Light and Dark: The Stereotyping of Anime Genres

Just a little preface before I get into this, this is my first real, legitimate editorial-type post I’ve ever done, so sorry if I wind up incoherent. Or if it sucks. I’m a rambler at heart, and sometimes I can’t help but stray a bit on what my main point is. I’ll be able to stay on-topic, though. No worries there.

Just like with any other medium, anime is divided into multiple genres. These are usually to relay the actual content of the show (ecchi, psychological, mystery, horror, etc.).

However, there are also genres based on age groups (shounen, seinen, etc.). While there are certain elements that are common in these genres, it also seems like these genres are thrown around for people to say which shows they think are for kids, and which are targeted for a more adult audience. There’s nothing really wrong with this, it’s just like the ESRB that rates video games so that kids don’t play games that have content they aren’t ready for or can’t comprehend.

However, my view has changed recently. Mainly due to the massive amounts of negative reactions to Dog Days.snap1

The fact that people didn’t die seemed to outright offend people. Is it honestly that bad, literary-speaking? Not really. It’s actually pretty imaginative, and it’s given enough context to make sense in the show.

But to most people it was terrible. They didn’t want to watch a show that had no death, let alone injuries. The show was labeled as “crap” by many bloggers, and they ceased to speak of the show. This brings me to the point of this post, and my question.

Why?

I won’t deny that by not having death or injuries, the target age of the audience is quite low, but how does that make the show bad? Of course I saw other reasons people had for it, but it always seemed to draw back to the fact that there are no injuries or death.

I assume that most people who gave the show a shot watched it because they like action shows. So why was the reaction so negative? You still have your violence. Is the lack of injury or death really that offensive? All it serves to do is change the atmosphere of the show.

The people who dropped it won’t even get to see that there are situations presented where people can get injured or killed, and the main climax of the show revolves around the foreshadowing of inevitable death for certain characters. Not that this automatically makes the show good. What I’m saying is, if anything, taking such a lighthearted approach at the beginning just managed to make the possibility of death in the future all the more impactful.

The main point is: why is a “childish” atmosphere or a show with a low targeted audience age automatically considered bad?

In fact, there’s a perfect example for the exact opposite reaction (plus, I’ve talked about Dog Days enough already).snap2

The anime fandom nearly creamed their pants when Mami was killed.

Again, why?

As Nadja said, Mami was killed pretty early on. Killing her this early wasn’t exactly the best move literary-speaking (though I’m sure people would argue otherwise), yet people wouldn’t stop talking about it. It was the best episode/scene in recent history, people said.

It seems like the appeal wasn’t due to good writing, but simply the change from a light-hearted genre into something more twisted and dark. Why does this make the show automatically good? It’s the same magical girl show the last two episodes had shown, but the change in atmosphere just makes the show “better,” apparently.

Don’t get me wrong, there are people who just don’t like shows targeted towards a younger audience. It’s just personal preference. A lot of people seem to have this same attitude. I completely understand this. I also tend to like shows targeted towards an older audience more than ones targeted towards a younger audience. It doesn’t change the fact that I still like some (i.e. Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!), though.


Basically, it doesn’t matter what the target audience’s age is. The age genres do not automatically decide if something is written well or not. So why do people automatically assume the quality is dependent on the maturity of the content?

It just seems as though, in realizing that most people like shows targeted towards an older audience, we’ve mistaken personal preference for objective critique.

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20 Comments on “Light and Dark: The Stereotyping of Anime Genres”

  1. Canne says:

    There is no definite answer for this topic. Ultimately, it winds down to individual show’s quality and ability to please its target audience.

    You observation about bias towards shows for kids is true. I would also point out that most of the voices we are hearing come from teenagers or adult fans, not kids. So the more mature shows tend to appeal to these people. Adult fans naturally like more mature shows :)

    • Riyoga says:

      True, the older audience is definitely the louder one.

      I guess it’s just not cool to like shows targeted towards a younger audience anymore. Not that shows targeted towards an older audience are bad, but I think it provides a nice balance.

  2. Hogart says:

    Forced drama is popular in anime. It’s as simple as that, unfortunately. It doesn’t need to be written with skill, grace, tact, or even subtlety (just look at Angel Beats). It simply has to “shock and awe”. The harder one’s heartstrings are pulled by tragedy happening to “anime characters”, the better. At least, that’s how I’ve read it over the past couple of years.

    In fact, I’d wager that the more “realistic” the characters and tragedy are, the less popular the show will be. Shows like AnoHana may still be considered “great”, but they’ll never achieve the incredibly popularity of something like Angel Beats. It could just be because people don’t want to relate too closely to the tragedy, they want entertainment and not profoundness.

    I’m not sold on whether it’s simply because most anime fans are too young to want sincerity or subtlety from their entertainment, or if fans are just conditioned to prefer their anime that way (as in, the genre-based ideas you present). I’ve noticed this type of thinking applies to much more than anime, so I’m not quite sure.

    • TRazor says:

      Hogart makes some excellent points here.

      Realistic character portrayals are often deemed boring by the people. Like, who wants to watch something you could see in your real life anyway? That’s the usual mentality and I really can’t blame the masses there. For 20 minutes of escapism, fiction is the best solution.

      However, the ability to blend a supernatural concept (yeah, I’m not going to go into the characters anymore) into a realistic setting is what creates the best product. The reason for the phenomenal success of Death Note was because it had good writing and it incorporated something absolutely bizarre like a “killer notebook” and a genius student, who gets possessed by a Shinigami. Most writers would probably conjure up some generic anime about kids fighting with Shinigamis and using notebooks as side-weapons or something like that. Instead, the mangaka did something of total genius by making it a psychological game of cat and mouse and throwing in a deep philosophy[hy of criminal judgement.

      And as Hogart has already said, every show is made for a target audience. But above all else, innovation (and not creativity) triumphs every time.

      • Hogart says:

        I agree with you, TRazor, except that I’m not sure that innovation equates to triumph. If anything, it sort of implies the opposite – for something to be “ahead of it’s time”, it means that it didn’t quite catch on, right?

        Shows like Madoka, Haruhi, Angel Beats and the like aren’t truly innovators, they’re mostly aping material from now-obscure innovators and popularizing them. They are more likely to be “trend-setters”.

        But I’m not saying that as if it matters that much. It’s nice to see old standards brought back into the limelight, as long as they’re treated with some respect and not just openly transparent marketing gimmicks.

        Some people prefer innovators, others prefer trend-setters. Some of us don’t really care.. we might wonder what all the hubbub is about, though.

        • Riyoga says:

          @Hogart & TRazor

          Perhaps it’s a combination of both?

          Not all innovation works on its first shot, but eventually someone else will try it again with a different spin on it. So maybe it’s creative innovation that triumphs?

      • Riyoga says:

        @TRazor

        I’m not sure if people automatically dislike realistic character portrayal or not, though. A fair share of people last season liked Hourou Musuko (including me). Though I guess it could be agreed they weren’t really “realistic” since they had quirks to them.

        I don’t think it’s the ability to blend a supernatural concept into a realistic setting, so much as it simply is to make realistic ideas and messages presented in an interesting way. Admittedly, yes, fantasy or supernatural is a way to go about this, but it isn’t the only way. It does seem to be the most successful, though.

    • Riyoga says:

      @Hogart

      Agreed on pretty much all of your points. They were pretty much the exact thoughts (along with the hateful reaction to Dog Days) that inspired me to write this post.

      Hmm. Not sure if I quite agree on the “realism” point, though. I’ve seen a fair share of unrealistic shows that were plenty profound. Though, admittedly, a lot of people tended to like the shows for the unrealistic approach, rather than the profound ideas that were presented.

      I think it’s conditioning. That’s pretty much the stance I took in this post. Just like you said, this applies to more than just anime, so I feel like the idea of liking a “kids” show is something older audiences seem to automatically find impossible.

  3. TRazor says:

    First off, editorials are more or less rambles. So, let loose.

    I haven’t watched Dog Days, but I know the gist of it. The argument that if a show has no death it has no value is just absurd. Having a dark and intense atmosphere only creates tension and if you notice, it only appeals sometimes. There have been shows that succeed in creating a really eerie atmosphere, with characters dying and all, but that doesn’t mean they’re good shows. Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of the writing.

    If a show that looks to be a “kids show” wants to transcend that and become something that will appeal to all age groups, then all it needs is good writing (and hence good characters). But you already know that and you’ve already said that. I haven’t watched Dog Days, but if bloggers have blogged about it for at least a couple of episodes and then given upon it, then they probably just didn’t like it. Maybe the plot is not to their taste.

    If they really thought it was going to be a bad, kids show, then they wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. It just must not have lived up to their expectations or upto its own potential (this I doubt though…)

    Nichijou, the recent comedy, looks like it’s aimed at kids, but aren’t much older people enjoying it? I personally think it’s really stupid, but that isn’t going to change the fact that people will continue to watch it and continue to enjoy it. Even with childish animation, childish characters and childish humor, people are entertained by it. Ditto for Madoka.

    Just remember, haters gonna hate, regardless of age. Let them be.

    • Riyoga says:

      “Editorials = rambles.” Editorials confirmed for best type of post.

      Exactly. It just seems like people nowadays automatically assume that grimdark means good. If anything, As I said, Dog Days’ light-hearted approach at the beginning made the possibility of death occurring later in the story to be far more impactful than if it was in the story to begin with. That’s how good writing works.

      Most bloggers watched the first episode, then dropped it right away saying it was shit. Hence why I wrote this post. All they said was that the show was crap, and the only example they give was the lack of injury and death during war. Which, as I’m arguing, does not automatically make the show crap.

      Misguided expectations… I might buy that. Most people who were looking forward to it saw Nanoha since it’s by the same director. I haven’t seen Nanoha myself, but I don’t think there’s a real emphasis on death in that show either. At least not at the beginning.

      Comedy shows are hard to argue for. Everyone has their own sense of humor, so it’s hard to say whether it’s targeted for kids or not.

  4. Anonomyous says:

    Your examples pointed out the issue but you may be talking on the wrong point. The explaintion i can see is that when something retreads a cliche that has been used many times in recent days, it tends to bore people simply like a favoriate food eaten daily tends to turn that food into a least favoriate food for a time.

    One of the things about Madoka’s ep 3 was that it broke the expected path. (One of) The problem with Dog Days is that it retreads an expected path. Like fashion, the recently new things are boring but the truly new things and the old retro things are fine.

    Smetimes execution or storytelling powress saves the anime from the “bleh, this again” attitude but only sometimes.

    • Riyoga says:

      Fair enough, but as I argued in my review of Madoka and the comments for it, you can take any concept that’s simple/generic/etc., and if you can make it interesting, then it doesn’t even matter how simple/generic it was. All that really matters is making whatever you’re saying or presenting interesting.

      It did break the expected path, but that’s my point. You can break the path of something good and make it bad. Breaking a path doesn’t automatically make something good. The general reaction was just about how dark it had gotten, so now it was automatically good. That’s the mentality I’m questioning.

      I’ll grant you that Dog Days didn’t really present anything new and innovative in the first episode. Though, as I said, I thought the way they presented wars was very intriguing. Also, like I said, most people thought it was a bad show not because of any twist on the genre, but just because of the lack of injury or death.

      For your ending comment, that’s exactly the mentality that I’m questioning. The fact that people want something new rather than something that is written and/or presented well is what I want people to think over and question.

  5. hearthesea says:

    I haven’t seen Dog Days or Madoka, but this is an interesting area for discussion. To put it simply, I believe that a good story is more about execution than concept. The best writers can take even something apparently mundane or childish and turn it into riveting material. I’ve seen supposedly adult material that has left me bored, cold or completely unimpressed, and I’ve seen supposedly child-like/family friendly material that has brought tears to my eyes. (In the Western world, the Toy Story films are an excellent example of something that provides real heart and a surprisingly affecting narrative without being ‘dark’ or riddled with death and destruction.)

    Death in itself does absolutely nothing — it’s the emotional investment in the character prior to the death that provides the meaning. In other words, it’s the feint that set up the punch, rather than the punch itself. Without the emotional investment, killing characters off is just an exercise in cheap shock tactics. Anyone can do that, and it completely fails to grab me in any way.

    One thing I do dislike, however, is a Plot Shield magically protecting characters from what SHOULD have been a serious injury or death. It patronises the audience or reader and it feels like a cop-out. (Sometimes it’s almost as if you can feel the narrative itself protesting at this artificial twist.) That obviously doesn’t mean that death is integral to a good series/work of fiction — it simply means that people should be true to their story rather than forcing it into a certain direction that doesn’t feel natural. Protecting a character out of cowardice and going against all reason is just silly. Death in a series isn’t inherently good or bad — once again, it comes down to the specific execution and the work itself.

    This discussion sort of links into other questions I’ve come across, like people debating whether ‘dark’ automatically means ‘quality’. (I don’t think it does at all, as I outlined above, even though I tend to prefer that sort of material.) When I read/watch something, I only really look for one or two basic things — if I care about the characters, if I connect with them on an emotional level, then I’m pretty much sold. It can be dark, light, it can feature deaths, it can feature none at all, I don’t care. If it moves me, I’m interested. The only other thing I want to see is an uncompromising approach — something unflinchingly true to life.

    • Riyoga says:

      Have you been living in my head recently? Because that’s the exact same mindset I have. As I said in response to Anonymous, I said in my review for Madoka and the post comments that it doesn’t matter how simple or generic an idea or point is. If it’s executed well, then you have something great.

      Don’t have much else to say to your comment (sorry I can’t match the same output you gave), because I completely agree with what you said.

      High five?

  6. TRazor says:

    Oh and forgot to pop this in:

    I DIDN’T FUCKING CARE WHEN MAMI OR ANY OF THE OTHER CHARACTERS DIED.

    While it breaks the “no one dies” rule of most mahou shoujo, it’s nothing more than a crutch used for shock value. Really, the so called main characters were being knocked off so fast I couldn’t care less about their life and death. To have a nice emotional and effective character death, it needs a lot of build up – you need to show the viewer how much the other characters will miss the dead one and more importantly, how much YOU, the viewer, will miss the character.

    Pokemon wasn’t a dark or emotional show in any way, but I sure as hell would be torn apart if Pikachu were to die.

    • Riyoga says:

      I felt like Mami was rushed, and nobody liked Sayaka anyways. I liked Kyouko, though.

      That’s because Pokemon is the best series ever created. Ever.

  7. Logopolis says:

    There’s a lot of this in Doctor Who fandom, and I’ve always speculated it’s due to fans who are slightly insecure about liking something which children can enjoy, of being told they should be growing out of it, and so want to play up a “no, it’s really all dark and adult” aspect as a result. When Heroes came over here, there was this program with the production team talking about it, and listening to them going “it gets really dark” as if they’d somehow accomplished something just by making that decision – it just reinforced the reasons I rejected that show after seeing the first episode.

    Personally, I didn’t think Madoka Magica 3 was any different to 1 and 2; I don’t need to see people dying in order to recognise greatness. (Though I thought the death was perfectly reasonable, and I could almost see it coming – a good sign that you’re in sympathy with what a story is doing.)

    • Riyoga says:

      It’s not so much about getting dark as it is WHY it gets dark. I liked Madoka because of the shocking revelations of what Kyuubey was actually doing. What I mean is, I wasn’t saying “Oh crap this is getting dark, so awesome,” I was saying, “Oh crap, so THAT’S what’s going on? I feel bad for those girls, that sucks.” Scriptwriters that can tell the difference between the two are the talented ones.

      Though I agree with what you said about not wanting to like shows that kids can enjoy. It’s almost like societal expectations forcing them to not be able to enjoy those shows.

  8. Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman. says:

    Correct.


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