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.

The culture that made anime into what it is

In many ways, anime is fundamentally different from all western media. Not just as the result of current business models, or recent trends, but also due to some deeply rooted traits of Japanese mentality.

Japan is pretty unique that way, with it’s mass media that is comparable to ours in it’s scope, but still very foreign in it’s execution. Most other countries that are similarly foreign to us, are either too poor, or too oppressed to have large media, while the sufficiently wealthy and free countries are being assimilated into the monlithic, globalized “western culture” that makes them almost identical to us. But for various reasons that I will not discuss here, Japan managed to both reach modern lifestyle, and to maintain exceptional amounts of it’s foreignness.

Trying to understand these cultural differences between Japan and the West, can be useful not just for making detached philosophical observations about art, (like realizing that values that we considered normal are just our arbitary local customs), but also for understanding the daily events of the anime industry. Why did this show tank at the sales? Why did that show get a second season?

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Blogger’s creed

I decided that as a belated introduction post, I should write a list of things that I believe about art, about the anime industry, and about my personal standing on some hot button issues. Some of these were already adressed in earlier posts, others will be in the future, and some are too self-evident or mundane to waste a whole post on them.

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Seen It A Million Times

Random anime picture, to demonstrate that this will end up being an anime post

A few years ago, when I already knew enough english to start participating in real discussions with native speakers, I started to notice an interesting quirk of the language: people using the phrase “literally” in front of figures of speech. After double-checking my dictionary to make sure that it really means what I think it means,  I concluded that it must be a really difficult word to remember, and smugly congratulated to myself for noticing it even in spite of that, and for having a better grasp of english vocabulary than many native speakers.

Except that soon after that, I started to notice that people around me, myself included, are kind of doing the same in my own native Hungarian, with our own figures of speech. For example, I say  “[the words literally froze into me]” when I am so shocked that I couldn’t say anything, or “[these pigeons are literally getting more eyeless from day to day]”, where “eyeless” is an idiom for “bold”, “brash”, or “cheeky”.

It looks like people aren’t really having a problem with remembering what “literally” means. When someone says that their large-scale movie is “literally a blockbuster”, they truly mean to say that it’s not just an exaggerated praise for a medium scale movie, but it’s a real large scale movie. They just fail to remember that “blockbuster” is supposed to be more than a synonym of that, it’s also a figure of speech comparing movies to bombs. To me, it is easier, because I learned to meaning of “block” and “buster”  long before first hearing “blockbuster” being used about movies. On the other hand, saying that bold pigeons are “[eyeless]”, is the most normal thing to me, it’s the primary usage of the phrase in Hungarian, and I have to think hard to even remember that it originally had something to do with actual eyes.   And it’s the other way around with you. You might find “blockbuster” to be a word that  means “big movie” by default, and it’s old meaning is only an obscure etymological trivia, while calling something [eyeless] would instantly give you a very grotesque mental image.

Strangely, it looks like someone who only heard a word a few times, for example a foreigner, can be more reflective about finding idiom’s original building blocks, than an experienced speaker who instantly jumps to thinking about the intended message of the phrase, and doesn’t need to stop thinking about the smaller elements.

So,  you ask why am I talking about Hungarian idioms, and about linguistic theories, on an anime blog?

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Genre legitimacy

I was always interested in the fine line between a medium or genre convention, that one is expected to accept as an inherent purpose of the story, and other, minor tropes.

It’s another part of the neverending objectivity/subjectivity debates: If you can successfully argue that your favourite story did what it did because that’s how things are done in that genre, that gives the story some kind of legitimacy, and the best thing the haters can say is “Well, then I don’t like this genre”, but if you don’t manage to make that claim, then they can still say that your story is just a failed deviation of the greater genre.

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Daily Lives of High School Boys is not clever

It’s funny. It’s the funniest show of the season. Well, it’s the only pure comedy of the season other than Kill Me Baby,  and being better than that doesn’t tell a lot, but still. It’s one of the best comedies of the past years, only slightly behind the other Nichijou.

It’s just not very…. you know… insightful.

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Newsflash: Clannad is still a masterpiece

It’s been over two years since I first saw Clannad. Back then, on all the anime sites that I frequented, popular consensus treated it as an unquestionable classic, a masterpiece that every anime fan who finds the romance genre even vaguely appealing, should see.  Nowadays, I mostly see it in the same sentence with the word “overrated”,  with seemingly everyone being sure that everyone else but them is mindlessly worshipping it.

I’m not saying that as a rant against the fandom. First of all,  I don’t even know if the fandom really “changed it’s opinion”, or this feeling is only caused by me constantly getting deeper and deeper into more cynical communities, while the first “popular consensus” that I felt, only came from naive newcomers like myself, hanging around on “gateway” fansites. And even if things did change, no one reading this is a personification of the whole fandom. No one would personally identify with being responsible for these vague trends that I feel, so I would be ranting against no one in particular.  But I thought I should still start the post with this, because regardless of whether it only happened in my perception, or if my perception happened to be accurately reflecting a larger trend, it’s an important part of how my mindset changed about Clannad.

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