The Genre Ghetto

In TVTropes slang, “ghetto” stands for the attitude that a certain content type should stay limited to the narrowly defined pigeonholes that it’s critics made up. For example, the common western attitude that all animation should be made for kids, is the Animation Age Ghetto, or the common expectation that female-targeted shows are strictly for women only, is the Girl Show Ghetto.

These ghettos can even manifest themselves literally as closed-off areas where these stereotypically “inferior” stories can be rounded up and separated from “proper” entertainment, such as libraries sending all manga down to the children’s library, or separating everything all speculative fiction on a sci-fi/fantasy bookshelf, outside of everything else’s alphabetic order.

That latter one, the sci-fi ghetto, gets some of the most interestingly illogical reactions. While by now there are so many mainstream, popular, and even artistically acknowledged sci-fi stories, that you would expect it’s critics to just give up, that’s where prejudice shows it’s stubbornness: Instead of just admitting that, say, 1984 is an intelligent sci-fi novel, therefore sci-fi can be intelligent, the truly prejudiced can still think like this:

“Oh, sci-fi is that silly Star Trek-thing where spaceships shoot lasers at each other, and men wear pajamas, so if 1984 has none of that, it’s not really sci-fi, it’s Proper Literature”

And that’s not even an exaggeration. Critics, and even authors, have really argued that their works are not really fantasy or sci-fi, if they don’t fit into the crudest stereotypes of these genres. Just how arrogant you have to be, to redefine an entire genre according to your own admittedly limited familiarity with it, while dismissing the established definition made by it’s actual audience?  As anime fans, you might be directly familiar with that kind of attitude. While most of the above preconceptions are limited to the hilariously ignorant and old-fashioned mainstream, in case of anime, even our fellow fandoms and nerds and enthusiasts, who are protesting the same prejudices themselves, might think and speak like this:

“Anime is that thing that I occasionally saw on Animax, where everyone has huge eyes, then there are huge sweatdrops appearing on the back of everyone’s head when they feel awkward, and there are  guys yelling the names of their attacks with a fireball erupting around them.

Therefore, Miyazaki movies, Satoshi Kon series, and basically anything that doesn’t have huge-eyes and colorful hair in it, aren’t really anime, just animation from Japan. Conversely, Avatar, The Legend of Korra, Teen Titans, etc, ARE anime, because they fit the bill (that I just made up). 

Anyone who would disagree with this definition is either just some elitist weeaboo who wants to separate his precious “real anime” from “dirty bakagaijin cartoons”, or at least a pointlessly nitpicking categorization-obsessed fan who thinks that the technical details like the country of origin, are more important than the obvious style similarities and differences that even I can notice.  

Of course, these claims are wrong on many accounts, the most obvious being that this supposed definition of anime actually lists some of the shonen fighting series’ stylistic elements, and with the same arrogance as writers who assume that they can just redefine what sci-fi means, they assume that they can just replace the existing terminology, and expect established communities to bow before their personal vocabulary.

Vocabularies always have a purpose. Don’t ever assume that when two people are arguing about specific phrases, citing dictionary definitions, and bringing up descriptive vs. prescriptive linguistics, they are just doing it because they are grammar nazies. Especially when the same specific argument is brought up too often, there is almost always some ideological purpose behind it. There are some freuently debated terms inside the anime fandom as well, and the purpose behind these debates might be disturbingly similar to the dismissive ghetto-builders. I’m talking mostly about these good old phrases:

– Slice-of-life / moe / healing

– harem

– ecchi / fanservice

It’s always the same deal. As soon as an anime starts with obvious signs that it belongs to either of these genres, it gathers a hatedom. And that’s not the problem, not everyone likes everything. If you want more action shows, or if you dislike sexualization, then good luck at finding what you are looking for. The problem starts, when one of these stories starts being good, or at least decent, and even many of the people who watched it until now, start making excuses about how they didn’t ever fit the genre in the first place.

After all, harem shows are those awefully boring generic shows with the bathing episodes, and the big-breasted childhood friend feeding bento to the whimpy hero on the school rooftop. Therefore, obviously if a show where four main character girls are falling for the same guy is exciting, original, and well-executed, then obviously, it is not a harem show.

When Nichijou started, there were several comments about how KyoAni is just playing it safe by mixing Lucky Star with Azumanga Daioh, in a moe comedy. Then it started to be genuinely funny (and often cute!). Then the first reposts came in about how it bombed at the disc sales. And by then, it was already KyoAni’s tragically failed attempt at breaking away from their cute-girls-doing-cute-things formula. Right now, almost exactly the same thing is happening with Hyouka.

When you want to criticize a show, anything vaguely sexual can be a “fanservice” or “ecchi” scene, from teenagers flirting with each other, to narratively implied sex scenes. But when a whole show is based around sexuality in a unique manner, not just as a series of panty shots, it’s no longer an “ecchi anime”, it needs neew terms.

What I’m saying is, if you MUST use labels, at least don’t use them to build ghetto walls, to separate the “inherently bad” from the “normal”.

Please!

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7 responses to “The Genre Ghetto

  1. I agree that this is a thing, although I’m not sure how accurately it explains your examples. I’m pretty sure Nichijou bombed in home video sales because they were actually not that funny. Hyouka is doing just fine in home video sales in Japan.

    • WHY Nichijou bombed is not really the issue, because we can never objectively tell that, but why most people THINK it bombed. Humor is always subjective, but Nichijou was relatively well-received around the end, it got ranked several times on the Power Rankings.

      The issue is not how many people liked it, but he curious mentality of the ones who did, and felt obliged to point out that it’s funnier than Lucky Star, the it is automatically less of a “moe show” for that reason.

      And after that, many tried to spin the news of Hyouka’s first promo pictures and then first few episodes as KyoAni going back to “boring K-on-style moe” after Nichijou’s failure, then slowly dropped that angle as soon as the characters and setting got deeper.

      Edit: Also, these are mostly vaguely bits of comments from individual blogs that I noticed at the time, that I thought still makes sense as a general example, so it shouldn’t be taken as “This is exactly what EVERYONE in the aniblogosphere thinks, and this is why they are all wrong”.

      • OK I get what you’re saying. Yes it’s a bad habit that people tend to put down shows they don’t like and put up shows they like, regardless of any kind of objective merit. I guess I just don’t keep an eye on how some anime bloggers think of it (or their commenters). What I do know is sales figures. But you will have to forgive me if I don’t put a lot of weight on that APR thing.

        Of course, I think on the other hand there may be alternative or other reasons to explain what happened in the specific case for Nichijou. There are several categories of anime that is widely enjoyed but do not do well in terms of the home video charts or just in terms of making money. It’s not something easy to put a finger on. Doesn’t contradict with what you say, it’s just other factors that might make supporting your argument more difficult.

  2. Some very good points are made in this post. The anime fandom is incredibly divisive with itself mostly on the basis of these genres, and it can get frustrating, not to mention a little pretentious.

  3. The thing with 1984 is that it’s DYSTOPIAN science fiction, which automatically lends it credibility. I forget who said it, it might have been William Zinsser or Orson Scott Card, but apparently a serious author gets one chance to do a sci-fi novel, and it had better be a dystopian one.
    (Also, regarding Nichijou, your comments made it sound as though Kyoto Animation somehow invented the series, which confused me for a minute.)

  4. Good points. While I am guilty of categorizing anime in terms of all kinds of genres, from shonen to moe, I always try not to be “prejudice” towards any genre and keep in mind that even a genre I don’t like, such as a harem anime, could be good (and I’d still call it a harem anime if it fits the standard definition of one, regardless of quality). Not that I watch a lot of anime in the genres I tend to not like (harem being one of them) but I still try and keep an open mind, especially if I hear through the blogsphere or wherever that such-and-such anime is good despite it being a harem series.

    • Of course categorizing is fine on it’s own. It’s fun, and it’s sometimes necessary to mark that there is an obvious difference between two groups of shows.

      In fact, it is often the prejudiced ghetto-builders who can’t understand that, who think that “labels” and “tainted stereotypes” would limit their favorite show, so they would rather exclude themselves from them, and ironically start stereotyping and tainting them in the process, ignoring everyone else who uses them properly.

      For example, that strawman anime-opponent that I quoted above, was paraphrased from a well-meaning escapist article and it’s comments, that sincerely believed that the anime fan’s definition of anime is “narrow and exclusionary”, because it is limited to shows like Bleach and FMA, and sees itself as the Grand Unificator for opening it up to OTHER generic shonen shows like Avatar or Teen Titans.

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