One of the things that amazes me about anime genres, is how precisely you can gauge a show’s content, solely from the art style. The character designs, the scenery style, the amounts of CG, the dominant color themes, are all used together so predictably in setting the atmosphere, that often, a glance at the season preview charts with the promo arts is enough to decide which shows I am interested in, even before reading the title or the synopsis.
Everything from detailed clouds painted on the blue sky giving a melancholic summer atmosphere, to eye colors matcing the hair colors, that makes the characters more artificial, has it’s intended place. And that’s a really nice thing, even if in some unfortunante cases, it might happen a the cost of making the show all the more predictable. For example, if you look at the cast, and think “Oh, I bet that petite, short blue haired girl in front of the mecha will turn out to be a stoic outsider, with a sad backstory of why she is so emotionless”, and you turn out to be right, then the show fails to be interesting.
Howerer, in the right hands, these appearances are just even more tools to tell the story, more elements to play with, and collect in surprising patterns. For example, Rinne no Lagrange‘s Lan appears to fit the above described, so-called “Rei Clone” character design at first sight, that just makes her socially awkward, clumsy character all the more hilarious.
Also, that show first acknowledged the trope that they used, before subverting it for maximum effect. If visuals attempt to mislead the audience, but it’s not followed by a punchline, that can lead to an unappealing mess.
The most hated show of the season, Guilty Crown, is a good example of that. Other than the promises of NoitaminA quality, and famous artists on the creator team, one of the reasons why people overly large expectations of it, is that it appeared way too classy. The character designs, the camera angles, the costumes, the animation quality, all projected a certain high quality image, and only the plot failed to deliver. And this shows, that there is more to all these art styles, than just finding a “good” one. People don’t say that “well, at least Guilty Crown looks great”. If the visuals don’t match the genre, then it doesn’t even count as looking great, not even if technically it’s really detailed.
Ironically, if they would have sticked to a more simple art style, similar to all the Shana clone Light Novel fantasy series, that this story is truly similar to, it would probably get les criticism for it’s plot, (as less people would watch it, with different expectations), and maybe even more praise for it’s art style.
PapaKiki is another show that had a confusing start, but maybe with less negative results. It’s art style just screams “panty shots! accidental bathroom entry! lolicon!” These hair styles, eye shapes, and the shining, plastic-like skin, look just like a set-up for everything that is ecchi. Anyone who watched through 2-3 episodes, knows that the truth is more complicated than that. PapaKiki was once as a more otaku-oriented version of Usagi Drop. It really follows some of the trappings of the genre that it’s design implies, but it’s also more than that.
I’m not sure if a different presentation would have made it more appealing. On one hand, by looking classy and then containing moderate amounts of pandering, it couldd have fallen into the same trap as Guilty Crown, getting hated for tricking it’s audience. Or maybe it would have been as popular as Usagi Drop, with everyone accepting that it’s bathing scenes are just pure innocence and nothing inherently perverted, as long as the surface appearance doesn’t bring a perverted genre in mind.