Understanding the Audience: Appeal and Expectations

There are approximately a billion different factors that coalesce into a person’s opinion on a particular anime they watched.  When they watched it, how they watched it, who they watched it with, what kind of emotions did they have at the time, what the animation was like, what the story was about, how good the characters were, what kind of ideas does the viewer like in general, etc.  However amongst these myriad factors there are two that are that widely applicable and really easy to understand, what your expectations of the show were vs what the show actually was and whether or not the show was designed to appeal to the kind of person you are, i.e. whether you were the target audience.  For example, I had very low expectations for Keijo, the tits and ass battle sport anime airing right now, and currently I think it’s the best show of the season because boy did it surpass my expectations. A prominent example of appeal would be the huge war over Re:Zero and whether it’s good or bad, which for the record I’ve start hating the show more as time goes on because it decidedly did not appeal to me.  Which is as good a place to start as any, there will be spoilers you’ve been warned.

Since writing my review of Re:Zero I’ve watched some great videos both pro and anti Re:Zero and have come to the conclusion that the main reason I found it boring was that I was not the kind of person the show was appealing to.  The best defense of Re: Zero I saw was about how it was a tale of self-betterment made specifically with otaku in mind and that some of it’s characters did a great job accurately portraying otaku habits or subverting otaku expectations.  That’s great and all but it doesn’t really reach me.  One of the main lesson Subaru has to learn, for example, is that he needs to treat Emilia as a person to get the relationship he wants instead of treating her like a waifu.  It’s not a bad message to send but, uh how do I put this, it means nothing to me.  Because I don’t really do waifus, as I’ve repeatedly stated in a bunch of posts, I need to see the characters as people first before I even really find them attractive at all.  I don’t want to pedastalize my ideal image of this hot girl, I want to get to know the real girl, then decide if I’m into her or not.  And the closest I’ve ever gotten to pedastalizing the girl I was into  before coming to terms with the idea that that wasn’t healthy or ok, was almost ten years ago, and even then I knew some of my hopes and expectations weren’t fucking ok.  So Subaru’s growth is meaningless to me, because I went past that point so long ago that the struggle to get there doesn’t resonate with me.  I don’t feel the impact of the emotional story that speaks to a lot of otaku in Re:Zero, instead all I’m left with is a character I hate for being inane, and having a terrible design.  Obviously it does appeal to a lot of people, hence the grand battle cry calling it a great show from huge chunks of the anime community.  And that’s fine, it’s nice that it speaks to so many people, but I’m not one of them so I’m not going to like this shit.

I think it’s important for everyone to recognize that because the main draw of the story was completely dependent on who the story was appealing to, there’s going to be a large camp of people who hate the show because it’s not for them, and for everyone on both sides to be ok with the opinions of the other side based on who the show appealed to.  Because the last thing we need is for people to argue over Re:Zero forever and ignore shows they might like better, like Keijo.  This doesn’t apply just to Re:Zero of course, most shows have a very targeted audience and because of that targeting, there’s going to be people left feeling bored because the show isn’t appealing to them.  But I think it’s kind of necessary to keep that fact in mind when talking about a show because to be frank watching two camps of people scream that a show is either great or that it sucks is super fucking boring, talk about why it’s good or it sucks and shed some insight into your personal tastes and experience.  Also it would just be nice if most of the internet and the real world would get on board with the idea of other people’s different opinions being ok.

Moving right along, in direct opposition to appeal, which is about aiming for a specific group and is then affected by a individual factors which can be difficult to describe, expectations are very personal but are also exceedingly easy to explain to a group of people.  For example, one of my all time favorite shows is Utawarerumono, with one of the main reasons being that is has thus far surpassed expectations.  The first time I watched the show I had low expectations so it was pretty understandable for the show to exceed them, and for me to think it was good.  The second time I went in with much higher expectations and was still just as blown as away as that glorious first viewing.  That’s what it means to be one of my favorite shows, to continually surpass my expectations and just being a fucking blast to watch every time I watch it.  It’s also what’s great about Keijo, I read the description and went in expecting the trashiest, low effort ecchi crap I’d ever seen and was rewarded with arguably the best ecchi-action scenes ever made and thus far a decent sports story.

That’s really all there is to this post.  Just be open-minded regarding other people’s opinions, especially if the show has a clearly targeted set of people it’s appealing to, and if you’re sharing your opinion in a public space it would be nice if you mentioned your expectations and how they’ve affected your viewing experience.  Because a good review of an anime is usually about more than just the anime, it’s also a story about the person making the review.  And you can make super interesting posts or videos, even if I totally disagree with your opinion, if you just explain where you’re coming from and how a show appealed to you or how your expectations factored in.  That’s the dream really, a world where we can all understand and accept other people’s opinions, regardless of our own, because the other people explained why they have that opinion.  That would make for more interesting content, which is really a win-win for everybody.  That about wraps this up, hope you enjoyed it.

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Unpopular Opinion: Re:Zero

Re:Zero earns a resounding 6/10 in my book, or at least it would if I bothered to give scores. Re:Zero is pretty ok, but nothing I’d recommend to anyone who wasn’t already into the show based on the premise.  To be honest I don’t have a lot to say about this show.  Initially I was going to skip it altogether but after seeing some AMVs that made it look cool I gave it a shot, and I have to say, it was good enough for me to finish but not good enough for me to really like.  There are some things the show does pretty well, mainly Subaru’s mental breakdowns as a result of his suffering and failure, but it has a ton of problems as well. There will spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

For starters I fucking hate Subaru, which isn’t what you want for the hero of your story.  His basic tracksuit look is bland and uninteresting, his fucking hair/bangs are hideous and make him look like a total douche, and his sense of humor is fucking inane and pisses me off.   Look I get it, Subaru’s supposed to be an otaku and him using gamer lingo is not out of character for him, but fuck me it gets irritating when he doesn’t stop describing things in RPG terms even by the end of the season.  If the Re:Zero were legitimately based on an in-universe video game, Subaru’s gamer lingo and game based humor would be better, but because this is it’s own fantasy world with no RPG-esque internal rules or mechanics it’s just fucking irritating.  If it had only been in the early episodes that would’ve been ok, I mean I’d still fucking hate it but it wouldn’t bother me this much, but given that it persists throughout the show it just gets fucking obnoxious.  Moreover Subaru’s happy-go-lucky and jovial personality doesn’t make that much sense.  I get that it makes a good contrast compared to the moments when he suffers, but think about, if you were sucked into a fantasy world you didn’t recognize and died a handful of times, wouldn’t you be freaked the fuck out?  Especially if you’re a hikikomori otaku?

In fact why is Subura so outgoing for, as Aqua from KonoSuba would say, a Hiki-NEET?  Doesn’t a confident, outgoing personality kind of completely clash with Subaru being a Hiki-NEET?  Not that you can’t be confident but generally it makes way more sense for a Hiki-NEET to not be outgoing at all, and possibly not at all confident.  Adding to that why is Subaru so physically fit?  I know he says he works out a lot because he’s got time to do that since he’s alone all the time, but come on.  I mean I know the real reason, it’s called appealing to the audience (all Hiki-NEETS and/or gamers wish they were in great physical consideration but honestly how many of them are?) , but to me it just weakens the character.  That said I do think he does a decent job when he’s being serious and/or falling apart.  If nothing else Subaru does a good job of being a straightforward and thoroughly sincere character, and that really comes out when he finally figures out how to overcome whatever obstacle has been killing him and gets his game face on or when he fails and doesn’t know how to fix the problem.  Now again, it’s hard to say how well this fits into his characterization as a Hiki-NEET, but at least it’s better than his inane humor.

Moving right along, Emilia isn’t much better.  Her her design isn’t bland or off-putting the way Subaru’s is but I’m just not into it.  Maybe there isn’t enough color variation, maybe it’s too obviously meant to be waifu material as opposed a more natural looking character (though in fairness that’s a running problem for most of the female cast of the show, not just Emilia), or maybe it’s because her personality is as limited and boring as her color scheme.  It’s hard to say for sure but it doesn’t really matter because I don’t like her regardless of the explanation why.  Whereas Subaru’s personality seems at odds with his character setting, Emilia’s is just too simplified to be interesting.  This strikes me as particularly wasteful because her role in narrative is well-positioned for her to be by far the most nuanced and interesting character.  I mean I get it, this story is more about big drama moments and wish fulfillment than realism, but bear with me here.

Emilia finds herself in the unusual position of being one of only five possible candidates for king/queen and priestess of the Dragon, which is supposed to protect the realm if memory serves.  However despite being in a position to rule the kingdom and possibly save the land, she’s almost universally hated by the people of her potential kingdom.  How much more interesting would Emilia be if she struggled with being the goody two shoes she is in the show because she gets bitter and frustrated often, and is more inclined to lash out or give into despair as a result of how she’s treated.  Basically what I’m saying is, that if Emilia was more like Subaru when he’s serious and suffers from similar hardships, especially the mental ones, then I think she could be a fantastic character.  As she is in the show, I just don’t give a fuck about her because there’s not enough to her, no depth of character that explores the gap between how she treats people and how she’s treated by people.  Yea she gets sad and is a bit nervous sometimes, but that just doesn’t sell me this girl’s hardship, so I can’t get invested in her or her struggle.  I resonated more with Felt and her whole “I’m gonna tear this rotten kingdom down” attitude than I did with Emilia, and Felt was in like 3 episodes tops.  Emilia just isn’t given the depth and strength of character she needs in order for me to care.

Aside from the flubbing the leading duo Re:Zero’s characters aren’t too bad.  Mind you very few of them are actually good, but no else actually bothered me.  Rem and Ram are probably the best characters as they have by far the most interesting backstories and behave in ways that better reflect both their past and their current occupation.  Rem also has by far the most touching romantic moment in the show even if Subaru ultimately rejects her for Emilia, a bad move in my book as Rem is clearly the better choice.  I also think Ram and Rem’s arc had the best action overall, big battles are cool and all but watching a demon maid tear monster dogs apart with a huge flail, wind magic or her bare hands was more dramatic, personal, gripping and visceral than the slaying of the White Whale or the larger battle against the Witch’s Cult.  All that said I think it’s telling that my actual favorite characters are a few side characters.  My top three characters of Re:Zero are Elsa, Mimi, and Ricardo.  Of all the beastmen in Re:Zero Ricardo has best design as he is far more bestial than most, who just have animal ears and tails (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m down with that too).  But in a show full of male characters with mostly bland designs,  it’s nice to have a character like Ricardo, who’s design is more unique and has a lot of personality, personality which the actual character also has.  Whereas Subaru being happy go lucky doesn’t make a lot of sense, I can more easily buy into a mercenary who likes to laugh a lot and approaches every scenario with the same kind of optimistic enthusiasm, especially since it improves the moral of the men under his command.

Mimi is one of my favorites because while she isn’t meant to be waifu material at all, she’s fucking adorable, which only gets better when you get to her personality and powers.  For one thing her attack is a more lethal version of Fus Ro Dah, and as a big fan of Skyrim that’s cool by default.  Second and perhaps more importantly, she treats violence and gore as something fun and something to look forward to, very much like Yachiru of Bleach, in fact I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say that Yachiru was an inspiration behind Mimi.  None of Mimi’s individual parts are that great but taken as a whole, she’s a little ball of violent fun and a much needed break from the grimdark suffering of Subaru and the like six times we see all those villagers get murdered by the Witch’s Cult in that last arc.  And last but not least we have my Best Girl of Re:Zero Elsa, and no that was not a joke.  Much like Ricardo, Elsa’s design has a lot of style and character and her personality matches her look.  The funny thing is, if Re:Zero were an altogether better show I’d probably have written Elsa off as a cheesy B-movie villain, but because she’s the first character introduced to have as much personality as she does, she’s legitimately the Best Girl of Re:Zero in my book.  Personality aside I’m a big fan of deadly women in any fictional context , and she stands at the top of the hill in that regard (and she’s even an 20-something woman to boot, hell yeah I’m into this).  I especially like that she overpowers her opponents with raw skill and her incredible athletic ability, whereas most powerful characters rely on magic or demonic powers.  Also her final battle where takes on five people (Subaru, Rom, Felt, Emilia and Reinhart) was probably the best single battle of the entire show.

My last real gripe with the show is the lack of attention to detail in the fantasy world.  We get minimal information about the lore or religions of this world, something I love to see in fantasy.  Moreover we get no explanation’s as to why the Mabeasts (which is a fucking terrible, bastardized way of saying ‘evil beasts’ btw) are attracted to the witch’s scent, what the Mabeasts are exactly and how are they dealt with on larger scale beyond the tiny town on Roswaal’s land.  We know very little about spirits or indeed any of the races of the world and what kind of relation’s they have to one another on a larger scale, no real context into the culture of the kingdom or it’s size and power in comparison to neighboring kingdoms, no idea at all of how big the world is, and worst of all nowhere near enough information on how magic works.  Now I don’t think those details are particularly necessary to Re:Zero’s story, though it would be important to know if perhaps other half-elves at all and how many of them have the same traits as Emilia, and I don’t know whether or not Re:Zero really had any places it could cut in order to address those details.  However, seeing as lore, magic and worldbuilding are my three favorite things about fantasy, having more detail on those fronts would done a lot to get me more invested in the show and definitely would have raised it’s hypothetical score for me.

That about wraps this review up.  Re:Zero has some strong points well worth the watch, like Elsa’s final battle, Rem and Ram tearing all those demon dogs apart in the second arc, the battle with the White Whale, and all the suffering and mental anguish Subaru undergoes as he fails again and again.  That last bit was particularly good as I feel they did a great job making his breakdowns, despair and desperation very authentic and genuine for Subaru.  But I just don’t have it in me to go into a lot of detail on those points because, well, Re:Zero just isn’t worth it to me.  In terms of the premise, or the events of the story Re:Zero’s hardly a humdrum show, but in terms of it’s emotional impact on me, humdrum is a pretty damn good description.  I wasn’t drawn way into the show and made to care about the characters, so I didn’t really get hit in the feels when I was supposed, and as a result this show feels very middle of the road to me in terms of quality.  I think if you do get invested in the story and characters you will like this show a lot more than me as I believe the big emotional moments are supposed to be a major part of the show’s appeal, but it just wasn’t for me.  I’d say give it a shot if it sounds interesting, but if you’re not sold on the show already, try something else that you’ve heard is good.  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.