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Hey, Answerman: Genre Tropes

by Zac Bertschy,

This week's topic was spawned by a letter I got.

Hey Answerman, I noticed that you dont really talk about anime in the column very much. you always talk about fans and the industry and stuff but not really anime. why is that?

I didn't have an answer for him and it's a legit question, so this week I'm going to go through a bunch of letters that are about anime. You know, the stuff itself, rather than the community or business that surrounds it. What a concept, right?

dear Answerman, a lot of people complain that anime these days isn't original anymore and it's repetitve. but i personally think that anime is really original, it blends together parts of genres into new forms all the time. so why do people say that??

I think when you first get in to anime it all seems really original and unique, and as you age and take in more and more of it you start to see patterns in the storytelling. It becomes less of a "new" thing to see sci-fi mashed up with western action mashed up with romance mashed up with spy fiction; eventually, it all kinda blends together and you realize that while anime storytelling seems less bound by the strict conventions of the genres it works with, that doesn't necessarily mean that the stories are any more or less original than anything you'd see from any other country.

That said, I think these days we're seeing a lot of anime that basically throws out the concept of "genre" completely and embraces a wide variety of story elements from a number of different genres in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible. That's not to say we don't still have straight-up genre anime, but the lines are increasingly blurred. Take a series like .hack. Here we have a series that doesn't fit neatly into any genre - it's fantasy, but not really. It's a high-tech real-world mystery, but not only that. The show combines story elements from a lot of different sources, and the result is difficult to easily fit into any given genre.

Does that make it original? Well, that's a good question. The fantasy elements of the series are inherently cliche - good guys with broadswords killing monsters and collecting treasure isn't exactly a mindblowing concept. Neither is the whole "real world versus imaginary world" thing, nor is the "you're the chosen one who will disrupt our digital utopia!" angle. If you mash together a bunch of cliche storylines, that doesn't necessarily make your story "original" per se, but it could be described at the very least as "inventive".

So while it's easy to look at a cursory plot synopsis and some artwork and say "well this is really original", someone who's spent years and years watching anime will tell you that while much of it can be called "unique", very little of it is truly "original". Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

What happened to the magical girl genre?! we had Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura and all those shows for years but they disappeared and now its all moe shows! did the genre lose popularity in Japan?
First, while it's not incorrect to say that the magical girl genre has basically faded over time, there are still popular magical girl series out there; specifically, Pretty Cure, which I believe has had roughly 43,938 episodes aired in Japan. There's also Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which Geneon licensed a while back (primarily as a way to prove to us all that yes, they are still in the business of losing money). Other than that, though, you're right; it's not as big as it used to be.

Magical girl shows exploded in Japan in the 80's, and for a long time were a staple of entertainment for young women. It dominated the shojo scene in Japan for many years, and thus was imported by American fans. However, there was a general shift in shojo manga (and subsequently shojo anime) toward more "realistic" romance scenarios. As shojo manga moved away from fantasy situations and transforming princesses, so too did fandom. So we saw fewer and fewer magical girl series, and nowadays, when someone says "shojo" you tend to think not of Sailor Moon or Creamy Mami, but rather Nana or Hana Yori Dango.

Maybe I'm wrong on this - and maybe because it's the only magical girl show I ever could personally tolerate - but the last big hurrah for the magical girl genre was Card Captor Sakura, which came along right as Sailor Moon was fading in popularity. That series remained successful up until the early part of this decade, and nothing new came along to replace it. It's also important to mention that as the shojo genre started moving toward "realistic" romance, new magical girl series started turning toward a new audience - men.

I'd describe the magical girl genre as it exists today as a subspecies of moe. Outside of the fetish-free, airs-before-1am, obviously-made-for-little-girls stuff like Pretty Cure, most new magical girl series like the aforementioned Lyrical Nanoha are amalgams of the magical girl genre and moe. Hell, there's a show called Moetan that doesn't even attempt to hide the fact that it's a magical girl show for perverts. So if you're wondering where all the frilly dresses, elaborate trasformation sequences and talking animal sidekicks went, you'll have to ask the guy with the Nanoha body pillow. He'll know.

This is basically the other half of the question in the intro.

i was wondering, what kind of anime do you even like? you dont talk about it so nobody knows and according to ANNs reviews you dont write reviews anymore. so what do you like?

Yeah, OK, so this is self-indulgent but what the hell.

Right now I'm at a stage in my career where I don't have a lot of time to watch new anime, but I have to say I'm really happy that the "shows about anime fans" genre has exploded lately. I really enjoy Genshiken and Welcome to the NHK, although I have to say the latter made my flesh crawl, but it was still a fascinating show. I'm looking forward to seeing more of it as it comes out on DVD.

Of course, I'm a big Hellsing fan, which I've made very obvious over the years, and I keep up with Dark Horse's Berserk release. I've always been partial to action series like that. Feel free to call me a raging hypocrite for railing against lolicon while enjoying watching Alucard rip someone's throat out with his teeth. I'm sure someone will say they're the same thing.

Fullmetal Alchemist was the best new series I'd seen in a long time when it came out, but it feels overplayed now. I still love the show, but I'm kinda "done" with it, if you know what I mean. I also really enjoyed the first disc of Mushishi, and I'm looking forward to having a spare minute to check out the other volumes that have been released. Beck is really awesome too, I just wish I had time to watch it beyond the first volume.

The one fansub show I've seen recently was recommended to me by another staff member; it's called Moyashimon, and I've only seen the first episode, but it was funny and interesting. Which was odd for me because I normally don'
t like comedy anime.

That's about it. Can I have my credibility back now?

Someone else wrote in with a haiku about how the last guy's haiku was incorrect. I love it when this happens!

that's not a haiku
haiku is five seven five
you stupid nitwit

That was fun! This week we've got a special Flake of the Week photo installment: a visit to BUNNY DEADWOOD.

holy crap look at all those bunnies

knocking one back at the gem

hangin' out at the general store

You have to wonder if they all call eachother "Carrotsucker".

Alright, I'm done. I promise.

Our question last week was "What's the worst anime you've ever seen and why?"

First I'm going to say that I got a lot of awful answers to this question; some people obviously trying to be "edgy" like this guy:

Fullmetal Alchemist. It's overlong, overpopular, overrated, and just plain bad. The plot is basically a bunch of dudes looking for a rock. Why so many people adore is beyond my comperhension.

Followed by a bunch of people who think their opinions are so widely held that they don't have to follow the "and why" part of the question:

Evangelion. 'Nuff said.

Inuyasha. 'Nugh said.

Full metal panic, nough said.

Princess Tutu, need I say more

Sailor Moon enough said

"nough said" is officially the "Hey Answerman Douche Phrase of the Week". Now for some other answers:

From reader BJ Waters:

I know I'll get a lot of flak for this, but the anime series that disappointed me the most was FINAL FANTASY UNLIMTED.  Now I'll tell you why.
I will admit that I am just a casual fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, but when I saw that there was a Final Fantasy anime series, I was pretty excited and I did want to see it.  My local library happens to have a large collection of anime, and so when I saw they had all of this title for loan, I picked it up immediately.
I figured that, with Final Fantasy in its title, I would be pretty awesome.  I really liked Spirits Within (despite the real lack of FF qualities) and figured that Square wouldn't let their part of their property be low quality.
Much to my dismay, it turned out to be the worst anime I have ever seen.  Being most familar with FF 4 and 6, I was expecting some great fantasy adventure.  Instead, I got some knock off kids' anime that barely uses the FF name to include some spiffy espers and a moogle.  And don't think I'm being biased simply because its a children's show: Digimon, Medabots, and (at least the first season of) Pokemon are better than this.  And it irked me further with the subtle bits of fanservice!  Tight clothes and suggestive situations?  Is this a kids show or not!
The animation was weak as well.  When I did some research later, I was surprised to find that Gonzo had animated it.  I usually like their work.  Even thought repeated transformation animations are a standard for kids anime (i.e. Digimon), they weren't very impressive and I remember fast-forwarding through them.
And the ENDING!  How horrible.  Sure, the kids finally found their parents, but they're all knocked out in the castle, and the rest of the cast just flies off happily in their new, working airship, another FF staple that lasts only for the last two minutes of the series.  Now, I did some research and found that the story does continue with books and so on, but with how the series went, I have no desire to continue with those characters. 
To me, Final Fantasy comes with a kind of reputation for awesome stories and visuals.  Advent Children was a godsend and I have yet to get to those more obscure OAVs.  But FF:U really did not measure up to what I thought a Final Fantasy anime should be.
Now, I doubt this is the worst anime of all time.  I haven't seen Dragon Ball GT and could only stand one episode of Bobobobo Bobo-bo (my apologies to the writer of The Click), but FF:U has to be the most disappointing series I have seen all the way through, with Jing: King of Bandits second (Studio Deen could have done a whole lot more with that title).

Another, from Ronan Willis:

Virus Buster Serge.

If you've actually seen this series I don't think it will be necessary to elaborate, but I will anyway as a warning to anyone who's thinking of buying, watching, or being in the presence of this piece of dreck.

Virus is awful for many, many reasons, but I'll focus on the principal two. Firstly, the plot isn't very good. Right off the bat the story achieves mediocrity with it's setting of "Neo Hong Kong" (why do bad sci-fi anime  always feel the need to use the word neo as often as possible?). We're then introduced to the grammatically-suspect organization SHIELD, set up to combat the Virus, a life-form/ being/ thing that infects machines and turns them into monsters, using The Power Rangers. I mean, Variable Gears, which are suits of cybernetic armour. The head honcho of SHIELD, a cold, mysterious man with magnificent hair named Raven, tricks the titular white-haired Serge (who has amnesia) into fighting alongside his posse of bishounen and scantily-clad teenage girls.

The story could survive being so utterly generic if it made any sense, which it doesn't. Inexplicable technological terms are bandied around like they're going out of fashion and past events which seem crucial to the plot are left ambiguous- the characters repeatedly refer to something called "black Valentine" without ever explaining what it is. An important (at least I'm assuming it was important because it involved lots  of angst and flashbacks) mid-series story arc involving a villain called the "bio-lizard" is a train-wreck of storytelling. I waited patiently for some kind of explanation as to what the hell was going on, and I was still waiting when the arc was over. Added to all of this are coma-inducing action scenes and a vague feeling that the entire series is ripping off Evangelion. This feeling pervades almost every episode, but it's difficult to pin down why until near the end, when the writers stick in an invasion scene lifted piecemeal from End of Evangelion and clumsily introduce religious overtones. The characters who populate this nonsensical mess are the final icing on the cake- the last few episodes try to build a romance between Serge and a female character who's name I've forgotten, but it falls flat due to the fact that Serge has no descernable personality and his love interest is a melon-chested bimbo who's only other role for most of the series was to serve as eye candy.

Speaking of eye candy, Virus' biggest and most obvious flaw is it's visuals. The animation is actually quite decent and seems to have had a fairly large budget, but it was given over to, as far as I can tell, a 15 year old fictionpress.net writer (come to think of it, he's probably responsible for the plot as well). If you want to visualise the characters in this series (I really wouldn't recommend looking for images), just imagine the cast of one of he "anime-inspired" stories on that web site, as drawn by someone who's never even heard of anatomy before.

I bought this series when I was younger, back in the days when I naively believed that all anime was good and that Virus' bargain-bin price had nothing to do with it's quality. Don't make the same mistake I did.

From Thien Nguyen:

I honestly think that this question could might as well be never-ending because the list of absolutely terrible anime goes on longer than I myself care to imagine. However, I will list one that sticks out of my memory out of its completely uninspired title, S-CRY-ED! Yea wtf?

Why does this series offend me so much? The general explaination would be because it was completely devoid of orginality (yes, I know originality is overrated but my god, at least try not to be so blatantly generic and utterly uninsipired).

I just came off of watching too many episodes of the god awful emo Gundam Seed and before I could remove the bad taste from my mouth I fell upon worse luck and caught an episode of S-CRY-ED in the worst possible manner, as a dub on Cartoon Network! I know the voice acting would be really bad in Japanese because all of the dialogue can be thought of and imagined in your own brain before the characters can say it themselves. But in English, it was exponentially worse because if the series had any charm (and I doubt this), it would have been lost in translation.

Now lets address the plot. That's right, plot...where is it? Should I just be lazy and call what it is--loud mouth guy gets random powers out of nowhere and starts breaking stuff? Or can you call it a story of the downtrodden versus the elites and are fighting to get their fair share of whatever they are after? I think it's recognition or something retarded like that. Sure, you could. But when you have the word cliche (I'm starting to hate the word "cliche", becuase I have to use it too much) can be used to describe the animation, character design and development, dialogue, and anything and everything else, I can't bring myself to even bother to seek out the virtues of the plot or to dig for the underlying messages. When overdone anime, keeps rearing it's ugly head, it really pisses me off.

But in all fairness, I have to admit, this anime is obviously meant to be viewed by middle school and elementary school kids. After all, even I watched power rangers... I still have to say that Blue's Clues, Barney and even the cloned thousandth episode of Pokemon does not offend me to this extent. I know kids like the good guys beating the bad guys and logic doesn't matter. But when I find very smart, educated adults prefering S-CRY-Ed over something brilliant like Mushishi...it just makes me wonder if all anime really needs is a bit of "burning passion" and the hell with the rest =/

If you agree or have a defense for the show please let me know. I may hate this anime but I'm always willing to be convinced :)

From "Meiaminkbell":

I look forward to seeing what answers await your Inbox for this week's Question.  Please let me know how many people say "Pokemon".  :)

Anyways, you would like to hear about the worst anime I've ever seen.  Rest assured, I have seen some bad ones.  From bad tranitions from manga to anime (I am more a manga fan than I am anime, but I love them both), to just straight-out poor quality shows.  The first show that comes to mind is "Knights of Ramune", as that was the first badly done show I've seen.  However, after several years of bad shows (I'm excluding all the ero-anime shows I've seen...and I've seen some WEIRD ones), one show stands out above all others.   "Mouse"

"Mouse" has so many flaws wrong with it, but let's start with the characters.  Our main character is rich, successful, kind-hearted, an awesome-cool thief, and completely one-dimensional.  He is so perfect, that even I would make love to him if he were real.  Other than being slightly weaker than his opponent, there were no personality flaws to him.  In my opinion, characters, especially those the anime itself focuses on, need to have some flaws so that the viewers may connect more with them, otherwise they become boring, uninteresting, and sometimes annoying.Then there are the girl's, or rather, his associates, partners in crime, whatever they may be.  I could care less about their names, so let's just call them Bazooka Babe 1, Bazooka Babe 2, and Panty Girl.

For starters, I LOVE fanservice.  I think it's humourous (sp?), fun, and sometimes even sexy.  But there is a LIMIT to this, and "Mouse" shows no restraint in stripping these girls to the bare essentials.  In fact, their entirely personalities are centered around them busting out their goods for the character Mouse, and ourselves.  They attempt to justify their love for him by individual episodes centered around them (I think one of them did so when she met him as a child...it wasn't all that spectacular, and all I could say was "weeiirddd..."), but really they just parade around in paint and floss while seemingly helping him.  But trust me, Mouse is so great he did not need any help.  (He has billions upon billions of dollars at his beckon and he BRAGS he can steal anything.  Well so could I if I had connections to the Russian military's nuclear submarines!

The plot itself centers around Mouse and his girls as they steal anything and everything under the setting sun.  Even a building.  Wow.  Take me now.  Mouse's only real trouble is how he deals with the girls.  But he has an answer for that too.  Just sleep with them all at the same time, saves more energy for counting your money and your stolen buildings.  They make up some "DNAngel" excuse for why they steal (which by the way, is SOOO much better than "Mouse"), and aside from the busty side-kicks, pratically mirrors "DNAngel".  If there is one good thing about this show, it is Kra-I mean, Mouse's nemesis.  He had a good character design without the breasts or the dough.  What really killed this show though, was the sheer amount of fanservice in it.  If you're going to go that far, go all the way.  I watch regular anime for stories, plot, and characters.  I watch ero-anime for T&A.  Simple as that.

From Matthew Yabuyik:

The worst anime series that I have ever seen would have to be Knights of Ramune (OAV). At the time I was 14 and still somewhat new to anime.  Since Knights of Ramune had, "From the makers of the Slayers"  plastered on the VHS box, I assumed I would enjoy it. Unfortunately, I  was left with a borderline hentai series which had a plot that was  about as enjoyable as a Uwe Boll film.

Finally, from Judi W.:

Neon Genesis Evangelion is by far and away the worst anime series I've ever seen. I realize that this is a very unpopular view to hold, but to be fair I have watched it twice, and I would rather be subjected to waterboarding.

I find nothing to like or appreciate about the show. I find nothing special or exciting about the plot. It's simply a rehash of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. Further, simply grabbing random bits  from assorted philosophies, and throwing them against the thematic wall, in the hope that something sticks, is not an act of great artistry.  I don't see anything special about the Evas, compared to mechs in other animes. Really, it's been done. Shinji has to be the worst hero that has ever been animated; he does nothing but whine through the entire series. Please, give me a sock so I can stuff it in his mouth. Watching a show comprised of nothing but whiny, miserable characters makes me just want to yell, "Shut up!".

Further, "Fly Me To The Moon" was not written for this series; if you want to discover who actually wrote the song, you would need to consult a Frank Sinatra catalog.

Here's our topic for this week:

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I hve so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

So check this space next week for your answers to my questions!

See you all next week!

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