Attack On The Flowers of Originality

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So, Aku no Hana. And it’s art style.

It’s unique art style.

The two major camps in the reactions to it, seem to be divided as either “it’s great that something is challenging the sameness of anime, and everyone who hates this is a moefag” or “This one is not just different or artistically ugly, but badly executed, so we are hating it anyways”

I’m going to ignore that second defense now, since I neither know, nor care enough about the details of animation technology to decide whether Aku no Hana is “objectively bad”. Let’s just talk more about the first problem, whether or not we need more originality in animation styles, than what we usually have nowadays.

Two seasons ago, I wrote a pair of posts about originality and clichés, shown through the first episodes of Zetsuen no Tempest, and K. Using K as an example of a show that is trying so hard at surprising us with the “macro-innovation” of an unrecognizeable genre, plot, and setting, that really it just feels rootless and unpleasantly alien, while Zetsuen no Tempest is comfortably setting up a tale as old as time, about love and revenge and saving the world, that felt comfortably familiar, while it had enough “micro-innovation” in it’s execution to still feel exciting.

While I said this about writing and narratives, this time, I think most of the same points applies to animation styles as well: Much of the confusion that we have about whether or not we need to respect Aku no Hana’s direction, boils down to whether or not we need macro-innovation of anime, that is, entirely flipping the table and producing something never seen before, or we should be content with minor twists inside the established basics of the anime style.

Even though that latter probably isn’t brought up often enough. Listening to some of Aku no Hana’s supporters, you would believe that every anime between this and Mushishi looked exactly the same.

2012

Pictured: “the anime style” in 2012

Which is, of course, a big oversimplification. Fujoshi shows look different from slice-of-life moe shows. Shonen fighters look different from melodramatic romances. And then we have the actual quirky innovation, like KyoAni’s excessive production values put into shows like Nichijou and Hyouka, or Shaft’s surrealism, or Jinrui‘s watercolor style, or Shingeki no Kyojin‘s surprisingly thick outlines for a high budget show. These are all examples of micro-innovation, used to guarantee that all anime doesn’t look exactly the same.

The problem with praising Aku no Hana’s style as an Original one, is that it’s overstating the importance of macro-innovation against the gradual changes that make most other anime interesting. Looking at the above picture, you can find certain similarities between all these styles.  But these are all the most fundamental, reasonably expected demands of appealing charcter art, the cornerstones of character design, that people find appealing. Just as you could find vague similarities in their narrative tropes, but those are the cornerstones of what themes can interest viewers.

Of course, Aku no Hana is not trying to be appealing. Just like the original Flowers of Evil, it’s intentionally trying to be alienating, strange, ugly. And that’s fine. there are always some artists who are trying to make a point against the entire world. I guess they are important, in some abstract sense, but exactly because they are criticizing the entire system, they will never actually be constructive. People will watch Aku no Hana, like it or hate it, and then go back to watching” normal anime”. They are are not ging to change their minds, and decide that from now on cute is ugly and ugly is cute, or that they don’t like the “anime style”‘s paradigms at all. Because if that would be the case, they wouldn’t be anime fans in the first place.

Only micro-innovation can change that, with subtle changes over a long time.

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5 responses to “Attack On The Flowers of Originality

  1. The underlying core issue you are posing, as I understand it, I sort of agree?

    But I think if you storyboard (to use a technical term for developing requirements) the way haters and defender/fans(?) of Aku no Hana, I’m not sure either side gets to that issue you are posing about originality and criticism.

    As someone in the “I like Aku no Hana” camp, I’m enjoying it primarily because it shows great artistry in building a show that expresses all sorts of feelings and emotions and evoke strongly of several others too. (And after all, there’s only 1 episode to go by so far.) But I understand why others don’t really care about that or don’t rank that aspect in anime so highly, at least when it’s a function of the mood of the show.

    The “originality” argument, in my opinion, is a lazy retreat to tackle the issue. As you raised, it’s hardly the first originally looking anime out there, and the way the rotoscoping used is suspect, to put it simply (which you ignore…it’s kind of important in the overall evaluation of the show IMO). And with all anime discussions there’s a fair amount of ignorance/lack of seeing the bigger picture. I think it’s especially true for people who don’t watch 20+ series a season, because they don’t have that larger perspective, so something so visible like Aku no Hana will grab their attention in the “this is so different” kind of way…when in reality it isn’t meant to be a criticism of the existing styles to begin with.

    • Yeah, I’m the first to admit that I’m intentionally grabbing the shallower reactions here. The whole “Originality Argument” is indeed a tabloid-y, lazy debate full of generalizations, but it’s also very prevalent issue in anime communities, and this one is just it’s latest reappearance.

      These kinds of things fascinate me the most, the “common sense knowledge” of the average MAL or AnimeSuki poster, the attitudes that we share with other nerdy fandoms, the ones we don’t, and the ones that’s inner workings we might not even notice.

  2. To me it’s not really about if the art style of Aku no Hana is original so much as it is about being experimental. This is how anime develops as a way of storytelling, and I do think that those people who are complaining about the artwork without actually thinking about it first need to go cool off a little. Are they angry primarily it’s so different from the source material (which I’m not familiar with)? Are they having a knee-jerk reaction just because the artwork is different from most other anime they know (understandable but not particularly tolerant of change)? Personally, the artwork doesn’t bother me. If I’m going to complain about anything in Aku no Hana it would be the pacing, which is still really dragging despite now being 3 episodes in.

  3. Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    Here’s a nice post concerning the styles of animation one finds in anime, focusing in particular on how Aku no Hana is breaking the usual boundaries of animation. He rightly points out, however, that each show contains a unique style and that one cannot simply claim that anime follows a rigid style.

  4. Reblogged this on Japesland and commented:
    An awesome post that analyzes the controversial art style of Aku no Hana with neither a condemning nor a blindly supporting tone. It’s a short read so I greatly recommend taking a moment out of your day to read through it.

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