Falling in Love with Flawed Anime

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I like Gundam Seed Destiny. Shit taste confirmed?

I’m sure you’ve all done it before: fallen in love with an anime that everyone else you know seems to hate.

So what do you do then? How do you recommend a series that has so many objective flaws? Sometimes, it’s even a little difficult to explain to yourself just why you like something so much.

But hey, love’s an irrational thing. Just as we fall in love with people for all their flaws, so it can be with anime. A genuinely moving, engaging piece of work doesn’t need to lack flaws to be effective at what it is. We’re in it for the experience.

Firstly, I want to use this post to describe what I mean by a “flawed anime”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be critical of flaws – in fact I outright recommend adopting that kind of mindset. It’s good to know, at the very least for curiosity’s sake, just why you have a particular emotional response to something. But being critical does not always necessarily mean being negative. Go into an anime expecting to find flaws and you will find them.

So what am I talking about when I mention flaws? I mean things like inconsistent characterisation, incoherent plot progression, cliches, etc. These are aspects of a story that distract the audience because they tend to go against the creator’s intent, making it harder for the viewer to understand the point of the story. But because storytelling is inherently such a subjective experience, even the most venerated classic will have “flaws”. There is no such thing as artistic perfection.

This means that when you really think about it, the issue of liking a “flawed” anime is moot. Every anime is flawed in different ways. Some are simply more well-regarded than others. This doesn’t mean I discount the existence of masterpieces. I just think it’s simply unfair that some classics are completely above criticism while others, like Guilty Crown and Sword Art Online, are constantly used as qualifying measures of how “flawed” and “stupid” an anime can be. I’m as conscious as anyone that these anime suffer from some pretty serious narrative issues, but the hype backlash is a social response more than anything.

I’m going to quickly delve into literature here, because classic literature is one of those things that we’re never taught to think of as having storytelling flaws. (But for some reason it comes to us so naturally when we watch anime…) Okay, easy example: any Dickens novel. The appeal of a Dickens novel is in the dialogue and the colourful characterisation, but as any casual reader knows, the sentences are as long as the Great Wall of China and the descriptions are practically unreadable. Call it his “unique style” if you like, but that’s a copout explanation. It’s a writing flaw, plain and simple, because it makes the story inaccessible.

But you know what? I grew up reading Dickens and I love Oliver Twist to bits. To me, it is a masterpiece, and not because some bearded guys with monocles sat around and declared it so.

I’m going to apply this same reasoning to some of the anime that I like.

Flaws Enhance the Strengths

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Maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoy anime that aren’t all that consistent. At its best, for instance, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo is an inspiring and feel-good story that captures the joys and frustrations of being a creative person. At its worst, it’s a generic and overly dramatic romcom. The good moments shine all the more so because of the annoying moments. Maybe my standards get lowered during the course of my viewing experience, but I’m more likely to feel wowed by particularly well-written scenes than by something that is simply good the whole way through.

I also think I see a little bit of my own writing style in inconsistent stories. There’s a big difference between my best and worst. I guess I’m more forgiving because I know just how hard it is to be so inspired all the time.

In any case, when I walk away from a series and think back on it, it’s the highlights I’m quicker to remember than the crushing lows. And as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

Therefore:

Consistency is not always a Good Thing

I find it hard to explain why I don’t really like Cowboy Bebop. I appreciate it quite a lot, but I never fell in love with it like so many others have. I guess I get a little intimidated by writing that feels too squeaky clean and polished for its own good. I’m drawn to potential more than I am to genius.

In any case, there are those stories where I can’t really identify anything wrong with the material. And yet, for some reason, I can’t think of anything else to say about it. I’m sure everyone’s encountered an anime that made them feel that way. It’s because consistency is something we often take for granted, for good or worse. Maybe a flaw or two is what a show actually needs to make a strong impression.

Case in point: Without Kirino’s presence in Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake Ga Nai, the show wouldn’t be nearly as controversial or as memorable as it is.

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Face it: you would buy this for the plushie.

If Kirino didn’t exist, Kuroneko would be a much less popular character.

Flaws Inspire Creativity

Sometimes, when you see an example of flawed writing, you think to yourself: “I could do better than that.” BokuSatchii wrote about his experience with Sword Art Online and how the anime’s storytelling frustrated him but also inspired his creative muse. Now how exactly does that work?

As human beings, we have an inherent and inexorable desire to improve on things. Fanfiction is almost always inspired by that niggling feeling you get after you finish a series – the hunger for more. Maybe a certain plot thread wasn’t tied up satisfactorily. Maybe the two characters you wanted to see hook up never did. You start thinking to yourself all the potential directions the story could have gone. And then, if you’re that way inclined, you start looking up fanfiction. Naruto and Inuyasha might be extremely popular fandoms because they’re just extremely popular shows, full stop, but a big part of why they inspire so many stories is because the series themselves are wide open to an endless number of reinterpretations.

Per exemple: Lelouch of Britannia, a Code Geass fanfic, is a more down-to-earth, plot-driven take on the series where Lelouch doesn’t get exiled as a child and uses his authority in clever ways. It’s a damn popular story. Some reviewers even say that it fixes some of the outlandish plot elements of the original.

This kind of creative inspiration from a series doesn’t just apply to fanfiction. If you consider yourself a creative person in general, you might think of certain works as influencing your own original output. You might love a certain novel’s prose style, for instance, and that influences your own writing, but you didn’t like the characters of that novel, so you avoid writing characters like that. It is quite possible and, indeed, very common to really love a story and for that love to actually make you more critical of it, because you’ve spent so much time thinking about it that you come to know each and every element at play. Fans love to nitpick tiny details, but they do it out of love.

A flawed anime can thus capture your mind in unexpected ways. Thinking about its potential might bring out some of your own.

Conclusion

Every series has flaws; it is simply a matter of perception. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, there is no bad reason for liking an anime. There are rational reasons that explain why you can fully be in love with an anime despite being fully aware that it displays signs of bad storytelling from time to time.

Despite the social aspect of blogging and discussing anime with others, actually sitting down and watching the show in question is an intensely private experience. No one else can see it quite like you can. If there’s one message you can take away from this post it’s this: have faith in your tastes. No matter how obscure or despised your favourite anime is by consensus, it has to be something special if it has the power to touch someone out there incredibly deeply. That’s the magic of stories, flaws or not.

I don’t think I could ever be a critic in the sense that I can analyse and quantify how flawed each anime I watch is. As for which anime that will end up being considered classics in years to come, I’ll leave that kind of argument and debate to others. I’ll just sit back and enjoy what I like, warts and all.

So how about you? Is there any anime that you really love that you also think is really flawed?

Posted on May 28, 2013, in Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. My feeling is that it’s tough to tell if it’s flaws or just contrasts that you’re talking about. Kirino is a contrast to Kuroneko, not a flaw. However, making them such stark contrasts might just be a flaw.. it’s enough to drive away prospective viewers because it’s clear emotional manipulation, rather than just a story wanting to be told. In other words, a fundamental flaw, a design flaw.

    Flaws inspire our “this could be better if..” muse, but a story where the flaws aren’t very noticable can also inspire muses, like the “I wish there was more” muse. Code Geass inspired a great “let’s fix it!” fan fiction, but so did Zelda Twilight Princess.. and I wouldn’t consider Twilight Princess fundamentally “flawed” like Geass, just itching for a medium where it could truly shine, rather than also needing to be a video game.

    It might also be more accurate to say that you’re not falling in love with a flawed anime, but the version that’s in your mind that you wish it was. You can appreciate it for inspiring you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll go out and rewatch it, at least not without actually imaging your own version as you do.

    It’s a subtle effect, and difficult to distinguish from the kind of inspiration that a masterpiece yields; most of those will bounce off you even if you can acknowledge their brilliance, but the one that truly resonates with you will be with you forever. It might not be Bebop. It might be Natsume Yuujinchou or Chihayafuru or another great series whose flaws aren’t fundamental.

    Hard to make sense of these thoughts, actually..

    • I didn’t go into too much detail about different creative muses because I didn’t want to assume everyone who reads this also reads fanfiction, but I’ll elaborate here.

      To my experience, reading a very good “fix it” fanfiction doesn’t mean I disregard the series it is based off or think of the fanfiction as inherently better. Rather, it deepens my appreciation of the original. All consumers of fiction create their own version of it in their minds, whether they perceive the story as flawed or not. And this personal impression can be challenged or enriched by fanfiction that embraces the strengths and downplays the flaws. There might be some cases where reading an alternative interpretation makes you outright dislike the original, but most of the time, the fanfiction itself should have a few of its own creative flaws, or as its own story it wouldn’t have been able to stand by itself. What I’m saying is that as stories they wouldn’t stand out unless they were read with a strong appreciation of the original. I think it’s perfectly possible, as a fan, to be conscious of flaws but not to let this distract you from what you liked about it. And, well, to be writing or reading a fanfiction in the first place obviously implies that you are a fan.

      I do admit that there is a subtle distinction between the “this could be better if…” muse and the “I wish there was more” muse, but it’s possible that the two can coexist. Often, I interpret my lack of desire to see more as a sign that the story itself was perfectly rounded and complete. An example for me would be Steins;Gate, for instance. A very popular and well-loved anime, but only a very small fanfiction community and one that I am not part of. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the kinds of muses in yourself, but ultimately when acted upon, they will lead to the same place – greater appreciation of the fundamental themes and ideas present in the original.

      Maybe I’m just inherently an optimistic, easily forgiving person, but I honestly think true resonance can happen with series that are fundamentally flawed. I believe in masterpieces, but masterpieces can be perfectly flawed.

      • Yeah, it’s not that I’m trying to argue against your ideas, it’s just that it’s difficult to pin them down sometimes. Flaws are actually something quite personal, to the point where that old saying applies: “one person’s flaws are another person’s treasure.”

        That’s why it’s tough to tell just how much of the original work you’re appreciating, and how much of it is appreciation of your own “version.” That said, I’m certainly not trying to say it’s one or the other, because of course the line between fixing what’s broken and fixing the last imperfections is just as difficult to pin down.

        Ultimately, it comes down to what you mean by flawed anime, and I was supposing you meant “anime that I felt needed a lot of fixing before they would work for me, but nevertheless I appreciate it for inspiring me to think of a fixed version.” Because, as you say, virtually all such stories will be “flawed” in some way, and so it’s the ones you don’t quite love that you’d have to fall in love with.

        One thing I’m not sure about is that a “fix it” fiction has to be read with a strong appreciation of the source.. perhaps one’s lack of love for the source makes the fixed version all the better? For instance, I recall not liking anime but loving the source material they were based on; to me, they were “fixed” versions of the anime. I think the same could apply to fan fiction, and I know at least a couple of people who didn’t much care for something but loved doujin/fan fictions of them.. hard to be sure.

        • In the post, I defined flaws as aspects of a story that seem to work against the author’s intent. Yes, this is a very subjective thing because we can’t read the author’s mind. I think the more important thing here isn’t what is “objectively” considered a flaw but what the fan himself considers a flaw. Love for a series doesn’t have to be blind.

          When I said you need “strong appreciation” for the original to like a fanwork, I didn’t mean liking it, per se, but knowledge and intellectual awareness of what the original was trying to accomplish. That way, the fixing actually has more meaning.

  2. I quite agree that the “masterpieces” don’t leave much to be discussed. The conversation mostly comes around to us agreeing that said show is good, and that it’s really good, because of a few choice scenes, and then that’s about it. OTOH I like Oreimo because it’s so flawed, and I can’t shut up talking about how things could have been better or how these plot points should never have happened.

    In the end, anime is whatever you make it. We should like a show not because it’s good or bad, but because we enjoy watching it in that our time is not wasted.

    • I agree with everything about your comment. Personally, I enjoy OreImo on multiple different levels – not just because there are aspects of it I’d definitely change if I were writing the story, but also I find the interactions well-written and charming, which makes me think it has so much potential. Interacting with the fandom, writing and analysing the anime makes me get a lot more out of it than just watching it and moving on to the next show.

  3. As someone said earlier, what some people may consider flaws may be what someone else considers great. I actually quite enjoyed the “screwed up” order of the stories in the Sword art online LN. To me, it had an effect of something like recollecting old memories of Kirito’s experiences in Aincrad. It isn’t fair to simply dismiss parts we don’t like as flawed. And while we may not enjoy some things about a piece of work, if we look at it from a different perspective, it could actually be meaningful or enjoyable.

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