I like Parodies. I like them a lot. Ok, that’s an easy statement. I like most comedy genres so there’s nothing new here. But in watching Pretty Boy Detective Club, I have been thinking about just how tricky it can be to pull off a good parody. It’s a genre that comes with a whole slew of pitfalls and not all authors/creative teams are up for it. It’s also one of the few genres that needs a proper audience.
First, let’s get this out of the way. I keep calling parody a genre but I know it’s not really that. Parodies don’t have to adhere to narrative conventions or have any set traditional tropes or anything. I guess it’s more of a style of comedy. However, knowing myself, I will probably refer to it as a genre throughout this post. So please excuse the inaccuracy there. What am I saying, my readers are definitely forgiving of inaccuracy!
I think the first incident that brought this subject to my mind, is reading one of my fellow reviewers describe a show as having become “the very example of what it’s trying to parody“. Now this specific view, or variations thereof, is supper common in critic circles. I’ve seen it dozens of times when it specifically comes to parody. And the issue here is that it’s very difficult to prove or disprove.
For instance, I don’t think Samurai Flamenco is just a base reproduction of what it’s trying to spoof. But I don’t have any evidence of it. To me, it consistently exaggerated and made self-aware jokes that made me think we were all in on it but I could be wrong. And I don’t know how to prove it either way. Which means that it’s going to be tough for a writer to fix it.
And that’s sort of the rub. The, for lack of a better word, the value of a parody is entirely dependent on what the audience takes away from it. And that can be difficult to predict when dealing with tongue-in-cheek comedy. I can say that I didn’t like a drama or that the dramatic events didn’t resonate with me but that I appreciated the characters or that the narrative was well constructed. Generally speaking, because of how a parody is held together if you don’t like the way it comes off, there’s little to nothing left to latch onto. Aside from production values, I guess.
The biggest problem with parodies is the perfect balance they need to strike. If they are too obvious, they become crass and lazy. You can always fill them with sight gags, that’s something that most audiences enjoy, myself included but it will tend to limit an author in what they are trying to say.
And now we go back to Pretty Boy Detective Club. Very few episodes have aired so far but I did read the first novel a while ago so I have a pretty solid idea of where it’s going and what type of humour I can expect. I was always going to watch this series but I was a bit afraid that it would be difficult to translate to anime. More specifically, that it would alienate a lot of people.
You see, Pretty Boy Detective Club is a spoof on a few genres. The reverse harem being the most obvious but also school club anime and generally pretty boy series. However, being a parody, it also is those things in a literal sense. Pretty Boy Detective Club is a show in which every week a bunch of very pretty boys have adventures. And some viewers aren’t interested in that. It’s a show with a singular female lead who is surrounded by men and captures their attention. That’s also going to not be interesting for a portion of the audience.
So far, it’s all good. All shows in all genres cater to certain audiences while being unattractive to others. You can’t please everyone!
However, Ishin is a peculiar writer. The humour in Pretty Boy Detective Club is tongue in cheek and it’s biting. Humour in anime is rarely particularly mean or sarcastic. So Ishin can come across as a touch more aggressive in the writing style. Pretty Boy Detective Club is not simply lovingly ribbing a genre, it’s actually making fun of it. And a lot of it can be hilarious but it might also be a bit odd for the part of the audience that is there for the pretty boys and high school shenanigans.
For instance, I had a reader tell me that they did not enjoy how full of themselves the boys are. Now, that’s kind of the point. It’s taking character archetypes that are impossibly and superficially perfect and injecting ridicule into it by bringing that to the level of text. I get it. The thing is, that readers also gets it. That doesn’t change the fact that they don’t enjoy watching super conceited characters. And that’s fair.
And that’s the issue with parody. The more subtle and biting you make it, the more you run the risk of having it go over people’s heads. And that’s a fail. The more obvious and exaggerated you make it, the more likely you are to create elements and archetypes that aren’t going to be fun for some viewers.
The worst part is when you land somewhere in the middle. The parody is too subtle to attract audiences not interested in the parent genre but too obvious for the audiences that are. Then you only get the random weirdos that watch everything!
And when I think about it, I get a whole new respect for shows that dare to be parodies. It’s a very delicate balance with high risk and low reward. But I like them…
I have been using Pretty Boy Detective Club (which doesn’t even have parody as a tag…) as an example but I think the show will be just fine. It’s not that mean and a lot of elements are very fun about it. Besides, the Monogatari series has such a deeply dedicated fanbase that it,s bound to get some good vibes by association. Or at least be shielded from the harsher fallout.
I guess we’ll find out!