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.”