When Comedy Anime isn’t Quite Comedy

Comedy anime series get the short end of the stick. I think that’s a real shame. Mostly because I’m a huge comedy fan and I defend my own. However, after seeing the recent Crunchyroll award categories I think I might know at least part of the problem: Semantics…

anime girl reading

words are rough…

Another part is the devaluation of humour but that’s another story.

So the recent Crunchyroll awards had a comedy of the year category. As usual I hadn’t seen all the nominees but I had seen some.  The animes nominated in the filed were Kaguya-sama, Aggretsuko, How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift, Isekai Quartet, My Roommate is a Cat and Sarazanmai. Out of these I’ve only watched the last two. I would not have thought of either as a comedy at all. Like if someone asked me to recommend a comedy none would have come to mind despite the fact that I have actually recommended both these titles for different reasons.

Both these shows made me cry at some point and were filled with heavy and unpleasant themes. Both dwelled on the pain of loss and depression in a straightforward way without the use to jokes or slapstick to lighten the mood. Sarazanmai is absurdist and has a lot of outlandish imagery that some people associate with comedy. My Rommate if a Cat is what I would call Slice of Life and those also get called comedies most of the time. Certainly both had comedic elements and more lighthearted episodes. However at the end of the day, I don’t think the goal of either of these shows was to make the audience laugh. I’m pretty sure I personally categorized them both as dramas. Like I said, I also really liked both.

When looking it up on the internet, the lion’s share of anime comedies seem to be harems and moe shows. (Ed. I know there’s some issues going around about the use of the term moe but I don’t know what the arguments are and I’m not sure how else to call these shows. CGDCT is also controversial apparently. You know the genre I mean. It’s very unique to anime.) From my limited viewing experience I think it’s a fair label to apply to harems but not so much to moe. In the sense that most harmes I have seen seemed to be primarily aimed at making people laugh while the moe show’s I’ve seen were much more varied in tone. And I have a feeling that at least some people might huge anime comedy more harshly because of those association. Not that there aren’t dramas that also happen to be harems or CGDCT shows that are actually packed with jokes and slapstick humour, it’s just that they’re separate things yet the label comedy always seems to get slapped onto these genres even when it doesn’t necessarily apply.

k-on-hirasawa_family_packing

face it, it won’t all fit

See when I think “comedy”, I default to the narrow meaning of it. A piece of entertainment whose primary goal is to make the audience laugh out loud. Not necessarily to relax them or ease their troubles or give them a warm fuzzy feeling. Comedy is often uncomfortable. But it’s supposed to be funny. Sometimes it fails or doesn’t work for you but you can see the mechanics of humour through it. Jokes, nonsense situations, caricature, parody, sarcasm, cynicism, so on. So when I want to watch a comedy, that’s what I’m in the mood for. Not necessarily a heart warming story full of positivity or deeply emotional roller-coaster.

But that’s my failing. Comedy is a much broader term in the context of anime,  that has come to encompass fiction that isn’t meant to be “serious” or anything that won’t leave you heartbroken and reeling from angst… Did they even watch My Roommate is a Cat and Sarazanmai? Sorry, not the point.

I don’t actually care about genres and tend to mostly ignore them. But that’s because the definitions and categorizations are very inconsistent that I simply don’t find they give me much information. At least not the information I’m looking for.

For instance,a quick look through this AniList top 50 anime comedies(I only browsed the top 15 or so), includes Cowboy Bebop, all 3 first seasons of Haikyuu separately, Gintama and at number 1: FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood??? I would never have guessed that at all. In fact, if we go by my usual definition, comedies have humour as a primary focus, I think only Gintama would actually qualify in my head.

Gintama

to be fair Gintama is very loved

At this point, you might be asking yourself, so what? I don’t blame you. I’m not entirely sure why I am going on this little journey either, other than as a lover of comedy, I constantly feel the need to defend the genre. I’m sure some of you out there understand the feeling.

I love Haikyuu and think this latest season is incredible. This said, if I was looking for a show that would have me gasping for air between unstoppable guffaws and holding my sides from laughter induced pain, I would probably have been very disappointed with Haikyuu. This was in fact the exact situation I went through with Toradora. It started promising enough and I giggled quite a bit at early episodes but as I was bingeing it, it very quickly changed tone and I still wanted jokes. I wasn’t in the mood for teenage angst, I had signed up for slapstick, and I’m sure I ended up being much harsher with the series because of it.I wonder if anime comedy as a whole hasn’t suffered form something similar.

I have a very hard time believing people don’t enjoy laughing. I don’t know what I’m basing this conviction on mind you. Still, when people tell me they don’t like Anime comedies, I immediately try to reason it away somehow. Maybe they’re new to the medium and haven’t yet build up the context to enjoy all the tropes and goofiness. Maybe they simply haven’t found a series with their type of humour. I’m adding to this list: maybe the saw all of these anime labelled as comedies and wanted to laugh but ended up watching a man crippled with guilt and regret after loosing his entire family slowly withdraw from society as a coping mechanism and thought hmmm anime’s idea of comedy is sort of depressing.

As I wrote this, I realized describing the topics of a series doesn’t help my point. “A man crippled with guilt and regret after loosing his entire family slowly withdraw from society as a coping mechanism” could totally be a comedy. Comedies are often dark or deal with depressing subject matter. That’s part of the point. Making harsh realities more bearable. So everything I just said above but with no jokes….

What do you think? Could it just be a matter of imprecise definitions? Do you like to laugh?

Rini 2020 (8)

 

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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35 Responses

  1. Nadia says:

    I love comedies!

  2. Kapodaco says:

    My central issue with comedies is that, as you said, if they aren’t immensely funny at all times, they’re ruined. I think this may pressure production companies/authors to give more of a background point to stories as a way of falling back on something should the comedy not always pull through. It just stands to become more of a drama with comedy elements, as that’s usually the safer bet (from my experience). In terms of pure comedies, I honestly can’t think of anything that embodies it the whole way through—everything has some elements of other genres that power through depending on the context.

  3. foovay says:

    Genre terms in anime, live action, and even books totally baffle me. And at this point, I have to agree with Pinkie that the term Comedy should probably be retired altogether, or used with a modifier. For instance, RomCom (romantic comedy) is actually some of my favorite Korean drama – and I generally don’t like romance of any kind. Coffee Prince had me rolling on the floor at times, and yet it also had hard things and sad things. When it comes to anime I have to agree with you that almost all Slice of LIfe anime offer some comedy, as well as serious, thoughtful, even gut wrenching moments. In fact, almost any genre of anime I have watched has at least some comedic moments. I expect some comedy in any anime that isn’t otherwise deadly serious like PsychoPath. I found Aggretsko hilarious, but I also believe that it is mainly funny to people who have been in those painfully stupid office politics situations and I personally would think of it as Slice of Life or even CGDCT. (Speaking of which, I like GDDT as a new genre name) The more I think about it, the more I can’t think of hardly any comedies in any media that don’t slip in moments of deep sadness or profoundness. I kind of think those are what make the comedy work. You know, most comedians are people who have had terrible lives one way or another and laugh and make others laugh to cope with their own pain. It’s a Yin/Yang thing – you really can’t have all of one without some of the other. So – comedy as a genre label is outmoded. Toss it out!

  4. Interestingly, UchiTama is counted as a slice of life and moe show (…yes, they have that category) on the streaming service I use for it, but not a comedy. UchiTama, I think, is a “stealth comedy” – that is, it doesn’t look like one, but that’s what it predominantly is. I find the best series defy genre and can be whatever genre the story needs them to be without losing its usual audience (for instance, I believe Scott and Karandi have recently been getting shonen fatigue on BnHA because it’s an action work first and foremost, not an SoL…and it’s been doing a festival arc precisely to get away from all the action with heavy consequences).

    “A man crippled with guilt and regret…” – That gave me Zetsubou-sensei vibes, but I haven’t watched that or read its manga (I only know of it secondhand), so I wouldn’t be the best person to verify that thought.

    I remember either voting for Sarazanmai or the cat anime (I believe I picked the latter for the comedy vote, because I see that as more of a comedy than Sarazanmai) because they were the shows I’d seen and not necessarily because they worked for the category. I woukd count them as dramas (and Cat as an SoL) rather than comedies, though the absurdist angle on Sarazanmai could work.

    • Irina says:

      Zetsubou is a great anime. It’s a lot more of a comedy in that episodes tend to be set-up and punchline structured usually parodying a social convention.

  5. Isekai Quartet was really funny. You had to like the original shows, though. Fortunately I adored all four of them.

  6. aina says:

    Yup I agree with you about Sarazanmai. Every time I am reminded of that anime, all I could recall is how heavy and depressing the story was despite the absurdities in its characters and some of its elements. Definitely don’t think it’s a comedy anime.

  7. tanteikid94 says:

    Saitama, Chunnibyo, andd Iruma-kun could be comedies.

  8. “Another part is the devaluation of humour but that’s another story.”

    You should write that post. I hones think that’s a huge problem!

    “My science background just tells me that if you’re going to bother putting things into categories, you should be somewhat consistent”

    Absolutely! I tried to list comedy series at one point. I got to 5, then figured I’d cheat by going to MAL.

    After going through the first 50 or so “comedy” listings, I still had about 5 I thought were really comedies.

    So I think your post’s point is spot on.

  9. Dawnstorm says:

    I’d never vote for Cat or Sarazanmai in the comedy category. It feels like stealing the chance for an award from true comedy anime. All the other nominations are comedy, though, the only one I haven’t seen is Aggretsuko, and I’d have voted for Kaguyasama. My fave, though, was definitely Wasteful Days of Highschool Girls. Also, Endro~ and Demon Girl Next Door, all shows pushed out by ursurpers (or by Crunchyroll committee tastes?).

    I sometimes think anime databases just throw as many genres as they can think of at any given show, so that the tags become somewhat useless. I had the hypothesis that if an anime on MAL isn’t comedy, it’s humourless. The hypothesis could not be sustained after it turns out that Natsume isn’t a comedy (and it’s definitely not humourless).

    Some shows are hard to classify, though. The Ones Within? Is that a comedy, or is it just strange? (One of the most under-appreciated shows of last year, IMO, but is it a comedy?)

  10. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t consider Your Lie in April to be a comedy in the slightest. The show’s comedy itself really didn’t fit the tone at all and it just really felt out of place.
    I remember watching Devil Survivor 2 the anime since at that time i was playing a bunch of SMT games and the moments with Daichi in it didn’t really add anything in the story and the comedy itself especially in the action scenes with him it really fall flat on the ground.
    And also if you think about it now i’m pretty tired of the abusive dere trope as much as many other anime fans and the fact we are supposed to like them as well too.
    As much as i really liked Jupiter Jazz the parts with Ed and Ein in iit really felt out of place as the entire episodes has to be one of the most serious stuff in the series besides the real folk blues and ballad of fallen angels.
    Thats not to say that comedy doesn’t have a place in serious anime. Ryuk and Monokuma are the funniest characters you could find because their black comedy always had a point to it.
    Danganronpa has had really great moments some of which i’m really surprised they got a way with like when Kochi used the term “Cumdumpster” that moment really had me laughing really hard.
    There’s a huge difference between slice of life moe school comedy shows and shows that have elements of comedy in it and there has to be a right balance between it
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

    • Irina says:

      I have to admit I always considered Dangan a comedy. Maybe it’s because I played the games which are just straight up jokes and satire the whole time

  11. Mari says:

    I like comedy but I have a hard time getting into “pure comedy” anime. I think it’s because the humor in most comedy anime doesn’t jive with my specific tastes. I tend to prefer dry, witty humor or humor that satirizes aspects of modern society (whether that be big topics like politics or religion, or just silly mundane things we all deal with every day.) But I feel like comedy in anime is like 85% slapstick and 25% sex jokes. It just doesn’t resonate with me in the same way. I’m not sure if this is a cultural divide I’m not picking up on. Usually when I want to laugh I’ll turn on a funny video on YouTube or a standup special from a comedian I like. I don’t get the same vibes from comedy anime most of the time.

    Also, since when is moe and cute girls doing cute things controversial?! It’s like the most laid back and heartwarming genre of fiction there is. Whatever, it’s the internet and everyone’s offended by everything nowadays 🤷🏻‍♀️

    • Irina says:

      Not the genre itself I just had a few fans tell me they don’t like those terms for it. Still don’t know why though.

  12. K.A.L.T says:

    After reading this post I just wanted to apologise for putting “My Roommate is a Cat” on my “Anime For A Bad Day” post. From my vague memory of it I only remembered it as a comedy as I enjoyed watching the continuous shift in perspectives between the cat and the owner. Especially since they were always on completely different wavelengths!

    Anyways, I haven’t seen many harem comedies but I have seen a lot of moe/CGDCT anime as you probably already know since you read my “Anime For A Bad Day” post. They are not limited to those though. When I think of comedy to fit your criteria, the anime that come to mind are definitely Saiki K which you have watched as well as anime like Asobi Asobase, Aho Girl, Gabriel DropOut, Chio’s School Road, Sakamoto-kun desu ga?, Daily Lives of Highschool Boys and Wasteful Days of Highschool Girls. (sorry this list got longer than intended, I’ll stop adding more)

    Personally, I don’t pay much attention to genres either. Then again I don’t really read the synopsis of shows either… I just kind of see whether I like the cover art. If the cover art is nice I’ll just watch it. Guess that’s only possible for an anime glutton like me though.

    Back to your post about genres not really fitting what you’re imagining… I feel like comedy is honestly put on so many anime because there is almost no anime out there that has zero laughing value (except maybe Babylon). I feel like you have better luck guessing what the anime is going to be like based on the cover art and title. Though I must admit I was wrong about After-school Dice Club just being a CGDCT and didn’t expect there to be ambition amidst the playing together with backstories.

    “A man crippled with guilt and regret after loosing his entire family slowly withdraw from society as a coping mechanism” description gives me “Welcome to N.H.K.” vibes. That’s not the actual plot though! It’s just about a hikikomori. It’s also tagged as a comedy btw.

    “Comedies are often dark or deal with depressing subject matter.” I remember when I mistook “Kotoura-san” as a comedy anime and got hit by some depression in the first episode. Then again, there are a lot of comedies about socially awkward people who feel out of place with others or fear others or those that don’t think much of themselves like WataMote (which I haven’t personally watched), Hitoribocchi (though this one turned wholesome cause it’s all about her learning to make friends which is cute as hecc), WATATEN (wait what is this about again? all I seem to remember is a hopeless college student dressing up young girls… perhaps it doesn’t belong on this list my bad) and Comic Girls (the main character is shy and looks down on herself). Whoops, but these are all anime that could be put in CGDCT category? Except WataMote I think.

    It seems my comment ended up wayyyy longer than I intended. Sorry about that.

    Let’s just end this comment with an answer to your question, yes I like to laugh. Especially whenever I’m feeling down, I’d love for an actual comedy anime to make me laugh. Out of all the laughing I’ve ever done in my life, 99.99% (just kidding, I didn’t calculate) is because of anime or anime memes. XD

    • Irina says:

      I can definitely see roommate as an anime for a bad day! Even if that was the show I was describing with the man crippled with guilt bit. In the end it is subjective

  13. Pinkie says:

    I think overall comedy is a bit of an iffy genre definition. It stems from the earliest of early days, with tragedy and satyr play. Having only three genre’s the comedy label is basically always slapped on anything of an airy tone.
    In the oldest form basically anything that had plenty of innuendo or satire counted as a comedy (old comedy) then later on it evolved to involve anything that had non nonsensical plot elements (in middle comedy) and in the later stages of ancient Greece comedy became applicable to anything that doesn’t treat a bigger narrative or political narrative but instead focus on average people and everyday life.

    As such the title of comedy is still applicable to slice of life, harem and I guess even full metal alchemist as it has some satirical views on certain political parallels between our world and theirs. I just feel since we also don’t classify stuff as a Tragedy or Satyr play anymore we should not use the old term of comedy. It’s not always used.. but it does still happen.We really should split it up in a few different sub genres.

    Gigglefest.. for stuff that focus on jokes with set up and punchline for example. Or the Rosey-Cheek genre for something that is heavy on innuendo. Okay I might not be good at naming a genre but the points is . The word comedy is waaay to applicable to just about everything these days. As a term it is nearly as defining as “It’s an anime.. or it’s a movie” but no where near as defining as horror, drama, historic drama or sports. So lets name it Chuckles! Or for Crunchyroll ..”Best anime to laugh with”

    Also why is Moe and CGDCT controversial now?! I am so still gonna use those terms! I mean look at how I would describe comedy without being able to use the word! This is only gonna make it worse.. SO NO ! I Will still call it moe!

    • Irina says:

      I was told by a fan of the genre that people look down on the term but I’m not sure why. Also Rosey cheeks is a fantastic genre name and should become official right now

    • My only problem with CGDCT is that it devalues what is being done and by inference the girls doing it. There is nothing “cute” about climbing Mt Fuji. It is damned hard work and quite a few have tried and failed or got acute mountain sickness for their efforts.

      Plus it has been used for everything from “Are You Lost” to “Eizouken.” The shows have young females trying to do something but that is about all they have in common.

      I prefer Cute Girls Doing Difficult things.

      • Irina says:

        I like that. It’s sad that cuteness is devalued but it’s a great explanation. So GDDT Girls doing difficult things

  14. I’d agree with How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? being a comedy. That series was hilarious and I’d probably classify Bofuri as one too. There are numerous comedy formats in Western media too though such as dark comedy, romantic comedy, situational comedy, slapstick, etc, so it’s not always as clear cut as it seems.

    There’s also episodes of shows that focus on comedy even if the remainder of the series is serious. There were several episodes of Hinomaru Sumo that had me laughing my ass off, but it was primarily a sports anime. I think anime does do a good job of switching the tone in a series even if the overall feeling remains the same.

  15. My favourite comedies are the ones that can have me laughing my head off one minute and tearing my heart out the next. Something like Only Fools and Horses or Porridge.

    Still there is a difference between a comedy show and a show with comedy in it. The sitcoms I just mentioned I class as comedies because that’s their primary goal, something like My Roommate is Cat, however, is as you said more a slice of life. I feel like a lot of these tags get put on without people properly watching the shows, or at least not watching enough to know what the series’ goal is.

    Then again trying to putting things into genres is clearly a result of us humans trying to enforce order and logic on a chaotic universe and is entirely pointless outside of our own subjective viewpoints.

    • Irina says:

      But pointless things still matter! I do agree. My science background just tells me that if you’re going to bother putting things into categories, you should be somewhat consistent

  16. Yomu says:

    I think you’re right to feel that some anime aren’t necessarily comedy.

    If we wanted to be more precise what we would have to do is assign tags / genres to a primary and secondary category, depending on what the primary focus is of the anime. As you say, an anime might have some jokes or a funny character, but that doesn’t make it a “comedy”, so it would make more sense for the comedy tag to be a secondary aspect.

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