Have you ever praised something by saying it’s great because it has “something for everyone”? I’m pretty sure a ton of positive reviews regarding Patlabor have done that. And they wouldn’t be wrong either, because the franchise does have something for everyone. It has charming interactions for the slice-of-life fans, government conspiracies for the political thriller fans, giant Labors kicking ass for the mecha fans, a little shipping teases between Azuma and Noa for the romance fans, etc. etc. And whilst it’s faded from memory the same way nobody talks about Votoms anymore, it’s still looked at as one of the best anime from that old-school era.
Compare that to light novel adaptations of today though. I haven’t been watching it, but I’ve read people’s reactions to Black Bullet and I think most of us can agree that it’s also trying to have something for everyone. But unlike Patlabor, a lot of people would use that as a “negative”. It has a decent premise, but then it throws in organizations run by high-schoolers that are somehow poor despite the work they do, post-apocalyptic cities supported by little girls we’re supposed to cry for, and the lead girl…well, the less said about her, the better. In trying to cater to a widespread audience, it’s impeding the anime’s potential rather than adding to it. I’m sure there are people who think the other way – especially given its one of the more liked shows from this season on MAL – but I doubt it’s getting into the top 200 on that site once it’s over. Where did it – and the rest of its light novel kin – go wrong?
Okay, the fact that “everyone” in Black Bullet’s case includes lolicons – which is one of the few fanbases that Patlabor does NOT support because most people don’t want to associate with them – doesn’t help. But let’s not get sidetracked by that detail, shall we?
Now the most obvious answer – next to “the source material is good/crap” – regarding when “having something for everyone” becomes a compliment would be the style the show uses to join the elements together. Do you think Kill la Kill would have been loved by so many of us if it wasn’t for Imaishi’s hyper-kinetic style? Given how it’s about as fanservice-y – actually even moreso – than most other LN adaptations and also panders to lolicons, I’d think the population of viewers who were skeeved out by the nudity would go from 30% to 80% in an instant once said style is removed. Take away Mako and it’d rise to 98%. And the same would go for Patlabor. Despite source material, I doubt it would have been as loved if it was directed by the guy who made that godawful Battle Angels Alita OVA. Hopefully James Cameron’s take on that will be a lot better.
But then that raises another question. What style would be considered acceptable in regards to that sort of fan-pandering, and what isn’t? Well that’s where my train of thought ends, unfortunately. Obviously I can’t shift through ALL the styles since there’s so many of them, and it’s pretty damn tough to describe what makes something natural and what makes them a checklist other than that tired “execution” excuse. Plus, at the end of the day, like most anime and other media products, it all comes down to people’s taste in terms of what they choose to accept and there will be no one true answer to these questions.
The existence of Code Geass’s MASSIVE fan/hatedom despite the majority of them being fully aware of its many MANY strengths/flaws – mostly related to how it tries to integrate ALOT of fan-pandering elements into its dumb-as-hell plot – is ultimate proof of that.