Ani-Column: Being Generic Is Worse Than Being Bad

Yup, time to do an article referencing one of my most used tags.

Psychic

I could only read so many defenses for Psychic School Wars in certain forums, largely by the same guy, before I just gave up. The counterarguments people gave were just weak and they didn’t address the problems I had with the thing at all. However, one forum post did catch my attention.

Better something wonderful that is a bit confused than the shallow dreck that most anime give us. (An Animesuki Forum User)

I agree wholeheartedly, but the point of my Psychic School Wars article, which went over the heads of a bunch of people despite my third paragraph making it abundantly clear, was that it was shallow dreck that took no risks whatsoever. It doesn’t do anything unique, good or bad, and unfortunately I’m one of those folks who hates inoffensive generic stuff and would prefer that your thing be the worst thing ever. Sure I would have preferred that Psychic School Wars be good, but if you’re going to be bad, at least do so in a way that makes you stand out. What does this anime have? Obnoxious animation and a bullshit ending? So why don’t I just watch Felix the Cat: The Movie? Sure that movie was boring as fuck and annoying as hell, but at least it does so in a way that stands out. Psychic School Wars doesn’t even manage to achieve Book Girl’s status of selfishly idiotic. Yes you could point out that the director of Mouyou no Hako, one of the most critically acclaimed anime amongst certain circles, dropped the ball here, but how many people actually know his name? And what does that have to do with the actual product?

What I’m trying to say is that by itself, Psychic School Wars’ “main plot” doesn’t do anything that’s interesting, not even analysis-wise. Why? Because most of the movie is an unfunny high school anime romance ripped out of much better series to the point that I could only ask one question: what exactly is the purpose of the movie’s existence?

HellGirl

I know this may sound strange coming from me, but very rarely do I ever regret watching an anime I didn’t like. I don’t even regret watching Hell Girl, although I did regret not dropping it when it started to stagnate, and that’s my most hated anime series of all time. Why? Because at least I can claim it as the worst thing I ever stuck with and use it as an insult against Natasha when she and Day try to convince me that Enma Ai is freaking awesome (just to make it clear, Ai wasn’t my problem with that show). I don’t regret watching the first episode of Moshidora because I can use it as an example of how just because an anime is based on an award-winning novel doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. I do however regret sticking with Robotics;Notes because nothing fucking happened in that show to the point that it’s just forgettable. And chances are that when people start discussing 5pb semicolon anime, they’re going to remember Steins;Gate and Chaos;Head before they think up Production I.G.’s attempt at trying to appeal to the Nitroplus fans.

Also, do you know what MAL considers the worst anime of the year so far? Leviathan. Never heard of it? Exactly what justifies its non-enviable title. The worst thing that can happen to an anime, movie, TV show, book, album, etc. is to be so meh to the point that it gets erased from history. Why? Because then it would have no reason to exist, not even for some “how not to do it” guide. It’s also the reason why I never wrote a review on that Fuse Memoirs thing that came out recently. It was an okay movie with some awesome animal violence that people would call PETA over, but that’s all it is. Okay. Nothing that exactly sets me afire, you know?

And that’s exactly what bothered me about Psychic School Wars’ love story that people say is the core crux of the thing that we should focus on: it’s completely forgettable and idiotic. It doesn’t have the themes prevalent in Shinkai’s stuff, the rage-inducement of Suzuka, the badly melodramatic-then touching-then Deus Ex Machina melodramaticness of Clannad, nor the romantic cliche trend-setting history of Kimagure Orange Road. It’s just there! Nothing stands out in the least and there’s no reason for it to exist at all! Why the fuck did someone even make a movie with a romance story as its plot if it wasn’t going to use that romance for anything deeper other than just repeat the same goddamn shallow anime crap we’ve seen a bajillion times? You can’t just say it’s for pure entertainment because that says nothing, and it’s the same reason we have a bunch of crappy 4-koma anime that is basically the equivalent of a Cartoon Network show without the laughs.

httyd

The very least that anime could have done was put some spins on the cliches it was using. It doesn’t even take that much spinning to make a cliched premise interesting. Look at How to Train Your Dragon. It’s pretty much nothing more than your standard underdog story about a loser boy and his pet, but it’s critically acclaimed and one of my favorite movies of all time because it spins its cliches in different ways. Air Master is nothing more than a shonen fighting anime about a tall girl fighting bad guys for the sake of being the number one fighter, but it’s amazing because it channels its cliches into unique identities. And these are just the good stuff. Bad stuff wise, look at Sword Art Online. It’s pretty much no different from the thousands of wish-fulfillment bullcrap lying around on the surface, but it’s the depths that it goes to in order to pander that makes it stand out and it’s why we’re still discussing it to this day.

Hell, I even take the time to bother with SNAFU and Monogatari because they put some spins on the tropes they’re utilizing. They don’t go far enough and I don’t exactly praise shows for going halfway, hence why I don’t like them very much, but that’s a topic for another time. Besides, at least I’ll acknowledge their existence fair enough, unlike Fortune Fucking Arterial.

UruseiYatsura

If you’re too afraid to go outside the box because you have an audience to pander to, the very least you can do is be funny. Seriously, comedy is pretty much the God that can turn shit into gold in regards to anime or fiction in general. For example, look at Urusei Yatsura. Yes, it was fresh at the time, but as of now it’s pretty cliched. However, I still think it’s a great anime because it is funny. I love Ken Akamatsu’s harem manga despite not liking the genre for the most part and them having some pretty shallow stock characters because they’re really hilarious to read. Kanon 2006 is much more enjoyable in English than it is in Japanese because the dub script and English voice actors are a thousand times funnier than what Sugita Tomokazu was given to work with. Finally, the reason why One Piece is my favorite long-running Shonen Jump anime and I can stomach its slow-pacing is because it makes me laugh in the most unexpected of ways, even if it takes a while to reach that point.

Anime is quickly becoming a medium where we praise mediocrity just because the majority of the field set the bar so goddamn low, despite the fact that the mediocre stuff usually ends up being even more pointless than the crap. As a guy who loves the medium, I refuse to join in that mindset, and thus I will never get what makes Psychic School Wars so great, or a bunch of other hyped anime I found thoroughly mediocre for reasons I’m not going to establish here. Either really impress me or give me something I can use to entertain people (preferably the former). Justify your existence to me. Don’t show up, show me some moving pictures, speak some pointless dialogue, and then leave, like you did with Dog and Scissors thing. Because otherwise you’re just wasting time I could be using trying to figure out how to get near Chris Matthews and castrate him for being a complete failure of a human being.

11 responses to “Ani-Column: Being Generic Is Worse Than Being Bad

  1. That also means that Valvrave is better than MJP, you know ?

    But seriously, this would be fair… There’s nothing more disturbing than forgetting entirely an episode after watching it….

    I actually have the same reaction towards MJP than towards Mashiro Iro Symphony… The biggest mystery is why they were even created…
    And that’s why I would preefer to watch Kotoura-san than GJ-Bu…

    • In all honesty, Valvrave is kind of bland too, but the fact that I dropped MJP first shows that yes, I’d probably watch the former over the latter.

      And yeah, I’ve been harsh to Kotoura-san, but let’s be honest: that’s one 4-koma anime that’s not leaving our minds for a while.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything you wrote here, except for your last paragraph. As a fan of anime as a medium, I think there’s a world of difference between finding personal satisfaction in something that is mediocre and actively praising it for being that way. I might sound like I’m praising a lot of bad anime in my writing, but the truth is that the number of anime I would actually recommend to my close friends – who are only casual anime fans at best – is very, VERY low. Out of all the anime that’s come out this year so far, I’ve only recommended about… three shows. That doesn’t mean I’m disappointed with anime. I just know that a lot of it mediocre and will be forgotten as soon as they’ve finished airing.

    I personally take literature as seriously as you seem to take anime because I don’t want to produce a mediocre piece of writing myself, regardless of mode or genre. I just don’t apply the same rigorous standards to anime. The thing is that, as English-speaking fans with no experience in animation, the majority of us don’t have the ability to contribute to the medium. We have no power to change what is given to us, so why bite the hand that feeds us? It doesn’t justify bad writing in the slightest, but really, if you don’t like watching so much forgettable anime, the only solution is to stop watching so much anime or to find some other way to enjoy it. It’s usually pretty easy to pick out which shows you are /probably/ going to like just from the premise or the staff involved. You don’t HAVE to try every single show, knowing a lot of them are destined for mediocrity and no one else will be watching them anyway. I certainly don’t bother with everything.

    Otherwise, yes, good call here. I can pretty much always forgive a show for having bad writing as long as I feel like the writers cared about it or put some of their own individuality into it, but I can never get behind a project that feels utterly soulless. The worst anime is never the polarising and overhyped show like SAO – it’s the obscure one that never picks up a fanbase at all because it had nothing in it that could speak to anyone. Those are the anime that I hate. But I would never bother writing about them because no one would ever have heard about them. Case in point – all the truly mediocre anime that you mentioned in this post were ones I had never heard of at all! Funny that, right?

    • It’s usually pretty easy to pick out which shows you are /probably/ going to like just from the premise or the staff involved. You don’t HAVE to try every single show, knowing a lot of them are destined for mediocrity and no one else will be watching them anyway. I certainly don’t bother with everything.

      I’m not trying out everything that comes out this season, but I’ve learned a while ago that you have to give some stuff a chance because otherwise you’ll miss out on a big hit. Yes, even “Rage Town”…ugh.

    • Let me address some other parts of your comment now that I have time:

      As a fan of anime as a medium, I think there’s a world of difference between finding personal satisfaction in something that is mediocre and actively praising it for being that way.

      I think you misunderstood what I meant by what I said. The point of that sentence was that because of all the crap we’re dealt with, some people consider pretty much anything that does things differently as great and as a result, highly overrate things. Example: the noitamina timeslot.

      Pre-2011, that timeslot was considered the place to get all the high-quality stuff when in reality, even their stuff back then like Jellyfish Princess and Tokyo Magnitude were thoroughly mediocre garbage that didn’t deserve the amount of love they got and it seemed like the only reason they’re so highly acclaimed amongst certain people is because the rest of the field set the bar so goddamn low. Or was I just missing something about them? Not that I mind if people like the shows and all, but they did not take as many risks as claimed.

      The thing is that, as English-speaking fans with no experience in animation, the majority of us don’t have the ability to contribute to the medium. We have no power to change what is given to us, so why bite the hand that feeds us?

      It’s that very fact that makes me scoff at all the defenders who say I’m hurting their loved ones or whatever and do the same thing to me that I do to people like Shin Oonuma. Those anime studios and such are big boys who don’t need defending from small-timers like me. I don’t exactly have the power to make them cry or anything. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I should just settle for less, and thus I’ll keep exposing the underbelly of the medium when it shows up as long as I keep feeling that way.

  3. So you honest to God believe that Hell Girl is the worst anime series of all time? Really? Opinions and taste are subjective but I find it baffling that out of countless titles you’ve watched over the years that Hell Girl ended up being the worst anime you ever watched. Hell Girl isn’t a perfect series by any means some episodes can be a hit & miss but I enjoyed the series for its excellent dub and horror themes.

    • Hell Girl isn’t that bad objectively, but it hurt me on a very personal level. The drama is ridiculously forced just to make a point and the interesting characters were shoved to the side for a bunch of whiny nobodies I didn’t give a crap about.

  4. Now that i think of it, “Not taking enough risk” is the reasons why LN adaptations are so hated. They take an interresting premise and transform it into the blandest thing possible.
    Is it also why you hated Kokoro Connect that much ? It start with an interresting premise and don’t exploit it at all (That, and the writing is utter crap, obviously…).

    • >Now that i think of it, “Not taking enough risk” is the reasons why LN adaptations are so hated. They take an interresting premise and transform it into the blandest thing possible.

      Yep. From Haruhi to the present day it has always been this way.

    • The reason I got mad at KC was because the dialogue was absolutely atrocious. Like REALLY bad. Really, REALLY bad. The wasted potential pissed me off too, but…yeah that dialogue annoyed me.