I’m a person that likes to classify things. Not so much because I feel the need to label and limit things but because I was the kid that sorted their legos by size and color. It’s just a thing I do. I also regularly reclassify things. Just because you are in one category, doesn’t mean you can’t be in another! Furthermore, when it comes to discussing abstract artistic endeavors such as movies, music or anime, these (admittedly subjective) categories are very helpful to getting your point across and quickly making sure everyone is on the same page and knows what you’re talking about. If I say buddy cop movie, it gives you a certain amount of information about tones, intent, potential subject matter and tropes without me having to list them all.
That’s super useful and also completely useless.
I am curious about genres, I like to see what the official genres are as we can arguably assume this is what the creators intended for their work. I’m interested in how a series is perceived by the general audience and whether that corresponds to the original intent as well as my own experience, but beyond that, all I really get from knowing the genre of a series is that it may or may not contain certain tropes, may have a loose association with a number of central themes and could adhere to a specific narrative structure. That’s pretty much it and let’s face it, most series don’t really fall neatly into any specific genre to begin with.
So why do people actually get angry over genre debates? How can we really claim on is better than the other? Isn’t that like picking the “best” color? When was the last time you got mad at someone for having a different favorite colour than you? Me it was last Wednesday. Waddya mean fuchsia you hipster wannabe?
I bring this up because I’ve seen a lot of discussion, elitism, criticism and good old fashion mudslinging trying to parse the value of any specific genre. I’m all for it! Discussion is great, debates are interesting and if you’re grown up enough to remain respectful then by all means be passionate. Apathy is a great plague upon the world and we must fight it. But we all know that genres don’t actually mean anything right? That every genre has stellar offerings alongside very lamentable ones.
Like I mentioned above – genres generally imply certain tropes and themes that mark a show. I can see how you may be more attracted to a particular set or generally dislike some elements often present in another but discounting any genre all together seems unreasonable and likely to make you miss out on something you might have really enjoyed.
Besides, they can also be extremely misleading. Let me try to give an example using a genre I gravitate to (and a lot of people have told me they hate): Sports!!
I’m attracted to sports animes for a number of reasons. Much like for shonen, I’m a huge sucker for friendship above all tropes and ridiculously determined characters. I also admire the glorification of hard work and the great majority of Sports animes tend to focus on characters that are in some way less suited than most and need to train to overcome particular drawbacks. They’re almost always underdog stories. Unlike in shonen, Sports anime protagonists are often shy, quiet, small and relatively calm. I can see myself in them.
They also have strong elements of teamwork and large unit (team) dynamics where characters must learn to cooperate with people that aren’t necessarily close. Sports animes almost always feature large ensemble casts and rivals are still given their own storylines and developments so that even the opponents can really be considered antagonists. The conflicts tend to be internal rather than classic good vs evil setups. Finally, I like the super serious treatment of low stakes events – like a high school basketball game. The scope is more manageable in my mind and I relate to it instantly.
I guess Sports!! anime also usually feature something most people identify as a sport, although the definition gets stretched prety thin at times.
OK so now that we’ve defined what the Sports! genre means to me, let me show you why it’s not that useful.
Cat did a fantastic post, and also read my mind, clearly explaining why Free! is not a Sports!! anime. It really doesn’t adhere to much of the standard tropes associated with the genre and follows a completely different narrative structure and tone. I agree with absolutely everything in that post. However, when people think of Free!, they think Sports anime. What’s more, when people tell me they don’t like Sports! anime, Free! is one of the most frequent examples of a series they did not enjoy… See the problem here?
On the other hand, I have always found that Sound! Euphonium fits the bill much more closely. The practice, teamwork, important competition elements are all there. You have an understated lead character who’s spurred forward by the passion of their team and a strong if aloof mentor character. You also have a very large cast and an emphasis on the importance of rivalry rather than conflict. It is somewhat more dramatic in tone than most Sports series but, so is Free!
I know that the main argument you’re all going to make is that Band isn’t a sport but ‘cmon, if Go, Hyakunin Isshu karuta, and Quiz Bowl can all be considered sports how is marching band not included? It’s very physical guys!
As a fan of Sports anime and a frequent watcher of the genre, I would not have been that surprised to see Sound! Euphonium characterized as such. It even has an exclamation point in the title!
So, do you see what I mean? Unless you know exactly what tropes and themes I associate with a genre, then you only have a very general idea of why I would characterize a series as such. In my reviews I have used: awesomeness, pure bliss, everything that’s right with the world, wow and mullets as genres. So far no one has ever asked for clarification. Obviously, genres are not the most iportant element of a show.
And even if you do know exactly what I mean by a particular genre it may still not be the same as the next guy.
So sure, defend your favorite genres, argue vehemently for them, fight off the non-believers and smite the infidels, just keep in mind that you are fighting for best colour.