‘It Gets Better’ Is Not Always Better

tenor

A few nights ago, I watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the first time in my life. My thoughts on it are not great—in my own words, I described the first hour as “rubbing my face against a boulder.” However, one thing I can appreciate about the film is that it gets better, as the second half of the film provides a lot of the dumb action fluff the first film does to near perfection, which helped alleviate the pain of the first half’s ruefully irritating shenanigans. Even with this, I gave the film a painfully low score of 3/10, as the first half’s lows overtook the limited enjoyment I felt for the second half’s revival, mostly because the end didn’t justify the means in a way that allowed me to give a damn about any of it. It got me thinking of the times when people would recommend various TV shows and anime with the discretion that it “gets better over time.” The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s a nice way of saying, “This series’s highs are better than its lows.”

As a watcher of most things visual media, particularly of the Asian variety, the discretion of “It gets better” is something I’ve come across a number of times, whether directly addressed to me or to others. I’m sure I’ve said the phrase a few times myself, though recently I’ve tried to shy away from it. With the combination of my own belief that anime almost never gets better and the added expectations placed when throwing that phrase around, it creates a conundrum that’s better left for an uncommon few.

katanagatari quote

In a more realistic manner, things are supposed to get better over time. To say that a certain series “gets better” is almost redundant, as characters, story, animation, etc. are never fully developed through the first couple of episodes. If a series were to not get better, whether by an objectivist’s sake or a structural sake, then the phrase would make more of a compliment. With as vague as the three-word combo is, this could mean any number of things, including the development of a number of different aspects. From my own experience, it’s usually meant to imply that characters become developed and their actions worth caring for, thus improving the mood and the overall entertainment value. Still, what’s to say it can’t mean anything?

Among the most common type of shows this phrase gets attributed to are the long-running popular shows a la The Walking DeadGame of Thrones, or any of the popular anime adaptations of Shounen Jump manga. True as it may be to insinuate that longer-running shows get better as they go on, the important thing to note is when. When does the series starting getting “good”? How long is a person willing to sit through mediocre or dull slop before pacing themselves for the good to come through? Is the recommendation of One Piece really a recommendation if it doesn’t start getting good until episode 207? Is Naruto a good recommendation if “It gets better” in Shippuden? Time is valuable to certain people, and if the “good” doesn’t compensate for the “bad,” then they’ll leave feeling disappointed, especially if they watched 206 episodes to get to that point. I’d rather not place unneeded expectations on a series when it could backfire harder than it could reward.

I trusted you!

As stated in the first paragraph, there’s a fine line between good and bad, with the balance of the two being the difference between being disappointed and being relieved. For me, The Temple of Doom had far too much bad to make up for it with some trivial good in the end. Allison to Lillia is a series I felt similarly about, except reversed; the first thirteen episodes were charming, if not illogically defined, while the last thirteen episodes undermined all of it and sank it into the depths of mediocrity. The reasons for the two examples are different, but mirror each other with a sudden dip/rise in quality. To say “It gets better,” one should be aware of what the recommendee considers good or bad, what they value, and whether one is confident enough in the show’s good qualities in overshadowing the bad. I also read a blog post recently describing how one show’s good was essentially ruined with one epitomizing episode of pure bad.

In one last argument against it, “It gets better” can be construed as parts of a series being blatantly mediocre. One can understand that a series needs time to develop upon the things it wants to convey, especially those within the genres of drama or psychological thriller, but if it gets better, that might just be saying the genre works, not that the entire product is worth watching. It creates a one-dimensional mentality that if it succeeds in one aspect, the rest can be ignored as non-important. I realize this idea can be far-fetched, but better to cover everything than skim. Perfect Blue is an example of something that I would say “gets better,” as its structure dictates that every detail matters in displaying its messages and intrigue. This doesn’t mean I feel the entire product is perfect, just that it succeeds very well in one thing in particular, and only because the other integral aspects are done well enough to make said one thing succeed. Code Geass’s first season also “gets better,” and unlike Perfect Blue, it’s in spite of its earlier meandering and not because of it.

cut it out

People have the freedom to say what they want when they’re recommending things, even if those things don’t necessarily help the recommendation. For me, to say “It gets better” is nothing more than an empty proclamation without the details to ensure its legitimacy. There’s too much at stake with the time available to those who pursue the art of binge watching. Whether it ends up planting the seeds of disappointment or undermining the show’s ability to pace itself, saying “It gets better” is not always better.

Thoughts on NHK’s Top 100 Anime List

nhk top 100

The Top 100 listing can be seen (in English) here.

I’m not normally one to comment on various lists by Japanese publications, but this one stuck out by sheer size and influence—showing the differences in priorities and taste Japanese audiences have from (mostly) Western audiences. To commemorate one-hundred years of anime, NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting station, asked audiences to vote upon their favorite anime that spanned from humble beginnings all the way up until September of 2016 (Sorry, Kemono Friends). According to the poster of the article in the link above, roughly 600,000 people voted for this list, so I feel that’s enough of a sample size to legitimize the impact certain anime have on Japanese audiences. Though what made me jump at the chance to dissect this list is just how bizarre it is compared to what’s typically regarded as popular in Western culture. Lots of popular titles appear within the top 100 list, but their placement is incredibly varied.

To make this post more painful to read embellished with my insight, instead of voicing my opinion on the full picture, I will jot down particular “highlights” of the list that evoke intrigue. See it as a highlight video of an hour-long stream, displaying the best moments in a clickbait fashion.

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei at #100

Despite being close to within the top 50 on MyAnimeList’s database and similarly in others, it just cracks the top 100 here. In the grand scope of things, I suppose it makes sense that an artistic and symbolically intrinsic series isn’t among the series the general masses champion. Not to mention, it doesn’t necessarily follow trends or take advantage of the “most profitable” demographic. Still, nice to see it even make waves with its semi-somber message.

Dennou Coil at #95

Sometimes Japan has good taste.

Inuyasha at #93

And sometimes it doesn’t.

Jokes aside, I’m not surprised to see this on the list, especially with how long both the manga and the anime ran. I would’ve probably guessed it’d be higher, however.

Pokémon at #85

Nostalgia runs deep, absolutely. Still, is it really that great of an anime? The games are definitely solid in their structure and quality, but should that seep into the opinion of an anime that not only contradicts the games on multiple occasions, but features a repetitive approach that quickly grows old after a single cour or so? Definitely nostalgia. I’m also internally screaming that this was ranked above Dennou Coil.

AnoHana at #83

This was the first entry that forced a double-take from me. AnoHana? That absurdly popular anime that’s ripe with emotional angst and deals with fantasy elements and regret? With over 300,000 user scores on MAL ranking it within the top 70 of the site, I was genuinely surprised this wasn’t ranked somewhere within the top 50. It seems like something any culture, not just Western ones, would eat up. Making this list is already indicative of that, but this low? Very interesting.

K at #81

K? K??? Ranked above AnoHana, Dennou Coil, and Inuyasha? K????? Granted, I’ve seen nothing but a single episode of the series (and dropped it), so perhaps it’s actually a grand masterpiece and I don’t know… but seriously, K?!?!?!?

Mushishi at #78

Another surprise at such a low ranking. This is ranked within the top 35 on MAL and seems like the most Japanese-esque thing ever. Spirits, nature, calm atmosphere; it all screams traditional Eastern values. Of course, it’s also pretty stoic and lacks a lot of, say, pandering. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising.

Shounen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49 at #74

wat

One Piece at #72

One of “The Big Three” is as low as #72. Holy fuck. Maybe it’s annoyingly popular because of Western audiences.

Fullmetal Alchemist at #71

Once again, incredibly popular Shounen series ranked much lower than I would’ve expected.

Mob Psycho 100 at #69

The only reason I’m noting this is because One Punch Man didn’t make the list. Goes to show that Western audiences are more enamored with meme faces and unbridled special effects/animation than Japan is. I’m going to witness twenty Marvel movies a year until I’m dead.

Gochuumon (Season Two) at #68

Never, ever, ever, ever underestimate the power of moe.

The iDOLM@STER at #66

So it’s not a myth that Japanese audiences are addicted to the concept of idols… Seeing as this is ranked above fucking One Piece

Free!: Eternal Summer at #62

Female fan service is ranked higher than one of “The Big Three,” Mushishi, and AnoHana. What is this god damn list?

Kimi no Na wa. at #57

One of the most influential, highest rated, and profitable anime films in the last decade is ranked at #57. Does not even crack the top 50. This is probably the most surprising placement on the entire list. W-o-w.

Uta no Prince-sama Maji Love 1000% at #56

THIS IS RANKED ONE SPOT ABOVE KIMI NO NA WA. OH, MY FUCKING GOD.

Pokémon: Giratina and the Sky Warrior at #53

I… I… I can’t even begin to gather why this is above Kimi no Na wa or any other crazy-popular titles mentioned before.

Shirobako at #52

This is something I was surprised to see so high. It’s a great series that I would absolutely recommend, but I wouldn’t expect something so grounded in reality to be heralded to this degree in Japan. Then again, it’s about making anime, so is it really that surprising?

Girls und Panzer (Film) at #49

Cute girls + Tanks = $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Free! at #48

There you have it. Cracking the top 50 of the greatest anime of all time is Free!. This is ranked higher than all that was listed before it. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever doubt the power of… women?

Mirai Shounen Conan at #39

Fun fact: this is the highest-ranked Studio Ghibli product on this list. Spirited Away, Mononoke Hime, My Neighbor, Totoro; Kiki’s Delivery Service, and countless other film classics didn’t make the list.

Natsume Yuujinchou at #36

Natsume Yuujinchou Mushishi confirmed? It’s probably the abundance of follow-up seasons.

Love Live! Sunshine!! at #33

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever doubt the power of idols.

Bungou Stray Dogs at #31

NO.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena at #30

It’s almost redundant to say so, but I’m really surprised at how high this is compared to One PieceFullmetal Alchemist, and Kimi no Na wa. I suppose if this is any indication, Japan likes girls. Particularly girls with feminine-colored hair. And sex symbolism.

Shingeki no Kyojin at #28

Remember that episode of How I Met Your Mother when Barney proposed the “rule” that anything newer was better?

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood at #27

I remember.

Hyouka at #25

Hyouka? Hyouka?! Either aloof, standoffish male leads are more popular than I thought or Eru is the most moe thing KyoAni has ever created. This is rated higher than Haruhi!

Girls und Panzer at #22

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever underestimate the power of moe and tanks.

Sword Art Online at #20

I’m not even going to bother with this low-hanging fruit.

Psycho-Pass at #19

So Gen Urobuchi is kind of popular, huh?

Digimon Adventure at #18

Get pwned, Pokémon.

Why does “pwned” not have a red squiggle under it? What the fuck?

Gochuumon (Season One) at #16

What in the name of…? This high? This high? Fuck, the moe is strong with this one.

Neon Genesis Evangelion at #14

Japan loves its mechas. And this is among the most influential mechas of all time, aside from the Gundam series. I’m both surprised and not surprised it’s ranked this high, considering a lot of Western viewers are kind of meh towards it.

Joker Game at #12

I take it back. This is the most surprising placement on the entire list. What the fuck is this mediocre slop (Haven’t seen, just assuming) doing so close to the top 10 of the greatest anime of all time? Can anyone who knows anything about this series fill me in as to why it’s so god damn popular? Niches? Fetishes? Moe? What?

Osomatsu-san at #10

Memes are contagious, too. Holy fuck this is more popular than I expected.

Cardcaptor Sakura at #8

Oh, my God! I knew it was popular, but #8 all time popular? Jesus, Japanese anime fans. Nostalgia, moe, idols, and magical girls all wrapped into one was a no-brainer for you, huh?

Love Live! School Idol Project (First & Second Season) at #4 and #5

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, underestimate the power of idols.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica at #3

Gen Urobuchi + Magical girls = $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Tiger & Bunny at #1

Tiger & Bunny? #1? Tiger & Bunny?

giphy

Tiger & Bunny is the greatest anime of all time according to 600,000 voters? Tiger & Bunny? I mean… it’s a mecha anime… so… it’s… justifiable? W-Wha…? Huh?

This is like pitching a volleyball during baseball. It technically works, but it’s just… off. It doesn’t feel right. This is so out of left field that I can’t even fathom where all of this popularity came from. It’s practically nonexistent in the West, at least from what I’ve experienced. I’ve never seen Tiger & Bunny on collective Top 10 lists among my peers or even recommended titles for mecha fans. It’s just such a random pick to me that I can’t even feel mad. Just… lost.

Overall, what I learned from this list is that Japan loves three things: girls, mechs, and moe. Exaggerations aside, it’s an incredibly appealing research project as to what’s “in” on the other side of the ocean and what’s important to those within that culture. I had one hell of a time looking over it for the first time, and hopefully my comments weren’t so off-kilter that it would alienate readers.

Notable omissions: Toradora!, Katanagatari, Ookami to Koushinryou.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck you, Japan!