…Well, “die” is a strong word. Maybe they should just…go away? Quit their day jobs? Take a vacation?
Don’t get me wrong; I love me some good Japanese animation. I’ve grew up with it, even if it was mostly terrible, kiddy-fied dubs of adult shows done by 4KidsEntertainment at first.
By middle school, I was frequently sneaking downstairs at 3am on a school night to catch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, which broadened my horizons with shows like Inuyasha, Case Closed (a.k.a Detective Conan), .hack//SIGN, and Wolf’s Rain. That was when I really learned that, despite its silliness, anime had so much more dramatic, mature potential. I certainly preferred it to live-action teenage schlock like Degrassi and One Tree Hill.
This was the closest I ever came to being a hipster, by the way.
All compliments aside, anime can be weird. I mean really, really weird. Like used underwear in a vending machine weird…even though those don’t really exist.
Here are some things that annoy me about anime:
5) The Tsundere Character
While it may be true that there is a fine line between love and hate, most average people don’t behave this way. It’s extremely bipolar.
I suppose it’s only to be expected. There’s a prevalent stereotype that women date men who are no good for them so that they can “fix” them, so why shouldn’t the opposite be true for some men? It might make sense that they’d want to melt the beautiful, frigid harpy’s heart. In theory, the greater the challenge, the more satisfying the reward, so if you could just tweak her the teensiest bit, she’d be the perfect wife!
I’ve never personally felt the attraction to people who treat me like crap (unless you count a few odd two-faced friends), and while I can understand why it’s a popular fantasy, I’ll thank it to stay out of my escapism as much as possible.
Wait no, just kidding! NOTICE ME, SENPAI!
The Tsundere character is, as you might have guessed, a belligerent female character. She either runs hot, cold, or jumps schizophrenically back and forth between the two, almost as though she’s in need of some serious therapy. Even more so in the cases where the woman seems unaware or in denial of this fact.
But I’d never suggest something like that. This behavior is obviously totally normal and healthy. Why, just look at how often it shows up:
It’s not cute and charming. It needs to be treated immediately.
4) Too Many Harems
Ah, I remember being young and having 7+ super attractive male friends who all had a stupendous crush on me and constantly fought for my attention.
I can buy some people making lots of friends, even if it’s predominantly with one gender. What I can’t buy is an unremarkable dude (or girl, for that matter) being surrounded by hotties, all of whom seem intent on winning this Joe Schmoe’s heart.
There is nothing subtle about this setup; it’s a shallow fantasy for the viewer at home to mentally port themselves into. Even if the main character has something of a genuine personality, which is unlikely, there’s usually a very flimsy explanation given as to why they’ve suddenly become the clueless anime Bachelor.
Even if I could believe it more often, I’m getting sick of it. Save it for the dating simulator games. To make it work effectively in an un-interactive visual medium is to make the protagonist so bland that you could close your eyes and lose nothing whatsoever. It’s junk food sprinkled over many generic anime shows, particularly poorly-written ones like Sword Art Online. Probably the best use of it was in Ouran High School Host Club, which was an affectionate parody of the genre and ended over a decade ago.
3) “You Had Me Worried”/”I’ll Never Forgive You!”
I see this attitude as an extension of Japan’s highly collectivist culture, and in truth, there is something to be said for it. It’s not wrong to keep others (especially your loved ones) in mind when deciding how to live your life, and in anime, protagonists frequently run off and risk their lives, and not always for the sanest reasons.
However, coming from a country where mental illness is skyrocketing, I find something distinctly off-putting to this as well, at least in the anime context. Particularly when it appears to be presented as the only reason that the protagonist should feel bad.
You might have just as easily destroyed the world, rather than saving it, but who cares? Your bae was worried about you!
The two basic flavors here are sadness and anger. Either the character is trying to guilt our hero into an apology, or he or she is trying to scare them into one.
On some level, it comes across as battling selfishness with more selfishness, just from a different source. And then the other person (usually the protagonist) mumbles a “sorry” and either all is pretty much instantly forgiven or the worrier is mollified for the time being. It feels like a lip-service to the worrier, and trust me, there is a world of difference between someone who shows concern for others and someone who feels the need to play the martyr.
This can often be the dutiful girlfriend/boyfriend character, which also pairs well the Tsundere. It’s more obnoxious when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, so to speak. Even when it seems genuine, it’s still an attitude that doesn’t sit well with me, but to be fair, I am an individualistic Westerner. Maybe its value is just lost in translation.
2) Blandly Unlikeable (Or Just Bland) Protagonists
This is very in-line with trope #4 above, but whether the character gets a bunch of interchangeable love interests or not, bad writing is still bad writing, regardless of how much bad writing there is.
People often debate about what makes someone a Mary Sue, and to what extent that title is warranted. Why would some complain about Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when she is no more inexplicably gifted and lucky than Anakin or Luke Skywalker before her? Is it just because she is female, and the largely male Star Wars fanbase can’t easily picture themselves in her shoes without having to sprout a uterus in the process?
I understand that the term “Mary Sue” gets thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness these days, but think about it’s classic definition. And think about this: the lead character, as you might expect, usually has to carry the story (unless you’re particularly clever and talented)
and while you can fill the screen with quirky side-characters to balance things out, you’re better off putting some real time and effort into your main man (or woman) right off the bat. Who that person is can determine what your story is really about (for example, growing up vs saving the planet).
If all you can say is “she’s pretty and nice,” but then have her instantly become an all-powerful witch who can bend reality to her whims…that’s when it can become a problem.
Believe it or not, a character can be unlikeable, yet still easy to sympathize with. Characters can do bad things or think bad thoughts, but the point is to make them work with their flaws, not be ignorant or dismissive of them. Real people are admired for overcoming adversity, and so too are their fictional counterparts. We like to see that we’re not alone, and furthermore, we want to believe that, regardless of the obstacle life has thrown at us, we can beat it.
On the flip side, you can also find characters that are so ridiculously upbeat and happy-go-lucky that you pretty much never find them in the real world. Or if you did, they’d likely annoy the living hell out of you.
It’s fine though. They’re just too good for this world, kind of like Jesus or Nausicaa.
Side note: I don’t really think Tohru is a Mary Sue, but at the very least, she’s a boring character that it’s hard to feel any genuine connection with, aside from a few basic things. To see a character like her done right, I recommend Shirayuki from the manga/anime Snow White with the Red Hair.
Being too nice and generic is by no means the worst that can happen, though. In fact, I’d prefer that to a character who is despicable, yet inexplicably coddled.
Involving the every-man in a world-changing story can be a great way to build character, drama, and intrigue in a way that doesn’t feel too forced or contrived, but giving a boring, unremarkable, sometimes actively contemptible character mad skills or a remarkable destiny doesn’t endear us to them automatically.
Nor should it.
Huh…maybe Sword Art Online is just the perfect barometer for everything I can’t stand about anime.
Speaking of which…
1) Gratuitous/Surprise Nudity and Perversion
But seriously, guys. If the show is not labeled as an Ecchi, Hentai, or whatever sexual genre, I don’t want to see stuff like this popping up. It’s very off-putting.
If I know to expect it, that’s one thing. While I think the “don’t like, don’t read” sentiment is too often used as an excuse not to write better, it does have some practical, necessary uses. I take the “Mature Audiences” label with as big of a grain of salt as I can muster, especially if I’m familiar with the studio, director, channel, or even time of day that I’m watching. But I don’t think I should just expect to see some “hilarious” (MASSIVE air quotes) sexual harassment just because I happen to be watching an anime. To me, it’s like a happy kids movie being suddenly interrupted by a vicious grizzly bear mauling. Where did that come from? Why?
Did it add something meaningful to the story or the tone that I’m just not getting?
If there is one thing that puts me off about Japan and Japanese culture as a whole, it’s the portrayal and representation of women. And I say this as someone who has become significantly less prudish since I left high school. I realize that my country has a very different religious background, among other things, and that we have this weird double-standard where extreme violence being easily visible and accessible is a-okay, but sex isn’t.
That said, both the U.S.A. and Japan have their share of problematic elements, and we seem to be on a similar page when it comes to how we view ladies. Whether they are competent fighters or damsels in distress, 14 year olds who look 20 or 20 year olds that look 14, there is nothing quite like the unparalleled character development we get from naughty up-skirt shots.
And it seems my cup runeth over with them, no matter where I go.
Notice that I’m not calling for a ban. If that is your thing, power to you. Just because I like chocolate doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily like chocolate covered ramen noodles, but you totally can, if you catch my drift. I’m just asking that we give it a point, or ease up on it a little bit, because plenty of people do find it creepy.
At least when it comes right out of nowhere and is particularly mean-spirited. You have the entirety of the internet for that, if you really want it.
As an unofficial 6th pet peeve: cutesy, loud, over-exaggerated chewing when female characters eat. That habit needs to die in a fire.
*None of these images in the article above are owned by me.