Anime as a medium doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. You’ve heard the accusations: Mass produced and cheaply made. Often more concerned with filling a time slot or being an extended commercial than actually producing a great show. You need to wade through a whole lot of subpar entertainment to get to anything of value…..

Aside from that last one (I happen to think even humdrum anime is pretty much on par with most entertainment…), I have to agree with most of the criticism. There is an enormous volume of anime produced each year and with tight deadlines and saturated markets, there comes a, let’s say loosening of quality standards.

eI9CPsp.png
I don’t even know what this show is

Yet I think there’s in fact an upside to this. And that upside is lowered expectations. Or rather, what comes from that. You see, if anime as a market is expected to perform in a generally unimpressive way and is only really tasked with taking up a certain amount of air time and adhere to the most basic set of norms, no one is going to bother much with quality assurance or oversight.

Censors and industry regulations are much less stringent. Advertisers buy up add space without even bothering to find out what shows are about. The overall impression is that the industry is fairly inconsequential and therefore there is no need to invest important amounts of time, resources or regulations.

This is where the fun stuff starts to happen. There’s still room for innovation and rebellion in anime. More so than in most mass entertainment media. In fact, considering the algorithm and advertising guidelines, YouTube probably polices its content more than the average anime.

It’s rather funny when you think about it. **Warning potentially slightly offensive generalizations ahead** From everything I know, Japan as a culture doesn’t tend to value creativity and originality as much as western cultures. Moreover, it remains a society with a deep love of organization and conformity. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of these things. I’m just saying these characteristics don’t tend to be conductive to wild, crazy completely unexpected products.

land of the loustrous.png
and yet

I know what you’re thinking. So why do we get so much WTF Japan news? First, every country has its share of weirdness. Second a lot of it is in fact due to the ultra-strict adhesion of social norms. This wasn’t what we were talking about. Back to anime.

Ok so anime is the freewheeling, anything goes medium, with little to no oversight. But it’s produced by a society that is instinctively self-regulating. As a result, a lot of anime tends to follow a particular mould and stereotypes abound, but these aren’t dictated by industry or even necessarily market regulations. And tend to crop up fairly organically as a product of group think.

A less tidily organized society would probably not have been able to support such a large industry without putting in some rigid framework but in Japan, it can still work.

This also means that the few outliers who come up with truly original ideas have a much easier time getting their vision realized in anime than in any other format. Except maybe blog.. Not much oversight here either (obviously…) That’s why there are so many stories that really could only get made in anime. I’ve touched on this before.

horriblesubs-3-gatsu-no-lion-01-720p-mkv_snapshot_22-25_2016-10-08_22-29-32.jpg
they may not be the stories we think

It’s not a question of technical possibilities or high viewership. In fact, the comparatively low and very divided viewership of anime is in part responsible for this freedom. In short, the medium as a whole tends to fly under the radar.

In some ways, this is probably why anime can afford to be so permissive with both sexual and violent content. On the other hand, it’s also why you will get some brilliant shows that don’t seem to cater to anyone at all!

Mainstream and network shows seem to have accepted a certain degree of incest for instance. Fanservice and violence have both been rampant in every single form of entertainment for as long as I can remember. I’m sure something similar to Darling and the Franxx or My Hero Academia could be greenlight right now in the States. All the romantic comedies, moe shows and isekais are pretty much sitcoms already. Those might need some minor adjustments but would also be viable, if in lesser quantities. Sports anime would be a hit!

In my opinion, what we would lose out on are shows like the Eccentric Family. Oddball shows that don’t seem to pander to anyone in particular. The ones that don’t quite work on paper. Too meaningful and occasionally uncomfortable to be considered entertainment fast food for the masses. Not sexy or violent enough to be sold on the power of vicariousness. And not formulaic enough to be consumed mindlessly. This is a show you can’t throw a laugh track over. A show that makes no effort to be quirky and ever so relatable. 

Eccentric Family.png
so two seasons of this!

I really can’t see anyone putting it on air, unless it didn’t matter…. Tsuritama falls into this category as well. And of course Natsume. A children’s show about existential angst and societal isolation. Where do I sign!?!

In case you didn’t pick up on it, those happen to be some of my favourite shows. Judging by their popularity, I’m not the only one who feels this way but none would be considered breakout hits. They are all still lovingly crafted high quality offerings, that exist because they are part of a medium where failure is always an option. Where the fact that audiences are turned off by the unusual, wouldn’t matter all that much in the long run.

So yeah, as anime is gaining in popularity and recognition we are finally getting some more resources put into both creating and distributing anime world wide, which is a great thing. Slowly certain standards are starting to be applied to content as well, and average quality has visibly gone up with time. Truly awful shows use to be much more prevalent, trust me. I hope the trend continues.

However there is a tradeoff. We might lose some of those weird, unexpectedly great shows along the way. So, let’s cherish them while we still can. While they’re just for us, as the world is still looking the other way!

asobi asobase.jpg

27 thoughts on “Anime’s Low Expectations and Why That’s a Good Thing”

  1. Wow this is so fascinating that you can even talk about this point-of-view and brought it to the table. I think a large part of it is how you present it in such a positive light. But I happen to disagree with your whole perception of this dilemma. I think the way you view things is a “ruined by praise” kind of mindset that I find unhealthy. That is due to my mindset of “seek perfection; achieve excellence”.

    The reason why I think it’s unhealthy is because you can pull out silver-linings all you want but if that’s the message you strive to deliver then the people in charge are gonna think they’re doing everything right. “I mean you even say you find “humdrum” anime to be on part with most media”. Even if I agreed (I don’t) I would not even consider stating such a thing. Because it celebrates Japan’s lack of creativity and their conformity which is the worst traits I think you can have in an artistic medium. It’s like telling your child that it’s fine they got a C on their math quiz. No. They fucked up hard. They should not be getting C’s. Yeah, we should celebrate when they get an A but always make sure you tell them where they went wrong and assert that they fix such errors.

    I also think it’s disingenuous to say anime is anywhere near on par with Western media. Western media has a lot of problems in of itself and they should strive to be better but they don’t conform to the same patterns like anime does. Well, they conform to broad appeals and concepts a lot of the time. But anime does it in a much, much deeper way. To the point where characters are literally the same. From broad appeals like personalities to minutias like character movement. Character designs, personalities and the way they are animated have been copied EXACTLY the same way and it happens a little too consistently. World-building is not played around nearly as often as it is in Western media. Instead, it feels too often we’re tossed into a high school setting or something.

    Anime limits itself into thinking that characters should not have anything concrete between them other than “Yeah, this girl likes that guy”. Probably in an attempt to avoid making relationships canon so that shippers can stick around. Character dynamics in Western media has the opposite problem where it feels like they toy around with the characters too much and everyone is just having sex with each other.

    I guess my basic point is: Western is exploding with all these different variables and, yeah, truthfully they’re mismanaging them more often than not. But it hardly ever feels like anime is even attempting to touch upon these variables.

    The idea that a character in Supernatural; posing as an agent of the F.B.I in order to interrogate someone for information on what literal monster could’ve possibly caused the crime they’re investigating and he happens to walk into the crime scene while viciously eating an apple pie is so telling of the character himself and, equally, is such an efficient way of fleshing out a character that it is something anime, to my knowledge, has not even attempted to do. Not in such a way that doesn’t waste time. And this is a pretty common technique Western media has taken in and there’s various other techniques that they have that anime has not adopted. And the reason I think it’s such a shame is because anime has a much higher glass ceiling than live-action television and I don’t believe we should be so far behind because we’ve conformed to Japan’s conformity. Anyways, there’s my “short” rant. Regardless, thanks for bringing this topic to light.

    1. I probably don’t watch enough international media to have a proper sample size but I stand by my statement. Even if we limit ourselves to US media and not take into account the huge european and asian markets which you haven’t mentionned, every year brings about a cornucopia of bound to fail copy paste pilots with little redeeming value. You use a show with one of the most rabid and established fanbases as an example (therefore one with the hugest budgets) you should compare it with the best anime has to offer (which still doesn’t have such an extravagant budget). Moreover, you seem to be very concerned with originality of the story presented. That’s certainly a way to judge a story but not the only one. I named a lot of very unusual shows that don’t have anythinh similar in contemporary american tv. But I also love shows that masterfully tell tales of everyday life and explore the human condition without fanfare. A love story isn’t anywhere close to original, it can still be beautiful.

      1. I mean I use U.S. media as an example because it is, by far, the most popular, therefore, perceived to be the best in a sense by the majority of people. It is true I don’t know anything about European and, for the most part, Asian markets but there’s no reason for me to believe they have any significant value compared to U.S. media seeing that U.S. media is supposed to be the best and I think we should compare ourselves always relative to either what we care about and what is supposedly the best. And I don’t care about either of those markets. I care about the anime industry. Was Supernatural that popular? I don’t know the specific details of the fandom. Like, I just watched show and that’s it. So, I don’t know. But if the argument is “well, that show has higher budgets” I disagree. I don’t think budget should, at all, be considered in a critique of an anime or T.V. show because budget is not inherently relative to quality. There’s SO MANY anime that are better than others despite having less of a budget. I would think you’d know that, for sure. Same thing goes for T.V. shows; anything really. I suppose it makes things easier. But like… You don’t think about or usually know the budget just by watching an anime. On occasion yeah.. You’ll uhh.. Have those beautifully animated moments and you’ll be like “Damn! So that’s where the budget went into? O:” Stuff like that. But you just won’t see it that often.

        I guess a metaphor would be better to explain this: It’s like analyzing e-sports. As an analyst you’re expected to have thorough knowledge of the game. You’re supposed to know where each player is supposed to be in certain states of the game, how they should move and what their goal is depending on their resources and composition. So you state your piece and then someone tells you “Well, this team can’t do everything as perfectly as you say they should because you have to consider the emotions of the players”. I mean that sounds ridiculous. I can’t possibly know how the players are “feeling” to begin with. And their emotions doesn’t change what they should do as a team in the current scenario.

        Budget is similar. I don’t really know the budget. I don’t know the monetary costs that go into that budget. I don’t know how it is relative to the intent of the show. Granted, that last point is easier to figure out the more you watch. But even then it’s pretty vague. So budget is just not even a thing for me to incorporate. I think it’s fair enough to say ‘If you don’t have the budget to make what you want to make then just don’t make it. If you do make it then expect it to be criticized exactly for what it is’.

        I’m not… As concerned with originality as it might seem. Ahh.. Okay. This is a point I find hard to make because I am not sure how to put it into words. But like, originality is at our fingertips at all times. People will say “originality is dead”. Well, originality is meant to be something you’ve never thought about… So… I don’t understand how you can think that. But that’s way besides my actual point. My point isn’t “originality” it is “creativity”. Creating a whole package off of what has already been done and evolving it further. Improving on it. I don’t believe in… “Sub-genres”, I guess is what they would be best described. I don’t care about slice-of-life because it’s generally telling of an anecdote I can live myself. Even if it isn’t I feel, all the time, that it can be told in a more interesting setting. Because real life is outside my door. I don’t find that particularly interesting. If I even want to look at the settings of other countries besides my own, like Japan, I will occasionally watch videos on Youtube of touring videos and other videos similar to that. Truth be told, I find real life Japan, even through a monitor, to be so much more beautiful than any of the hundreds of anime set in Japan that I’ve watched. Except for arguably “Garden of Words”. And there is specific minutia that was depicted in that film to make it as beautiful as it was. Not just quality-wise but the density in how much of Japan it showed. From a simple scene like water dripping down a leaf to dense scenes like a Japanese traffic-jammed streetway. It genuinely makes me forget that there is nothing that interesting about Garden of Words to begin with other than it is porn to my eyes!

        1. I’m afraid I disagree with your base premise.
          I don’t think popularity necessarily equate quality. Neither do I believe American media has quite the reach and import outside the US as in. Both British and Korean television is taking on an impressive part of the market and as you point out yourself, new and emerging media like YouTube is also taking up an important part of viewership and it cannot be judged by the same rules.

          Second, although budget does not equal quality either, having more people that each have more time and freedom to work on a project, greatly increases the chance that they will be able to contribute to the extent they wish. That’s just basic math. And yes, you can do something extraordinary on a shoestring budget – necessity being the mother of creation and all that, still time and money constraints will almost always show on an end product. (Yes supernatural is very popular – most shows that make it into double digit seasons have an audience…)
          And finally, you have a very personal view of originality, which is normal but I can’t really answer to it. You may find Garden of Words boring and therefore consider it worthless but without an objective yardstick I can’t really answer that point in any relevant way. I find supernatural really predictable and cliché because it’s the types of stories and shows that were super common when I was growing up but that doesn’t make it your experience so there’s no value in bringing it up…
          Basically, I’m sorry you find anime boring, I don’t and I really do believe it’s worth investing in.
          Fun debate though!

          1. Yeah. I mean I didn’t necessarily say popularity=quality. And I dont feel you gave me a concrete answer to the budget debacle other than “it does exist and it does make things easier” like I said. But yeah, thanks for the talk!

            1. Simply that it should not be included in a critic’s analysis. Because we don’t know the exact budget. Not always, at least. We don’t know the monetary costs that go into that budget and we don’t know how it effects the conceit of the show. It makes it even less relevant since there are low budget anime that have come out stronger than those with higher budget.

            2. I completely agree. However when comparing two similar products it is a little relevant when one has a lot more resources than the other, I think.
              In my opinion, if there’s a chance one would improve with ressources it’s worth mentioning when doing a market study.
              You are completely right though, it should factor into individual critique. Sorry that completely went over my head. I understood something not even relevant, wasn’t thinking about reviews at all. My bad.

  2. I never learn – I see a concept that sounds good check the how out and find after a few episodes it’s pish. Then I’ll find another I overlooked and think “oh well, I’ll give this show a watch” and it’s great; or I’ll get a review disc a year or so later and wonder “how did I miss this one?” Doh! >.<

    But it's not just anime, Japanese culture as a whole embraces throwing out the rule book if it chooses too. Anime arguably has the greatest international exposure thanks to the interwebz and fan subbers, but let's not ignore their cinema too.There are numerous films that could only be made in Japan because the creator's vision is born from a completely unique perspective as a result of that culture.

    There is a reason why there is only one Takeshi Miike, one Sion Sono, one Yoshihiro Nishimura, one Shinya Tsukamoto, etc. they don't let the limits of the imagination or the rules of cinema get in the way of what can or should be done, they just do it – not that everything they do is "right" but they don't care, it's right to them as artists.

    It's not that they are weird, it's that the west is too self aware and inhibited by the rules to take those risks, therefore we're the ones playing catch up, not them.:-)

    1. I’m not sure I would exactly call Japanese culture as a whole unruly and disorderly. There are a lot of extraordinary and off film makers everywhere. Including the states. Heck Lynch even got critical and mainstream acceptance despite some pretty unusual concept on narrative structure. And he’s a very tame example. I love Sion Sono myself and some of Miike but I find them much more accessible than a lot of european cinema.

      1. I did specify “if it chooses too”… 😉

        Glad you’re on the Sono train. Miike is very prolific but his success rate is variable at best. I know what you mean by European cinema but the good definitely outweighs the bad! 🙂

  3. I’m pretty sure Tsuritama belongs to the Noitamina block. The Noitanima and Animeism blocks (both, as I type this, currently hogged by Amazon until further notice) are notorious for hosting avant-garde anime, so it’s probably more of a surprise that a so-called “experimental” anime, such as Flip Flappers, escapes the confines of those blocks…

  4. Interesting projects often come into existence because of determined individuals. My favourite example is probably Dennou Coil. This show is Mitsuo Iso’s baby, and apparently it took him years to get it produced. It’s to date the only anime he directed, I think; he’s a veteran animator who has worked on stuff like Perfect Blue, Only Yesterday, and Ghost in the Shell, so he’s probably got the goodwill and trust of the industry behind him, which probably helped get this made in the first place. (I hear that sometimes; if you do your job diligently, you get to do the project of your heart eventually. It’s some sort of informal reward system, maybe?) [Also, for what it’s worth, Iso seems to have his second original project in the works, now. Looking forward to it.]

  5. “Mass produced and cheaply made. Often more concerned with filling a time slot or being an extended commercial than actually producing a great show. You need to wade through a whole lot of subpar entertainment to get to anything of value…..”

    That’s a universal criticism of any aspect of pop culture. Movies, music, books, television. To find the genius you always have to look to the top of the bell curve.

  6. Great post! I think the animes that I like the most is the ones that are telling a tale that is unique and you don’t see a lot. A good example is this season’s Rascal does not dream of Bunnygirl Senpai. I would never have checked that show out had I not seen it on Karandi’s blog because the title is just crazy. But after having seen the first episode I was hooked and still am. Because it’s definitely quite the unique show.
    So while I do think that anime gaining popularity is a good thing, seeing that the quality overall is improving, I’m with you in hoping that this doesn’t mean the more quirkier and unique animes must not disappear alltogether 😊

  7. Anime works, because while the West says “Why?” Anime proudly says “Why not?”

    And I always keep my expectations for everything super low, it’s how you never feel disappointed.

      1. On the contrary, it’s prevented me from being consumed by the nerdrage entitlement that has crippled so many fandoms.

        Plus it allows me to feel surprised when something REALLY knocks it out of the park.

  8. To me, the freedom they have to just throw anything out there means there are nuggets to be mined from the pile of dross. If viewers look around, they’ll find something to like, but that means neither giving up nor just watching whatever. But the good stuff is out there!

Leave me a comment and make my day!