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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Raging Rant: Fuck Corporate Cash-Grab Sequels

You know about a year ago I said I thought it would be healthy for anime to make some sequels to older shows instead of making a ton of split cour shows and sequels to recent shows.  And I’m starting to regret that statement now.  There will be spoilers you’ve been warned.

Man just fuck cash grab sequels, fuck’em all.  Between the fucking awful Berserk 2016 and the trainwreck reboot-continuation D Gray Man Hallow, I’m beginning to think sequels to older shows might be a mistake, at least in the current cultural paradigm.  See here’s the thing the people mandating all of these sequels either don’t give a fuck about art or care more about money than art.  I also think part of the problem stems from FMAB.  Now you might be wondering why I’m mentioning FMAB when talking about sequels because it isn’t one, and that’s because I believe FMAB is the main cause of the reboot and sequel boom.

As far as I’m aware FMAB was the first reboot (sort of, I’ll get into more detail in a minute) to really make it big and convince investors and studio heads that maybe reboots of older shows and sequels to older shows were financially viable and potentially lucrative.  So people jumped on the idea and ran with it.  And sometimes it worked, HunterxHunter quite famously had an excellent reboot, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has been doing well and even the Ushio to Tora reboot looked pretty good.  However it’s important to note that all of these other success stories aren’t exactly like FMAB.  FMAB was not a one for one reboot the way HunterxHunter 2011 was (sort of), nor simply a new adaptation of an old manga like JoJo.  FMAB was a re-adaptation of FMA, one which followed the now-complete manga much more closely, and as a result the two shows are pretty different.  Most notably however, FMAB does not cover some of the early episodes of FMA like Yoki’s introduction episode and instead breezes through that shit to get to the rest of the story.  And’s it’s this approach or attitude I feel that’s informing the trainwreck sequels mentioned above.

Both Berserk 2016 and D Gray Man Hallow open on episodes that are one part reboot, one part sequel and one part reintroductions to the work (which was pointless anyway because the fans already know what the fuck the shows were about and newcomers shouldn’t be watching the fucking sequel first to begin with).  Part of the reasons the first episodes of these sequels were so terrible was because they are such a chaotic mishmash of ideas, trying to go too many directions at once.  D Gray Man Hallow’s first episode in particular reminds of FMAB’s, if FMAB’s was total shit anyway.  D Gray Man Hallow begins with a flashy fight, where all the main characters are busting out their big moves, while later in episode Cross talks to Allen about important stuff that let’s us know this story is going to be more involved and complicated.  FMAB did the same things with Isaac trying to freeze the capital of Amestris, they just executed the ideas much better by showing us a bunch of fights and some of the important characters or items, like Bradley and the philosopher’s stone, and what they could do without explaining them to us as a means to pique our interest.  Berserk 2016 likewise saw Guts kill a bunch of guys in a bar like episode one of the original show and fight some big tree monster later to show us what a badass he is.  And do you want to know why the first of FMAB, which fulfills a similar function to D Gray Man Hallow’s and Berserk 2016’s, works while the other two don’t?  Because they’re fucking sequels and FMAB wasn’t.

What really baffled me back when I bitched about the first episode of D Gray Man Hallow was why the hell they bothered to make it a sequel at all.  They changed all the voice actors and presumably the staff (I haven’t checked on that but considering how different it is I’m pretty confident about it), changed the look and tone of the show, and opened on this atrocious fight scene that introduced all the characters and their powers (sort of, they botched it with Alystar and Miranda).  What was the fucking point of making a goddamn sequel if everything was going to be different?  The answer was that they decided to advance the story and pick up where D Gray Man left off.  But that seems pretty meaningless given that they changed everything else.  Now I get it, they threw the fans of D Gray Man a bone and hoped to make a bunch of money off of us in the process, I’m just mad because I hate this particular metaphorical bone.  And it’s a shame really, because as badly as I thrashed that first episode the show has actually gotten borderline ok as of the latest episode at the time of this writing (Kanda and Alma’s backstory), and even before that they introduced some decent ideas like the Third Exorcists.  And all I can think of is how much better this would be if we had the old voice actors, the old look, the old team and most importantly the old tone of the show.  I honestly wish that D Gray Man Hallow was a full HunterxHunter 2011 style reboot than a fucking sequel-that-is-also-a-reboot.  I’d probably care about less if it was a reboot but I wouldn’t be as pissed at it either.  And I think everyone can agree that we wished Berserk 2016 never happened.

This trend of sort-of sequel, sort-of reboot shows (let’s call them rebquels) worries me because, until I see someone make it work, I’m pretty sure it’s a formula for failure.  Moreover I know more shows like this are going to come out, people are already worried about how much damage the upcoming FLCL sequel will do to that IP.  And I weep at the thought of other great shows that fans have been dying for more of getting these absolute garbage sequels and rebquels as a “reward” for their faith and patience.  Fucking no, this has to stop.  As I discussed before a bad sequel is worse than a bad show, put some fucking care and attention into your fucking high profile sequels Japan.  If you don’t you are going to burn a lot of fans.  And look maybe enough people will just be so happy that more of [insert beloved older show here] is coming out that the practice is financially successful for now, but if it keeps happening over and over you can bet it won’t continue to be successful.  Devoted fans will eat a lot of shit but even they have limits and if we keep getting more Berserk 2016’s you will push fans beyond their limits and it will fucking destroy you.  It will destroy you because you will have dragged your name and legacy through the fucking mud and destroyed your own damn credibility so you could make some easy fucking money.

If you want to make a sequel to an old show, then make it a proper fucking sequel.  You don’t need to reintroduce it anyone, because the fans already know what’s up and they will build hype for the series for you.  If you want to hook a new audience to an old IP, make a reboot.  Don’t combine the two in any way shape or form.  Also recognize that FMAB was a readaptation and if you want to do what it did, your show must also be a readaptation, or at least a HunterxHunter 2011 style reboot because that rebooted the old stuff completely and then added new stuff.  One of the best sequels in recent years was Utawarerumono Itsuwari no Kamen.  You know why?  Because it was a proper fucking sequel and it had some some fucking care put into it.  Itsuwari no Kamen isn’t even as good as it’s predecessor, but you know what, it also isn’t bad.  Itsuwari no Kamen has gorgeous visuals, good characters and a decent story even if it dragged it’s feet and ended well before the full story was over.  But it didn’t ruin Utawarerumono for me, it didn’t even really disappoint me, if anything I was worried it was going to be even worse and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was good.  It’s not ideal, an ideal sequel is as good as, if not better than, the original show but it’s acceptable, I don’t feel burned by it and I have faith that any following sequels will likely be good.  If you made a Berserk sequel like that, or a D Gray Man Hallow like that you’d be so much better off, fans would be happier and I’d be a lot fucking happier (which frankly is what really matters to me).

That about wraps this one up.  The issue here is really simple, I don’t want to the legacy of great studios and great anime ruined by terrible, short-sighted sequels and rebquels created with the goal to make some easy fucking money rather than making some great fucking art.  Because that’s what makes those old shows good, they’re fucking great works of art, and throwing that art to the wind in the attempt to make a quick, easy profit will hurt you in the long term.  And sure, maybe you only care about the short term, and some of your audience no doubt does as well, but a lot of anime fans are long time fans, and they care about the long term damage to a show’s legacy.  So respect you fans, because they pay your bills and if you fail them too hard, too often they’ll stop footing the fucking bill.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Hidden Gems: Utawarerumono

I was originally going to post this much earlier, and try to give everyone who takes my recommendation to heart plenty of time to watch this one before the sequel comes out with the 2015 Fall season.  However I had a couple of awards, challenges and Surly Summaries to write, so now I’m going to settle for posting this on October 1st.  If you wanted to know my opinion on this one, I highly recommend it.  If that’s all you wanted to see, feel free to get started on the show because this post is going to be a bit different from the normal Hidden Gems.  I’m going to tell you what I think about the series and it’s various aspects but I’m going to do it by telling a story, specifically my story about my experience with the show.  Anyway, let’s begin.

If you know about this show already, congratulations you’re doing better than I did before I watched it.  I first found Utawarerumono thanks to a 5ish second clip in some random AMV on Youtube.  When I looked the show up I was greeted by a barren comments section, literally there were no comments and I’d never heard of this show before.  I almost dropped it then and there without giving it a chance.  But I decided to go ahead and try it anyway.  It was one of my better decisions as an anime fan.  I loved the show, I really enjoyed myself and that was that.  But I’d never have told you back then this was a show you had to watch.  I mean I had a good time but I also went in with very low expectations, so I’d always figured it was just good.  Then I took a few years off and re-watched it, going in with much higher expectations and a more critical mindset.  And I noticed things.  Like how awful the CG was, granted this show aired in 2006 I think, but luckily the CG was very brief and rarely used.  I also noticed that damn did this show blow my expectations out of the water, again.  That was when I knew I’d really found something special with this show.  So what is Utawarerumono about and what does it have to offer?

Utawarerumono follows the journey of Hakuoro, though this is not his true name.  His tale begins in a small rural village that looks like it came straight from the Edo-period Japan or even earlier save for one major exception, everyone in this village has some kind of animal ears (kemonomimi) and some even have tails.  Also people ride on big green velociraptor-things.  Hakuoro wakes with no memory of who, what or where he is.  He’s also been badly injured and is currently being tended to by Tuskuru, the village healer and her granddaughter Eruuruu.  Hakuoro also has a mask that covers about half of his face that can’t be removed.  No doubt that sounds like it would be slow and boring to some of you, and you would be right, for about 1 or 2 episodes.  But despite its humble beginnings, Utawarerumono picks up the pace very quickly and becomes much larger than its early episodes would let on.  One of Utawarerumono’s many strengths is good management of time.  During the slower episodes there’s always plenty of things going on or at bare minimum, information and detail for us to drink in.  There’s also plenty of action, the first episode might have you believe otherwise but there are a lot of battles in this show complete with their accompanying gore.  More importantly perhaps, it knows both when to slow down and when it’s time to kick into high gear.  In other words we have plenty of breaks between the action or major story developments but the breaks are kept short and concise enough to keep us from getting bored.  This keeps the story moving along smoothly and allows the show to bring out an impressive amount of story within its 26 episodes.  Seriously, very few shows get as much done as Utawarerumono and even fewer can do it without feeling rushed.  However I’d say the two greatest things about the show are its characters and their relations to each other.

Utawarerumono has an impressively large cast and manages to keep just about everyone interesting.  The characters are all memorable, even the ones who aren’t particularly interesting, because we spend a lot of time with them both in action and at rest, and the designs are varied enough that everyone is easy to identify.   More importantly though this show mixes things up a little by making the huge cast act like one giant family.  That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal with the all the shounen, friendship is power, type shows out there but Utawarerumono has very different character in comparison.  If I had to give it a simple description, I’d say it’s more realistic than its shounen equivalent.  Everyone has a bit more nuance and depth, both in their backgrounds and their relationships.  It makes the whole thing feel more believable and more mature where the shounen friendship-fests are more childish.  A lot of what makes Utawarerumono work is the characters, it has an interesting mix of military types, non-combatants, youths and adults.  What’s more many of the characters come from different races and have totally different life experiences.  But they always come together, both in times of crisis and in times of peace and happiness.  You get to see the kids grow, the young adults mature and the adults themselves really come into their own as they guide the rest and each other through the complicated mess of life.  That may not sound very special but it’s a rare thing in my experience to see all three things happen in a single show, though all the teenage only casts don’t help.  The narrative has plenty of twists and turns and it’s always interesting to see how the cast thinks differently before acting together, since they have a useful combination of brains, brawn and skill between them when they all work together.

Overall if you want a story that really stands out from the crowd, full of well developed characters, rich environments and plenty of action, Utawarerumono has got what you need.  It has a little bit of everything, plus excellent pacing, and it just makes for a great experience.  It just feels more mature and complete than so many other shows.  And so without further ado I demand you all to watch this show, in fact I command you to marathon it right now so you’re ready for the upcoming sequel.  Thank you for reading, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.