The biggest problem with “deconstructions” in Anime

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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!

 

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18 thoughts on “The biggest problem with “deconstructions” in Anime

  1. Generic can definitely be quite fun and I really don’t mind generic horror or fantasy stories because they give me exactly what I am looking for.
    And I agree, that shows are very quickly labelled as subversive or deconstructions when they are actually just combining different genre elements or they might simply be a parody of a typical sequence, which while amusing to those familiar with the original isn’t exactly deconstructing anything.
    I think, much like other buzz words (dark and edgy) it is really important that reviewers explain how and why the show is being that rather than just floating the buzz word and hoping that it holds up the entire argument on its own.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ll have more to say later down the line in a post and in a ________ (so I’ll be a bit vague here).

    But I agree with you in some aspects.

    I think the problem primarily lies with the self-important viewpoint lazy viewers take when they try to analyze or compare shows. They don’t bother checking history before making broad-sweeping statements.
    At one point a show or series was subversive or a deconstruction, back when genres were more one-note and stories blindly followed conventions. But now these subversions or “twists” have become more common and so the newer series that subvert expectations are hailed as deconstructions despite not doing anything “new.”
    And then there’s the matter of reconstructions, which repeats the cycle.
    All in (vaguely) all, I’ll claim that deconstructions are heavily rooted in assumptions and expectations.

    Anyways, great post~

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great points – particularly the “Dark Souls” take at the end (I particularly loathe that new omnipresent comment). I’ve never understood the sneering derision people have for “Standard” or “formula” plots or series – without a “norm” then you can have no “deconstruction” because there is nothing to deconstruct. Further, as you said – something isn’t inherently “bad” because it’s “not new” – tropes only become tropes because they’re accepted and popular enough to be reused. Of course we need to occasionally be surprised or made to think differently, but some shows (or games, or books, etc) can be fantastic not because they subvert, but because they hew to a formula and just do it extremely well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Dark Souls comparison has been an issue for me for the longest time, and I’m genuinely considering writing about it some day.

      I honestly think a lot of it has to do with elitism and to help people validate their opinions by going “my show is this deep deconstruction so my taste is better”, but that’s a whole other topic in and of itself.

      Sometimes just doing the established formula really well is all you need to be entertaining.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for linking my post. And I agree with a lot of things you said. Still, as long as people don’t agree over what a deconstruction means or how it works, then I still can’t agree with it existing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem, it was a fantastic read!

      It’s definitely a very “loose” term that is lacking in a proper definition. Hopefully one day we’ll all come to a consensus of what makes one and what does not, however unlikely that scenario may be.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. For me, honestly, the most important thing is being entertained by a show. I don’t care if it’s generic, or has been done before, or maybe might look like something else. I think it’s a problem with a lot of things in any form entertainment: people have this tendency to start over analysing every single aspect of it, which eventually robs the fun they might have had otherwise out of it. For me…if a show is fun to watch, I don’t care if it’s not as surprising or new, or reinvents the genre.
    Great post!😀

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Entertainment is indeed everything at the end of the day. That’s why we watch Anime (at least I’d hope so!)

      Overanalysing to the point that everything becomes a big case study is definitely a huge problem, especially with Anime, in my opinion and it most definitely robs a lot of viewers of what could have been a fun and engaging experience.

      Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For me, whether a show is a “deconstruction” or not doesn’t come into it as far as enjoyment goes. If I’m reviewing a show and I felt it broke new ground, then of course I’d mention it, but no show really has to. Even a show that could be deemed generic can be enjoyable, just as even a show with flaws can be enjoyable. That’s what matters most: whether the viewer enjoys it

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think that generic, or “cliché” Animes can be fun! Sometimes you don’t really something new to like and have fun with an anime. If the rest is well made, the Anime itself can be a masterpiece… On the other hand there are times where a show tries to disrupt so much that becomes just not that good and making not really that sense 🙂 Well, that’s my thoughs on it! xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Obviously I agree with you!

      Anything can be a masterpiece if it presents itself in the right way or suits your own personal tastes.

      And that’s precisely how I feel. There are so many shows that try so hard to be this unique, interesting thing, but end up losing me as a result of being too “out there” and making little sense.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Absolutely, subversion is so far from being a requirement when it comes to a series being valuable or meaning something. All the visually and narratively accomplished slice of life and comedy shows I’ve watched, anime like Amanchu that can take a feel-good message and make it powerful and magnificent…jeez, I would have missed out on so much if I’d disregarded every show that wasn’t doing something “clever”. Grim and dark has its place, but there’s so much worth to shows that want to make us happy too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree, there are plenty of feel-good shows that have something to say as well, some even more so than the darker, grittier shows that people have become so drawn to.

      Not every show needs to be clever or groundbreaking to have its own voice.

      Thank you for reading!

      Like

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