Edgy is one of the worst possible descriptors a show can acquire. And yet for some reason blatantly edgy shows do annoying well with a large percentage of the anime community. A lot of that can be attributed to people being noobs, which is fair enough because we were all noobs once, but at the same time I don’t think it’s fair or correct to write off all the attention edgy shows get as solely a noob problem. So what is it that attracts people to edgy shows in the first place? Why do so many people buy into the edgy bullshit? Well… there will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.
I think one of the main draws of edgy shows is that they are dark and gory, and to first time viewers that make them seem very cool and maybe even mature. I remember the first time I saw Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki, and I thought both of them were awesome and I was ready to fight people who shat on them, you know before someone really broke down why they sucked and I realized the great sin I’d committed by liking these shows. I hate them both now, in fact the only thing I like about Elfen Lied now is Nyu, because Nyu is fucking adorable. But I get it, the first time you see a show that’s willing to horribly murder a bunch of people right from the get go, where characters die right and left, where gore and tragedy are everywhere, it can seem like a big step up from all the boring high school stuff. It can feel more mature and realistic than shounen battles with their huge emphasis on optimism and friendship and marked rarity of death. But edgy shows are anything but mature and I happen to know a character that illustrates this perfectly, Seiryuu from Akame ga Kill.
Akame ga Kill is one of the notable edgy shows but in contrast to Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki, it’s one I actually like. I’ll get into more details on that later, for now let’s look at Seiryuu. As detailed in one of my early posts, Seiryuu is a well constructed crazy person. She has been driven to the point of insanity by a clear chain of events, i.e. her parents and mentors are all murdered in rapid succession, and thanks to the fact that some of her mentors are corrupt scumbags themselves, her moral compass and understanding of the world is totally fucked. This makes Seiryuu a character who believably would act in an overblown, hyper violent, edgy way. She is a child trying to deal with very adult issues and she just can’t, which ends up with her laughing about feeding people to her dog monster while still believing she represents justice. This is the essence of what it means to be edgy, adult content written for, and perhaps with, a child’s perspective. Because any show can be super gory and violent, any show can incorporate tragedy and trauma. It doesn’t need to be a mature show to have mature content, but that’s precisely why edgy shows generally suck, they just take the trappings of mature shows and throw in some babies first characters and hope no one notices. And is works on a lot of people, because a lot of people are so wowed by the all the blood and death that they stop thinking about anything else going on the story entirely. But the effect created by the inherent flaw of edgy stories is present in Seiryuu, she’s far and away the most hateable character in Akame ga Kill and watching her die was one of the most satisfying scenes in the show.
What really puts the nail in the coffin of edgy shows is that the things they are trying to do have been done elsewhere so much better. Even in Akame ga Kill there were characters who had a more mature perspective and their personal philosophies, ideals and goals were by far the most interesting aspects of characterization in the show. The titular Akame is especially good because, as discussed in my post on anti-heroes, she follows the all too rare path of the redemption seeker. She knows how hard she fucked up earlier in life and she fights now to make up for her past evils and ensure others have the brighter future she can never have. Likewise Bols comes from the unique, at least among Akame ga Kill’s characters, perspective of being a family man while also having done a ton of horrific shit that makes people hate him, but he comes to terms with the hatred of others and resolves to continue doing ugly things anyway because they are in service of the ideals he believes in and the people he fights for. Now both of these characters were weakened because they were saddled with lame comedic punchlines, but the point stands, these two were the most interesting characters in the show because their stories best reflected a more mature perspective in a show full of mature content. But those two are pretty minor examples compared to the entire shows and stories which handle the same dark and gory content as edgy shows so much better.
Berserk and Neon Genesis Evangelion are stories with plenty of gore and a buffet of traumatic events. But in direct opposition to Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied, the violence and tragedy aren’t gimmicks meant to wow the audience in these stories. Trauma and mental damage play a gigantic role in Evangelion, they are core themes central to the narrative of the story and the kind of message it presents to the audience. And Evangelion is way darker and more impactful for it. Forget a yandere killing a lot of people because they touched her Yuki, isn’t it really insane to force a fifteen year old with serious trust issues and an understandable lack of confidence to pilot a crazy mech and defend the world from otherworldly beings? What’s really more tragic, a kid seeing his sister blow in a blood pinata and forgetting the whole thing due to the trauma it caused him or a girl who had to deal with a mother that never recognized and loved her, a mother who she saw hang herself, and then had save the world from invading aliens despite the deep-seated mental scars her childhood left on her, which she not only could never forget about but which would also put even more pressure on her during her future struggles with the aliens? What’s really darker, a world full of overblown characters and equally overblown violence, or a world full of people who behave like human beings, humans that suffer from a myriad of terrible mental issues and are constantly confronted with violence, but have to keep coming into the office every morning because that’s what’s expected of them? In all three scenario’s it’s the latter because Evangelion, in a addition to just being a damn good show, took a mature, realistic approach to mature content and told a story with mature themes. Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied use the same kind of content to tell cartoonish stories of overwrought tragedy and mindless violence with no noteworthy themes at all.
And then there’s Berserk a story where people we like get raped and where people reel back in genuine horror not just from monsters but from Guts and his exceptional skills at violence. I think one of the best arcs of Berserk was the Lost Children arc because more so than any other arc it really cemented the idea that Guts was fucking scary. It doesn’t matter that he’s the hero of the story, that he’s in the right or that his feats were badass, in Lost Children Guts scared even the monsters because of the lengths he was willing to go to take them down and most humans feared and hated him for the damage he left behind. It really showed how isolating Guts’ path and by extension his reaction to his past traumas were, and it took the near death of the only person he cared about to make him change his ways. That’s a story that speaks to people about human problems, it doesn’t matter that Guts is fighting demons with a stupidly huge sword in a medieval fantasy land, he and other characters around him suffer from very human problems and they deal with these problems in human ways. In short the characters in Berserk are relatable and human, and at times they showcase the very worst of what people allow themselves to become. By contrast Mirai Nikki is about a pink haired girl whose kills people because she’s insane. It’s pathetic in comparison to a story that actually takes a mature approach to mature content, because again in Mirai Nikki violence and tragedy are gimmicks meant to garner a reaction, they don’t really mean anything narratively or thematically.
Another thing that supports the popularity of edgy is shows is their premise. Tokyo Ghoul and Mirai Nikki are both shows with a strong premise that got a lot of attention, and to sadly large portion of the audience, respect. Hell I was into to Tokyo Ghoul for the premise, I watched all of both seasons waiting to see if the show could deliver on that premise, and it just fucking didn’t, not in any meaningful way. It was such garbage that the best character in the show died in episode one and she somehow continued to be the best character despite getting no extra development. And as I established in another post, premise means nothing. You can have the coolest premise in the world but if the execution of the narrative, of key scenes, of the presentation vs the themes all sucks, then your show fucking sucks. This again is where edgy shows trip up, because gore is a gimmick to them, they don’t really have hard hitting themes to match their presentation, so it all comes off as cartoonish, lacking in subtlety and tact, and ultimately tasteless and juvenile. This is why edgy shows are laughed at as pleb tier anime, because they damn well are pleb tier in terms of writing and construction. Which brings me back to the one edgy show I will defend, Akame ga Kill.
Akame ga Kill is an odd beast because the reasons I like and defend it don’t really match up with why most other people like it. That’s not to say there’s no common ground, I’m pretty sure everyone who likes Akame ga Kill likes the action in Akame ga Kill for instance, but generally speaking there is a big disconnect between me and most everyone else. Because it sounds like a lot of people who like Akame ga Kill actually like the edgy bullshit that drove so many potential fans away, this is especially true of fans of the manga which based on my admittedly limited knowledge appears even more edgy than the anime. This is ludicrous to me because while I have found a defense for Akame ga Kill’s edginess, I ain’t celebrating that shit. It’s edginess is by far the worst thing about Akame ga Kill even if it sort of fits in context. That context being the anime only end of Akame ga Kill, which in retrospect automatically puts me at odds with manga fans. As discussed in my review, I found the anime only ending of Akame ga Kill pretty incredible. Not only did we get to see a bunch of great battles in a row, but we saw a final conclusion to the overall story and that’s rare enough that I was happy we got something. However what really sold me on this ending is the scene where the few remaining survivors of the conflict are talking atop a huge ruined tower on capital city’s wall. The shot really hit home the idea that, holy shit the scale and cost of this conflict was enormous. The majority of the Imperial Arms, super powerful artifact weapons that no one can create anymore, used in the show are destroyed. Hundreds if not thousands of people have died, the capital city is in ruins, a ton of young talent and potential heroes are dead in addition to the established heroes of the empire who have died and the government is being totally reformed by the few who remain.
Put succinctly, the ending of Akame ga Kill gives me the impression of something like the fabled Trojan War of Homer’s epics. In the world of Akame ga Kill this conflict’s end signifies the passing of age and it will likely end up as an in-universe epic at some point in that world’s history. I admit this is a weird thing selling point, especially as it doesn’t appear at all until the end, but for me the idea of a conflict which defined and ended an era is overwhelmingly awesome. Maybe it’s my love for history, or fictional world building, or legends and lore, maybe all of the above; but it was powerful to me and that’s why I really do love the damn show despite it’s faults. And as far the edginess is concerned, epics tend to have overblown characters with larger than life personalities and traits taken to extremes, i.e. they are kind of edgy in their own, albeit far less cringy, way. Therefore, if you look at Akame ga Kill as an epic happening in real time, the edginess makes a little more sense and fits the story. That doesn’t make it good mind, but it fits enough that I’m willing to forgive it and enjoy the rest of the show.
What this has all been building up to is me, here at the end, begging you all on my hands and knees to stop falling for edgy bullshit. You’re allowed to like whatever you like, but please, please stop liking edgy bullshit. You can do better than that and we all deserve better than edgy bullshit. I want to live in a world where edgy bullshit is not financially viable, where Tokyo Ghoul doesn’t sell well and is shit on by everybody for it’s overwrought yet hollow tragedy, it’s boring flatlined story, and intense gore hidden behind all kinds of shadows. I want everyone to get past the Mirai Nikki’s and Elfen Lied’s of the world because then maybe, just maybe, we can talk about more interesting shit and get some better dark, gory anime worthy for all of us to enjoy. Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.