From time to time I will review a series and mention something like the characters are very inconsistent or the themes contradict themselves. Basically pointing out a hitch in the subtext or how the narrative was structured. Often these aren’t enough to destroy a viewer’s enjoyment of the series but it’s something I noticed. And that’s really what I started an anime review blog for.
Occasionally, will get comments from readers along the lines of I did notice everything you point out but this isn’t a serious show so it doesn’t matter, or this is just a series I watch for fun so I don’t care about those things.
First of all, great. You don’t have to care about those things at all. That’s perfectly fine. And if you enjoy a show then treasure that! Life can get a bit exhausting and overwhelming at times, whatever we find to cancel that out, we should hold on to. The technical stuff is the side.
But, I don’t know if I agree with the it doesn’t matter part. I’ve seen enough variations of this comment to consistently get the impression that for some, it’s not that it doesn’t matter to them, it’s that silly little anime you watch just for fun doesn’t really have to live up to any standards. And I just don’t think that’s true.
If you take that thought and run with it, you’ll probably get to the point of thinking that silly little anime shows don’t have any quality standards, pretty quickly. And that since they can get away with being crappy, they will by default mostly be crappy. And I vehemently disagree..
As someone who primarily enjoys the silly little shows, this goes against my personal experience. And I want to convince you today that silly little, not serious shows are also an art form. That is if you need convincing. I have a feeling my readers already know all this.
The thing is, any show, regardless of what the message is or how the character arcs are constructed, or even if they exist, does have a bare minimum requirement as far as I’m concerned. And that is to be entertaining. If I can easily have more fun doing something other than watching the series, then why would I be watching? So that’s the baseline.
If you take this amazing narrative, like a deep well-written mystery or an epic SciFi/Fantasy with unimaginable world building. Well, you’re already at an advantage for creating a series viewers can get lost in. Similarly, strong arcs with deeply fleshed out characters that learn and grow throughout the story, are going to be easier to engage with for a lot of people. And as soon as you care about the characters, you’re going to be hooked.
But what about the silly little shows. The ones where the characters don’t really learn much, don’t have any huge tragedies and don’t even do that much of note. The ones that take place in sort of ordinary or undefined places. A show about a bunch of average students joining a club and doing ordinary club activities for instance.
I just described a premise that’s so popular it might as well be its own genre. So for anime fans, this won’t be much of an impact. But try separating yourself from your experience with anime and thinking about convincing someone who has never seen a Japanese animation to watch a show by describing it as: it’s about these kids who join the school sewing club so after class, they get together in an empty classroom and practice sewing. Sometimes they try to create patterns. Did I mention it’s puppets?
wait, hold on there a minute, let me catch my breath! See what I mean? Not a huge amount of built-in excitement there. I have a feeling I’m underestimating my readership and a whole bunch of people are going to want to see the puppet sewing club show. I was actively trying to come up with something boring and even I kind of want to see it.
I do hope you see my point despite my ineptness at creating super boring plots.
My point is that shows that don’t have a strong premise, characters, narrative or production values absolutely need to excel at the other elements in order to remain entertaining. Admittedly, sometimes they might fall back on fanservice, either the sexy or non-sexy type and just go all-in on that. And that’s an art too.
However, often they are shows that pay a lot of attention to the details most of us don’t really notice when we watch. Pacing for instance. Episodes just fly by without you even noticing it but you’re also not constantly wondering who that guy is or why are they doing that or did I miss something? That’s good pacing. Information is being given out at the proper speed and interval for viewers to easily understand and appreciate the story without feeling like they’re in a classroom or that things are just repeating constantly. Pacing is one of the most important elements in making a good anime in my opinion and most people never notice it at all. When it’s done right!
It’s far from just that though. Balance is another big one. Creating a cast where characters interact in ways that are pleasant to watch because these characters are different enough to vary and modulate interactions. Production may not be lavish but it’s usually still very efficient. The most is made to make even simple art appealing, music may b simple or unremarkable but it’s not annoying, colours are soothing are uplifting even if they are in a limited palette. That sort of thing. all these elements need to be thought out carefully. You may put up with an obnoxious colour scheme because it has narrative meaning or because the animation is amazing but you won’t if there’s nothing to counter it.
And of course, there’s the ineffable. Or at least the thing I can’t quite explain because I’m just a random noob. It’s what I call charm. A series can be charming. A mix of endearing lines of dialogue and small details in the animation may be some particularly well-cast voice acting. Little elements all coming together to make a quiet nothing of a story something you want to watch and care about.
I know I’m describing all this in a sort of wishy-washy way. That’s my failing though. I’m not doing it justice. As I write this, a variety of sweet little shows are running through my head. Series I have loved and some that are widely loved by all. Since I’m writing this in August of 2021, I think the best example of what I’m trying to say this season is The Case Study of Vanitas.
Vanitas is a silly show. It wouldn’t be completely unfair to call it stupid. It’s a mix of easy light-hearted comedy, which are often timing gags and one-liners and exaggerated soap-operatic drama which is also treated as comedy most of the time. Every other episode or so, there are some earnest and honestly emotional character moments. The animation is stunning and the art is pretty.
It’s a silly show. It has a convoluted plot that also features a lot of tired vampire clichés (oh yeah, there’s vampires). The themes are shallow and the characters don’t get developed much. But the development they do get is consistent and manages to subvert some expectations here and there. The characters are different enough to be entertaining but also grounded enough not to get too annoying. And Murr is GOAT.
I could say the plot doesn’t really matter but that’s not true either. The careful contrast between the sunny and light moments of the show and the completely exaggerated melodrama create this fun seesaw effect, blending tones in a way that adds interest to the show. I guess what actually happens may not matter that much but the way it is presented makes a huge difference. And it knows to revel in the camp, embrace the cheesiness of this type of story. It makes me smile.
It’s a silly little show and if nothing about it draws you in, you probably won’t like it. But if something does, then everything else about the series is carefully put together to keep you entertained while not requiring any emotional or intellectual involvement from you. d I think that’s very impressive.
It takes a lot of talent and probably some luck to create a show like this. Let me scrounge up some more examples. How about Yuru Camp? Or maybe New Game. Shows that don’t have any inherent hooks and don’t throw in romance or fantasy to become more interesting. Just ordinary people doing ordinary things. Heck, you could even just convert these to live action without a single special effect and still get the exact same thing. I’m not sure I can apply this to Vanitas mind you but I really want to see real people constantly carrying the main character like a sack of potatoes.
What I’m saying is that even silly little shows are in fact complex works of art that require so much talent to put together.