I don’t know if you guys remember this, but a little while ago we had a whole series of really awesome posts on the subject of anime deconstructions. A slew of great bloggers weighted in and discussed various aspects and elements of deconstructions. And of course, debated over the definition and even existence of a true deconstruction.
A few of the very talented bloggers in question are my delightful podcast companions and endless sources of inspiration Remy, Scott and Lethargic Ramblings, who all put out truly interesting think pieces on the subject.
I’m not an English major, or minor… my englige not soo gud, so while I find the discussions fascinating, I don’t have much to bring to the subject at all.
So naturally, I figured I’d write a post about it!
I noticed a couple of trends after reading a bunch of articles on the subject. Trend the first, people get really passionate about the abstract definitions of plot devices. I’m not saying this is either good nor bad. I’m just impressed. I hope these guys bring the same type of intensity to everything they do, on the other, I’m already feeling a bit out of breath on their behalf! I’m a fan of enthusiasm though.
The second trend I noticed, and the closest thing I have to an actual point, is that people almost always veer the conversation to dramatic or more grim examples of deconstructions. They discuss works that put a serious spin on traditional tropes or subvert genre expectations through realistic treatments, but very rarely discuss the sillier side of deconstructions, generally known as the parody.
I’ve made no secret that I am one of the rare comedy enthusiasts out there. I love to laugh! I laugh a lot. So, I always get a little defensive when I think the genre is being ignored or belittled. I guess I have a certain inferiority complex about it since I’ve started reading so many more reviews. I occasionally get the feeling that comedies are regarded as more second rate. You know, not as *important* or smart. Sure you’ll go see it, but it won’t win any awards. I say phooey to that. I’ve always considered a good sense of humour an indicator of intelligence. Admittedly, I’m probably biased on that.
But, the parody is a prime example of deconstruction at its finest. It breaks down storytelling to its base components and reinterprets or manipulates them to squeeze out comedy. At their best, these works are just as surprising and genre defying as any of their dramatic counterparts, but they won’t leave you reaching for the Prozac™.
They range from biting to gentle, incisive to completely surreal and quite a few of my favorite series can be classified as such.
The delightfully bleak Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei
This somewhat twisted show mercilessly parodies Japanese culture and tradition, with tongue in cheek black humor. By taking some conventional aspects of Japanese life to their logical extreme, this show manages to make light of some very serious, borderline disturbing subject matter, while educating us clueless Westerners about local customs and taboos.
I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the original goal of the series, but it was a delightful bonus, as far as I am concerned.
This said, without going out of its way to spell everything out, Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei does make some cultural commentary and pass some rather hard judgments on social issues that affect many cultures. To dismiss it as pure fluff would be rather short sighted and a bit of a loss for the viewer, in all honesty.
Admittedly, you can argue that this series isn’t a deconstruction at all, as it doesn’t breakdown a specific genre. Of course, you can also argue that deconstructions don’t exist at all… The point is that this show uses the very familiar confines and tropes of a School Slice of Life to examine subject matter that’s usually never broached. It assumes that its audience will be aware and interested in issues that are normally not directed at the demographic. In short, it takes the familiar mold of a genre, and fills it with something unexpected and hilarious.
Whether you chose to call it a deconstruction, a subversion, a reinterpretation, Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei offers something unique and deserves to be part of the conversation.
The loving homage of Ouran Highschool Host Club
Parodies aren’t always derogatory. I could have just as easily chosen Nozaki-kun for this example but as Ouran seems to be a bit better known, I’ll go with that.
In both cases though, you have shows that pick at and dissect all the clichés of shoujo and romance series, exaggerating or inverting traditional tropes for laughs, but do so in such a sweet and loving matter, that it’s clear they were created by diehard fans of the genre.
These comedies aren’t mocking their subjects, they are playfully chiding as close friends do. Gently pointing out the ridiculous and celebrating it. After all, to devote so much time and energy to lampooning something, you better enjoy it on some level.
These are clear eyed embraces of everything a genre is usually disparaged for. These shows not only take the time to figure out the core components of what can be called a romantic comedy, specifically one aimed at a young female audience, but they also take them apart to represent them in a hilarious way that remains respectful. They make you happy to be a fan and allow you to stand tall and laugh along next time someone is making fun of the genre.
Most of us will probably never appreciate this. No one is going to write drawn out academic parsings of Ouran. But you know what, it’s on a lot of favourites lists for a reason. I bet at least one of you is thinking, yeah I really liked that show…
The Master of them all Gintama
Well naturally, we can’t talk parody without mentioning Gintama. Hailed as uproariously hysterical, the series has managed to remain incredibly popular through hundreds of episodes (and over a decade of airtime) while poking jabs at every genre, stereotype and even other specific series.
You cannot deny the writing skill that has gone into such an accomplishment. You can also not deny that the series tackles a number of genres and clichés at their most basic iteration and then puts them together into something that’s undeniably Gintama.
It has had some flashes of brilliance that are not easily paralleled.
As I said, I simply don’t have the background and information to properly discuss anime deconstructions on the same level as my fellow bloggers, but I love reading about it. And as a fan of you guys’ posts, I would love to see your analysis of parodies as deconstructions, or not deconstructions…
Also the word deconstruction is in the title of the post so I think I’m contractually obligated to mention Madoka so um – will Magical Girl Ore (haven’t seen it) be the NEW Magical Girl Deconstruction?
47 thoughts on “The Lighter Side of Deconstructions”
Try Ghost Stories, English dubbed. Intermittantly hilarious. The Japanese language version sucked so bad they essentially allowed the English language voice actors to make up the script as they went along. How often do voice actors get to mock the very script of the anime they are doing?
Oh That sounds grand – I’ll have to look for it
It is on that roll that crunches when you bite it.
If you count Mahou Shoujo Ore as a deconstruction, does that make every magical boy show in existence a deconstruction too? (Now there’s something to think about.)
The thing about parodies is their need for knowledge of otherwise useless and potentially niche pre-existing information makes them perfect for me. They do go over other people’s heads for the same reason, though, so it’s hard to get more people on the same bandwagon.
I always thought Evangelion was one of the names people put into their deconstruction posts by “contractual obligation”…
Do people still know what Eva is (beyond the abstract)? I’ve only seen the 3 first minutes of ore and the playful mocking with the style seems to go beyond the gender swap. This said I only know ore, binan, and MGRP, as magical boy shows so maybe?…
This is such a perfect deconstronstructionist sentence it’s funny.
To step back for a while: I don’t really know what “deconstruction” is supposed to mean in the anime community. At university, for a course in literary criticism, I wrote a paper on deconstruction. I read Derrida, which was hard and I failed to fully understand what he was saying (or not saying as may be the case – be patient, I’ll try to explain later – or not), but I came away with the impression that Derrida is worth reading if the philosophy interests you. Sadly I also read people who read Derrida, and they all made far less sense (de Man, Kristeva, Lacan – watch Ergo Proxy to encounter a lot of those names). The problem is that they all tried to apply deconstruction practically to their fields of expertise, but deconstruction isn’t and can’t be a method (Derrida said so himself).
Now, the core problem is how meaning relates to words. Once upon a time, people thought words had clear meaning and that’s it. (No, they didn’t, nothing quite that simple, but to understand deconstruction [or not] it’s important to pretend that they did.) Then along came structuralists and said that the meaning of words are relative. Relative to what? Well, to the meaning of other words. The most pertinent of those was Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Sausseure, because he thought it was useful to talk about signs, and to say that a sign consists of a signifier (the sounds you make when speaking, the squiggles you put down while writing) and a signified (the meaning you associate with the signifier). Now it’s important to remember that the signified – the meaning attached to a word – derives from the meaning attached to all other words. That is you’re creating a system of similarities and differences, and it’s up to the linguist to figure out the mess. (Oh, beyond the sign there’s also a world, and out there in the world are referents you can use as a panic button when you get too confused, but a tree in the real world is not the origin of the meaning tree, because it’s not clear what about tree exudes treeness without a sign “tree” to anchor this.) The result of this a mightily complex system, and two disciplines are especially indebted to this line of thought: structural linguistics, and semiotics.
Derrida picked up from there and said, that the idea that words have fixed meanings at all is an illusion (and the word I came across the most in that context is “logocentrism”, but also “the metaphysics of presence”). That’s not to say that words don’t have meanings, but that they’re not fixed. In no moment in time is the meaning of a word present in its entirety. It’s also not stable: meanings change. The idea is that there’s only flux. Derrida was actually aware that this causes problems for trying to explain deconstruction… in words. So instead of telling us what deconstruction is he talked at length about what it is not. And because meaning arises out of the never-ending conflict of “binary oppositions”, talking about what deconstruction is not is the same as talking about what it is. (Derrida also used other methods – such as using crossed out words instead of the words themselves – to remind us that each word also contains in itself traces of its denial.)
For example, you could say that Madoka is a deconstruction, and you could say that Madoka is not a deconstruction. If you were of a Hegelian mindset, you’d be expecting a synthesis down the road (“Madoka is a deconstruction in the sense that, but not one in the sense that…”). But Derrida isn’t of a Hegelian mindset so he’s not holding his breath. Smart people might try to say “Madoka may or may not be a deconstruction”, trying to escape the word-wars of deconstruction. But the unimpressed deconstructionist merely raises an unimpressed eyebrow and says “No, Madoka is definitely/definitely not a deconstruction.” There’s no escaping binary oppositions: they’re the tyrants of language and the deconstructionist is someone who’s neither arrangened themselves with the tyranny nor gone into revolution.
In short, deconstruction is (or is not) the idea that words don’t have certain meaning but you can’t talk at all if you don’t pretend they do. So: Parodies aren’t deconstructions. Or maybe they are. But you can’t talk at all about that if you don’t pretend to have position on it. Whether you believe yourself or not is up to you, but a true deconstructionist (who may or may not exist) discourages believing that you know what you talk about.
It’s all awefully confusing and for that reason I don’t often talk about deconstruction.
And whether or not parodies are deconstructions: good ones are funny. Zetsubou Sensei is most definitely funny. Who will ever forget the chain of stalkers, or finding out why the bandaged girl is bandaged.
(I’m surprised to hear that comedies are underrated; it never occured to me. People seem to like them just fine.)
[I sort of wish to apologise for the wall of words, but sort of also want to pass on the pain, because I’m sort of a meanie in a way, maybe. Or not.]
What I’m getting from this is that everyone had way more interesting courses at Uni than I did.
Thank you so much for taking to time to explain this playfully to me. I won’t embarass both of us by trying to answer. I disagree with certain of the concepts laid out here but I do understand them and I loved finding out about them!
It was a course on the history of literary theory as far as my remember. I chose deconstruction because I was curious and the parts of it I understood appealed to me. By the end of the course I regretted choosing deconstruction, but I had no-one to blame but myself. Some of it still appeals, some of it remains opaque to this day, and little of it is useful.
In any case, I’m not sure how much any of this has to do with what the anime community calls deconstruction. The common definition, taking things apart and looking at them, sounds like plain analysis to me. Terms tend to take on a life of their own when they escape into the wild. “Significant Other” seems to mean something like lover or life partner these days (it’s a term from sociology, and part of a pair: significant/generalised other – it’s related to the terms personal/social identity and basically is a distanction whether you engage a person as an individual with a biography or as someone in a social role.)
My most unfavourable anime representation of deconstruction would be “chuunibyou philosophers”. It’s not entirely fair, but the image is fun.
People often forget about this sort of thing so this was a good post to remind folks 🙂
I hope so. We can always use a good laugh at ourselves
That’s true too XD
This is something I’ve always thought myself, but for some reason never really addressed. Parody is indeed a much lighter side to subversion, with Konosuba being one of my favourite examples from recent memory.
It’s interesting to think how many comedy focused series are out there that go out of their way to subvert or comment on the shows they’re poking fun at.
Very interesting post. Thank you for referencing mine!
Konosuba was a fantastic isekai parody. I absolutely loved it
In a way MMO junkie also subverted the genre by playing it straight
There’s an art to working with Comedy. In fact, back in school, i once had an extensive assignment I worked on, called The Rules of Comedy, where we had to analyze and define what makes things funny, and come up with rules that, when applied, could make even a tragedy humorous. I have a great appreciation for comedy, especially comedic timing, which is why it bothers me so much when I see shows fudging that up, using the same stupid gags over and over, or pandering for the sake of laughs. There are a lot of ways to be creative about making comedy, you just have to try!
Your school sounds way better than my school.
I agree comedy is a skill that can be refined just like any other and it also saddens me when people cheapen it.
Well it was an Advanced Theater class, so it kinda makes sense why we were studying Comedy.
I want an assignment like that.
What does Auri get for an assignment topic?
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
I know right!?
Haha i’m glad I never took whatever class would give an assignment like that!
Believe me, given a choice I wouldn’t have either….
I always hear about how hard comedy is…
But I honestly have no standards for it. No clear cut dos or dont’s, and no way to scale and measure my enjoyment of a joke against someone else’s.
It’s very subjective and personal to watch and create, so yeah, I’d agree it’s hard to write a great comedy.
But comedy that makes some people sometimes laugh? That’s easy! Just be Pop Team Epic-
People laugh at randomness.
For that reason, I agree that it’s hard- but only if you want your comedy to be praised. If you have a budget for creativity, it’s probably smarter to not even build up jokes. Just throwing crap at a fan will surely get laughs-
Especially cute girls are in the scene.
I’m not sure that would qualify as parody….And I don’t know that cute girls are inherently funny although I guess some people find them easy to laugh at.
Nope, randomness isn’t a parody of comedy, but a parody of storytelling in general. (And it’s boring AF)
A good comedic parody is something I can respect!
(Also the cute girls thing is just a jab at anime and moe. Too much moe!)
I feel your pain about comedies! I feel that they are belittled as well. Viewed as almost a cop out. People don’t seem to understand the timing and precision that goes into good comedy!!
It’s almost as if a point is invalidated as soon as it is funny….I mean if I couldn’t laugh at the state of the world, let’s just say there would be some grim days.
Now, that is something I can DEFINITELY agree with!!
Hmm, so would a series like Hetalia count as a deconstruction of, like, world cultures/history since its whole point is to pretty much personify and parody several countries and cultures leading up to WWII?
I’ve only seen the first couple of seasons. I think it’s funny, but I’ve never thought about it THAT deeply before.
Huh, that’s a good question – I mean Hetalia is certainly satire but is it parody? It’s sort of a deconstruction, with slice of life bent into historical commentary but…Good example! Now I’m thinking about it way more than I have before…
I guess, like you were saying, it all goes back to how you define deconstruction, like whether or not it has to really be genre specific, and whether or not parody automatically equals deconstruction.
Better men and women than me have failed to answer that question – although I could probably just ask google but what’s the fun in that
I like the way you think.
Ouran High School Host Club is great. One of the few anime series I actually have a DVD set of rather than streaming. It hadn’t really occurred to me to consider it a parody, but yes, it definitely gently mocks all sorts of conventions all over the place. I like shows (and games) that are self-aware about this sort of thing, but don’t mock it in a nasty way; I think this is probably one of the reasons I’ve always liked Neptunia so much.
In unrelated news, I can’t stop looking at Nyarko’s legs in your header gif. I don’t think it had occurred to be previously quite how perfect her legs are. Not bad for a terror beyond time and space.
Little known fact – I stumble across gifs I want to use then make up a post around them…
I think for parodies, I would summarize them in one word: “#relatable”. And the rest of it will be either be me making a fool of myself doing some senseless “Hahaha… …” laugh or me making the parody moments into full-fledged memes and pushing it into everyone’s face. 😛
Ok, (enough with the jokes) it’s time to take parody seriously!!
Tetra! Haven’t seen you around in a while but it’s great to hear from you – no joke!
I’d gladly expose the jokes of my life for people to laugh at and to know what-not-to-learn-from-this-fellah XD.
Yeap it’s been a while, I’ve missed reading your witty compositions 😉
Comedy is great and so subjective which probably is why it probably gets so much shade thrown at it. Look at me using teenage vernacular.
It is so weird some anime I watch and they get a nose bleed and I’m annoyed, then other anime I will laugh my ass off. Is it timing? The joke set up? The background that I have with anime and nose bleeds? My mood? Dang, it does take a lot of talent to write comedy and write it well. Any anime that will make me snort or laugh out loud moves to the top of my list of favorites.
Well hello there fellow kid!
I’ve mentionned it before that comedy is possibly the most subjective genre as sense of humour tends to be much more personal then dramatic flair or adrenaline pumping action!
And that’s why we need to encourage it even more. Mind you this season seems chock full of parodies.
Again, another interesting topic I have to write about soon.
I’m working on my own stuff dang it, stop distracting me with other ideas XD
But that’s all I do…
I’ve been wanting to do a post about what genres I like and dislike but I don’t really do things in article format so I always put it off. Comedy is my favourite anime genre too, and I agree its bogus when people don’t give them recognition. Writing comedy is hard, way harder than any other genre and I always have so much respect for something that can make me laugh. I really loved this post, I’m super curious about Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei now, thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Sadly, it tends to be a little harder to find but if you can it’s definetly worth watching. I would love your thoughts on it
Mahou Shoujo Ore is by all means, an overly self-aware satire. That show makes One Punch Man question its potential in that department.
I can’t wait until the season is over so I can binge it. I wastched the 5 first minutes of the first show and was like – nope wanna marathon this one…