, by all means sex them up for laughs or titillation. Harem based themes and school high jinks with lots of T&A are great. But, if it is a serious story, the sexual based content should be more meaningful to the characters and their story, not played for sudden laughs or shock value. I’m pro fanservice, and anti failserivce.

    1. I think that there are more elements at work than just fanservice being in a serious show and ruining the seriousness. It feels to me more like the fanservice was put there to serve a purpose, but the story failed to contextualize the fanservice correctly, and as a result, the work as a whole appears deficient because of fanservice, when really the story couldn’t 1: Properly contextualize the fanservice (Making the fanservice seem jarring and out-of-place as a result) and 2: Present itself well enough beyond the fanservice to make itself more significant (Making the fanservice seem distracting).

      1. Anubis, would you say that, rather than “detracting”, fan service can be “poorly integrated”? I feel like that’s what you’re talking about here; when the scene’s tone seems discordant unintentionally.

        Incidentally, I think that’s where a lot of people’s issues with Elfen Lied come from: the series is intentionally discordant, to add to the shock value; that’s why I don’t think the gore and nudity is inappropriate to the show. It’s incredibly jarring…but it is entirely on purpose.

        And let’s be honest, here: Elfen Lied is a good show…but it is *incredibly* disturbing to a lot of viewers. It isn’t exactly shocking how people respond to it; most stories (even violent horror stories) don’t go as far out of their way to make the viewer as uncomfortable as Elfen Lied does. A lot of people take that sensation away from the show and interpret it as a lack of quality. Not saying that’s the “right” way to interpret it…but I can understand it.

        1. “Poorly integrated” is a great way to describe how fanservice can sometimes not work well in a show. The fanservice doesn’t “detract” from the show, as the show doesn’t exist separated from its fanservice, but the show could certainly be deficient in that it fails to properly integrate the fanservice into the rest of the show.

          As far as Elfen Lied goes, I think you’re spot-on. People decried the gratuitous violence and nudity, and that’s certainly reasonable, but all of that extreme content was in service to the show’s main point.

  4. There are really good anime, and then there are really good anime that stand the test of time. Cowboy Bebop is the latter. It’s simply a cut above, to the extent that teens who loved it can still love it as adults without nostalgia being necessary – not so with most anime.

    No, it’s not the most amazing thing ever, but what it does pull off shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s managed to be this memorable and popular even without having to have a tremendous and seemingly-endless marketing push behind it.

    Consider whether Evangelion would remain as popular as it is if it ended with the original series and first film. Ditto the Gundam equivalent. Really good anime, but I doubt they’d look anything but quaint 15 years later if they hadn’t kept reinventing and reimagining themselves. It’s not an easy thing to pull off.

    1. I guess my question would then be: “What about Cowboy Bebop made it stand the test of time?”

      Because regardless of admittedly prominent marketing efforts, Evangelion still changed the course of the medium in more than one respect, and Gundam still created the Real Robot genre, paving the way for countless subsequent shows, including its own derivatives. Certainly, they both went through reinvention and reimagination multiple times, however, they still did significant things for the medium, a detail which shouldn’t be glossed over.

      Not to mention, with Eva in particular, unless we’re counting stuff like Angelic Days and Petit Eva, the number of times it’s been reinvented is very limited, and most of these reinventions are the kind that only work for those who’ve already watched the series. The only actual reinvention of the series (As in how “G Gundam,” “Gundam Wing,” and “Gundam SEED” were reinventions of Mobile Suit Gundam) is Rebuild of Evangelion, and that began in 2007. The original Eva series and films were still very relevant at least 12 years later.

  5. While I do appreciate the purpose of your Bebop point, I think that you’re selling it a little short. Bebop certainly didn’t do many revolutionary things, but it WAS one of the first to not only be primarily directed towards Western audiences, but to also flaunt its Western influences, and I think that that is something that sets it apart, for sure. Not to mention the fact that the score of the series set the bar incredibly high for anime scoring and film scoring alike.

    1. Certainly, but what does one show being directed towards Western audiences and having significant Western influences do for the medium?

    2. There’s been tons of anime primarily directed at western audience before Cowboy Bebop.

      Also CB wasn’t originally for the western market. People forgot that it came out originally in 1998 but didn’t get shown on Adult Swim until 2001. It just HAPPENED to get popular here.

      What Anubis is trying to say is that while Gundam and Eva have not only have had sequels, remakes and imitators, none of that really happened to Cowboy Bebop.

      For the record unlike the majority of the (lame) western fanbase, CB did nothing for me because it didn’t feature anything I was looking for in anime and characters like Spike Spiegel don’t appeal to me. I DO acknowledge what made it popular here I just don’t give a fuck and focus my attention what either I like or the Japanese otaku (the ones who actually support the medium) like.

  6. According to Shinichiro Watanabe Cowboy Bebop wasn’t aimed at Western audiences: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interview/2013-09-03/interview-shinichiro-wantanabe

    “Back when Cowboy Bebop was in production, we never knew that Japanese anime would have any impact overseas, so we totally didn’t see Westerners being exposed to the show. We just made what we enjoyed making, and the fact that it got accepted in the west at all was the most surprising thing. I grew up with US movies so it made me very happy that Americans liked my things, because I was raised on their things, in a way”

    It’s not like Cowboy Bebop was the first Western influenced space opera. Others include Galaxy Express 999, Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Space Adventure Cobra. Cobra was even modeled after a French actor.

  7. I agree with pretty much all of these things, with an exception of maybe #3. I think it’s like how TsukuyomiMagi said, I believe anime is a Japanese art and should be appreciated to understand the complete cultural context of the original. I will admit that dubs can be a good tool to get newer fans into anime, but it personally irks me that a work needs to be changed in order for other people to enjoy it. Whatever, I suppose dubs are a personal preference, and who am I to tell people how they should enjoy their own hobby?

    When it comes to innovation, I wholeheartedly agree that that isn’t the only thing to make something worthwhile. You mention Aku no Hana, but as a fan of the manga who has never seen the anime, I find it difficult to believe that the anime could fuck up such a great story to the point where people mostly pay attention to the rotoscoping, rather than the story and characters. I felt the manga proved that you don’t need to be “different” to be good. You just need a compelling, emotional story and fascinating, sympathetic characters in order to truly shine.

    I used to disagree with #10, but now I kind of understand what you mean. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Highschool of the Dead, but I remember thinking the fanservice was so annoyingly over-the-top and in-your-face, that it was difficult to take most of the things in that show seriously. I thought it was just plain stupid that the show focused all on a girl’s panties while her head is being eaten by zombies. But I suppose it’s because, for me, the show failed to blend in the fanservice naturally within the context of the story. I don’t have a problem with that show having fanservice, I just wish the fanservice wasn’t stupid enough to make me facepalm.

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