Disclaimer: There’s probably going to be some “graphic” images in this post. If that sort of stuff disgusts you, you should probably give this one a miss.
Potential spoiler alert: This post kind of, sort of, has some very vague spoilers for Berserk and Oyasumi Punpun. If you don’t want these Manga spoiled for you, you may want to avoid reading this.
Given how much I’ve spoken about it, whether it be in previous posts or during one of my random spiels on Twitter, and given some recent drama that came as a result of me sharing my opinion on this, I figured I’d finally tackle this topic in a post and attempt to explain my reasoning behind why I feel the way I do about it.
I like “dark” themes in Anime and Manga. I’d even go as far as saying that, especially in the case of Manga, I deliberately seek out stories that have a focus on such themes and series that many people would label as “edgy”.
I suppose I should start by explaining what I mean by “dark”. “Dark” is a very loose term that can mean a lot of things, and it’s ridiculously overused to the point that the word has begun to lose all meaning. But despite this, I feel that the term perfectly encapsulates what I’m about to describe, so I’m going to continue using it regardless of how much I dislike the term.
By “dark” themes I mean themes that would be likely be seen as “taboo”, unsettling and deeply disturbing to the average viewer. Kentaro Miura’s Berserk and Inio Asano’s Oyasumi Punpun are my two favourite examples of such stories, if you need some kind of reference.
Now, I can completely understand why people aren’t, or wouldn’t, be into series like this. I’m perfectly fine with someone being uncomfortable with the infamous Eclipse scene in Berserk, or the extremely graphic and emotionally traumatising suicide scene towards the end of Oyasumi Punpun. If something offends you, or makes you feel disgusted, then I completely understand why you feel that way.
But I don’t get offended or bothered by any of this stuff, and many of my favourite stories, including the two examples given above, incorporate these disturbing themes in their stories frequently, and use them as narrative devices constantly.
Why am I drawn to series with such a focus?
Because I love the atmosphere that they create. Everything feels “off”, and nothing feels right with the world itself, even if the setting is something incredibly ordinary and mundane, like the town in Aku no Hana, which is simply an ordinary town with nothing even remotely remarkable about it whatsoever. It’s not some dystopian future or a world of oppression where peoples lives are made miserable, it’s just a normal, quiet town where people go about their everyday lives, just like us. Yet, the twisted themes of the narrative and the messed up mindsets of the series’ two main characters, make it feel like something is constantly amiss and make the entire setting feel way more miserable than that of any dystopia.
This also goes for series that take place in a world very different than our own. I strongly believe that Berserk’s dark fantasy setting is so terrifyingly memorable as a post-apocalyptic setting because of all the taboo and fucked up things we see happening in it constantly. It’s a world where people are constantly being brutally murdered and raped by man and monster alike, and I honestly feel that it’s a world that wouldn’t be anywhere near as captivating as it is if it didn’t portray itself in such a direct way.
And that’s just how these themes can affect the setting of a story, that’s not even getting into how such themes can relate to its cast of characters. Oyasumi Punpun would most definitely not be even remotely close to being as brutally depressing and feelsy as it is, if it didn’t throw all of these disturbing and chaotic themes together into Punpun’s life. Through experiencing these situations directly, firsthand, we understand why Pupun is so deeply distressed and why he makes the terrible decisions that he does in the latter acts of the story. We understand the pain he’s going through, and we sympathise with him, despite him turning out to be a pretty selfish and despicable individual in the end. If Oyasumi Punpun didn’t show us any of these things happening, the emotional connection to Punpun’s story wouldn’t be anywhere near as strong as it is.
“Show don’t tell”, is often heralded as one of the best ways to portray something in a narrative, and I strongly believe that this applies to these kinds of themes especially. Yes, it can be fairly graphic, and yes, it can be very disturbing for the average viewer, but I really do believe that showing these things, as opposed to simply going “this happened”, can make them a very powerful narrative device that, under the correct circumstances, can greatly enhance and benefit the overall viewing/reading experience.
Finally, in a lot of stories, I simply find this “dark” focus incredibly interesting when it comes to the characters and whatever messed up situation they happen to be caught up in. In the cases of Oyasumi Punpun and Aku no Hana specficially, it allows me to vicariously live experiences that are incredibly relatable to me while also being the complete opposite of my current, incredibly happy and blissful real world circumstances. To be able to reflect upon such experiences, is just fascinating to me in a lot of ways. It’s a bit of a vague reason, and I can’t really explain it too well aside from that, but… Whatever.
My point is, it should be okay for me to like stories with these kinds of “dark” themes and not have a problem with them, or their inherently graphic nature. I’ve had people attack me, and I’ve literally lost friends in the blogging community, because I don’t have a problem with stories of this nature.
No, I don’t support these things. No, I’m not a terrible person for liking these fictional stories, because they’re just that. Fictional.
Like I said, I completely understand if someone is disturbed or offended by these “dark” themes. That’s totally fine. Not every series is for everyone, and not every experience is geared towards all audiences. This is why dropping things exists and why I heavily encourage doing so, despite never dropping things myself. We all have our own preferences, and we all have things that unsettle us, and you’re entitled to feel however you feel about a particular series or scene.
But I am also entitled to feel how I feel too. And this how I feel.
How do you feel about these kinds of narratives? Do you feel the can enhance the narrative? Or do you feel the opposite? Let me know!