I am unable to judge this show completely on its own terms.

These first few days of Fall 2013 starting up has reminded me of something that’s been on my mind for a while now.

I recently watched the first episode of Kyoukai no Kanata, you see, and I find its first episode to be slightly decent. However, my opinion is almost entirely linked to the fact that I’ve seen its concepts and structure before. There’s no circumventing the fact that Kyoukai no Kanata and Bakemonogatari share some traits, such as the supernatural focus and the immortal male leads, as well as being surrounded by girls with issues. There’s numerous other qualities with Kyoukai no Kanata that can also be attributed to other youkai-centric shows, or other Kyo-Ani works such as Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai, or those light novel tropes that never seem to die. I can’t really comment further than that because I have nothing else constructive to say about Kyoukai no Kanata. Now, as I’m figuring out my thoughts about this show, I can’t help but to compare all these things. Would it be fair, though, to judge one show based on a completely unrelated show that came before it? Whether or not there’s an answer to that question, it surely happens anyway.

I really shouldn’t have a problem with this though, because this is the exact same behavior that’s driven my anime-watching habits for the last three or four years. In fact, most of my experiences with anime devolve into making comparisons with other anime:

“Coppelion? I liked it better when it was called Akira.”

“Psycho-Pass? Ha! I liked it better when it was called Ghost in the Shell.”

“Nisekoi? LOL! I liked it better when it was called Love Hina.”

“Golden Time? Top lel, I liked it better when it was called Toradora.”

“Sakurasou? Dafuq? I liked it better when it was called Hanasaku no Iroha, and even then I liked that one better when it was called Maison Ikkoku.”

“Clannad? Please. I liked it better when it was called Air.”

“Penguindrum? Screw yourself with a cactus. I liked it better when it was called Revolutionary Girl Utena.”

“GC? I don’t even. I liked it better when it was called CG.”

“Eden of the East? I liked it better when it was called The Bourne Ide-” MOVING ON.

What makes this an anime-specific issue for me is both the fact I’ve been following it for so long and the repetitive nature of the market itself, so when those godforsaken charts pop up each season I have a scarily accurate idea of which anime I’m going to tolerate, hate, and potentially masturbate to. The real issue about all of this, though, is figuring out if this particular phenomenon is really that bad. I’ll get this out of the way and say that it isn’t inherently bad. Recalling past experiences is how we learn, after all, and no one wants to subject themselves to watching a series they end up not liking. Furthermore, there are merits to figuring out how to pick and choose anime. Given its predictable nature and our familiarity with its tropes and archetypes, us anibloggers in general have built a whole repertoire of anime as their basis for what they like and don’t like in the future. I know I do, and you guys sure has hell better know that you do as well. It’s rather obvious that the anime that suck you in as an anime fan become the basis of what anime you will enjoy in the future, and I’m not one to speak otherwise. Having this entire history of anime under my belt does not automatically make me this bitter old man who only sees rehashes of the same old concepts again and again, even if it may seem that way at times.

What it does do, however, is suck varying amounts of fun out of all the newer anime I watch nowadays. I can’t enjoy Kyoukai no Kanata as much as I know is possible because I’ve already seen Bakemonogatari. I didn’t enjoy Ano Hana and Angel Beats because my sappy Key drama streak ended with Clannad. It even affects the times I watch older series; my enjoyment regarding Eureka Seven has been staunchly inhibited by the fact that I’ve seen a lot of what it does in Xam’d: Lost Memories. Seeing trends breeds predictability. Predictability breeds higher expectations from the animation studios. Higher expectations lead to greater disappointments. A slew of great disappointments is bound to burn out an anime fan, and if I really, really, really think hard about it, I have to admit. Watching anime for so long has taken its toll on me, and my opinion of anime in general has suffered because of it.

I believe that to be the main reason why I’m unable to weigh in completely about my first impressions right now: the majority of my judgments toward new anime these days come not from a bare palate but instead from a convoluted mix of other tastes I’ve acquired over the past few years. While it isn’t the most apt comparison, I’m like those people who watch adaptations of source material, but end up disappointed 95% of the time because said source material was infinitely better. There’s no winning when it comes to that. Hell, to make it even worse, those raw feelings I felt in my first years of anime watching are something I still hold dear to me. The fact that they still exist in my mind is a hindrance if I am to completely enjoy newer anime, because nothing will match what I watched when I was more impressionable.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was something that could, say, start you off with a clean slate with each anime season? Like how ginger is supposed to clean your palate before you eat the next piece of sushi, except in this case there’s some mechanism where your anime experience doesn’t get in the way of watching new stuff?

That would be so, so wonderful.

Addendum

  • No pictures because fuck you.
  • As much as I complain about the self-destructive nature of watching a lot of anime, it HAS led me to enjoy a lot of anime that stray from the beaten path. Perhaps that alone is worth trudging through crap every season to find all the good stuff.
  • Am i really complaining about my own elitism? Really, app? Are we gonna have to fight?
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10 comments

  1. I too have seen a lot of anime in my time and it’s hard not to see the majority of newer shows as an amalgam of what came before. But, for me at least, stories feel a lot fresher when I’m not dissecting it. Rather than pulling it apart, I’d rather engage with it. Look at it from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. Think about how I’d write it, rather than just how it comes across to me. When I do that, it’s easier to see the inherent individuality in people and to understand that despite superficial similarities, stories will always strike a different chord.

    It’s easier to be judgmental when you’re older because it’s impossible to recapture the impressionable outlook you had when you were younger, but I certainly think it’s possible to still get the most out of a story. Just last year, Hyouka and Sakurasou moved me enough to make me think seriously about the direction of my own life, and Oregairu this year also encouraged a lot of original thought (though to a lesser extent). I watch clips from all these shows and I still smile because even though I’m nineteen years old, a silly light novel adaptation has the power to move me to tears.

    1. I’d love to think that way, and probably can if I tried hard enough, but between this and looming test dates I’ll simply resign to saying that I can’t right now. I can bring myself to think in terms of basic themes and such when it comes to watching any anime, but I can’t bring myself to divorce the material in front of me and all the stuff that’s come before it.

      It also doesn’t help that I’m stone-faced when it comes to pathos porn, so even if I do enjoy it from time to time it doesn’t always translate into emotional investment.

      even though I’m nineteen years old, a silly light novel adaptation has the power to move me to tears.

      Hidoi, Froggy-kun.

    2. Oof, I dunno, froggykun, that sounds awfully close to the classic cop-out argument “just turn your brain off and you’ll enjoy it”.

      Besides, I don’t think it’s an unfair criticism to say anime ought to mix things up a bit and recycle tropes less. It’s healthy for both an audience and an industry to have high expectations, especially of originality. A lot of anime IS samey, even if there are nuanced differences.

      Actually, as a side note, I find the dissecting mindset a lot more enjoyable to be in when watching unoriginal, or just plain stupid shows. Valvrave would have been a total bore had it not been for the joy of identifying a lot of the underlying cultural fears and mindsets that led to its creation. Similarly, Oreimo wouldn’t have been enjoyable at all if I wasn’t trying to guess how in on the joke the creators were. After all, if a show is unoriginal, it isn’t giving me much to ponder or be entertained by, so reading into it is often the only joy to be had.

      I find myself in a similar place, appropriant, so I think I can get where you’re coming from with this post. Actually, I think it’s particularly a problem with Kyoto Animation. They may be competent animators, but “safe” is exactly the word I’d use to describe them. They take no risks and they push no envelopes. An envelope would move more if you put it in front of a glacier. There’s nothing challenging, or even charmingly unique about what they do. Free! is, sadly, probably the most daring thing they’ve ever done, and all that really was was gender-swapping the main cast of what was otherwise a show exactly like every other one they make.

      I guess recognising the tropes does suck the fun out of a lot of shows, but ultimately I feel like it exemplifies the rare, true gems that come along. It leaves one equipped to fully appreciate the shows that do buck the trend, and the joy that comes with being genuinely surprised by a show, for me, makes up for finding the vast majority of shows to be mediocre at best.

      Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now. Enjoyed the post, cheers.

      1. I dunno. When I think of similarities between KyoAni series, there are only two things that come to mind: high school settings and character designs. Their anime sure feel the same because of it, but should it necessarily mean that they took “no” risks with their anime? The quite recent Tamako Market, their only original anime, would like to have a word with that, and Nichijou is rolling in its grave of pathetic sales as we speak.

        1. I can see where you’re coming from, but I meant more that they take no risks thematically, rather than financially.

          I actually think keeping the setting the same is not something to be underrated, and I’d argue that it’s more than just setting and character design they keep the same, but as I said, I can see where you’re coming from, and don’t really want to discuss Kyoto animation any further.

      2. Oof, I dunno, froggykun, that sounds awfully close to the classic cop-out argument “just turn your brain off and you’ll enjoy it”.

        Thinking about how you’d write the same premise is the very antithesis of “turning off your brain”. I personally spend a lot of time writing my own fiction so whenever I see a story that I think was poorly executed, I become a much more active reader when I’m thinking about the inherent ideas and not getting bogged down by the separate elements. How can this be improved? What kind of ideas was this trying to express? When a work feels “trope-y” it’s usually because the author lacked clear vision, and it’s up to the reader to figure out what may have been going through their minds. Simply pulling the story apart, identifying that it is full of tropes and then stopping there with the analysis is more what I would call lazy reading!

        As for the KyoAni debate… meh, not much to add to that.

        1. Y’know, I think the debate we’re having here is more a semantic one. When I said that, I was referring mostly to this: “Rather than pulling it apart, I’d rather engage with it.” The implication, to me, in what you said was that critical analysis, breaking down in to the constituent elements, is not a beneficial way of interpreting the text. Often I see people disregard reviews on the basis that they believe the reviewer did not try to get into the spirit of the show. What you said reminded me of that a little, and that attitude often leads to the idea that one ought to watch a dumb show with their brain turned off, because that goes with the spirit or intention of the piece.

          Obviously trying to get to the heart of what the writer was trying to express is engaging with the work in an intelligent fashion, I’m sorry for implying that it isn’t, for that wasn’t my intention.

          So I think where we disagree mainly is in the division between dissecting a work and engaging with it. To me, the two go hand in hand. A critical dissection is not just reducing something down to its tropes, but trying to understand the message, themes and goals of the piece.

          I’d certainly agree that one shouldn’t be reductionist about fiction, trying to represent a piece as an amalgamation of tropes is inaccurate, but even if one does get more out of a work by trying to take a bottom up approach, it almost inevitably isn’t worth the time and effort if the writer wasn’t even competent enough to avoid regurgitating the same old time-worn tropes in a manner that isn’t striking or engaging on the surface.

  2. […] common: Why do animation studios lack the guts to do something original or unique nowadays?  (See this article for another blogger who piped up on this issue.)  Why rely on fanservice to carry a show when real […]

  3. […] today. It also does some cool meta-stuff and involves the supernatural, which might inevitably lead to comparisons with a certain other […]

  4. choronghi · · Reply

    U should watch 90: 80s anime the n

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