In the medium of Anime, a series breaking new ground is kind of a big deal to a large number of fans. People like new ideas. They salivate at the thought of a show doing everything it can to be “unique” or “fresh”.
And while I definitely share these sentiments to some degree, I still often find myself enjoying shows that don’t necessarily break new ground or bring new ideas to the table that many feel are “generic” due to the fact that they cover familiar ground.
I get why people feel this way. A new idea is always exciting. When we see something that tries to be innovative or stand out from its contemporaries it’s immediately interesting because we don’t know what to expect. We’ve never seen it before. It’s new. It’s “fresh”.
However, I don’t believe that “unique” is necessarily synonymous with “good”. To me a show being “interesting” doesn’t elevate it to a level above something that could be labelled as derivative.
A show can be the most unique thing imaginable, but if it executes its ideas poorly then I can’t find myself caring for it. Sure, it’s “interesting”, but if it fails to deliver itself in a way that keeps me invested then it’s nothing more than that, and that’s boring.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of shows out there that don’t do a whole lot of new things but execute previously established ideas, formulas or tropes to such a fantastic degree that it being “derivative” does little to affect how enjoyable it is.
To give an example, let’s take a look at My Hero Academia.
My Hero Academia follows the Shounen Jump template perfectly. The series does everything you’d expect from the average Jump title. It follows an underdog protagonist who’s ridiculed for his lack of talent and weirdness as he works his way up the ranks using his newly acquired special power to eventually become the best of the best. It has a rival character with violent tendencies and an antagonistic attitude towards the protagonist. It has tournament arcs. It does literally everything you’d see from just about every major action-based Jump title.
Yet, despite hardly breaking new ground, My Hero Academia excels at following in the footsteps of its predecessors by executing all of these predictable ideas in the best way possible. We know that Izuku is going to receive a special power that makes him a force to be reckoned with, but the incredibly satisfying character arc that is presented in the form of him training endlessly, day and night, to master that power and “earn” its prolonged use is well executed because by the end of it all, it feels emotionally gratifying. We know that Bakugo is a hot-blooded bully who is destined to lose to Izuku because of his antagonistic personality, but the show builds up their intense rivalry in such a genuine and realistic way that the immense satisfaction the show makes us feel when we finally see it happen makes its predictability completely irrelevant. We know that tournament arcs are going to be an inevitable part of the story, but that doesn’t matter when the challenges and battles that these tournaments revolve around are packed with creative powers and interesting scenarios and match ups.
This is true for any series that could be labelled as derivative.
To give an example on the other end of the spectrum, let’s take a look at Shinsekai Yori.
I liked Shinsekai Yori quite a bit. It was a unique little series that stood out from most other shows I’ve seen. It had interesting ideas. It was anything but derivative. But despite rather enjoying it, I found it to be far less engaging than a lot of shows that didn’t do anything “new”, because the execution was often flawed.
It had an interesting setting, but the characters living in it were far from interesting individuals who were severely lacking in personality making it difficult to care about the events that were happening at times. There are a lot of creative ideas but there are many times where they aren’t utilised to their full potential and are instead used in bland or anticlimactic ways. It’s not a bad show by any means, but it pales in comparison to a lot of shows that lack any of these unique aspects because those shows are executed in a way that makes them a far more engaging, rewarding and worthwhile viewing experience as a whole.
That’s not to say I don’t like shows that try to do something different. Many of my favourite Anime are series that stand out from their peers, such as Hunter x Hunter, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Scum’s Wish. But being groundbreaking and having interesting ideas isn’t what made those shows great, it was how their ideas were executed that did.
Uniqueness does not inherently make something a worthwhile watch. Not every show needs to be an attempt to redefine the genre or a deep and complex insight into its conventions. It’s all about the delivery of its ideas. Whether they be new, never before seen concepts or something that we’ve seen time and again for the past three decades, the execution is what matters the most. At least to me.
I’d rather watch something familiar and well executed than something fresh and poorly handled. Sure, I may know what to expect a lot of the time from the former, but if I’m getting something that is delivered in the best way possible, I’ll take it over something that isn’t getting the same treatment, even if that something is less predictable.
Ideally though, I’d have both. We can have both too.
Of course, this is all just how I feel. Perhaps you feel different.
Do you value execution more than new ideas? Let me know how you feel below and thanks for reading!