*** This is primarily just a rant. You have been warned. ***
I suppose this is just me reaching my breaking point after having watched so much anime that I’ve become cynical towards the constant repetition and lack of creativity with shows these days. It’s just something I need to get out of my system. I’m not looking for an argument, I’m not seeking anyone else’s opinion and I’m not looking to be told how I’m wrong, nor am I trying to change anyone’s opinion either. I’m just ranting because I feel I need to.
This Winter 2014 season has been one of the worst seasons I’ve seen since I started watching anime. It’s possible that my tastes are simply changing, but despite watching the same number of shows on average that I usually do in a given season, it feels as though the quality and my enjoyment of said shows has been very low. While there were a few decent series, most were rather sub-par and the cream of the crop weren’t exactly at the level of the best shows from previous seasons. The top series were actually several that had carried over from the prior season, but even then some of those ultimately petered out.
Usually I’ll watch, or at least start watching, about half of the shows in a given season, excepting shows that are generally not aimed at me, genres that don’t hold my interest or others that just look plain awful or stupid. A good number won’t make it past the first episode before being dropped and, though I hate to do so because it gives me the mixed feeling of having wasted my time while also not persevering enough to stick with it to the end, one or two usually get the axe around the three-quarters mark when it’s clear they’re going nowhere.
The selection this past season had been pretty lackluster, so I doubt I even started watching a quarter of what was on offer. On top of that, several of the shows I did give a chance were so bad I dropped them after the first three episodes (*cough*Hamatora*cough*); there were even two that I had pretty much written off before the first episode was even over due to their sheer awfulness (I’m looking at you D-Frag and Witchcraft Works ). Most of the others were plagued by lazy, clichéd or just plain awful writing.
I found this all very disheartening.
Recently I saw a news article in which legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki said in an interview that the anime industry is suffering due in part to the fact that otakus are now the ones making the shows. While Americans and other nationalities foreign to Japan may pridefully self-identify with the term otaku, it is important to note that in Japan this term has a very negative connotation and is used to describe someone who is overly obsessed with something (often anime) and unable to relate to reality. Miyazaki’s main point was that it’s difficult to portray realistic characters capable of growth and development when those creating the characters have no interest in observing real people in order to understand how actual humans interact with one another.
It would be pretty easy to label Miyazaki’s critique as nothing more than an old curmudgeon’s rant against the younger generation, but I have to admit that he has a point. While anime has never been overly realistic in its portrayal of characters (or the laws of physics), there has certainly been a trend in recent years of loser protagonists attracting a bevy of beautiful women despite having no redeeming qualities, while the females are all based on the same often-shallow stereotypes in show after show. Meanwhile, character interactions that lead to romantic situations or compromising positions are cringe-inducing since they have absolutely no basis in reality. Romance seems to simply involve mashing two characters together rather than actually developing any sort of chemistry between them, and comedy often feels like little more than people shouting – often unfunny things – at one another. It’s also impossible to deny that the amount of fan service (read: viewable nipples) has increased exponentially in recent years while harem shows devoid of plot are on the rise.
Because anime (and the light novels they are often adapted from) is now allegedly being made by those often socially-stunted otaku obsessed with anime, as a result we are seeing the same ridiculous trends being recycled again and again because the creators have become so encapsulated within that culture that these unrealistic portrayals are to them perceived as how the real world actually operates. It doesn’t.
It’s like we’re caught in a Escher-like ouroboros that inexplicably keeps feeding into itself in an infinite loop. Eventually the walls it feeds into get narrower and narrower with less access to the outside the further it goes.
Which brings me around to what instigated this whole quandary to begin with. It’s been no secret for a while now that just about every synopsis for upcoming shows seems like something we’ve already heard before. Check out this list of shows for the Spring 2014 anime season, then compare it to last season’s list and tell me if you spot any of the usual clichés that abound in anime. Better yet, let me know if you find one that doesn’t have one of these overused trends: Harem, mecha, card games, magical girls, idols, ghosts, suddenly appearing “magical” girlfriends, yuri, amnesia, brother-sister incest, the Sengoku era, or hikkikimori/NEET protagonists with amazing abilities as a result of being a recluse. Some will even check off multiple boxes.
Unfortunately that’s what seems to be the main problem these days. Every show feels like it has a list of boxes that needs to be checked off in order to get made, but unfortunately all it results in is the same old crap we’ve seen a thousand times before. I’m not saying Hollywood is any better, but anime was once something different from typical Hollywood fare, willing to go places other than the expected happily ever after route or bravely exploring some bizarre or out-there ideas and concepts. Sure, not all of it was that, but a good amount of it was and that was the primary appeal for me.
I suppose in the end maybe I’ve just become jaded with the current state of the anime industry. I remember when I first stumbled upon the Tenka Seiha blog, and though I occasionally agreed with site owner Aroduc’s barbed critiques of most shows, I often wondered why he even bothered to watch anime if all he ever did was skewer it mercilessly without seeming to enjoy anything. Several years later I’m starting to see his perspective a lot more clearly.
I don’t think I’m alone either. Even Random Curiosity, which in the past I often found to have nothing but gushing praise for even the worst shows, and given my natural cynical mindset I often found a little too saccharine and lacking in critical bite for my tastes, has since become a lot more critical of the shows they review, which seems to me to be a glaring admission that all is not right in Oz.
This current season didn’t exactly leave me with a feeling of confidence going in given that the first two shows I watched blatantly laid out the notion of sibling incest right out of the gate. If you’ve read my WTF Japan?!? – Incest is Best post then you know my feelings on this subject matter. If not, let’s just say I think it’s a disturbing trend that has gained far too much traction. Admittedly I have been a little more impressed with shows that followed, and nary a mention of incest has popped up in any of the other shows I’ve watched thus far, but first impressions matter and past experience tells me to be on my guard.
This season’s Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei looks to be a really promising show based on its premise alone, but seems to instantly squander and undermine it with the incest angle, which for the record lays it on extremely thick with the younger sister completely head over heels for her brother; so much so that she is incapable of making any decision without his input and any time she does speak it’s either to defend his magical incompetence or apologize, making her seem much like a battered spouse. The brother doesn’t make things any better given that he is creepily affectionate with her despite his purely platonic stance and supposed cluelessness to her feelings. I was getting serious Angelina Jolie and her brother at the Oscars vibes from their interactions, what with his stroking of her face and embracing her from behind.
I read a “debate” on a message board recently about the incestuous themes presented in Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei. The initial post stated that the use of incest in this case was presented with a rational explanation based on the characters’ pasts and therefore was a justifiable use of the trope rather than the usual audience titillation presented by most other shows that utilize it. The second person argued that it was still blatant pandering because the incest attempted to make no social commentary or add to the story in any meaningful way, so this “justification” was no more than the author attempting to present a rationale for including the incestuous overtones in the first place.
When what feels like half of the shows these days include incestuous themes, any show that then utilizes this theme will automatically have the stigma of appearing to be nothing more than audience pandering, especially when the incest is not explored in any way beyond the “she loves her brother because he’s cool” explanation. So while it may not have been the author’s intention, I tend to agree that it feels as though the author was simply using a cheap bait to lure in an audience. A sister can love her brother without “loving” her brother, so a romantic love is wholly unnecessary to the plot, meaning it was more than likely added as a benefit to the audience, not to the benefit of the story.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, both on this particular subject matter and others such as rape in hentai and visual novels, when something – a taboo theme especially – is overused as a convenient or audience-pleasing trope, the use of said theme will have far less impact when it is eventually used in an intentionally meaningful way as part of a larger plot. It will instead feel like the author is simply jumping on the bandwagon of the most recent popular trend.
Then there’s the clichés. So many clichés!
Nisekoi is a perfect example of a show built on a foundation of clichés layered with even more clichés. While not a bad show per se, the entire plot is nothing but one overused trope after another. I find myself rolling my eyes constantly during the show because it’s so ridiculously banal. The first three episodes consisted of nothing more than the two leads shouting unfunny things at one another with the female lead being unapologetically abusive. Meanwhile misunderstandings abound because God forbid these people actually communicate with each other properly. The biggest offender, though, is the childhood promise trope tacked onto the amnesia trope. Our protagonist supposedly made a promise with a childhood friend ten years prior, only he conveniently doesn’t remember her despite her being the love of his life that he’s hoping to one day meet again. On top of that he’s been wearing a heavy and overly bulky reminder in the form of a locket around his neck ever since (yet still has no recollections of the girl connected to it), knowing that his destined soul mate has the key to unlock it. This girl must not be all that special to him if he can’t even remember a thing about her, so why is he so convinced she’s his soul mate and that he needs to find her?
Then of course we learn there are two girls with keys, not just one, and that he spent a summer playing with two girls rather than just the one like he remembered. How convenient. And then yet another girl with a key appears that he doesn’t even recognize, only this one seems to actually be “the one,” but let’s not delude ourselves into believing that to actually be the case, because we’ve only just hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of the progression in the light novels, so there are plenty more clichéd twists to come and I’m sure we’re far from done with key girls popping up. I mean, seriously? Could this show get any more trite and ridiculous?
Keep in mind that this is one of the better shows currently out there, and certainly one of the more popular. That in itself speaks volumes about the state of the industry and its fanbase.
That doesn’t mean that shows full of overused clichés can’t be entertaining, it’s just far more difficult for me to overlook them these days, and that does admittedly cut into my enjoyment of the series. Strike the Blood was highly entertaining, but it suffered from bringing nothing new to the table and being little more than a To aru Majutsu no Index clone. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s just nothing original about it either. For every semi-original and well-written show such as Nagi no Asukara and Log Horizon, there are countless others that are just lazily slapped together.
Golden Time is a great example of bad writing disguised as good writing. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed Golden Time at first, but it was ultimately something of a mixed bag in the end, done in by it’s overused tropes. For starters, there was Banri’s amnesia, as well as a “ghost” Banri that added supernatural elements to the story that served no purpose and felt incredibly out of place, and of course the protagonist inexplicably failing to shed any light on his circumstances that could easily clear up any misunderstandings when there was really no need for him to hide it to begin with, or at the very least continuing to hide it when the shit started hitting the fan. But most of all, this show is a perfect example of a romantic couple being thrown together without any sort of justification or chemistry between the two to convince the audience as to why they are even together to begin with.
While the initial interactions between Koko and Banri were sweet at first, as soon as they started dating Koko’s super-high-maintenance and over-exaggerated need to please resulted in all of the interactions and feelings between the two feeling very fake and forced. Koko was clearly trying too hard but ultimately it just didn’t feel like she and Banri had natural chemistry. Despite his claiming to be completely accepting of it, to this day I still cannot find a rational explanation for how Banri manages to put up with her stalker-crazy, overbearing nature. He simply can because the author said so.
The show actually shot itself in the foot, however, because while Banri and Koko had zero chemistry, Linda and Banri had it in spades, which made the lack of it with Koko all the more apparent. By about the halfway point I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be taking the show seriously or whether it was intentionally trolling me. Despite going into the second season with the love triangle between Banri, Koko and Linda in full swing, it felt as though the show was doing everything in its power to pretend Linda didn’t even exist. The new Opening and Ending were all Koko all the time, as were all of the previews, with Linda almost never appearing. It made me question whether the show was going for the obvious and telegraphed Banri x Koko shipping in the end, or whether they would pull the wool over our eyes with a sudden Linda victory. To be honest, the way Koko was being portrayed, I wasn’t even sure I was supposed to like her character.
And that’s exactly my point, because the show made it clear in the end that we should have been rooting for Banri and Koko the whole time and that their love was the real deal. Sorry, but I failed to see it, and probably because there was very little that felt realistic about their relationship to begin with. It was two people completely wrong for each other thrown together because that’s what the author wanted, not because it felt natural.
And for anyone thinking I’m butt-hurt over Linda not getting together with Banri, perish the thought. Banri lost all of my respect when he told Linda to forget everything about their past and to act like it never happened. It’s easy for an amnesiac like Banri to pretend the past doesn’t exist because in his mind it literally doesn’t, so it was a selfish dick move on his part to tell his childhood friend – who already feels responsible for him getting amnesia – to forget everything; it also painted Koko in a bad light since she put him up to it due to her jealousy. So when the hint of a Linda x Mitsuo pairing popped up, I totally jumped on that train and didn’t look back.
And those are my feelings on a show I rather enjoyed, so let’s not even get me started on the train wreck that was Mahou Sensou or the utterly predictable and repetitive Kill la Kill…
So am I done with anime for good? Not really. Every season has the occasional diamond in the rough so it’s not like there’s nothing worth watching, but admittedly I have grown tired of watching the same old dreck time and time again, so it’s almost a guarantee that I will reduce the number of shows I watch on a seasonal basis. While that may be a good thing for allowing me more free time for other endeavors, it sadly does feel like the end of an era.