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.
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 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.
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.
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!