Welcome to the anime community. Your opinions are garbage. Why? Allow me to fill out four or five paragraphs of why that is, but first I will explain to you exactly what it means to be a “casual.” First of all,
a. person who is not nuanced within the proper context of Japanese folklore
b. only enjoys shows on a surface level, disallowing selection of art forms that present a greater conflict of sociological or psychological proportions to flourish
b. i. person does so because they are not intelligently capable enough to comprehend or too lazy to care for enlightenment
c. (addendum – 17/07/05; 13:31 P.M.) roped into anime by casual-istic titles such as Boku no Hero Academia or Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka, distilling the expectations of the medium into surface-level appeal
d. believes the medium should cater to their whims (lmao)
Get the gist? Good. Let’s talk pretentiousness in anime.
Let’s start with the definition of “pretentious”:
With this, we can assume that the word is inherently negative, as the act of being greater than what is truly presented is deceitful in nature, and in greater societal norms painted as harmful. The defining of pretentiousness is easy in theory, but slippery in practice. A great number of things can be pretentious to various people; highly subjective terms tend to be, especially in art. Anime is little different, though patterns emerge in the form of stereotypes, presented in the header image for this post. Titles such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Monster, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes are consistently attributed to this sort of anime elitist wing of the community that indulges in what others consider “pretentious anime.” Does this attribute make the entirety of these anime bad? Does the act of pretentiousness necessarily negate the quality or enjoyment of a work? Things to ponder going forward.
I took it upon myself to research various places for what are considered the most pretentious anime titles out there from anime viewers, with places such as MyAnimeList, Reddit, and Lipstick Alley among those combed through. Here are some names that have been thrown out there as potentially pretentious:
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Pom Poko (among other Ghibli films such as Princess Mononoke), Monster*, Noir, Neon Genesis Evangelion (and spin-off OVAs/films)*, Angel’s Egg*, Death Note*, Shadow Star, Ergo Proxy*, Bakemonogatari*, Ghost in the Shell (and spin-off OVAs/films)*, Texhnolyze, Boogiepop Phantom, Black Rock Shooter, Humanity Has Declined, Code Geass, Kara no Kyoukai, Haruhi Suzumiya no Yuuutsu, Jormungand, Elfen Lied, Fate/Zero*, C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, Casshern Sins, Bleach, Sword Art Online, FLCL, Tokyo Ghoul, Naruto/Boruto, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica*, Serial Experiments Lain, Mirai Nikki, Kill la Kill, Akame ga Kill.
* = Repeat offenders/Typically associated with pretentiousness/elitist mindsets (from my perspective).
While the list is somewhat long, the comments surrounding the reasons for pretentiousness are also interesting, as well as the interpretations of them. As one can imagine, there was a lot of disagreement about what series are and aren’t pretentious, but there were also arguments that went beyond the labeling of pretentiousness, such as the fact that a series being pretentious was a good quality to have. I don’t personally understand this, but to think that some prefer that an anime be pretentious with its darker or deeper themes is something else to consider when going into a supposedly pretentious title.
Regardless of good or bad, what exactly makes an anime series pretentious? Is it the inclusion of said deeper or darker themes? The way the series handles these themes? The way these themes are portrayed in the universe they present or how it attempts to mirror the negative qualities of real life? Is it in the writing? The characters? The setting? Does symbolism play a part? How about transparency? A level of seriousness when indulging in darker themes or conflicts? For me, and as a cheap way to make it easier for me to explain, I like to think it’s a combination of every question put forth. The “art” or pretentiousness is, from my viewpoint, a gut instinct, something one can just feel with the way an anime conducts itself, the way it is written, and the context of what’s being said or done. It’s a collective puzzle that, typically, takes itself far too seriously. And the people who find these works so engrossing tend to look at those aimed at simpler pleasures with disdain. I would know: I
am was one of them.
To give this post a more personal touch, I’ll go through my own list of anime completed and pick out the titles I definitely believe to be more pretentious than potentially pretentious. Please note that because I label them so does not mean they are the world’s scummiest anime and I think they deserve to disappear. It is only my own interpretation of the defined perception of pretentiousness I listed above applied to anime series I’ve seen.
Aku no Hana, Angel Beats!, Canaan, Denpa-teki na Kanojo, Freezing (and sequel season), Gatchaman Crowds (and especially sequel), Glasslip, Golden Time, Grisaia no Kajitsu, Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora, Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle, Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi, Kara no Kyoukai 8: Shuushou, Kiznaiver, Kuzu no Honkai, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Mawaru Penguindrum, Mouryou no Hako, Ookamikakushi, Pandora Hearts, ReLIFE, Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru, Shakugan no Shana, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Shuffle!, Sword Art Online, UN-GO (and prequel movie), Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, Yuri!!! on Ice.
What’s interesting to note through my list of anime I find pretentious is that, besides not finding more titles out of 411, there’s a lot of variety to the series. There are some common titles (Madoka Magica, Yojouhan, Mawaru Penguindrum) and not-so-common ones (Mouryou no Hako, Grisaia no Kajitsu, Canaan). We have fantasy settings and realistic settings, artsy shows and straightforward shows, super popular series and basically unknown series, simple anime themes and complex anime themes. What can be said from this is that pretentiousness can be birthed from a variety of sources, though if one thing can be taken away from my list, it has to say something.
Because what isn’t on my list? Anime such as To Love-Ru, Yuru Yuri, Mahoujin Guruguru, etc. These anime are one of three things: stupid, satirical, or simple. What they present through their intentions is little more than basic entertainment or cheap shots at certain clichés. Pretentiousness, I feel, is something that tries to build something up, to sell something, to over-embellish—one cannot do this with something as weightless as Lucky Star. At the same time, this isn’t to say these shows listed as weightless or simple or stu—okay, “stupid” is my own bias coming through—are necessarily negative traits. They are only the basis for how a certain show is molded, what it intends, or how it tries to make itself work in relation to its other parts. Sure, Lucky Star has some wholesome foundations of friendship and family, but how does one make this pretentious? Now that I’ve said this, someone will find a way.
Pretentiousness in anime is most common within titles associated with the elitist mindset, a la Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Neon Genesis Evangelion, or Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, because these series try to go above and beyond with their presentation of (typically dark) themes and political/psychological commentary. Unlike series that wish to present a simple and effective measure of entertainment through character exuberance or a tried-and-true story formula, these darker series have a lot more to sculpt, to build up to, and to work towards. This may be why people consider simple stories or formulaic entries into the medium as “safe,” therefore knocking them for a perceived lack of effort or creativity. Simple stories, on paper, definitely seem like they’d be an easier foundation to build around, but the practice requires a lot more effort to make the story stand out, as to not brand itself a complete copy of something else. When these more complex stories with (as they hope) more nuanced characters and situations come into the fray, they have little to lean back on without facing criticism for that very same lack of effort or creativity; the feeling of pretentiousness may result from a compensation of one aspect overruling all others to hide any perceived flaws, as the accentuation of one area does not match the effectiveness of all other foundational steps for viewer immersion.
A lot of pretentiousness I find in anime deals specifically with this imbalance of effectiveness within a series’ innate parts. Take, for example, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, which I found so over-the-top in its pretentiousness that I was tempted to overlook all of its finer traits and give it a very low score out of spite. The main culprit for this feeling was in its writing: constantly enveloping the characters in this shroud of pity and self-loathing that was a forefront for all of their motivations and goals. It mixed with the clichés of the genre in musical competition and constantly created an unlikable atmosphere of “Woe is me, my life is painful and suffocating! Pity me with all your hearts so that you may feel inspired when I conquer it all in the end!” How every character is suffering, every character is broken, every character is putting on a front to hide their emptiness. Why do I care? That is what makes the show so hard to watch at times, in that it seems so confident that the viewer will swallow every bitter pill and intoxicate themselves with the pseudo-intellectual words and feelings of meandering teenagers as though it’s gospel. It prioritizes its presentation of the story’s tone without building a foundation to care for the characters that are trapped within it.
Notice how you may read the above paragraph and disagree with it? That’s what makes the idea of pretentiousness so volatile: it’s a subjective thing that differs for most. What I find to be pretentious filth could be your favorite interpretation of a broken existence.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a dark and serious story to achieve some level of pretentiousness. A few of the series I listed as pretentious would hardly be considered dark or serious, such as ReLIFE, Golden Time, or Sakurako-san. These series simply present a foundation for a premise, aided by the quirkiness of a certain character, and build it to dramatic levels not fathomable by mankind. While one way to achieve pretentiousness is to rely on a dark and complex story that may or may not come across as so, another is to take a silly premise and overexaggerate it. This is definitely notable in Golden Time, with the premise of the male lead’s amnesia being used as a sort of psychological mindfuck by the end of the series that isolates him from his friends. Some of these series, I feel, are better suited as simple series that rely on the straightforward presentations of fun and friendship to keep them afloat. Some like to experiment, and it turns into a pretentious mess of conflicting ideas and laughable realities. While I don’t normally endorse it, sometimes it’s better to abide by the K.I.S.S. model.
What have we learned, casual? That anime is better when it has something to say? That moeshit is a curse to the medium and deserves to drown in its own self-gratifying pander-tub of shame and emptiness? Good. Always remember that the proper teachings of Substance™ within forms of art will always be more memorable, more entertaining, and more objectively qualified to be presented in the mainstream world. For it is our responsibility to enforce what we know is best upon the human population and to make it an intelligent and tasteful world. Any naysayers will effectively be shunned and insulted for having shit taste, not wishing to understand the finer aspects this medium has to offer and blinding themselves to the potential in their own mind, held down by the disgusting allure of “anime tiddies.”