When has anime become a field of hermeneutics?
Something you inevitably encounter in the English blogosphere (and something that’s also next to non-existent in the German equivalent) are editorials. Self-proclaimed editorial writers only have one goal in mind: To analyze an anime beyond its plot or characters, to seek for a deeper meaning with a show (or a single episode), to dedicate his very soul to interpreting Chinese cartoon porn. Okay, so much for my ridiculously overblown explanation. Sadly, that kind of spirit leads to a whole bunch of problems. Saying that a lot of editorial writers have a very over-analytical approach to things is probably an understatement as some people have this rather questionable mindset along the lines of “No way my favorite anime isn’t deep!”. Got it, guys? We need to go DEEPER! And that’s basically what editorial writers do.
So, as an example…
…if I was an editorial writer, I’d probably spend 5 paragraphs on explaining as to why this statement is very 1) deep, 2) profound and 3) sophisticated and how it totally represents the diversified anime fandom where we are childish and silly enough to get angry about other people’s tastes and whatnot (thus drawing parallels to REAL LIFE in order to demonstrate why this shit obviously matters), and then I’d proceed spreading a message of love and peace, ending the post with a brilliant “I have a dream!” note, probably also insulting the blogosphere as a whole, and, of course, that shithole /a/ which has always done a good job in serving as a proper punching bag.
And that’s all there is to it. There you have your anime and now explain why it’s obviously deep and worth writing about. Hah, but know what? That’s a rather difficult task to fulfill since most anime are dumb and shallow as shit. There’s no depth to them. Not a single thought beyond the obvious stuff was spend on them. You’re not meant to interpret them, you’re meant to watch them. Think most anime are worth analyzing? They simply aren’t.
“But!”, you say. “You’re only referring to the otaku bait shows like GUILTY CROWN and Sakurasou! There’s more than those shows! Like, say, Apollon!”.
This is not a rare statement you get to hear these days. As soon as something is not totally otaku or fujoshi media, it’s no longer to be categorized as “shallow” but up to people’s interpretation and further analysis. Therein lies, however, a logical fallacy since a show that’s good/at least above average/not extremely generic is not bound to be a show made so that a lot of viewers would spend thoughts on it. I can see why people would like Apollon. It’s certainly one of the better shows this year has had to offer. But just because it’s better or different from most of the horde, it’s not deep, nor worth interpreting.
Do you think MONSTER is deep? Or Baccano!? Nah, those shows aren’t deep. They are brilliant, I’ll give them as much as that. But they are not deep. Still, for some reason, as soon as something differs from the norm (no matter how marginal the differences may turn out to be), it’s apparently worth interpreting.
Think about some generic shounen shows, for example. Like Bleach, Naruto or One Piece. Have you ever read any editorial posts on them? Nah. But when it’s about HUNTER x HUNTER, people just go batshit insane. Look! That show is totally different from its colleagues! The writing is clever, there’s so much thought spend on it! Thus, people claim, you can analyze it and interpret it.
What’s with that train of thought? Sure, despite its generic premise, HxH is anything but a generic shounen show but that doesn’t mean it’s deep or has any relevant messages to convey. Please, get that line of thinking out of your head.
For example, one thing I recently came across was a comparison of Uvogin’s fight against the Shadow Beasts to an allegory of mankind’s reign over all other living creatures. I… uhm… what? Now obviously, there had to be some sort of basis for this claim, namely Uvogin killing the four of them quite easily after slaughtering a bunch of mafiosi. Franklin actually commented on that, comparing Uvogin’s superiority to a “gorilla stomping ants”. Apparently that’s all it takes for someone to compare it to mankind’s superiority, ‘cuz, ya know, ants are animals whereas a gorilla is a… eh… well, ants are animals, let’s just leave it at that. But! Of course that wasn’t all there’s to it. Said allegory was also based on the fact that each Shadow Beast resembled an animal. Still, this does not make a whole lot of sense either as Uvogin is part of the spiders and with a troupe called like that, you wouldn’t draw parallels to mankind, would you? Also, none of the powers used by Uvogin would demonstrate that he’s a human in contrast to the Shadow Beasts who represent animals. So one can easily conclude that writers take things too far sometimes.
In fact, Uvogin even used the same attack as one of the Shadow Beasts: Biting. So, how does this fit in the allegory? Where’s the contrast between the two involved parties [human] and [non-human creature] now? Come to think of it, said Shadow Beast also used poison in order to paralyze Uvogin. Poison created by humans which doesn’t represent animals at all. Especially not the kind of animal said Shadow Beast alludes to. Also, the Shadow Beasts didn’t resign to killing their prey (like wild beasts would do), as stated in the episode, but to torturing them. If the poison had been lethal, the fight would have been over at that point. It’s human arrogance that made them lose their lives in vain. Whoopsies! And there goes your allegory!
See what I’m getting at? You may find one or two (questionable) points to support your theory when writing an editorial, but you ignore all the dozens of reasons speaking against it. Thus, your analytical approach to anime feels very forced.
This has no deeper meaning. It’s just one guy biting another guy’s head off.
Things had reached a new low, though, when Madoka Magica was airing. People seem to worship Urobuchi Gen for reasons which are beyond me. His writing is more like 2derp4u rather than 2deep4u but let’s just leave that aside. Anyway, every now and then, the show would insert some quotes from Goethe’s Faust and there was that whole twisted contract stuff, which made some people go so terribly insane with their Faust blubbering that it made you wonder if they ever read Faust in the first place. Seriously, so many people were jumping on the deepshit bandwagon and all that Faust talk made them wet their pants in utter delight. Shit was pretty damn hilarious. Not as hilarious though as all those bullshit theories people came up with to prove that the show was super deep and had some amazing twists in store for you like reviving characters, witches, and whatnot. Good times, folks, good times.
Anyway, as a German, I’ve read Faust. Well, the first part of it. It was nothing, I repeat, absolutely nothing like Madoka Magica. None of Faust’s content gave any reasons to compare Madoka to it. Those comparisons were simply forced and unnecessary. What kind of parallels would you draw between the two of them anyway? There’s a magical pet granting you a wish in exchange for a devilish (or so it would seem) contract. Is this Faustian? Maybe. The circumstances are totally different ones, though, making this comparison seem sort of questionable. Also, said leitmotif with a shady contract isn’t all that unusual at all. In fact, only one season afterwards, C did the same. Is C, too, Faustian? Or does it even matter in the first place whether something is Faustian or not? Fine, let’s say for argument’s sake that Madoka’s premise is Faustian. So what? There aren’t enough parallels between the two works to make to value that as a clever, striking reference. All that can be said is that _both works have something in common to a certain degree_. That’s it. In entertainment media, however, you get to see this every day. Faust and Madoka Magica may have shared a few tropes, but what’s so special about that? The writing doesn’t get any better because of that. Like I said, two entertainment medias sharing some tropes is a common occurrence. So why make such a big deal out of it? Because it’s Faust that is compared to? Because comparing a show to a book that has fame going for it would make the show any better? Hah. You wish. Using the same tropes as something that’s considered a literary masterpiece doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s the way the tropes are applied that distinguish a good show from a bad one.
Conclusively, whether something is Faustian or not doesn’t matter as long as there aren’t any particularly clever references to Faust, being worth of praise and Madoka didn’t have those. Anime fans, however, were so obsessed with proving that Madoka is, in fact, Faustian because of some minor resemblances, that it’s safe to assume that they actually thought it mattered.
Yet another quite (in)famous term that people came up with during Madoka’s TV airing was “deconstruction”. All of the sudden, “deconstruction” became a word to laud a show, not just a trope. It had acquired the status of a prestige term. So Madoka is a deconstruction? How awesome! Because, you know, a deconstruction is obviously a good thing! It’s not just a writing technique, no, it’s bound to be good!
So once again, people couldn’t stop touching themselves because of a single trope instead of the way it was applied. Then again, if Madoka is to be considered as a deconstruction, isn’t School Days a deconstruction of the harem genre? Or how about Umineko? Isn’t it a deconstruction of the mystery genre? Huh? Come to think of it, doesn’t your definition of what a deconstruction is about apply to a lot of anime? So, err, what’s so special about it then? I don’t remember people hailing School Days for being a deconstruction, not to mention Umineko. What’s with the double standards, folks?
You see, the normative use of terms such as “deconstruction” or “classic tragedy” has become a plague in recent times. Congratulations, you used a descriptive term as a means of praising a show. Now what? Can’t you see that there’s something wrong with that? You tend to abuse positively connotated terms to your own advantage in order to strengthen your line of argumentation (or rather: claims), being completely ignorant of their descriptive meaning. What’s next, people hailing a show as an Aristotelian drama? I wouldn’t put it past some of you.
Anyway, “Madoka Magica is classic, Faustian deconstruction of the magical girl genre.” is supposed to be a sentence mainly formed for the purpose of conveying information to a reader with no implications about the quality of the respective title. Yes, people, you got that right: It’s meant to be information, not evaluation and your horrendously incorrect use of those terms turns them into shallow buzzwords. If you’re that fascinated about applying terms/tropes out of context just so you can praise or damn a show, then join ANN’s writers or something.
So all in all, this is a great demonstration of what an argument between editorial writers would look like:
On another note: Tsugumi Ohba, the author of DEATH NOTE, was once asked whether it was his intention to include any messages about morals or not. It was a simple question to which he straight-forwarded responded with “No. I just wanted to write something that would entertain people.”. Hah! Just tell them! Tell all those emo teenagers who would love to have a Death Note. Tell them that their questionable life philosophy, based on a Chinese cartoon, never had any support from the author to begin with! It’s all a lie!
So yeah, you lot are basically no better than all those anime newbies who consider Elfen Lied as deep. You basically do the same as them with the sole difference being that you’re just on their next level. That’s all there is to it.
Sure, there are always some exceptions to the norm like TEXHNOLYZE or Pale Cocoon. Some shows do have a message to convey or require you to think and it’s not like there haven’t been any anime worth interpreting in recent times. Shows like UN-GO and Jintai prove otherwise, however, they still belong to the minority of anime. Like I said, those are exceptions. They are not the norm, since the norm is not worth caring for, never mind writing about it. Spending any thoughts on the norm is a waste of time. That’s because you are simply not meant to spend any thoughts on it.
Of course, I’m not hindering you from doing that. If you think you have an aspect to contribute to an ongoing anime, post it. Go on. Convince me that you’re in the right with your interpretation. But this requires some logical reasoning as well as a clear foundation. And I’m afraid that I just can’t see that to happen. Conclusively, one thing I can say for sure: The ‘sphere has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.
Something rather interesting I took note of as well is that some of those people tend to look down on the episodic writers, so pretty much people like me, since being an episodic writer is shallow and they don’t add anything new to the show, no aspects worth discussing. I’m sorry to tell you, but I’m fine with what I’m doing! I’m fine with being generic and ordinary! I’ll never amount a lot to anything and I sure as hell am not blinded enough to think otherwise! I’d rather do all the mediocre, not so attention-seeking stuff than aim for something higher only to fail terribly because I’m too much of a moron to realize it was just not meant to be. I don’t want to pretend that there’s more to anime. I don’t think there’s much to contribute in the first place! Why have ambitions if that requires being totally deluded? You’re no different from all those failures of people who enter some song contests like the X-Factor and ridicule yourself at it. Sorry for being shallow, sorry for not contributing anything to “anime society”, sorry for being fine with the uninspired way I am. I’ll never be a pop star and that’s why I won’t ever register for a song contest. I know my limits. But. You. Go, try and fail. And then act like you’ve amounted to anything. Keep thinking that there’s worth to what you have done, that you’ve been living your dream. Keep deluding yourself.
But don’t you dare think I’m disappointed by your performance. From what I’ve seen so far, the word I’d describe the blogosphere with is “recurring”. Beyond all the episodics and editorials, you get to see the same debates and fads over and over again. It’s a highly repetitive circle which pretty much stems from the fact that there’s not much to say about anime in the first place (mind you, editorial writers beg to differ). Of course things would grow stale and redundant at some point. As of now, the scandals and topic talks of the day have already become numbers. The most recent thing people considered worth discussing was that “lulz rape is bad, isn’t it? Fuck shoujo shows.” thingamajig and that one had more butthurt nerdrage than opinions worth reading. That’s what you’d expect from discussions taking place on /a/.
And before hell breaks loose once more – no, I don’t think episodics are the shit. Most of them are way too dragged out and boring to read. But at least they aren’t pretentious.
Then again, saying “profound” things is what anime fans love to do. As soon as people recognize a certain studio or writer, they’ll immediately start theorizing, telling you about what that means and how everything is bound to be good/okay/shit due to their involvement. Dogakobo doing a josei show for the noitaminA timeslot?! Ugh, there’s going to be a lot of ecchi! ZEXCS doing a shoujo show? Must be smutshit! Okada is involved with an adaptation? Surely she’s going to turn it into a melodramatic trainwreck! An anime was terrible? Well, there must be a reason to that and your explanation with next to no insight whatsoever must be the right one! An episode had a lot of QUALITY? Hah, looks like the budget is about to run out! Or let’s talk about preorder points! That, after all, is where all the self-claimed veterans and experts get their pants wet (on an unrelated sidenote: This is worth a shot).
Anime season previews in particular are full of this shit and I can’t help but shake my head in utter disbelief every time some faggot claims that something is going to about generic fighting just because the source material is being serialized in a shounen magazine (like, say, Shiki). But that’s the way anime fans are and hey! We are bloggers! The stuff we say clearly matters! There’s something profound to what we’re telling you! We are experts! We are free to point at people or things and claim “Hey! He’s the one who’s at fault!” or “Look! This is the reason as to why things took a nosedive!”, because, you know, it’s not like anyone knows any better and could contradict us! We have our own (seemingly obsolete) explanations and that, ladies and gentlemen, is plenty.
It’s not like this is a phenomenon only related to anime fandom, it’s a rather omnipresent matter: Once people gain a little piece of knowledge, they abuse and misinterpret it the way it suits them the most without seeing the greater picture of things. People don’t care about the information itself – it’s the way they apply it or rather make use of it that makes them care about it and sadly, that has led to many idiotic statements so far.