Enjoying the simple things

If there is one oft-repeated complaint made by anime fans that drives me up the wall it’s, “This has no plot.” I can appreciate this complaint if it’s leveled at a show that sets up some kind of plot, then does nothing with it; instead opting to send the characters on a series of fun, one-shot adventures. I may not agree with that judgement, but I can appreciate it in that situation. But this complaint makes absolutely no sense when leveled at something like, say, K-ON!

But who’s complaining? Obviously, it’s the old fogies. Well, I’d like to say that, but it’s not just them. There are people around my age who watch shows like K-ON!, expecting some kind of development or progress to be made by the end of the episode. These people are perpetually disappointed, and perpetually complain. The old fogies, of course, don’t even watch shows like K-ON!, and instead just complain about how anime isn’t like it used to be, because they lack plot.

Before I go any further, I’d like to mention that I know all of this comes down to personal taste. The only way I’ll be happy is if everyone didn’t use such clear cut, straightforward language to express their opinions, and instead prefaced everything they said with “in my humble opinion.” But that’ll never happen, since most people are both unwilling and unable to to see outside of their clearly defined mental boundaries.

With that in mind, I would like to address my issues with this infantile desire for nerd entertainment to have some kind of story driving it. What best encapsulates this mindset is a quote from a forum thread on Asobi ni Iku Yo. After the first somewhat fanservicy episode aired, some dude busts in and reassures everyone: “Don’t worry, there is plot. It’s not all fanservice. This is based on a light novel.” That quote is not verbatim, but I don’t want to go back and read a thread about a show I dropped two episodes in.

I’m pretty sure he said “don’t worry” though, and that’s mainly what bothers me. Why should one worry about a show having a plot or not? So what if there’s no plot? You can still have fun watching something that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere, and just has fun. Similarly, how is a show objectively bad if it has no plot? You can complain about K-ON! doing a lot of things you may not like, but complaining about its lack of plot is a lost cause.

The nuttiest thing about all of this is that for the longest time, TV shows had no continuous stories. So why should one expect anything different out of a Japanese animated TV show?

Well hang on, I know why. There’s a sizable chunk of anime nerds–mostly old farts now–who came into this whole thing out of SF fandom. So to a lot of them, there’s this expectation that all anime has to be some kind of sprawling epic. But as the history of anime and TV has shown us, that is simply not the case. It’s an unrealistic expectation.

To be honest, I feel this absolute requirement that a show must have a plot to be interesting is a sign of mental immaturity. A slightly more mature mind should be able to enjoy a show that focuses on enjoying the simple the things in life. Expectations that something has to happen every minute, that there must be some sort of action or revelation each second, are part of what really bothers me about western fandom. But don’t get me wrong–moe fans can be just as annoying in their own ways, as well. I hate most moe fans as much as I hate people who whine about their anime not having any kind of story.

And it’s not like I don’t enjoy a good story. Don’t get me wrong, I love good a page turner. But a show not having a story doesn’t turn me off of it. I don’t have to be reassured that “it starts moving later.” I think what it comes down to is the quality of the work, regardless of whether or not it has a story.

Taste is a tricky thing. I like a lot of things that I realize are most probably objectively bad, but they hit my sweet spots, so I enjoy them. I’m sure by some snobby metric, I have terrible taste. But I realize that, and don’t try to shove what I like down people’s throats. Similarly, I try not to make knee jerk judgments on things that simply don’t click with me. I don’t particularly care for shoujo anime, but some shoujo anime is quite good, and I simply can’t get into it because it’s just not the kind of thing I like.

What I’m trying to say with this poorly structured and directionless moan is, I feel people writing a show off for not having any kind of story is silly, especially if it’s a show that clearly doesn’t want one. Like I mentioned earlier, we all have personal preferences that color our viewing choices, but a show not having a plot should not be a reason to write it off. At the very least, just say it’s “not your thing.”

This entry was posted in Anime, Otaku. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Enjoying the simple things

  1. Scamp says:

    Personal gripe related to this one: People complaining about a ‘filler’ episode when it’s genuinely funny and one of the best episodes so far but failed to advance the plot. Pandora Hearts had two great episodes. One where they all got drunk and the other where they got into an arm-wrestling contest to get a characters hat back. No plot advanced whatsoever but they were hilarious and played with the characters in a way any other episode would never be able to do.

    (Complaint related to that: People say that it’s OK because ‘that scene was in the manga’, but that’s a complaint connected to manga purists and not ‘no plot’ complaints so I’ll shut up now)

  2. I agree to an extend. A show without a plot risks being boring especially when the humor falls mostly flat. Usually what happens is that shows without plot on average end up being less entertaining. But of course, like you said, it’s all a matter of taste in the end.

  3. 2DT says:

    Strong and loudly voiced opinions are a staple of fandom, too. :) And there’s that odd new kind of fan that does the equivalent of shopping at the vintage clothing store, picking out the best of the very old and wondering why “nothing” today matches up.

  4. elevated says:

    I think the reason lots of the older fans getting in a uproar over animes such as K-On! or Strike Witches is because these are fans who grew up watching stuff such as Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop and many of them I think believe that every anime needs to reach that standard. (which sadly in my opinion hasn’t happened.)

  5. Valence says:

    My god, I understand how you feel. I ranted about the same thing the other day.

    http://ambivalen.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/peoples-reactions-to-slice-of-life-leave-me-in-despair/

    Why don’t these guys understand it? Sigh.

  6. TheBigN says:

    This post basically shares a lot of my opinions on people who have this mindset.

  7. Doriinatrix says:

    Has everyone been feeling this lately? I’ve been sick of people ragging on story-less anime too. It’s like jesus, just watch some anime and don’t worry if it’s objectively bad or whatever.

    2DT’s comment is beautiful.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, I’ve been puzzling over the whole “plot, plot” thing lately, too.

    Not about individuals having a personal interest in shows that are focused on advancing an overarching story. People can like whatever they like.

    But I see a lot of people speaking as if it were a universally agreed upon fact that that story focus is the core fundamental upon which all TV shows must be based around and judged, so anything that doesn’t emphasize a main story and its progress sucks by definition.

    It seems especially weird to hear that from animation fans of all people, who presumably have an interest in animation itself and/or illustrated characters, ’cause otherwise, why focus on Japanese cartoons when you could choose from the much larger pool of live-action shows from around the world? And yet they seem more interested in “plot” than in any aspect of animation.

    As for old fogies, I’m 35, and I love Strike Witches. I’m down with that sort of thing; we had stuff like Gall Force back in the 80s, after all. It’s those 90s whippersnappers who are stirring up trouble.

  9. uncreative says:

    Wah, you’re so lazy, it was the fourth post :P

    “Don’t let the catgirl breasts fool you; it’s only used for one gag, and then the story moved on for more interesting things. This IS based on a novel series after all. So there will be plot.”

    Close enough. I still think you ought to watch a bit more of it, but at least you’re better than Link’s “I’m still not watching this show but” posts in that thread.

    And yes, these sorts of complaints are dumb.

  10. Xald says:

    Part of the problem, I feel, is that Western anime fans as a culture lack concepts such as Wabi-Sabi and Mono no aware. Japanese kids go through high school and are taught that The Tales of Genji deals with themes of transience, and that awareness of the moment the moment’s ephemerality can be a wonderful or painful experience. Western kids go to High School and learn that Holden Caulfield went through puberty and struggled with his identity.

    I’m not trying to say that as a whole Japanese people are more cultured, I’m trying to say that Japanese audiences can be aware of something in ambience shows that a lot of Western fans cannot. I guess because Moe is the latest big thing modern anime fans are receptive to those sort of shows (“Keion is really funny and cute!”) even if they’re unable to appreciate some the aesthetic behind it. In my experience older anime fans tend to have grown up on things that were originally big in the West like Akira and Macross and they tend to expect that from their shows. They probably expect Anime to be a certain thing, and disliking an ambience show (or any show without a set plot, really) because it’s not a certain way and/or nothing happens is definitely missing the point.

    I hope that made some sort of sense…

  11. Satou says:

    Shows are not the same as they used to be (I’m younger than you), but I realise that there has been a change., and I have accepted it. Sure, stories are great, but that doesn’t mean things without plots can’t be good. Like you said, it is all based around personal preference, but these shows don’t want/need a plot to be decent.

  12. dm says:

    Defenses like this really annoy me. It’s not like anyone’s shoving the need for a plot down your throat, and it’s not like you’d have to pay attention to the plot if all you want is squeaky-voiced bobbleheads tripping over themselves.

    Once upon a time, “having a plot” was one of the things that distinguished anime from show-them-in-any-order American cartoons and made it more interesting. So people who were attracted to that aspect of anime sometimes miss it when it isn’t there. And people who gather to discuss anime sometimes mention the fact that they miss it in those shows that don’t have it, and they wonder if they wouldn’t find the show more interesting if it had some.

    Then you come along and call them stupid for complaining.

  13. wah says:

    Well, what I’m trying to say is that at this point, people should really get over that notion, since it was never really true. Only some anime from way back had continuous stories, and the rest were normal TV shows.

    I don’t mean to call anybody stupid, but I do feel it at least requires a different sort of mindset to appreciate a show which focuses on daily life, and what it means to go through life. I feel that all too often people will hang on to that need for plot regardless of the show’s quality.

    Don’t get me wrong. Like I said, a lot of moe fans who enjoy the kinds of shows I’m talking about are really annoying too, but that’s a given, right? All I’m basically saying is that, no plot != bad, and that people need to get over their misplaced notion that anime was also some medium for telling some grand story, when in reality it never really was. That’s just the stuff that made it over.

  14. kgods says:

    I suppose you could use the old saying about “it’s not so much about the destination, but the journey itself.” I’ve always used this mentality in mind for shows that are clearly not meant to stimulate the mind too often or even at all. It’s not like this is a new concept either, there were plenty of brain dead shows back in the 80s and early 90s too.

  15. wah says:

    If you think I’m calling these shows braindead, you’re missing the point of the post.

  16. kgods says:

    I didn’t think you were calling these shows brain dead. I think that these oldtypes you are talking about, look at them as brain dead and that’s why they hate it. I was simply pointing out that old shows don’t have a free pass to be good just because of the time frame they were conceived.

    You like K-ON!, so why would I think that you were calling it ‘crap’.. ?

  17. Rob says:

    To start with your words…
    If there is one oft-repeated complaint made by anime fans that drives me up the wall it’s, “this episode is filler” when it’s not. Oh, so it’s not full of action and contributing to the current story arc of the plot? Guess what – it’s something called characterization. Oh no! The episode isn’t full of action!

    Also, “Filler” does not exist in a series that is not an adaptation of other media.

    I sit here, feeling okay about my viewing watching new episodes on the reformed not-illegal version of crunchyroll (just okay, because I still think that it’s bullshit that something SO illegal got such a big payoff) and I scroll down the page JUST A TINY BIT to comments… “This episode is lame, it’s such stupid filler.” “ya i no im gonna drop this cuz its all fillers” “wtf y all this filler bs?”

    Makes me want to gouge out my eyes.

    Also, I guess this sort of ties in with your argument about “no plot” – I like K-ON! and well, it does have an overall story arc. It does have a plot every episode. A “plot” is not some sort of codeword for an epic constant cliffhanger edge-of-your-seat show.

    Also, Asobi ni Iku Yo! is pretty funny to me, just because it tries to play it straight and parody it at the same time. Also, the breasts are comically large, and it makes me giggle.

  18. Marco says:

    You’re an idiot who just tries to rationalize his gut reaction when other people don’t like the same thing he does, using as much tendentious language as possible. Go through your own post and see how many contentious opinions you expressed as fact … you’re holding others to standards you don’t remotely meet yourself.

    Slice of life shows suck, especially if there is not a single person to identify with (being way too old to still be watching cartoons doesn’t help there, or not being a girl). In which case episodes which contain nothing but, grate on the nerves too. LOL randum shows/episodes are okay if it’s actually LOL funny … liking that isn’t really a sign of mental maturity though.

    PS. be honest now, if every one of the opinions expressed had IMHO in front would your impression of me have changed the slightest bit?

  19. Alex Leavitt says:

    I’m not going to read through the comments, but I’ll just add my one thought:

    People argue for development, but while you’re correct in that the plot doesn’t necessarily “develop” (though I would argue for shows like K-On!, it still does), viewers expect noticeable development in the characters. K-On! has subtle character development, but nothing along the lines of what is traditionally thought of as character development, eg., Kenji, the protagonist of Summer Wars.

    I wonder, then, if we might argue that a new trend in the structuring of narratives is developing out of the popularity of shows like K-On!, against the traditional 4-part narrative structure that has pretty much defined “good storytelling” for ages.

  20. neetery says:

    @marco

    Ya blew it when you make a claim that watching these shows requires that you have to be a certain age/gender. Also, “Slice of life shows suck” sounds a lot like a contentious opinion stated as fact. :/

  21. Marco says:

    Every opinion was stated as fact, that was kind of the point … you can still recognize them as opinions any way.

    IMHO the part where wah said he’d be okay if people prefaced their opinions with IMHO was pretty much a lie. This was proven IMHO when he had to preface what IMHO was his real opinion with “To be honest”.

    His real opinion sucked IMHO. In a community which is normally inclusive of people buying hug pillows he feels he has to call people immature for what IMHO is nothing more than having different tastes … classy! (IMHO) About as classy as calling people shonen fags IMHO, hell I’d respect the latter more … less pretentious IMHO.

    PS. yes, me mad.