Welcome to another instalment of Irina defends things that don’t need defending. I find myself frequently commenting on the benefits of stereotypes. I understand that lack of novelty is a common complaint and that calling a show/character/premise “cliché” is an easy criticism to lob at a show we don’t have much to say about. It’s a kind of lazy way to say we think something’s boring without actually having to explain ourselves. I know, I use it all the time. Seriously, like almost every single review. But as the old saying goes “clichés are clichés for a reason”, that is so hackneyed…sorry.

The ol nosebleed’s fallen a bit out of style lately

Traditional tools

Stereotypes are a useful and powerful tool in any storyteller’s arsenal (next time we’ll talk about mixed metaphors – it’ll be fun!). By using a character or situation that is instantly recognizable to the majority of the audience, the narrative is then freed up for something else. The time used to really develop or explain said stereotype can now be used to add another interesting layer to a character or throw a few unexpected twists into the story or even flesh out the setting. Since every single narrative is finite and therefore limited, authors must careful choose what to give time and attention to. Clichés allow them to quickly settle some elements in order to concentrate on others.

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the fiery redhead – is it a cliché if it’s true?

Comfortable commonplace

Familiar elements and settings help orient a viewer or reader in an otherwise alien world. When we have something identifiable to latch onto we can much more quickly get into the proper mindset. We don’t spend as much time trying to figure out what’s going on, how to react or feel about what we’re seeing. We get the impression of being on solid ground. This becomes even more important in stories that are very surreal or unusual. A few mundane and well-established elements become absolutely necessary to give us a chance to wrap our minds around the weird. And I love weird but if one is not careful, it slips into nonsense.

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speaking of nonsense

Scary surprises 

Tell me, how would you feel if you went into surgery and your doctor said, let’s try something new today? Or maybe if the engineer designing your new high-rise wanted to reinvent the concept of urban construction. Even if we pick a more artistic trade such as cooking, chefs test out new recipes before serving them to paying customers. That’s because straying from the established path always has an element of risk. Unfortunately, no studio can afford to put together a season of a show just to see if it works, so chasing after novelty means using audiences as guinea pigs.

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Being a guinea pig is not always fun

Determined desires

And to develop on the previous point, sometimes you are pleasantly surprised but sometimes you want something specific. If you’ve been longing for a romantic comedy or an action shounen, you most likely feel like experiencing at least some of the tropes of the genre. I know you’re open minded and happy to discover a new take on a classic, but it still has to qualify as that classic in some way. If shows are endlessly and constantly changing or “revolutionizing” everything, how is one supposed to figure out what they want to watch. In fact, how can you even figure out what you actually like. I would find it exhausting if my partner was a new person every morning. I would be ok if they looked like a new person every morning as long as they were the same on the inside through. That was romantic, right? Not at all like I want a harem.

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on the other hand some transformations are necessary

Tried & true

But of course, the most obvious reason why clichés are a good thing is that they’ve been honed to perfection. By using established stereotypes, story tellers have a wealth of past examples to base themselves on. They can glean what’s likely to work best in their scenario, benefit from the mistakes of their predecessors, gather all the information they need to create the best possible iteration of a trope. After all, no one gets it right the first time. How’s that for a platitude?

In the end cliché, stereotypical and standard are really just another way of saying classic, traditional and efficient. And if you just think I have a soft spot for repeating patterns because I get to drink to them, you are probably right!

Who is this moderation I am supposed to be drinking with?

Suggested drink: Classic Martini

  • Every time a twintail is also tsundere – have a drink
  • Every time someone walks with their arms behind their head – have a drink
  • Every time a character has animal ears for cute – try and figure out if it actually is cute
  • Every time there’s a beach/ hot springs episode – fan yourself
  • Every time you see an aloof dark haired girl – have a drink
  • Every time a character visibly blushes – smile
  • Every time we’re introduced to a nutty professor/ mad scientist – have a drink
  • Every time someone gives a thumbs up – have a drink
  • Every time a character narrates their thoughts/actions – have a drink
  • Every time a character eats unreasonable amounts of food – have a snack
  • Every time an attack is shouted out – have a drink
  • Every time a main character is unattractive – down your drink
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Two clichés in one

19 thoughts

  1. Being original is overrated.
    ^ Well, maybe not to that extreme (xD), but nowadays there does seem to always be the sense of viewers constantly looking for the next avant-garde hit to champion as their “AOTY”, solely because it features things “never before seen or done” in previous anime and nothing more .
    .And for that I would like to add (in defense of cliches and stereotypes) the notion that with the sheer amount of shows that get produced in a single season alone, ideas are bound to be repeated at some point, and being “original” continues to get harder and harder with each series made.

    1. There is the old maxim that we ran out of original ideas a millenia ago and everything is just redressed oldies. I think people just like to call “original” whatever they happen to really enjoy at the moment.

  2. This was a fun post, thanks for sharing! Clichés and tropes are absolutely more important than people give them credit for. Creating familiarity within a genre is one way to help your audience slide smoothly from one idea to another. I guess they just get a lot of flack because they’re so easy for narratives to abuse in really unpleasant ways.

    Ha, I appreciate that visible blushing isn’t a drinking offense. Wouldn’t want anyone getting alcohol poisoning 😅

  3. On their own I totally agree with you. This is only a problem when an entire series is comprised of this sort of thing in the most traditional and boring way possible. You have to have some substance to be able to rely on these tools.

    1. I generally agree with this, but when we team up this post with the one about watching bad anime, we come across some real gems. There is, this season a show called Isekai wa Smartphone to tomo ni. It’s a show about this boy who gets tossed into another world, with his smartphone, and… Yeah. Well. It’s composed entirely of cliché. They have one original joke, and it turns into serial joke, dies of oldage and gets resurrected as a geriatric zombie to shuffle around a bit more. However, the amazement that a show can go through with something [i]this[/i] cliché, while at the same time staying entirely enthusiastic about its premise and showing not a single hint of awareness that it’s been done before carries you a long way. It doubles as the most unembarrassed harem fantasy I’ve seen in a long time, too. This show is all cliché and no substance; yet, for some inexplicable reason, it manages to get by on sheer enthusiasm. I rolled my eyes a lot, but bored I was not.

      1. I haven’t watched it yet but it is on my list and I won’t lie I was looking forward to watching it. Considering this, I am now even more excited. I am going to save it for my vacation coming up, in case I need a couple of days or weeks to recover from the hangover…

  4. Cliches are never bad just because they are cliche. They are bad when they are used to disguise poor and unimaginative writing. Some of my favourite shows heavily rely on tropes and cliches, they just use them well with the material they have.

  5. Hey, you did a great job defending cliches (and i do think they need some help fending off haters. Some people seem to turn up their nose at anything resembling convenient conventions).

    The metaphors about doctors and dentists and your partner were on-point. Couldn’t put it better myself.

    “Every time there’s a beach/ hot springs episode – fan yourself”

    I-It’s just the summer heat. It’s radiating out from the screen, I swear.

    Lovely post as always!

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