Four months ago, I spit out a somewhat heavy topic titled “The Objectively Subjective Objective.” With this piece, I tried to elaborate upon the system with which I judge anime and visual media in general. Claims such as denying that “theories and opinions cannot be objective” and that if everything were subjective there would be no point in critiquing anything fill the page with an almost condescending air of frustration and bullheadedness. That post was unplanned, and writing through it, a large portion of the arguments I made were on the spot, without the sanction of some measure of forethought. In recent weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about the ways in which certain products can be both good and bad, and have found a comfortable acceptance with how nothing is generally concrete—that the things that can be determined as good or bad in art is purely subjective.
It’s taken some number of years, but I’m ready to forgo the “objective” discipline.
On top of criticism specifically, I’m also an avid
armchair psychologist, as the inner-workings of people and their mindsets affecting their behavior remain an immensely intriguing prospect to me; almost like working an unsolvable puzzle. One such concept is the development of the human intelligence, which continues to build upon itself all throughout one’s life, should one let it. To expand one’s ideas and to accept all sorts of different perspectives and possibilities leads to a far more fulfilling life in my mind. Alternatively, to say everything simply has one answer—whether good or bad—makes life less enticing, less intriguing from an adventurous standpoint.
I was once someone who wove the words of my brain into charts, lists, and formulas with which I would swear my entire identity to: that a series/topic must meet a certain criteria within a range of different categories in order to remain what I believed to be “good” or “correct.” And yet, the idea behind something being cliché is that it is used too prevalently, such that the effects of its vigor no longer stimulate the artistic mindset. That is something I’ve come to find hypocritical. If it had worked at one point, only to no longer work through repetition, why would I think that adhering to a strict model of quality wouldn’t become, in itself, cliché? A younger me would argue that my expectations were too abstract, too vague to fall within what is cliché, but what is subject to the idea of clichéness at all? I’ve criticized anime series of being cliché by:
- Following a certain narrative formula.
- Resorting too strongly to the idea of altruism.
- The use of deus ex machinas.
- Using a happy ending for the sake of fan service.
- Having a character follow the path from sniveling coward to competent hero.
- Catering to trends.
- Being too straightforward and expository.
Those listed are only major issues. There have been multiple times when I came across an irritating thing in anime (and otherwise) where I roll my eyes due to its overabundance within the medium. South Park made a joke where a character screams, “SIMPSONS DID IT!” in response to another character’s insistence on devising a plan completely original in idea. Stupid as it may seem, the idea that everything must be completely original only exacerbates what can be considered cliché. Everything can be cliché. It’s just that the most popular representations of ideas, stories, and characters become cliché due to demand.
My aim for this post was to respond to some of the claims I had made in my previous post, yet here I am with six-hundred words’ worth of criticizing myself as a thinker. Yeesh.
Referring to the original “Objectively Subjective Objective,” something I had never acknowledged during so was that, in response to some great comments on the post, I considered turning the title into “Subjectively Objective Objective,” which would make the “point” of that post swing further in the favor of what I was arguing. I made the distinction that “People should think more,” that the idea of an objectiveness in critique should be favored over pure enjoyment. I believe now that “objective” was a misrepresentation of what I wanted to provide to the reader. A better word would be “Substance.”
To this day, I loathe most representations of self-indulgence and escapism within fiction or otherwise, as I feel it provides nothing to anyone other than the one being indulged. A sort of “catharsis” for those who fantasize for a better life and wish to achieve it through the abilities not prioritized by their society. A great example of this is No Game No Life, where the two main characters are shut-in NEETs who, one could assume, weren’t really noticed within their civilization. Once within the fantasy world of games, however, their knowledge of games and strategy allows them to remake themselves into gods (The male lead, anyway). While this fit of fantasy is certainly appealing to those within that situation or for those who enjoy colorful fun, it doesn’t mean much outside of that embodiment of fan service. One can grow attached to the characters and find value within the anime for that purpose, but there are all sorts of counterpoints one can make on that, and this isn’t a review of any sort.
This isn’t to say the series is meaningless, though I’d argue it’s more hollow in its inherent value than something such as Non Non Biyori. “Non Non Biyori? Seriously?” Yes. Despite the fact I was not altogether fond of the series, there is a sense of societal bonding, the value of nature, a subliminal immersion of nostalgia, and a noteworthy tenderness that made it an easy watch, if not a very exciting one. It is the “substance” to a series that makes it well worth recommending and indulging in, things that one can latch onto, things that make it memorable outside of surface-level mechanics.
I remember Toradora! fondly for its phenomenal characterization of Taiga and Ami, for its natural (for anime, I guess) progression of young love through unconditional support. There’s so much depth to Toradora! that I feel many don’t give it credit for, but I’m also blinded by nostalgia and loyalty, so I’m also very biased. I noted in my Early Impressions posts for Violet Evergarden and Koi wa Ameagari no You ni that this mindset can be dubbed the “2deep4u” mindset, which I would fully agree with. It’s slightly elitist, but I’ve never refrained from labeling myself with that term.
So that I don’t get rabid comments arguing for this perspective, “Execution” is another very integral aspect to what can be “deduced” as good or bad. At the same time, I find execution to be a harder concept to define through words than “Substance,” such that execution can—albeit with some extent to substance, as well—mean any numbers of things to millions of people. What some find wholesome, I could find pretentious. What some find pretentious, I could find super pretentious. (I kid.) Most anime fans I speak with despise School Days, though I find that its execution saved it from being an altogether horrible experience. There is little substance to that series, however, as the entire series feels more like trolling of the audience than anything; yet the most important thing attributed to School Days is memorability, though that isn’t a subject I’ll get into here.
Perhaps the most recent example of “Execution vs. Substance” in my case came with Mayoiga, which I thought had a lot of substance, but not a great amount of profitable execution. To this day, I find Mayoiga to be recommendable just for the sake of experimentation; regardless of good or bad, it’s something of a strange anomaly that triggers my “2deep4u” thinking despite how stupidly it presents itself. The psychological mindfuckery involved with the series is fascinating, and has an almost Gothic exterior where one is forced to look upon the fear of facing oneself. And once the fear becomes a gigantic blob of silicone and nipples, the audience can’t stop laughing enough to remember why they cared to pay attention. Context is a pretty great tool.
One more example outside of the anime medium (kind of) is Doki Doki Literature Club. I played the game fairly early on in my career at KeenGamer, and while I found the visual novel to be great in its execution of <Spoilers retracted>, in the end, much like with School Days, it leaves a duped feeling of being laughed at by some outside force, as you sit there and ponder what just happened and think, “Okay.” That feeling of “Okay.” is so prominent when I watch escapist anime or harem anime, with the underlying message being, “Okay. Why do I care?”
People may ask me why I rate so few anime higher than a 5 or a 6, and the best answer I can give at this point in my life is “There’s nothing to ’em,” nothing there in which I can empathize with or immerse myself in or think about. Because I prioritize thinking, anime that one can “turn your brain off to” don’t appeal to me. The difference between now and then, however, is that I don’t consider those without substance “shit” or “garbage” anymore. They’re just “Anime without substance” to me.
And… that’s it. I think that was the only thing I wanted to clarify (much, it seems) further in response to my previous post. Hopefully this makes my expectations with visual media more clear than it did in the last post, and shows that I’m capable of change, as well. As stated previously, it’s taken a long time for me to develop mentally, and I’m still doing so even within the process of thinking out this massive piece of ego-inflating revision. If you’ve gotten this far without throwing up, I appreciate your attention and I hope you have a wonderful current time of day.