Lately I’ve noticed sort of a trend when writing my posts. Quite a few of them can be summed up as: I know this is a bad show but I kinda liked it… And you have to figure that after watching anime for so many years, I should’ve started to pick up on a thing or two. I can tell when a show isn’t likely to be that great from a few episodes, sometimes form a pic and a summary, yet I still watch them. Why do I do this to myself? Is there a drug out there that could help me? Is it prescription only? In an attempt to answer at least one of these questions, I rolled my sleeves up and really meditated on why I (and possibly some other people too) seem to enjoy bad anime.
First a note on “bad”. This is a subjective term and I can fully appreciate that you might genuinely think a show is great when others find it awful. Moreover, we anime fans (at least the non-Japanese speaking ones) tend to be very protective of our beloved entertainment and will almost never admit anything anime related is downright bad for fear of having availability to the medium reduced. As such any sort of general consensus of quality is tough to find. What I would like to concentrate on here, is the entirely personal experience of watching a show, realizing for yourself that it’s lacking in many ways and then watching the next episode…and the next. Or even, impatiently looking forward to going home and catching up on the latest episodes of a show you would never recommend to anybody.
After some difficult soul searching and demon facing I’ve come up with a few reasons that apply to me:
There are shows that fail to live up to expectations, there are generally good shows that have some tragically flawed elements that ruin the whole, there are shows that think so highly of themselves and devolve into unwatchable pretentious torture, then there are those shows that gawd bless ‘em are just trying so hard… You know those shows. The ones that were obviously made with some middle school kid’s allowance. They lack resources, and maturity and possibly any talent on the part of the creative and technical teams but they got pluck. You can feel the love for the craft, taste the effort, smell the dedication, see the absolutely horrible mess left behind on the screen. Those shows that are a bit like a 3-year-old eagerly offering you a cookie they made themselves (obviously with mud and what might be one of the cat’s hairballs?) and looking at you with expectation and love, waiting for you to eat it. I just want to pat those shows on the head. No, they aren’t good and no you shouldn’t watch them but man if they aren’t lovable.
The magic of camp is well known across many mediums. There are people who build their entire careers trying to capture it. But real honest camp can only come about spontaneously. I love when a show take itself so obviously seriously while having a script that is such utter nonsense that you doubt the translation. It’s those shows that I spent talking back at my tv and discussing with my dog. Those shows you enjoy on a completely different basis but you still do enjoy. We’ve probably all had a Mystery Anime Theater 3000 party. It’s the best. In fact, I would argue that it’s a great way to introduce new people to anime. Not only will they laugh their little behinds off making fun of some poor, albeit deserving, little shows, but they’re likely to be super impressed by whatever they watch next!
Who doesn’t love easy? Bad shows are undemanding. You won’t need to use your brain much. It’s ok if you wander away from the tv, you won’t miss a thing. They won’t make your eyes hurt because you forgot to blink for 10 minutes. They’re just kinda there. You can put them on and go on with your life. These shows will keep you company without ever asking anything of you in exchange. You got a bit of a headache? No problem, you can close your eyes for a few minutes. You’re tired? It’s all good, you can sleep through half an episode. Heck everyone just seems to be behaving at random anyways. You can watch 13 episodes in a single setting and never feel overwhelmed. Although it might explain the headache.
Maybe it’s just me but I have honest attachments to series and characters. Fictional events happening to imaginary people have a very real emotional impact on me. As great as this is, and certainly one of the big reasons for my continuing love of anime, it can be draining and in the worst-case scenario, depressing. Not when it’s bad though! If the narrative suddenly goes dark, I’m not going to feel bad about it. If the character I liked is mistreated by the writers and ends up a shell of their former selves or a no longer likable, incoherent homunculus, it’s all good I’ll just pick another one. Heck it might even be funny.
On a related note. Because I’m a fragile flower and all, I really feel the need to defend my favorite titles. I get hurt or a little insulted when someone thinks my favorite show isn’t the best thing in the universe. It can be exhausting. There’s something very liberating about having someone tell you: that show sucks and being able to sweetly and honestly response: I know! There’s even a confused little defiant rebel in me somewhere that takes twisted pride in wearing my poor taste like a badge of honor.
I’ll admit that sometimes bad shows are just plain bad. They’re not enjoyable at all no matter how high your endurance for trash may be. But tell me: when you keep hearing that something is THE WORST SHOW EVER, doesn’t some part of you want to see it. Maybe you want to really appreciate what that means so you can calibrate the scale in your mind. Maybe you’re a contrarian and you just want to find something, anything to latch onto so you can say it’s not that bad. Maybe it’s the same dark impulse that makes us desperate to see car accidents. Whatever the case, there is an undeniable appeal to the exceptional. And the fact that it’s bad means it probably won’t go over your head so…
To create a work of art that can be considered good on any level, is a feat. Anime is a layering of dozens of different art forms that somehow have to work together as a cohesive whole. This is nothing short of magic. A bad anime once in awhile is a good way to jolt us out of our complacency and remind us that creating animes is really really hard. Watch a couple of dubs from the 80s, you will never be able to ignore a good voice actor again. I get a real honest thrill from watching great anime. I can even get a lot of pleasure out of watching ok anime with some masterful elements. But I only recognize those elements because I’ve seen the alternative. It’s a “you don’t really miss it till it’s gone” sort of thing.
The hidden gems
No, I’m not talking about discovering an actually good show, that would go against the central thesis of this…essay(that sounds way too fancy). What I mean is that once in a blue moon, some absolutely dreadful schlock will put forward an interesting idea, usually underdeveloped and realized in the worst way possible but somewhere under all the trash, there may be a jewel. And since people don’t usually bother stealing from the worse and these shows will never get a second season, it can be your one and only chance to get exposed to some of those concepts. It’s a bit like winning the lottery but without getting any money. It’s nothing like winning the lottery.
So did I convince you to go watch some rubbish? If so, you might want a drink first:
- Every time the art is so inconsistent you don’t recognize a character – take a shot
- Every time a fight must be discussed in detail before the fighting can begin – take a shot
- Every time a storyline is dropped without warning – take a shot
- Every time you can only describe a character as “nice” – take a shot
- Every time a plot resolves through deus ex machina – take a shot
- Every time the animation defies physics – take a shot
- Every time your description of a show includes the expression “it’s stupid but…” – take a shot
- Every time horrible behaviour is given a freudian excuse – take a shot
- Every time you took a shot of Smoker’s Cough – brush your teeth