Spoilers are bad right? I mean yeah they are! But not everything is a spoiler. Sometimes, spoiler phobia can go a bit too far. At least I think so.

I’m pretty sure that every media-based community has this thing where they detest spoilers. It’s like one of the cardinal internet sins to spoil a show or movie or book. But that mindset can have some unexpected side effects.

don’t even think about it

I remember years ago, I got softly chewed out for including a spoiler in an episode review. In my defence, it’s hard to review an episode without somewhat discussing what happened in the episode but I could also have been more subtle about it.

However, what stuck out to me was that this was called a spoiler in the first place. Basically, there was a very predictable confirmation regarding a minor character. This character only appeared in two episodes of the entire show and their presence or fate had no impact on the overall plot. They were used partly as filler and partly to illustrate the main character’s personal evolution.

To me, this information had no impact on the story the anime was trying to tell. But to someone else, it was a revelation that they wanted to experience for themselves.

*** As an aside, you really should not read episode reviews of shows you haven’t watched if you want to go in completely blind. I read a lot of them and they tend to go into detail about whatever happened that week. ***

Since then, I’ve been extra careful about spoilers. I try to guess about what someone would consider a spoiler and give ample warning. I will often not include some crucial information in series reviews to avoid explaining the twist. That also means that I occasionally will avoid discussing certain themes and topics I thought were really interesting about an anime, because it might reveal too much information.

I know, right!

I personally am of the opinion that most well-written shows simply cannot be spoiled. Knowing the outcome of a story doesn’t destroy the enjoyment of it. I have watched numerous retellings of classic fairytales or adaptations of mangas I have read, and I still think they were great. But I can understand why someone would prefer to discover information at the same time as the characters onscreen, and go through those emotional arcs in parallel.

However, I do think that our intense fear of spoilers has accidentally created this false idea that predictable = bad in fiction. And I just don’t agree with that.

First of all, guessing where a story was leading, does not mean it was badly written. In fact, it sort of implies the opposite at least on some level. Well-developed characters that act logically and consistently with their own personality and circumstances, will largely do things that make sense. And the audience will likely see them coming if they pay attention. That’s a good thing. After all, the easiest way to make a story completely unpredictable is to either not give the audience enough information to base any assumption on, or just go against the established world and character building. Either that or make random events happen.

Of course, a story can purposefully mislead the audience for a twist. Sometimes that can add an element of fun and other times it just comes off as stupid and interferes with what was otherwise a good story. In the latter case, I prefer to know in advance. There are also stories that hide information from the audience, as in mysteries. I love mysteries, and a lot of the fun is trying to notice all the clues and figure out what exactly happened. I would however argue that a mystery where most of the viewers figure everything out by the midpoint or later, is still a great mystery.

Then there are detective stories that never make much sense

But I have seen more than enough people just go, I figured it out in episode 5 and leave it at that. As if that statement alone, means that it was bad. In fact, I’ve seen people do that with shows that are clearly not even mysteries. I feel like people may be robbing themselves of a very fun time by dismissing any story that doesn’t surprise them or leave them baffled and amazed. There is so much more out there!

But that’s not what I think the biggest downside of spoiler culture is. Certainly, it’s messing with our media appreciation. However, I think audiences that have spent enough time-consuming stories and figuring out what they appreciate are not going to completely disregard a fun experience just because everything happened as expected. Still, I would argue that the surprise = good mindset does have an influence on most people, even if it’s a subtle and minor one.

What’s worse in my opinion, is how this mindset influences stories that are being written. I know a LOT of fanfic writers. The most common preoccupation is finding a way to surprise and shock the audience. Something that will get their attention and keep it! A twist, an unexpected event, something that will set their story apart as unique! Because the worst thing a fanfic can be is the same as every other fanfic.

I would be lying if I said that this was an unreasonable way of thinking about it. I mean, it is. Writing first and foremost to tell a story no one has ever told before, is a huge ask. And people read fanfics because they like fanfics, so I don’t see anything wrong with a fanfic writer’s story being quintessential fanfic. But I also understand the drive to set yourself apart from the rest. With so much available entertainment at our fingertips, creators obviously want to be the ones to get noticed. And outrageous twists or surprise endings, for better or for worst, get noticed.

It’s not just little independent hobby writers either. How many times have we heard about popular shows or even movies changing their endings (often to something much worse in my experience) because the original ending was leaked online? The need to keep the audience guessing and on their toes will sometimes lead to an experience that is just empirically worse and less enjoyed by fans.

There are other ways to get noticed

Keep in mind that these are only the shows we hear about. This whole idea is to have the audience come back week after week because they need to find out what happens next. Everything is so crazy! That’s a writing style that has been adopted by a lot of series writers. And I think it’s interfering with the quality of storytelling.

Let me clarify, that does not mean that I don,t think a show full of twists is going to be bad by default. There are a lot of amazing series that constantly pull the rug out from under you. But there is a difference between a story that is full of surprises and a story that has been filled with surprises. I hope that makes sense. A natural twist or reveal that happens organically as a result of the story itself is one thing. A twist that has been added in because the writers wanted to surprise the audience, is another. And the latter is very difficult to pull off, and rarely done right.

We don’t hear as much about the nuts and bolts of anime production. It happens far from us, a lot of us don’t speak Japanese and in general, the industry isn’t as candid. But we can see anime getting adjusted as it airs. We know that production schedules are extremely tight, making at least in theory, possible to change things at the last minute since scenes are still being put together, and insert twists if fans guess how a story is going to go.

It’s a little less common in anime as so much of it is based on manga and therefore, fans are expecting a set story. That’s another issue altogether, but it does happen. And I have a feeling that the need to surprise people, is already influencing how the manga plays out in the first place.

I just spent a lot of paragraphs to essentially say that reading a spoiler by accident, shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the anime nonetheless. And that there are some truly wonderful, predictable stories!

20 thoughts

  1. It can be hard , but I feel like I had worst luck on Facebook with people spoiling major shows . Here on wordpress and IG I’m a little better at not getting spoiled. So alot of posts I’ll just scroll down lol . But I still like checking your blog out even if you sometimes get ahead of me ✨💕

  2. So I think you have a point. I don’t think knowing how something turns out necessarily ruins my enjoyment of it. If that were the case, I would never rewatch anything.

    What I would say, (and you touched on this) is that it does affect how I watch something. If I know how a story ends, I’m going to be more focused on the plot points and dialogue that get me to that ending. For me, at least, there is less of that emotional rush that I get normally, and more of my analytical mind kicking in.

    The effect can be pretty small though. I mean there have been plenty of shows that I’ve rewatched that I am just as emotionally invested on my second viewing. Even in those cases though, there is some part of me that slows down and reads the lines more carefully. I might be caught up in the story, but I’m not as caught up in the story.

    All of that being said, I find people use the unoriginality argument to cover for other flaws. Instead of providing a proper explanation of what they didn’t like, they’ll just say, “Well, it’s more of the same.”

    1. I forgot to add that I do think we could have some discussion on the proper amount of spoilers for a review. Personally, I won’t read a review that says it contains spoilers, but I can see you’re point that you have to be able to talk about the plot to say what it is that you did or didn’t like about it.

    2. I also think that cliché is a sort of catch all complaint we throw at fiction. There’s little distincts between that and classic…

      1. Cliche and derivative are both on my “Useless words in reviews” list. They hint at some other problem, but they don’t really tell me what the person doesn’t like.

  3. I never really understood the thing some people have with “spoilers” I actually like to know what something is about and what happened before I watch it. And if I want to be surprised, than I just don’t read the reviews. It’s that simple. Reviewers are supposed to analyze or “review” a work and discuss it, it’s kind of self explanatory.

  4. Yeah personally I’m fine with spoilers. My family’s super against seeing any though so I respect that and make sure not to mention any even if I happen to find out about them myself. I follow a lot of anime blogs and fans on social media so I spoil myself on things all the time but like you said, if you really want to avoid it you could just not click on the post most of the time.

    I find it helps get me excited for future events personally. I also usually use the 3 year rule for spoilers. Like I wouldn’t feel nervous about posting a picture of Goku in his Ultra Instinct form because the anime came out many years ago so I feel like everyone’s seen it. I won’t go out of my way to suddenly drop an image of any character death though.

    Even for editorials of older titles I always put in a brief message of: “This will contain spoilers for Naruto, Pokemon, Berenstain Bears, etc.” so everyone knows what they are getting into.

    As for what counts as a spoiler itself, I usually consider this to be: Plot Twists, Characters dying or coming back from the dead, using a different name for a character, or showing a grown up version of a character which sorta confirms they lived through the whole adventure.

    I wouldn’t count small things though like a character having a new outfit or hanging out with someone. (Your picture reminded me that someone thought it was a spoiler to show any pictures with Kirito and Asuna together since he’s a solo player and it’s a twist that he created a party. It’s so early on that I disagreed….but I know everyone has their own view on spoilers) Also, if a scene is in the trailer (Mainly relevant for movies) then I don’t consider it a spoiler. I know not everyone watches trailers but at that point it’s so widespread that I can’t really think of it as being something that has to be hidden anymore.

    1. At that point, you could consider the fact that every official site has “romance” as a genre for SAO to be a spoiler…

  5. According to a massive study of 50K books…. there are only six – maybe seven – plots. (https://www.vice.com/en/article/8qxkkb/computers-find-that-there-are-six-plots) although some writers guides dating clear back to early 1900s will say there are up to 37. Given the number of manga, books, fanfic, movies, series, it’s kind of ridiculous to expect to be surprised every time with an amazing new story. And ridiculous is pretty much the only way it can be done I mean you can bring in magic, aliens, alien politics based on totally different needs from earthlings but even then it all boils down to a 3 act – all is well, conflict, conflict resolved. Sometimes it starts with conflict now, because you know – got to grab an audience in 2 minutes or less or they click away. (I find this super annoying, BTW – especially when the first scene is something from near the end – and then they have to go back and show you the beginning). I’m babbling on to say, I agree. A predictable story is not automatically a bad one. You would think as many people as have been looking for “comfort” stories the last few years, we would have realized that is EXACTLY what people are looking for. All of which has nothing to do with spoiler culture.

    Given all the various idiotic politically correct bullshit these days I don’t see how anyone dares to write anything at all and put it out on the Internet. Someone is going to say it has a spoiler, or it is somehow offensive to someone somewhere sometime. Then they say it on Twitter and there’s a pefect storm and outcry and next thing you know you’re cancelled and you and everyone who looks like you and the horse you rode in on are all ostracized. (eyeroll).

    Lord I’m getting old and gritchy.

  6. “has accidentally created this false idea that predictable = bad in fiction. And I just don’t agree with that.”

    I think you’re right. Predictability varies depending on how much a reader or viewer is paying attention. The best way I’ve heard it described is that a writer rewards anyone who closely reads or watches their work with enough clues to figure things out. At least, as you mentioned, in conjunction with well-designed characters. It’s not badness; it’s actually a sign of good construction.

    “But there is a difference between a story that is full of surprises and a story that has been filled with surprises.”

    I really like that sentence. If I interpret it right, the “been filled with surprises” part suggests the surprised were added in for the sake of being a surprise — which is to say, not necessarily as a logical outcome of the collision of plot, character, theme, or any of the other story components.

  7. There are even a few shows I’d have probably liked better if I’d been “spoiled”. Psycho Pass comes to mind; all the speculation in my mind were so much more interesting to me than the “twist”, and I felt like I wasted my thinking all of that for a show that wanted to do something else entirely, while I’m entirely unprepared for what the show was really about. I never recovered. Had I been spoiled, I’d have watched the show “correctly” from the beginning.

    Another example is Blood C. Deciding to hide a blatantly obvious “twist” is a bad idea in the first place, but sacrificing the characterisation of various characters who could have had a build up if you’d sacrificed the “twist” instead is a doubly bad idea. Blood C is at its best when it’s just slaughter porn. In cases like this it’s not really a “spoiler” so much as a confirmation what you’re probably thinking anyway. It’s more that some shows seem to be so in love with a clever idea that they hold it back in a wait-till-I-reveal-it manner that they actually forget to properly explore the idea. And sometimes that amounts to a waste of potential in favour of a one-off surprise. Shows that tip their hand early are often more interesting.

    Of course, it’s sort of genre dependent. It’s very easy to spoil a who-dunnit, and very hard to spoil a slice-of-life show. I appreciate a good plot, but for me plot is always fairly low down on my list of priorities. I never really bother avoiding spoilers; if I come across spoilers I simply will have to stop speculating, but usually doesn’t diminish the show (it does reduce the ease with which I can talk about a show, say, in comment section such as these: speculation is pretty easy to improvise. Almost everything else, the important stuff, is usually way more intuitive and non-verbal, and whatever I say about it is likely always partly wrong and partly right.)

    The murder is…. the victim. You didn’t see that coming, did you? (Of course, now we have to wait for a show that this can actually spoil… Or maybe I’ve seen one but forgot about it?)

    1. I want to see that show. Although, I guess faking their death does sound like something that has been done at some point.

      I didn’t think of it but now that you mention it, there are some stories that probably work better if you don’t have to be chasing a twist and can just sit back and appreciate a straightforward telling.

      1. Oh, faking your own death is only option. Alternate time-line time travel, time travelling zombies who really like being zombies and therefore make sure they become one, identity theft (the murderer is the victim, but the victim is someone else)… I bet there are a hundred things I didn’t think of.

        I once read a SF short storie (I think in a collection of Australian SF called “Alien Shores”) where a detective had to solve a murder, but the trouble is that forgetting season is starting, and people are already starting to forget who the victim was, so eventually the detective narrows it down to two people and pretty sure that one of them is murderer and the other the victim… It was a cute story. If I can find the book, I’ll give the author credit.

        1. Found it: “Mnemonic Plague,” Bill Dodds.

          Excerpt:

          5.74 PM They also didn’t know who the victim was. I was told this almost at once, but it took a while to sink in.

          I saw the body, small and sad. I saw the four survivors, astonished and dim. We all know someone did it with a blaster, but it didn’t help. Even the jobs they did in the library were only titles explaining what they happened to be responsible for that day. Whoever found a job needing doing first, did it.

          If they had not actually found the body, they wouldn’t be sure anyone was dead.

          Great.

          ***

          End of tangent of tangent.

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