Phrases that I hate: “Guilty pleasure”

Along with it’s synonyms, like “it’s so bad it’s good”, “laughing at it, not with it”, and also the only variation that got discredited everywhere else too, “enjoying it ironically”.

It’s not that the idea behind these statements doesn’t make sense. It’s easy to imagine why a bad show could still be enjoyable. I’m not personally interested in that kind of enjoyment, because I like to take my fiction seriously, and if I’m not even able to do that at all, I just stop watching it. But in principle, it’s easy to believe that someone would like laughing at the sheer absurdity of such a horrible show getting made.

But have you ever noticed, how the entry level for that excuse is much lower in ongoing works’ fandoms, than with standalone works? With standalone works, it’s really limited to the most painfully bad ones, such as literature with misspellings in every sentence, or movies with painfully weak special effects and practically nonexistent acting. With serials, it can be just something like “a manga with an unrealistic, over-the-top setting” or “a generic harem anime”. What’s the difference? Maybe with standalone works, people with slightly unusual tastes can fit in by watching something, enjoying it, and when it turns out to be unpopular, join the chorus about what a waste of time it was, but with serials, they need an excuse to keep going.

For example,  in the current season, we have the generally disliked shows Guilty Crown, Symphogear, and Highschool DxD. There are some people who dropped them early, some who still genuinely like them and call them good, and some who completely dislike them, but feel a sense of duty to finish them.  And then, there is this fourth category, people who believe that they are bad, but want to continue watching them because they are “so bad it’s good”. Isn’t that kind of strange? Even if someone found their badness amusing at first, but couldn’t sincerely “care”  about them, what would make them going back to that specific show every week? What would keep them hooked on, in a way that they often describe to be “like watching a car accident in slow motion”? After all, why couldn’t they just forget about it during the week, or start watching one of the other bad shows instead, to also mock that one’s premise?

My second problem is limited to the phrase “guilty pleasure” alone, and it’s unique issues.  Namely, the way it is sometimes used to imply that the show is really good, but the viewer is so deeply intoctrinated with the public opinion, that they can’t fully separate their own from it. That can range from anime itself being a guilty pleasure, for people who take mainstream’s stereotypes too seriously, and see themselves as “creepy pathetic otaku”,  to certain subgenres, or shows, that are disliked in the fandom, being “guilty pleasure”.

That is usually based on arbitary judgements like how you are not supposed to like mindless eye-candy, or how you are supposed to prefer moderate stories over camp and over-the-top ones, or exactly how “realistic” shows have to be.

That’s probably the worst thing about that phrase. The suggestion that some other people know better than you, and that you should feel guilty about liking something.  That entertainment has any other objective requirement than entertaining you. When I see examples that use it that way, I’m not even angry at the writer, but everyone in general.

A couple of kids

So, in the previous post, I concluded that while it’s obvious that some people are turned on by virgins, and some people even demand virginity on some sort of moral basis, it’s presence in anime is probably just a side-effect of a bigger trend, of focusing all series on the general themes of youth.

But what about this more innocent trend, of always telling stories about teenagers ? Isn’t that still killing  the creative freedom of anime? After all, there are only so many stories that can be told with teenagers in the main cast!

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Like A Virgin

So, I heard you liked that other post about lesbians. Well, the bad news is that you are probably a pervert. The good news is, that so am I, and I’m also an attention whore, so here are some more thoughts about sexuality in Anime, this time about the issue of virginity, and why it’s such a big deal, that most characters have to be explicitly stated to be virgins, while the rest are expected to be, by default? What might be the reason for that?

Your obvious first reaction might be, that it’s simply fetish-pandering for the creepy, misogynistic “Japanese Otaku”, the mythical creature that explains everything strange about anime.

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Springtime for retro

And idol groups! At least these are the two main trends that seem to dominate the upcoming spring season, other than the amusing coincidence of having two zombie harem comedies at the same time.

Now let’s summarize what I’m expecting from them, in decreasing order of expectations. I won’t describe everything that is airing, only the ones that I have some sort of opinion about. (either planning on watching it, or having a reason for not watching it other than being ignorant about the genre).   The remaining ones will be listed at the bottom.

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…and Mango

I previously referenced how I don’t read too much manga. Now, I will try to explain my opinions about that medium, in more detail.

In principle, I like what that medium is trying to do. A very rough, draft-like presentation format of comic books, that allows for a quick, rushing storytelling while adding only the bare minimum of production values, that is making costs low enough to support a huge, wide flow of content.

That’s also a pretty good description of what most otaku media does, and what I like about them. Anime, light novels, visual novels, are all based on the paradigm of minimalizing production values. That’s in part necessity, because the otaku subculture has few members and they can only pay that much money, so everything aimed at them must be profitable from a few thousand sales. And in part, it also seems to be a japanese cultural thing, with more interest in throwing around several stories, than  focusing on a few blockbusters and big franchises.

My problem with manga, is that they seem to be cutting corners at the wrong places. For example, the habit of not drawing any backgrounds during whole scenes, can feel really disorientating, I can barely imagine the full location in my head. And the black and white inking combined with generic anime faces, sometimes makes it hard to separate characters. The way they are scribbling text all over the place, and every artist uses different types of speech balloons (squares, circles, clouds, blobs), makes it difficult to separate speech, inner monologue, sound effects, author notes, from each other. Often I have to turn back several pages, just to remind myself which character is talking, and if it is actual talking or just thinking.

When I finished watching the first season of Kimi ni Todoke, I turned to the manga, like I sometimes do with ongoing series.  I literally couldn’t understand what was going on. And Kimi ni Todoke isn’t exactly an intellectually overwhelming story, it’s a pure high school romance, but I had to spend so much attention to connecting the speech bubbles scattered all around the pages, identifying characters, and remembering where a scene is supposed to take place, that eventually I just stopped, and waited for the second season of the anime to explain me how these scenes really happened.

Some other manga are slightly more comprehensible than that, but even those only work for me as a replacement for a “proper” anime version that probably won’t be made.

I guess these are just subjective opinions, after all, I know of people who either prefer manga over anime, or judge them on a case-by-case basis, depending on how accurate the adaptation is. I guess their brains are hardwired in a different way from mine, that they can more comfortably understand that  format, or that they care less about the things that it misses. Just like there are other people who find the typical production values of Anime, or Visual Novels unwatchably low, yet here am I, loving the shit out of them.

You know what’s even better than the Thermae Romae anime?

The Thermae Romae manga. Seriously, it’s the same thing, with the same gags, except that it has better art. I originally checked it out before this season just to see what it’s like, and since it was only 4 translated chapters, I read through it. When the anime started, I found it very lacking compared to the original version. It had the same plot, but it looked like someone cut out the characters from the manga pages, colored them with a marker pen, and nudged them left and right while reading the text from the speech bubbles aloud. And it was very popular, and praised as an original, funny anime.

Well, of course most people didn’t read the manga. I don’t blame them, I also rarely read manga. It’s not a particularly bad thing, that most people don’t care about the details of the production, as long as they get an entertaining story. As long as that stance is made clear, it’s a legit school of thought. There is also another type of fans, who are interested in anayzing adaptations on their own merits, how well-directed they are, how dynamic their scriptwriting is,  how did did they manage to preserve the pacing, etc. That’s also a good thing.

But then, there is a third group of people, who seem to be a mix between the two. Who are trying to pose as “professional” reviewers, and describe anime with technical jargon, but don’t know enough about it, so in practice, they just end up throwing positive buzzwords around any story that they happened to find interesting, and negatives around one that they didn’t, and try to search for some pattern between different series. Studios, publishers, directors, voice actors, scriptwriters, episode directors, character designers, etc, not knowing how important each of these are.

And that’s how sometimes an animator gets the blame for being ordered to make a shallow boob anime based on a boob manga, and upcoming series get overhyped based on their staff list that is full of people who worked on some good shows, only to turn out to be disappointing, when it is realized that the supposed “CREATIVE GENIUS” that everyone looked up to like a saviour, is actually just responsible for making the characters move, and this time, the guy who is really responsible for telling the story, is a hack writer.

So, what’s the deal with lesbians in Anime?

Or rather, what’s the deal with the ridiculous amount of lesbianism in anime, even with a distinct lack of actual lesbians? Other than some of the most explicit Yuri genre works, almost no characters are ever identified as lesbians, or even circumscribed with anything like “interested in girls”, or “in that kind of relationship”.  Tvtropes has two pages that are describing the phenomena, but they both boil down to “It’s a Japanese cultural thing”, that sounds suspiciously like an explanation that was reverse-engineered from the trope’s existence, rather than actually confirmed as a fact by sociology. If there is one thing that western otaku have a special interest in, it’s throwing around various hypotheses about how Japan might work, based on Sankaku Complex articles, and from taking anime content at face value.

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