Why did I choose that as my header gif? Even I don’t know but I like it so so much! Apparently it’s from an anime called Aiura which I haven’t watched so I don’t know if it’s predictable. I sort of want to add it t my watch list based on this gif alone….
I was reading a post the other day and I came across the line, this anime is entirely predictable. It was meant as a flaw of the show. It’s also a fairly common criticism lobbed at all sorts of media. Now I don’t particularly care about novelty in my entertainment. I’ve spoken about it before. It’s just not something that’s super important to me.
But today, I’m going to try to argue that not only is predictability not such a horrible thing for anime, but in certain instances, it can even have it’s own advantages. The important word here is “try”
Anime in general is a very trope heavy medium. Up to a certain point all entertainment is but I have found that it’s even more present in anime and considering the culture it comes from, that makes sense. Following more regulated narrative structures and adhering to tropes is much more orderly.
I have been watching anime for some time, and what’s more I am a fan of Sports! anime. I mention this because I think it’s a particularly formulaic genre. For example, I am currently finishing up the last episodes of Ace of Diamond Act II. This means I have watched over a hundred episodes of that particular show along with the hundreds of episodes of Sports anime I’ve seen in general. Even before starting the season, I could look at the episodes and roughly tell you where they would lose a match and where they would win, where the training episodes would be, where a change in the team dynamic would cause an emotional stir and potentially flashback for certain characters. I could figure out within a 3 episode range where tournaments would stat and where the main characters would get eliminated. And I can say now, I was mostly right. Ace of Diamond is an extremely conventional Sports! anime.
But the thing is, I really enjoyed it. I still am. I would watch another season anytime and I can probably tell you right now how that other season would play out.
When thinking about how certain reviewers consider predictability a given negative, my mind immediately went to Ace of Diamond. Mostly because I’m watching it at the moment. There are dozens of anime where I (and probably you) could tell the general outlines of the story after the first episode. However, what I came to realize is that I’m not enjoying Ace of Diamond in spite of how predictable it is, but partly because of how predictable it is.
Some of this is highly personal and won’t apply to anyone else but some general notions I think could translate to a lot of shows and for diverse audiences. For one, there’s something great about consuming media that has been done well. Looking at a photograph of a lush forest or a kitten. Even if these are subjects we’ve seen thousands of photographs of, it’s still great when it’s a really good photograph. The appeal isn’t in the originality of it, it’s in the mastery of something familiar. It’s eating your favourite food that you’ve eaten a hundred times but cooked to perfection.
Now of course, just because something isn’t original, does not by any means make it masterful or even well done in any way. There are dozens of super predictable anime that are executed poorly. But you could argue that sticking to a formulae that’s been tried and true, used over a dozen times and slowly perfected over all that time, could give you a bit of an edge. It allows writers and production teams to learn for the mistakes and successes of others and have a better idea how the public may react to certain things. It’s a production and creative resource that’s just not available when one is doing something no one has ever done before… (I’m not sure that exists!)
Not to mention that cliched, or the much more flattering “classic”, story lines are absolutely necessary to make subversive ones have any impact, or really be possible at all. Viewers often love when a show “does something different” or “defies expectations” but those expectations and really our entire concept of the “norm” can only be build on the backs of countless shows and stories that play out similarly to each other. If everything was always new and different, our brains would stop registering it.
Oh and speaking of brains, it takes time to process information, both rational and emotional. When taking in a story that is based on familiar elements, we already have a short hand established. That’s why characters can be “relatable” or fantastic stories are “logical”. It’s because they behave in ways we’ve seen before and patterns we recognize. When too much originality is pushed in and all those patterns are disturbed, most people will need to create new emotional and rational shorthand to interact with that fiction and most likely, that’s going to take a few series to establish. Until the audience’s brains adjust to all the new rules of this fiction, it’s a lot harder to suspend disbelief and really care about what’s happening.
All of that sounds fairly reasonable, doesn’t it? The thing is, no matter how logical it may seem on paper, I can’t really measure how it translates in practice. I mean, I’m a big fan of variety. I don’t just want to watch the same show over and over again… but I do once in a while.
The only thing I can say with any certainty, is that in certain contexts, I really enjoy a degree of predictability. It feels safe and comfortable. It allows my brain to take it in on a more visceral level as I don’t need to analyze all the already familiar bits of it. And once in a while I just know exactly what I want to watch. I want to watch a bunch of high school students practice really hard at a sport, experience an emotional set back by losing out in the second or third round of their first tournament so that it’s even more satisfying when they win the next one! It’s going to make me happy every time. I’m going to get wrapped up and cheer at the eventual success, every time. And sometimes, that’s what I want.
Look, I love when a show leaves me floored. Fact is, I’m watching another series alongside Ace of Diamond and yesterday, an episode ended in such an unexpected way that I realized my jaw was literally hanging open. I sort of laughed at myself when I noticed that I had been staring at the screen mouth wide open in a soundless O for quite a few seconds. It was amazing. I can’t remember the last time an anime did that to me. It was energizing. I did this weird dance where I started to look the show up on Google, read one line of whatever site then click off cause I didn’t want spoilers then get back to it cause my brain was too restless…
But you see, I need a few episodes of Ace of Diamond in between that other show. I need an anime intellectual cool down to really appreciate the other. Both these series serve different purposes for me and I think we don’t appreciate the mundane enough. The comfortable and familiar. The traditional home cooked meal with our favourite ingredients. Exciting is great, but it can get exhausting as well. Once in a while something nice and predictable is just what we need. Or is that just me? It could be…