Here is the idea of entertainment.
We don’t want to deal with our real-life problems.
We don’t want to exert lots of effort.
We want to watch a show with some entertainment value, and maybe at the end of the show, we have some ideas about how to deal with real life, but at least, we should feel refreshed from our period of rest and relaxation.
Some shows are not refreshing, but they are educational polemics.
Example: Legend of Galactic Heroes sets out to teach the viewer a moral, namely: “There are very few wars between good and evil: most wars are between two competing ideas of good.”
That is a serious lesson. That is a real philosophy. I slogged through more than 100 episodes to get it, but I don’t mind, because it’s a worthwhile philosophical claim.
Some shows deliver a lot of refreshment in a small package.
Example: Vampire Hunter D. It was a fast-paced “action movie,” but it made some excellent points about a philosophy of what makes life worth living and what makes humans loyal to each other.
Some shows deliver a small amount of refreshment in a big package.
Example: Samurai Champloo. One of its episodes gives a complete philosophy of life, which is priceless. Most of its episodes are mildly entertaining.
Many anime shows fail to deliver on this.
Kabaneri was not a very strong show. The writer had bits and pieces that he knew would please the crowd. You can run down a checklist of pandering items:
1 – acrobatic wire-fu girls with blades and guns
2 – drinking blood
3 – Victorian-style scenery of railway stations
4 – Japanese honor and factional struggles
All of these things are crowd-pleasers. For some reason, audiences love the idea that super-powers can be gained or sustained by drinking blood. I blame Anne Rice.
But at least a typical vampire story holds together somehow. Usually the explanation is that the Christian version of God doesn’t like drinking blood (unless it’s the consecrated/trans-substantiated wine at Mass) and thus vampires at anti-God. Blood is not just symbolic in such a story: the underlying assumption is that the Christian God runs the universe by miracles and whim.
But Kabaneri was not very refreshing. It had some decent visuals. It had some acceptable characters. It was watchable, but I had hoped for much more.
I am shocked to say that Mayoiga was crap. The first three episodes made it look very strong. In part that was because I don’t watch American TV, so I didn’t realize that the writers stole a lot of material from the Hollywood show “Lost.” Watching this show was initially exciting, and it turned into a real chore about halfway through.
It is noteworthy that I got disillusioned with Mayoiga and Kabaneri. I was expecting both to be High Art.
They disappointed me. In fact, I stopped watching both for a few weeks before they ended and just caught up with them recently, because their entertainment value was lower than dealing with real life.
Arslan is very watchable, and I think it qualifies as High Art – I think it is trying to preach some kind of meaningful message. I feel emotionally refreshed after watching it. I hope it ends up conveying a real moral.
Jojo is very watchable. Kyoukai no Rinne is very watchable. Both of those shows are made by highly experienced experts. Neither show made me expect High Art. They are low-effort popcorn flicks. They don’t have deep angst. I don’t feel the need to turn off the lights and concentrate on the show. It is a low-effort experience. I don’t feel very refreshed by either show, but I don’t feel that either show is a chore.
As such, neither show is very inspiring. Both are pleasant time-killers, but if anime is nothing more than a time-killer, I won’t continue to watch it. I will see them both through to the end, even though they are exercises in style, not substance.
But I want substance.
High Art should not just be entertainment.
I want the art to look pretty enough so that I can tell it’s not intentionally low-quality filler. But if the show has no ideas beyond how to make art look pretty, the visuals had better be original. I’ve seen enough repetitive pretty art to last me. If I have to watch character drama, I want a reason to care about the characters. If I am going to watch speculative fiction, I expect it to be internally consistent and logical.
I’m willing to watch a childish show, if it’s well-made. An example would be Coyote Ragtime Show. It is a show suitable for parents to watch with their children. The sexual tension is plausible but appropriate for all ages. The allegedly “sexy” girls don’t show a lot of skin, so they won’t scandalize anyone. The violence is idiotic, but suitable for people who like lots of explosions. Lastly, the show was mercifully short. By the time I had decided it was really stupid, it had wrapped up its plot, taken its bow, and danced off the stage. It didn’t wear out its welcome.
I am willing to watch a dark show, but only if I don’t think it’s trivial. TeXnolyze was perhaps the darkest show I’ve ever seen; Berserk was pretty damn dark. The former seems to leave room for hope until the last episode or two. The latter gets the darkness front and center very quickly, and then presents us with characters who can still function despite it all. Gantz was a little bit dark, but it wasn’t trivial. It was internally consistent. Those three shows were gritty and cynical. They were aimed at male audiences who tend to complain about excessively pretty stories. None of those shows wore out their welcome; they were angsty and dramatic, but I wanted to see how their stories went.
Even if a show is not excessively dark, it can be excessively disgusting. Shin Sekai Yori lost a huge chunk of its audience once they unveiled the gay stuff. The writers were pro-gay, I think, but even if they had been anti-gay, they couldn’t have kept their audience. Their audience was anti-gay, and their audience wanted to fantasize about a cool future realm. A huge amount of gay stuff ruined it and made the show a chore to watch. Regardless of the plot, regardless of the message, it was a huge downer just keeping up with the show. And thus most people tuned out. We can get fact-free self-righteous preaching about gayness anywhere. We don’t want to spend our leisure time on it. I watched it all the way to the end, but it wore out its welcome long before that.
At the same time, a lot of anti-gay audiences love shows that make it clear that homosexuality exists in the fictional universe, but the heroes can successfully avoid it. People who hate gayness don’t bother fantasizing about worlds totally free of gayness: they fantasize about a world where they don’t have to bend their knees before the politically correct altars of gayness.