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.
14 thoughts on “In Defence of Anime Comedy”
Yeah I don’t think the bar should be lowered just because your a comedy. There are lots of good comedies out there like you mentioned so no reason to settle for ones that just aren’t funny. Of course everyone laughs to different things like for me I just didn’t find Pop Team Epic funny at all but I find School Rumble super entertaining. In general I like humor that’s really fast paced and doesn’t need to be called out.
Like if an anime has to devote a whole scene to explain the joke or why the last scene was funny then I start to lose interest but when it’s just throwing subtle jokes at you and letting you figure it out, now that’s when humor’s at its best for me. Sometimes I don’t even notice a joke until I watch the episode again if it’s really subtle like a background element or small animation I didn’t notice.
Best way to kill a joke is to explain it
Japanese comedy is an acquired taste in film or anime. They either go big with the whacky stuff or go subtle but it is based on their own cultural parameters which you either get or you don’t.
Shows like Nichijou, which I recently reviewed, are a bit of both but leans mostly towards the abstract and is better for it in my opinion, but so much of the localised wordplay didn’t hit through me not having the same point of reference as the Japanese audience or the writer.
However, I also find in anime comedies it is the OTT antics (ignoring the bawdier fan service shows) that makes it more entertaining for me, usually courtesy of the support cast – this certainly helps overcome the handicap of storyline clichés like the beach trip, school festival, etc.
I do like a good drama or thriller but you can’t beat a good comedy either! 🙂
True JP comedies are even more particular. They have an extra bias against them
I think you hit the nail right on the proverbial head here. You are right in that humor is subjective, and to me that is what perhaps gives the Comedic Anime genre the perception of being lesser. After all its a rare sight to see a humor based series hit the high mark and become as big as a Demon Slayer or My Hero Academia or Attack On Titan.
But, then again, it’s easier to get behind a universally easy to understand genre like action or intense story driven drama. They’re kinda universally perceived and accepted the same across all audience types. Humor, on the other hand, not so much. It’s harder to nail the perfect fun Anime, because each person’s perception of fun is subjective. What I gravitate towards is no doubt not your favorite funny series, and vice versa. We might both agree we like Komi Can’t Communicate the Anime… We might not. Far harder to get a room of people to like the same humor, than it is to get the sane room to find the action of Demon Slayer to be appealing. Which is funny in itself, since even the best action or drama series has their own moments of laugh out loud humor unique to themselves. They are not considered part of the humor genre, but they have humor all their own.
But hey. If we can bond over, and find common ground in the type of humor we like? We will be far better for it as an Anime fandom community. In my opinion at least.
Now that is a nice thought! Well said!
“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!”
Speaking just for myself, I can see that’s how I sounded. I mean, even reading my own text makes it sound that way! So in a good way, you’ve made me think about how I phrased that and why.
I’ve been trying to be more concise lately. Yes, I know it doesn’t show, but at least mentally, I’m trying! The effect is that I’m blending what I would have put into a paragraph into a sentence. That means I lose precision but bore readers less quickly.
What I think I meant (and even now I’m thinking through the implications of your observation), it’s that a comedy keeps me so entertained that I don’t start looking for reasons to ding it on structural elements. Does that make sense? I’m forgiving of comedies because I am having so much fun watching them.
I think the reason this has made me so reflective is that had anyone asked me directly, “Do you think comedies are a lesser genre,” I would have said absolutely not. I think a good comedy takes MORE skill to write than a routine drama. At least, when I’ve tried to write comedy, I have to stay more focused for a longer period of time because so many elements have to come together for it to work.
In drama, at least in visual form, show some tears, play a stringed instrument, and you have a decent chance of eliciting a sad emotion. But try making someone laugh!
That’s really hard.
I also agree with the points you made about why comedy is not lesser.
My attempts to be concise need some adjustments. I’m glad you brought this up.
Also, sorry if I made you adopt Naofumi Iwatani’s expression!
I might have misinterpreted your words since I’ve so often heard variations of comedy just not being as impressive or valued as other genres
I always feel like there is a bit of a ghetto when it comes to anything comedy, whether it’s anime or not. Especially since comedies are sometimes, but not always, a bit looser with their structures which means that they can get away with a bit more as long as you make a person laugh. The fact that some comedy anime shows can get away with not being as much of a production power house leads to that sort of mindset too despite a lot of comedy series are starting to really one up almost everything that comes about it. That’s at least my read on the situation, so everything comedy is treated different because it’s seemingly handled different.
And you’re right, a lot of series that have a good balance of drama and comedy should be labeled as comedy as well. It feels like every anime, even serious drama shows, have a joke cast members or levity in them to lighten a lot of the tone to make it more watchable. People need to label them better.
I get what you’re saying but I also think it might be a bit of a bias. Like I adored Given which is clearly a drama and the production was far from a powerhouse yet it won over tons of viewers. I think Fire Force is one of the most impressive productions in recent years but it really doesn’t get that much credit for it since it’s not a very serious show…
From what I’ve seen of feedback from Fire Force, I don’t think anyone has problems with it visually. Some of the content is not too people’s liking (I mean, I dropped it for very specific reasons too) leading to it not getting as much attention.
I don’t think anyone thinks Fire Force looks bad. I just think Fire Force is a particularly impressive production, possibly in the top 5 of the decade and no one seems that impressed with the visuals.