“Not Taking Yourself Seriously” Is An Overrated Concept

Whether it’s mildly or vastly overrated, I’m still working out.

So I dropped both One-Punch Man and Osomatsu-san recently because they weren’t making me laugh. No harm to anyone really, considering a lot of people seem to think they’re funny. The anime fandom has and always will be very alien to me, just like I am to them. They persist in the notion that Tsutomu Mizushima directs funny shows and yet whilst I stand by my opinion that South Park is still going strong, most of them claim that it was never good before going back to worship The Simpsons (deservedly so given its accomplishments, but it’s still creepy to see how obsessive people get over their favorite cartoons, especially considering I barely bring up Daria at all). And don’t even get me started on that recent Symphogear surge. Or shittweets in general. I don’t know who started that trend, but I’m guessing most people who copied him missed the point entirely.

Just to make it clear so you know where I’m coming from, I don’t enjoy over-the-top anime, shows, movies, or humor in general besides Yuasa’s, Takahashi’s (before she ran out of ideas), and Imaishi’s stuff. And (especially in the last one’s case) that’s more in spite of the presentation than because of it. Edgar Wright? Guy Ritchie? Whoever makes that Superjail thing? Shoji Kawamori? Don’t really care about their products and I doubt I will for a long time.

Why not? Because I find worlds where wackiness is the rule rather than the exception to be boring, never being in service of any kind of story that goes beyond gimmicky. I hate in-jokes (anime ones in particular) and I hate nonsensical monkeycheese. And most of all, I find it unchallenging to the mind. Apologies for bringing up this controversial statement again, but humor HAS to be ironic or it’s NOT funny. And anime in particular always takes things too far with the light-hearted attitude to the point that they’re in on the joke to a very obvious degree, making it impossible to wring any sort of irony out of the scenario. Mike Judge’s shows subvert expectations more than One-Punch Man does, and I’m not even that big a King of the Hill/Beavis and Butthead/Office Space fan.

I was having a Skype conversation with a few anime folks I occasionally chat with and one of them said he was cautious about some anime/manga called Zapper because he was afraid there’d be unrealistic treatment regarding the military that would alienate him. And when he was asked about his affection for Girls Und Panzer, his defense was something along the lines of Panzer being unrealistic is the point of the show and thus that’s fine. Another dude made out this whole speech regarding why Symphogear works whilst AKB0048 doesn’t. I can’t recall the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of how AKB0048 tried to make a serious statement whilst Symphogear doesn’t despite their over-the-top tones. So basically my complaints regarding Kuragehime, except for the fact that the reason Kuragehime didn’t work was because the drama was freaking retarded and anticlimactic.

Fair enough, but I’m going to shift the controversy train into overdrive here with my rebuttals. One, realism should ALWAYS be given a pass if the story and characters are strong. It can be distracting sure, but lack of realism should NEVER be the sole deal-breaker for why you declare a product bad. Two, realism co-existing with wackiness is the only way to create irony in the first place, and thus the only way anything can be funny. I’d argue it’s one of the best methods for getting a serious point across because it’s the most guaranteed way to get people to pay attention. And before people bring up Charlotte or Classroom Crisis from last season (or Aoi’s drift racing scenes in Shirobako if you want something more popular), I said “co-exist”. Not “kept on opposite sides of an alligator-infested swamp with the gators packing machine guns”.

I laugh at Urusei Yatsura because the entire point of the show is inserting “where the fuck did this crazy thing come from” in a Japanese version of a family sitcom. I laugh at Saints Row IV because you’re inserting a completely outlandish alien threat in a series where the characters are self-serious gangsters who decide to respond to the wackiness with a self-serious attitude even when swinging a dildo bat. I laugh at Guilty Crown because it’s Code Geass if it co-existed with the stupidity to the point that it’s an essential part of the story. Hell, a large of my affection for Metal Gear Solid and its postmodern statements is because its tone and overall story resemble your typical self-serious Cold War scenario, and yet whilst the flunky soldiers are all dressed appropriately and handle realistic AK-47s, their lieutenants are vampires, roller skaters, cyborg ninjas, and women who wear unbuttoned uniforms that show off their cleavage in the middle of the snow with NO acknowledgement of this fact whatsoever. All whilst spouting right-wing politics to boot. Yeah.

– This isn’t just limited to anime comedies by the way. The main reason why the only American sitcom I keep up with nowadays is Modern Family is because rather than being a live-action cartoon in the vein of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it applies 80s-90s sitcom tropes in what’s established to be a realistic depiction of a modern world that has long since outgrown stuff like Cheers or Married With Children. It’s when that show’s world caters to these sitcom tropes (like the latest season has been doing lately) that the humor suffers.

And that’s what most anime comedies lack in addition to everything I’ve complained about before: toeing the line between intentional and unintentional camp. They’re practically always aiming only for the former without an ounce of realistic grounding to it, and tiring me out the same way most shittweets do as a result. They use the thing as an all-purpose excuse for their bullshit, akin to a dude punching you in the face and then saying “be cool man. It was just a joke.” As a guy who really likes to laugh and tries to entertain an audience with humor on this very blog, nothing is more designed to draw a blank from me or grate on my nerves than intentional jokes that fall flat. And refusing to take yourself seriously to the extreme, from the exaggerated delivery/direction to the lack of a challenging point, is all but guaranteed to do that.

Like all stories and games, I want a challenge from my humor. I respect that most anime fans don’t see “challenge” as a requirement to have fun, but I’m done with that phase of my fandom. I want all fictional things, including the humor, to make me go “wow I never thought of that”. And it doesn’t even have to be something big, as I find The Hollywood Knights to be incredibly hilarious, and that’s one of the most juvenile comedies out there. But you’ve got to have more than “not taking yourself seriously”, and more often than not, that’s the fucking problem.

Wrapping this post up by going back to One-Punch Man, what exactly are you doing with this constant light-hearted, dryly sarcastic tone, show? What exactly is pointing out the stupidity of Saitama’s situation supposed to accomplish? Because the only challenge I’m being given from it is that being overpowered is lame (no duh) and me trying to accept the show’s nature whilst making it clear it’s never going to change and is okay with that. In that case, I’m sure you’ll be okay with my decision to leave you alone from now on, right? Because unless it turns out that Saitama joining that ranking organization is his introduction to some Euphonium-level, concept-challenging drama (whether or not you tell that drama with humor is completely up to you), than I see no reason to watch any further.

PS: By the way, not even my “over-the-top humor”-loving friends are liking One-Punch Man all that much, which is both surprising and kinda expected when you think about it.

PPS: Okay, maybe the tag I made months ago answers the opening statement.

9 responses to ““Not Taking Yourself Seriously” Is An Overrated Concept

  1. Irony isn’t really a requirement for humor, though. Humor is simply something fanciful which evokes laughter or mirth from the ludicrous or incongruous – that’s why people hide behind that word so often, as it’s borderline meaningless and misses the important discussion about the quality of the humor. Of course I’d certainly agree that humor derived from irony is of a higher-grade than humor derived from base references or sheer randomness.

    In my pretentious opinion, OPM falls into the classic trap of being a farce without understanding where the humor comes from in a farce. It’s simply presents the ludicrous, adds a bit of the requisite normalcy to it haphazardly, and hopes you’ll laugh at the sheer dichotomy. You can if you want to, but it’s not really that humorous (I wouldn’t be surprised if people are only laughing because so many anime “comedies” are even less humorous, though).

    Only once in four episodes did OPM realize that the punchline should be the “normal” part, where Saitama beats down the monster only because he was angry at having missed a sale. But even then it barely squeaked by as getting the point, because it telegraphed that punchline so obviously it didn’t really suit a farce.

    Contrast with Cromartie’s ep where they all hum some song they can’t identify, things ramp up until they’re all suddenly singing it in a choir, and ultimately they realize that the only thing they’ve accomplished is getting better at humming. Irony-free, farcical, but far more humorous.

    Heck, even Teekyuu just packs the farce into 2 minute concentrated doses, hoping that even one of the scenes will make you laugh. OPM is frankly devoid of humor by comparison. They have little choice but to add pretty animation or most people would probably tune out.

    • The only jokes I remember laughing at in Cromartie was one manga-only scene when it turns out a guy failed the test to get in because it turned out he was that stupid and the conclusion in regards to how to pick the head of the class by moxibustion (manga-only. Didn’t laugh at it in the anime). Everything else was amusing at best the first time, but the goodwill got sapped out the second time. I don’t even remember the humming joke.

      Teekyu I mostly watch for short amusement as it hasn’t made me laugh since the fourth season and I doubt I’d laugh at any of the jokes from the previous season if I went back to it now that the appeal has worn off. Irony-filled jokes stick with you. Farce without it is very temporary and now that I’ve gotten so used to it, it doesn’t even get the chance to be temporary.

      As for that specific OPM joke, yeah that was so badly telegraphed.

  2. Yeah, I’d say that getting used to comedy is the real problem, since shows (especially anime) tend to phone it in rather than try to give us that “surprise” element that’s so crucial to memorable comedy, be it with cleverness or twists or just plain delivering as many gags-per-minute as possible. If dropping references and doing the obvious is enough to get your show called “hilarious” then why even bother?

  3. Can’t agree enough with this. I hate when things get a pas JUST because they don’t take themselves seriously or are MEANT to be over the top. On top of that I think that’s the easier approach for an author to take when crafting a comedy too. I’ll probably still watch One punch man but it is, for me, the most boring show this season. I doesn’t make me laugh or feel anything. What’s the point of the show? It’s not saying anthing interesting and it doesn’t have good characters.

  4. I don’t agree with the idea that something is ever overrated. If people enjoy it as much as they say they do, and recommend it using that metric, then it’s clearly not. It’s only ever overrated if they’re lying, or talking about something they’ve never watched.

    And the idea that humor actually requires anything at all is rather antiquated. Humor is humor. Whether you like the joke or not, if it made people laugh, then it worked. There is nothing further.

    I don’t laugh out loud at OPM, but I enjoy it. I like the characters, and the situations are rather enjoyable to watch pan out. Rather than just stick to jokes, OPM actually does explore the world and its characters as it goes on. There are some subplots going on, as well as foreshadowing of future conflicts. It works. You don’t need to agree with that, but it’s my view.