In Defence of Predictable Anime

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”

Ace of Diamond

why thank you!

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.

haikyuu

I could have just used my Ace of Diamond screencaps but I thought that would be too foreseeable

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!)

bobobo

anime as tried a lot of things

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.

Kanna_measuring_1

I guess I could try

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…

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Irina

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

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37 Responses

  1. Aoi Hinami says:

    There is an overemphasis on being yourself and imitating others is looked down on. Copying better artists and stories is looked down upon so doing anything differently even if it is bad is being encouraged for the sake of originality and “sincerity” just because it sounds good on paper.

    • Irina says:

      That’s usually a Western point of view where individuality is highly praised. I do see what you mean. Funnily enough, a lot of the shows people love are referential. Learning from those that came before and all that

  2. compass1378 says:

    The thing is that animes are always predictable cause they are adapted from manga but i see animes for awesommeness visual content and sound effects help too.

    • Irina says:

      There are original animes. Some very interesting ones as well. Cowboy Bebop, Psycho Pass, Perfect Blue off the top of my head are some I enjoyed. I think Madoka was also an anime first.

  3. compass1378 says:

    start to look forward for something new try anime ‘days’

  4. queerotaku says:

    Yes! Finally! Anime that’s predictable is fine. The only problem is when it’s a BAD cliche.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes you just wanna turn your brain off and just watch something thats entertaining and have fun.
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

  6. Pinkie says:

    I do not mind a predictable anime most of the time. In fact there are some series I keep watching over and over again because I do not feel like having my mind blown with new stuff or amazing plot twits all the time. A nice predictable energy can be just as nice.
    Sometimes it’s not about the destination but how we get there and even if we know the stops along the way the sights can still be pretty.

    I just don’t think a very predictable anime will ever land in my top 10. Like i’d probably never give the anime a 10/10 if it is predictable even if it’s perfectly what I want at that time. But sometimes a solid 7/8 across the entire show is better than a series of bouncing scores. If Episode 6 has an amazing plottwist that I rate 10/10 and episode 7 doesn’t deal with it I might give that a 2/10.
    A predictable show is always good enough to watch because.. I choose to watch it.. I know where it goes so I can not be disappointed either. Sometimes I rather not be let down than see something mind-blowing and these shows are there.
    Though I do see them a bit more as a snack as a full meal.

  7. Dawntorm says:

    Aiura was great, but I think it would have been even better had the episodes been a little longer (~ 10 minutes should have been enough, but I’d have taken a full length show, too). As far as I remember it relied mostly on mood, and it would have needed a little more time to fully work its magic. I remember absolutely nothing about what happened. If there’s one thing I don’t think too many people can predict about this show it’s the animation theme of the opening. There’s one thing I remember the show for: it was really, really pretty. (Also, if you hadn’t said it’s Aiura, I’d not have guessed the show, but it’d have bothered me to no end.)

    Predictability is only bad if it counters some goal of the show, like suprise or suspense or mystery. It’s really painful to see a show set up an obvious twist, especially when that means they have to hide things that would make characters more interesting (I’m looking in the direction of Blood C.)

    Slice-of-ife is one of my favourite genres, and predicting what’s going to happen is usually pointless, since the genre doesn’t really depend on what happens so much as on how it does. If it’s a school setting, I predict beach or pool, festivals and fireworks, bento eating and so on… I wouldn’t feel the need to provide a spoiler warning should I reveal any of those things happen in a particular show. (Though that might make for a fun gimmick: spoiler warning: there’s a beach episode. Spoiler warning: their exchanging bento foods.)

    • Irina says:

      That is a fun gimmick! Obvious spoier warnings might get pretty annoying quickly though.
      The two people who said anything about Aiura so far seemed to have liked it. Maybe I should add it to my list after all.

      • Dawnstorm says:

        I felt inspired to re-watch Aiura yesterday. It’s very, very good. I had the same impression I had the first time I watched the show. The episodes should be longer. Actually, even just reducing the episode count from 12 episodes to 6 and splicing them together might work (though you might need some bridging, I don’t know). There are sometimes two-episode skits.

        Also, the show is even prettier than I remembered.

        (You’d have a total runtime of about 36 minutes. The skits are continued after the ED.)

  8. wingking78 says:

    I agree with your thoughts here. Personally I’d rather watch a largely predictable anime that’s flawlessly executed and fun than one that tries too hard to be different and ends up a complete mess.

    There’s also another advantage of predictability and familiarity: efficiency. In a medium that’s often time condensed because of small budgets and the need to pack large amounts of adaptation into small 12 or 13 episode runs, the more you don’t need to explain because the audience can instantly connect the dots themselves, the more running time you have to put in the stuff that does need to be there. Like with sports anime for instance, you usually know within about five seconds when The Rival makes their first appearance because usually one of three things happens depending on their character type. Either they immediately and loudly issue a challenge, they treat the protagonists like they’re gum on the bottom of a shoe, or they have a friendly encounter with the MCs without them knowing they’ll have to compete later. In each case it’s enough to quickly establish who the rival is, their base personality (hammy, arrogant, friendly, etc.), and sometimes even hint at how they approach the game (fun, serious, tactical, ruthless, etc.), without a ton of exposition. Which frees up more time for the stuff we really want, like the actual matches.

    • Irina says:

      Excellent point. I am currently watcing Darwin’s game and this exact thing crossed my mind. It’s a fantastical universe but really it’s just a thin layer of flair over a fairly basic battle royal set up so I pretty much understood everything that was going on and had an idea of what to expect, within the first ten minutes. And the show was smart enough not to overly explain anything and concentrate on action and particularities. Like you said: very efficient!

  9. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    I absolutely adore Aiura! Slice-of-life is my favorite genre to begin with, and the CGDCT aspect certainly didn’t hurt things. I didn’t mind a bit paying full price to own this short!

    As to the general theme, that predictability can be an enjoyable quality in anime, I concur. I often seek solace in books and anime, and it calms me when I know where things are going. The occasional surprise is nice, but not nearly so comforting as familiarity.

  10. railgunfan75 says:

    I don’t mind a predictable story myself. Sometimes I need to just turn my brain off and enjoy the ride. The concept of a unique story is kind of wrong if you thing about it. They say that there are only seven types of stories in the world so coming up with a brand new idea is almost impossible. Everything is influenced by something and that is absolutely fine. I agree that the predictability of a story is not an absolute indicator of the quality of a story. I agree with what you say here and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  11. You just nailed a topic that I’ve been trying and failing to put into clear and concise words for a while now. Literally couldn’t have said/written it better myself. I particularly liked your photography analogy– I think that was spot on. Well done.

  12. blubbyweb says:

    Satisfying, predictable ending > illogical, shock factor for unpredictability ending any day

  13. Kapodaco says:

    This will forever be my favorite Aiura gif: https://i.imgur.com/wj6NI1U.gif

    Nice post, Irina. I can definitely empathize with the need for an “intellectual anime cooldown.” It might be why I have so many harmless, straightforward romcoms in my anime history.

  14. Well said. I do like predictable anime because sometimes it’s just nice to relax and watch something you know you will like. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. If predictable is done right it can be very good. For example I’m a fan of the Pretty cure series and they are fairly predictable, but the fights are done well and the music is good so I’d rather watch that than something like Madoka which breaks many of the magical girl tropes.

    • Irina says:

      I watched Madoka quite a bit after it came out and by then had seen so many of these shows that I thought it was a good but super conventional series….

      • Dawnstorm says:

        The most unique aspect of Madoka is probably also the least talked about: I can’t think of any other show, where the titular magical girl doesn’t become one until the very end of the show.

        • Irina says:

          Unless you count the non linear timeline.

          • Dawnstorm says:

            Yep, and it’s plot relevant, too. It’s just when you talk about as Madoka as a deconstruction that’s where you have to put the lever and start the analysis, I think.

            Most takes say it’s about how dark it gets, but I think that’s susidiary. It’d be an interesting analysis, I think. Someone must have done that somewhere, surely?

            • Irina says:

              To me the biggest subversion is the admission that there is no true purity. That the girls all have the potential to let their tragic flaws take over.

            • Dawnstorm says:

              That’s definitely the core of Madoka.

  15. Dewbond says:

    When everything tries to rewrite the playbook, no one does.

    Something like ReZero, or Tanya the Evil which upends the apple cart is a wonderful thing to experience, but having that be the norm ruins that feeling. There is great joy in seeing a familiar story play out, especially when that story is giving it’s A-game. Sword Art Online doesn’t do anything really new with it’s first two seasons, but it’s told so well that you appreciate it nonetheless. Same with High School DxD, it’s a by-the-book harem romp, but there is so much love, time and effort put into its world and character that it elevates it over shows that try too hard to be different.

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