I like comedies. I’m just a person who likes to laugh a lot. That’s why it’s always a bit hurtful to see people disparaging the genre. So today I’m going to defend comedies. Despite it being one of the most popular genres, arguable and arch-genre, that has no need to be defended.
I feel useful!
I have always had the vague feeling that comedy was by default considered a “lesser” genre by a portion of the audience but I also thought that I might be imagining things. People often get defensive of genres they like and might assume others are negative about them just because they don,t share the same enthusiasm. I figured there was a chance that this was what was happening here. I really had no reason to think that people actually thought less of comedy aside for a few anecdotes.
That is until I was reviewing My Next Life as a Villainess All Roads Lead to Doom X, with Karandi and Crow. Just to give you some context here, the first season of Villainess was clearly a comedy and I enjoyed less than my collaborators but still liked it. The second season actually dabbles a lot more with drama but I guess is still a comedy on paper if less in execution.
Oh, and I might as well get the semantics out of the way. What is a comedy anyway? We call a lot of stuff comedy in anime. At its core, you could call it a type of story that primarily tries to amuse the audience. Aristotle described comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average (where tragedy was an imitation of men better than the average) via Wiki. It can also be described as a way of looking at the world in which basic values are asserted but natural laws suspended to underscore human follies and foolishness… Fancy…
Historically, comedy was considered an important tool to discuss and explore difficult subject matters with less risk of persecution and as such was considered the more honest or truthful form of art. And a lot of classics are in fact comedies.
I think that what we call drama as a genre is in fact tragedy, or what was once called tragedy at least. Most standard definitions of drama actually englobe most fiction. There are five subgenres of drama which are comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, and melodrama. So when I hear someone say they prefer drama to comedy, I figure they prefer tragedy to comedy as it’s the only genre of drama that doesn’t involve a lot of comedic aspects. This is the definition of tragedy that I found: Tragedy, branch of drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual.
Ok so now we all know where I’m coming from. So in this post when I talk about comedies, I’m describing works that use humour, wit, surrealism, allegory or parody to explore their themes or that inject ridiculous characters or events to contrast their plots. When I talk about dramas, I will be talking about tragedies that approach their narratives in direct and serious ways and that generally strive for deep emotional impact over entertainment.
So let’s go back to Villainess and Crow and Karandi. The second season of Villainess does still inject a lot of humour and in fact, makes the characters even more ridiculous, it also deals with child neglect and abuse as well as some serious forrays into class struggles. So I guess you could call it a tragicomedy or a melodrama. But it is definitely not a pure drama, nor is it a pure comedy.
Admittedly I did not enjoy the second season and I have been a bit harsh on it but at least at first, my collaborators did. That is until one of the last episodes where Karadin had had enough and mentioned that it was badly written even for a comedy. Crow agreed, stating that he usually is a lot more forgiving of comedies but this was a bit much. Essentially, both of my collaborators more or less said that it’s normal and expected for a comedy to not be well written. And that made me super sad. It was tragic!
I respect Karandi and Crow’s opinions a lot. They are well versed in both anime and in story composition in general. If they feel this way about the genre, I have to believe a lot of others do as well. And there are probably good reasons for it.
So I figured I would take a little time to try and change your minds. Not exactly change them. You should like what you like. Rather change your conception of what comedy is.
The first thing I would like to challenge is the notion that comedy is highly subjective. You can’t judge comedy because what’s funny to one person won’t be funny to the other. Therefore, there are no real benchmarks or standards in comedy. And I guess that’s true and also not.
Sure comedy is subjective. I know that because my sense of humour is rather odd. But there are very successful comedians, ones that became millionaires from their comedy and there are ones that don’t make it. So certain brands of humour do appeal to a lot more people than others. There are standards and specific skills in timing, delivery wording that make comedy more appealing. It’s not an anything goes.
Moreover, all art is highly subjective. That bit about what’s funny to one person won’t be funny to the next could just as easily be said about what’s sad to one person or what’s touching or what’s important… I had a long discussion on this blog with a reader who was telling me how the death of animals is meaningless both in fiction and in real life. Yet, we don’t handwave dramatic works by saying emotions are subjective even though emotions are the most subjective! What I’m saying is that sure, there is a subjective element to comedy just like in every single art form. That doesn’t make it different from other genres in any way.
Now for this idea that comedy doesn’t have to be well written. I’m not sure where it comes from. I’m guessing it’s because certain forms of comedy rely on exaggeration or ridicule which twist natural laws. Surrealism makes it possible to maintain narrative integrity even if the story doesn’t respect its own timeline or established physics. Characters can be used as ideas making them purposefully underdeveloped and not relatable or even consistent. These would be considered flaws in a story where the characters have to be people but are accepted in comedies where they are just personifications.
But I disagree. Ok, post over!<
Look the fact is comedies are written differently sometimes, but different doesn’t mean worse. Yes, there are bad comedies. There are a LOT of bad comedies. And since anime tends to put the label of comedy on everything that isn’t completely depressing, that means there are way more bad comedies than anything else. Almost every isekai, most shonen, harem, romance shows are all comedies. Some of them are both comedy and drama but to be a pure drama, it has to be depressing. Interestingly Demon Slayer is considered a drama and not a comedy which I find baffling. Is it because it’s violent? There are a lot of violent comedies. Ask Quentin Tarantino.
So a lot of the throwaway or lower budget shows in a season are going to be considered comedies even if they aren’t really written to explore themes through humour or anything.
I’m not denying the existence of bad comedies. I’m just saying that the fact bad comedies exist doesn’t mean comedy is bad by default. There are some great comedies out there. Most of my favourite shows are comedies or tragicomedies. Monogatari is a comedy and I know a lot of my readers love it. Natsume as a character could be considered a tragic hero but Nyanko is definitely a comedic one.
Using ridicule or humour to examine subjects or themes is a perfectly valid way to create a story. But to create a good comedy it has to be well written. It has to have strong and consistent themes. It has to have perfect timing and balance. In order to appeal to audiences, it has to be relatable on a level beyond the direct story. It doesn’t have the advantage of manipulating emotions in the same way a lot of dramas do so it has to have a stronger impact on the merits of the story or characters.
As such we shouldn’t expect comedies to not be as well written, instead, we should demand they be very well written! And a lot of them are.