Disclaimer: This post was kind of, sort of, inspired by my good friend, Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews, who wrote his own post on this topic. I highly recommend you check his post out if you haven’t already, as it’s a fantastic read that makes some very interesting points, some of which I raise myself.
And no, as usual, this is not an attempt to sway your viewing habits. Watch what you like, and avoid what you don’t. I’m just throwing my thoughts out there.
“Deconstructions” are a pretty big deal in Anime. While subversive storytelling is far from exclusive our medium of choice, it is, in my experience at least, a lot more common and a lot more series seems to go out of their way to be subversive and break the expectations of their audience.
But if there’s anything that I’ve recently begun to have a strong distaste for in the Anime community, it’s this idea of a series being a “deconstruction”. I’m not against deconstructions themselves, and many of my favourite series, including Hunter x Hunter and WIXOSS, are generally considered to be subversive stories, and I’d consider at least parts of their larger narratives to be fairly subversive in nature.
I’m also not a resident of the camp that says they don’t exist at all. My problem with deconstructions revolves around this whole obsession that a large number of members in our community seem to have with shows being a deconstruction, and subversive storytelling in general.
The idea of an Anime being “subversive” or a “deconstruction” seems to be all the rage these days, to the point that people will flat out dismiss anything that doesn’t go out of it’s way to redefine its entire genre or break new ground. I’ve seen people praise the heck out of My Hero Academia for “subverting all expectations”, and then watched those same people proceed to bash the everloving fuck out of Black Clover because it’s “not doing anything new and is generic”. This is despite the fact that, while both series present themselves and their themes in vastly different ways, they are also structurally similar in several others, and both follow the same genre template that their predecessors helped to establish as the norm.
Yet one is considered good because it’s oh so “subversive” and therefore free from any and all criticism because it’s pushing the envelope instead of sitting comfortably inside it. Nowadays, if a show has even one little sequence that could be considered a deviation from the norm, it’s instantly labelled as a deconstruction, and is suddenly a masterpiece of storytelling that redefines the entire genre and is therefore “the best” of its genre.
I don’t agree with this idea at all, and find it to be incredibly narrow minded.
Just because a show has one scene where the flow of the story broke your expectations, that doesn’t mean it’s a deconstruction. Having one or two unique elements does not make a series this genre redefining masterpiece that automatically makes every conventional series unwatchable garbage. To say so is pure ignorance.
The term “deconstruction” has become both misused and overused in this community. I rarely, if ever, see the term used correctly any more. Madoka Magica is a lot more blatant in how it presents its “dark” themes, but it’s not really any “darker” or “unique” than the likes of Cardcaptor Sakura or Sailor Moon, which are both considered “typical” for their genre. Neon Genesis Evangelion handles its characters in an incredibly realistic and “human” way, but Gundam, a series often considered to be one of the pioneers of the Mecha genre, handles it’s characters in a very similar way.
These shows aren’t deconstructions. Sure, they may have some individual elements that make them stand out from their contemporaries, but that doesn’t make them this perfect gem that redefines the genre nor does it make them any “better” than shows that don’t attempt to reach the same heights.
I agree that a lot of the time, subversiveness can be interesting. It’s cool to see a series break your expectations and do something “new”, do something you didn’t see coming and take you by surprise. But, in my opinion, that alone doesn’t make a series “good”.
A “good” series is determined by how engaged you are in its story, how much you enjoyment you get out of watching it, what it means to you as an individual, and all kinds of other intangible factors that vary from person to person. I can appreciate that Madoka Magica presented its darker ideas in a unique way compared to its peers, but that alone isn’t enough to make me think the show is more than “just kind of okay”.
A show does not have to redefine its genre to be worth your time. It’s okay for a series to follow the typical genre template, and doing so doesn’t automatically make it an inferior product, deserving of blind hatred.
I’m fine with people disliking “cookie cutter” shows, but only if they provide actual reasons beyond “it’s generic” or “it’s not doing anything new”. It pains me to see people outright dismiss tons of potentially great shows because they’re obsessed with this romantic idea of the “deconstruction” to the point that they feel that any Anime that doesn’t try to be one is not worth their time.
The term “deconstruction” has become a meme. It’s a buzz word used by people to validate their opinions by elevating their favourite shows to the realm of “breaking convention”. It’s the new “X game is the Dark Souls of Y”. It’s lost all of its meaning, and it’s a real shame.
What are your thoughts on deconstructions in Anime? Do you feel the term has become overused and misused? Are you a fan of such series? Let me know!