Thursday, September 26, 2019

That Serious Business

A day in the life

How precisely can believability be stretched in fiction? When I was young I thought there was no limit, and yet as I get older I find myself brushing up against borders I didn't have before. Why that is I'm not sure, but I would still like to explore it.

As an example, I've been watching anime for a very long time, but it is only in the last few years where I've noticed a similar split has divided watchers. This has changed much over the decades when there wasn't much divide at all.

This isn't just about those who detest it. There's always been a reason to hate anime. In the 80s it was called degenerate tentacle porn, in the 90s it was hated over violence, in the 00s it was moe blobs, and now it's some weird combination of the above.

Suffice to say there are people who just see animation and instantly file it away as kid stuff or as degenerate cartoons for freaks without any in between. You aren't going to convince them that there is a middle ground, but that's just the way it is.

I'm not discussing that group. I'm referring to the split that has occurred to those who actually watch anime.

I don't rightly know if I consider myself an anime fan because I don't like everything the medium does, and I wasn't much of a fan during the late '00s to early '10s, but I have been watching since I was a kid, and different types of anime at that. According to certain moe fans I am a normie and they're the true connoisseurs watching the truly hardcore stuff. At the same time there are those who won't watch anime beyond 2000 due to the switch to computer coloring. On top of it there are those who think anime peaked in the 80s, and yet other who believe the '70s hit the mark right. I've also met those who believe the '00s were anime at its purest.

Nonetheless I don't really agree with any of these positions, but I've been trying to figure out what it is that pushed these strong opinions that didn't used to exist mere years ago. Now there are factions. Weebs have changed, but their bullheaded way of expressing opinions have not.

It's taken me a while to nail down what it is that makes the difference between modern watchers, and I think it has to do with the weeb factor. This is something that has changed over the years and many react differently to it.

What is the weeb factor? This is more difficult to sum up. Some people consider things a "weeb" artstyle, but there is no uniform anime artstyle. This isn't about aesthetics. If you wretch looking at Armored Trooper VOTOMs' artstyle, for instance, then there is nothing that will get you to watch anime even impartially. And VOTOMs' art is very close to realistic. The weeb factor isn't about artstyle.

I think it has to do with what Matt Groening called "rubberband reality" in that the band of believability stretches out for a joke and then snaps back afterwards when the story kicks in. This is not just about humor, but the stretch has to be used carefully to avoid messing with tone. I'm speaking beyond comedy now. So when I use the rubberband, I'm referring to the weeb factor. Does the band bend, or break?

The weeb factor is essentially not in regards to humor, but with general tone and consistency. Think of something you're supposed to take seriously but it instead makes you roll your eyes. That, I think, might be one dividing issue.

Does this help?
The problem a lot of people have with anime is the rubberband of weebishness is stretched in contorted ways and needlessly used. From convoluted character designs to ridiculous action, there are a few things that can pull one out of the world they're engaging in.

Some people like this sort of thing, as seen by the popularity of Shadow the Hedgehog, the Fate series, or Deadman Wonderland. Characters that do or say ridiculous things meant to be taken deadly serious without any levity. Some of the costumes or art serve no practical purpose aside from being cool, the action breaks basic physics randomly and without purpose. But I think what rubs some the wrong way is that it messes with the supposed serious tone and takes them out of it.

I think this is how something like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure or Mob Psycho 100 avoid falling into these traps by allowing some sun into the room and the insane feats on display are explained in-canon in a way that doesn't snap the viewer out of it. It isn't meant to be taken overly serious 100% of the time. Dragon Ball, the originator of most of this sort of super serious tone, is saved for the fact that it is also (or was) primarily a comedy and adventure series before it got that way later on.

But then you have to wonder why this weeb factor is so divisive? It didn't use to be. I believe it's mainly because it didn't exist to this level before.

If you watch a '70s mecha you will see some impossible feats, but nothing that momentarily breaks immersion to do something cool at the expense of logic. It all stays at the same level throughout the entire episode. So this sort of thing became more prominent later on, being really pushed into the mainstream with the Dragon Ball Z anime, until the point where it was fairly tough to get an action series without the edge by the '00s and into the early '10s.

Much of this was buoyed by the power creep problem series like Bleach or Naruto specialized in. This is where spectacle had to be piled onto spectacle at the expense of the greater world or the majority of characters. It got out of hand.

More modern shonen like My Hero Academia, World Trigger, and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, have figured out a way to avoid these issues. They instead weigh the characters and the rules down which makes the action requiring to stay at a certain level. This has the effect of making the action more dynamic and nail-biting because you know the writer won't bend the universe to get something cool at the expense of the story's internal logic. They avoid the traps of the earlier works.

What it comes down to is what the audience's tolerance for cartoon logic in a supposedly serious narrative is. Even in modern live action movies this has changed from what it once was. Think of a movie such as Cobra where every over the top action taken is still framed in within the tight pacing and storytelling weighed down by the threat dogging the main character, then think of a modern Fast and the Furious film that repeatedly defies physics at every opportunity to make the action look cool above everything else. These are fairly different takes. The latter approach also tends to wink at the audience to let them in on the gag, thereby breaking investment for those who want to take what they're seeing seriously. One is meant to be serious but framed in its internal logic, and the other flaunts that seriousness as a choice it can waive at any moment.

Again, this isn't necessarily bad, but it does explain why some that prefer one approach cannot get into the other. They have split apart.

An example of action without breaking the rules
As for my opinion, it is clear which I prefer.

I realize the "rule of cool" has been a favorite of people for a long time, but to me it is the story that has to come first. The story sets the tone and the limitations of the characters and what can occur. You are promising the customer a specific sort of tale and then must deliver on it within the frame you present. I want the characters to preform feats in tone with the universe established. That is what makes it cool.

Those that strive to be serious and dark fall into the edgelord trap and those who want their cake of calamity and cheese without any weight are both opposite ends of the same spectrum, but are both more or less enjoyed by their own cult of fans. If that is what they like, then good for them.

But those of us in the center have been hungry for balance for a long time. It is one of the reasons the Ushio & Tora anime worked so well for me when it came out. It originated from that era when the balance of seriousness and levity was common and expected. Seeing that again and animated in what was 2015 was more than welcome and exactly what I'd been waiting for. Years later seeing this approach show up more and more is refreshing.

Nonetheless, it does help to explain why there is a divide among those who watch anime (and action movies, for that matter) today where there didn't appear to be one before. I know where my tastes lie, and you probably do too. But at one point we were more united than we are now. I can't say just when the shift happened, unless it really was slow and gradual, but it happened and this is where we are now.

Is there a solution to bring them together again? Short of each side swallowing their pride and taste to enjoy the other, probably not. For now the best bet is for creators to cater to the largest group they can, and hope for the best. Perhaps then it will become clearer in the future. Hopefully clearer than this post has been.

For now, lets go beat up some weebs. It will bring us all together.

As for me, I wrote my own story that stays with the lines. Gemini Warrior is an action story where the adventure never stops! Check it out today!

Find it Here!


  1. "Gurren Lagann" is the absolute pinnacle of this razor's edge approach, toeing the line from start to finish between parody and legitimate mech series while never doing too much to lose viewer investment. "Kill La Kill" is more ambitious and arguably accomplishes more as a work overall, but I personally don't think it's as successful at straddling the line due to how disjointed its plot is.

    Perhaps my favorite aspect of "My Hero Academia" is how deadly serious it takes itself. In "The Incredibles" Bird asks "Why capes?" and comes up with a comical tirade about how useless they are.

    In "My Hero Academia" Horikoshi asks "Why capes?" and comes up with the answer that "the reason for capes are for wrapping up little girls in pain!"

    How do you not fall in love with a line like that?

    1. Horikoshi loves heroism and fills his work with it. At the same time he can poke fun at his own characters' foibles without trashing them and set them lose in a battle without destroying his canon. The fight with Stain was the moment I knew he had this down-pat.

      It is funny that the series most influenced by the Big 3 almost uniformly fixed their biggest issues, and quite handily at that.

  2. I am sorry but "Gurren Lagann" is to me the epitome of unbelievablity he was talking about. That first episode was so stupid my brain hurt and it wasnt even a parody anime.

    1. That's the sort of divide I mean. But Gainax and, by extent, Trigger I find are far the most divisive among anime fans.

    2. Thing is Gurren Lagann was intentionally playing a narrative trick in its early episodes as it tried to balance on the razor's edge of paeody and legitimate mech show. It is deceptively smart.

    3. Too bad the show completely shit itself right at the finish line to force in some unnecessary bittersweet drama.

    4. I uswd to agree with you but I no longer do. Try out Alecxander's video "The Underrated Maturity of Gurren Lagann". It's a convincing defense.

  3. I think there's a lot of self consciousness that current writers can't shake, and it comes out in this wink wink irony crap. Blame it on 90s self awareness chic. If you cut your teeth on crap like Evangelion, or, on the other side of the coin, Anamaniacs, how can you figure out what makes something good that stands on its own two feet?

    1. Those who grew up in 90s were meant to smirk at and consider everything a joke. It makes doing anything seriously really difficult for them. Then you get over-corrections like the edgelord material.

      I think it's starting to get back to normal (outside Hollywood, anyway) but it was touch and go for awhile.

  4. Don't forget slice of life anime like Silver Spoons or Young Honda. They have their own rules.

    And then there's Detective Conan...

    My issue with anime is just the disturbing/evil factor. Japan simply doesn't seem to have the lines that Christendom has. I think my latest brain bleach moment was the Girl Meets Bear (Natsu Miko?) Anime. Ugh.

    1. Oh, that one. It's funny how often that happens and then afterwards the writer admits they made a bad mistake. The same thing happened with Usagi Drop. That's sort of thing makes me wince more than any hyperviolence might.

    2. "Silver Spoon" is pretty much the only "pure" (no sci-fi or fantasy elements) slice of life I watch and it's one of my favorite shows.

      It's unfortunate that it ended, as the story as continued in the manga is fantastic.

    3. I just looked up the ending to the bear show. Ye cats is thst horrendous. Apparently the mangaka was not a fan.