How Trends Affect the Quality of Japanese Media

anime trends cover

Before starting, I’d like to take a moment to thank Irina from I-Drink-and-Watch-Anime for inspiring this piece. While her original article (perhaps sarcastically?) asked for someone to create a list of benefits for gatekeeping in anime, I couldn’t quite get past a couple adequate benefits, seeing as I don’t believe in it. Instead, it churned the mind to think about my own history with popularity in anime, which led me to my greatest enemy: trends.

Also, this will be my personal opinion. It is not gospel, though I’d be flattered if you believed so.

As an inexperienced anime boy back in 2012, everything was shiny to me. Toradora!, in some sense, was my first anime—such that it was the first anime I viewed that wasn’t an action-heavy shounen with lots of shouting and EMOTIONS!!! Back then, I had no aptitude for spotting trends and their affect on the overall quality of things. I was in need of more experience for that. Seven years later, I’m pretty experienced, and following along with every season, I tend to pick up on some things happening. Here are some things that deter me from indulging in anime (or manga) that are seeped in trends, formatted for accessibility.

anime trends 1
This image is randomly convenient for this topic.

Repetition

This is an argument I hear quite often from cynics. “Why do I want to sit through something I’ve seen a million times before?” It’s a compelling argument, as someone who can empathize. Why would I want to watch three-hundred anime about a bunch of cute girls screwing around in a club? What could they possibly do to differentiate them? In many instances, they don’t, and whatever identity D-Frag! has from Jinsei is almost entirely based on writing. They have their differences, but how do they differ in the big picture? Basically nothing.

I see about two to three of these “club” anime every season. Most fit a certain pattern of “Introduce characters → Weird shtick → Playing around for ten episodes → Semi-serious finale,” which only makes for a more predictable experience. Being surprised by Japanese media now-a-days is something of a pipe dream, part of which is due to the demand of trends and their supposed effectiveness on profit(?). Why do something original and unique and risk bombing when you could get some cute girls and a club for a safe profit? Thinking like a business is easy.

As per their quality, it’s mostly the essence of repetition destroying interest and rendering incoming shows predictable from covers alone. How many times are you willing to sit through a worse version of the same show, only with a different exterior? At that point, it’s up to authors to embellish the tropes into something worthwhile, lest they be criticized to high-hell from cynics everywhere.

anime trends 2
I have no idea what this is, but it’s pretty cool-looking.

Lack of Soul

This point is a tad harder to defend tangibly, seeing as the concept of a “soul” in fictional work is highly subjective. Even the definition of “soul” could be under question here, but for those who hate such fragile monikers, I’ll define it by my terms. A “soul” is the feeling of an author trying to convey something that means something to them to the world. Again, quite vague, though at least I’ve given some foundation for what I’m trying to say. In short, trends are followed to (I assume) capitalize on them, likely financially. If your primary motivation for creating anything is profit, the soul is kaput. No exceptions.

Sometimes it’s harder to tell if a piece has a soul from the content alone, so allow me to share a handy guide for you. If a series consists of one shtick repeated ad nauseam, such as a girl who repeatedly gets into situations where her clothes are torn off as a male counterpart happens to see, it doesn’t have a soul. If a series makes minimal attempts to develop characters by having them go through individual arcs but their importance drops once it ends, it doesn’t have a soul. And should a series fall under the “ecchi” and “harem” categories most prominently, it doesn’t have a soul.

Now, the above paragraph paints a picture of my cynicism of my standards for what a soul consists of: a message, a heart, or an effort to appeal to deeper instinct. I value the desire to do more than the bare minimum, and to create worlds and characters that people can love and empathize with. I love that artistic spirit that wishes for deep introspection and the turmoils of life or distinct possibilities that only fiction can properly convey. Pretentious as this very likely sounds, that’s what a soul is to me. While it differs from person to person, media that follows trends are much less likely to have a soul than otherwise.

anime trends 3
mfw I look up “anime expansion” on Google:

Expansion of Ideas

I’ve been pretty sour thus far, so I’ll change gears. Trends have a lot of bad things going for them, as I’ve noted, though this isn’t to say they’re completely bad. The emergence of trends can also lead to a variety of quality shows that both adhere to trendiness and make for a valuable viewing experience. Off the top of my head, series such as Boku no Hero AcademiaKonoSuba, and SaeKano have all provided some leeway in proving that not all shows that seem wholly dependent on trends are just that.

And when we talk about the expansion of ideas, we cannot overlook the importance of Dragon Ball Z and what it’s done for the industry as a whole. While its overall quality in the present is debatable, the flurry of shows that it’s inspired to follow its lead has been tremendous. Think of any shounen series that has gotten even somewhat big—most likely, Dragon Ball Z is in some small part responsible for its existence. Using trendiness as a foothold, a large number of anime have been created that have told the story of the original formula in (varyingly) different ways. Dragon Ball Z for shounen, Sailor Moon for magical girl anime, Lucky Star or Haruhi for slice-of-life anime, and so forth.

In some fashion, this is almost a mirror perception of my first point, where following trends makes things become predictable and repetitive. In a perfect world, all would be able to see that both exist in some fashion, which would combat the necessity for “right and wrong” in these kinds of debates. Hindsight can be a valuable tool to reassess what the former did and improve on it. Following trends can be both good and bad for different reasons. While I tend to see it more negatively, I cannot deny that some genuinely great works have been greenlighted because of their potential appeal from the foundation of popular works prior.

anime trends 4
Satoshi Kon was pretty cool.

A Bigger Audience

This can also be viewed as a positive and negative, both of which I will note following. While nice for the industry to be able to expand their reach and entertainment a large number of people, those people also hold the power to dictate what is more likely to be created.

It all comes down to perspective: Do you think the general public is tasteless and bland?

  • If yes: This will be a negative point to you. With the general public dictating what is trendy and if those trends do not align with your preferences, you’ll be more limited in your diet of media. As someone who also feels this way, I find myself hopelessly shuffling through anime on a seasonal basis only to find nothing of interest. What I like are deep character studies and abnormal settings, as well as a large dish of wholesomeness. The general populace is more apt to girls in clubs, high-action shounens, and isekai (for now). Oh well.
  • If no: You’re in luck! The anime industry is doing its best to service you in every possible way. With a palette that enjoys just about anything, there will be no shortage of things to watch every season. Whether action, romance, isekai, club, ecchi, or idols, there will likely be a little of everything at your disposal. Just don’t expect a large assortment of anime trying to go against the grain.

Most of all, with more people comes more money! Money that can be used to make more mone—er, media! Thinking like a business is easy.

That’s all I have for today. Let me know what you think of today’s topic and whether or not I’m full of it. As always, I appreciate your reading and I hope you have a great day!

For more opinion pieces on this topic, check out the associated archive.

4 thoughts on “How Trends Affect the Quality of Japanese Media

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