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…
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.
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.
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?