Saturday, December 28, 2013

12 Days of Meditations #4: How I delude myself into not dropping shows (feat. Kyoukai no Kanata)

Dropping anime is usually unpleasant. There's always an element of sacrifice involved: be it bandwidth or money or a favor from a friend who lent you the discs. And of course, the constant one is time. Accept it or not, you've spent time with a show-it could be a minute, or ten episodes' worth-and then you decide not to watch it anymore.

Some people drop anime without much difficulty. I envy them. I can't be the same-there's always a niggling voice in my head that tells me things, that:

* I need to finish the show (just to mark it as "completed" on MAL)

* It might get better (very rarely)

* I might learn something from it if you finish it

It's easy to debunk all three. I mean, there's this thing we call the , which is a fancy economics term for saying "you've paid for it, you should see the whole thing through". The fallacy says that you shouldn't feel obligated for sitting through a moviethat you know is bad or not for you, just because you've already paid the ticket. The price had been paid-it's gone forever whether you actually finish the movie or not. The smart action is to walk away.

Now, most people aren't smart most of the time, and I am a big dumbo when it comes to watching anime that's starting to stink.

I think it's about me being a writer.

I write stories. I won't embarrass myself by posting them here, but I can tell you that a big part of my learning comes from reading stories and picking them apart-what worked, what didn't, and why? I have to read and watch all sorts of things. I can't just get by with my favored genres, because I'll be boxed in them-those genres were built up by people from all sorts of backgrounds, and those genres remain alive and vibrant through influences brought from without. And if I insist on reading and watching the same stuff, I'll go insane or bitter. I also have to read both the good and bad stuff, the latter can be very educational if you're willing to sit through it.

So, take away two flimsy reasons out of three, and I'm left with the last one: you might learn something from it if you finish it.

Let me give you a recent example of a show I could have dropped early but stuck with until the end: Kyoukai no Kanata. Kyoukai no Kanata is widely criticized by anime fans, and with good reason. I would have dropped it if I was in any way sane (that is, if I wasn't a writer). It was problematic with a capital P, it advertised itself as a dark fantasy show and hammered you over the head with how Mirai is clumsy and Akihito just loves them glasses, and it committed the mortal sin of wasting my time by having a really stupid and pointless episode where the characters perform a song-and-dance number for a monster that just poops on them.

I came closest to dropping it after just having seen episode 6 (the one I mentioned earlier). And then I gave it one last chance: another stinker and I'm done.

I finished it. And when I did, I realized a few things. First of all, it was still bad and I wouldn't personally recommend it without a ton of caveats. Why did I keep on watching, then?

I have developed this special skill called TEMPERING EXPECTATIONS. Oh no, that sounds suspiciously like Stockholm Syndrome, huh? But you could also apply it to good shows, or any shows for that matter. When we watch something, we expect from them. These expectations could be very specific and depend on the genre ("I expect a shy, bookish girl with glasses in this light novel comedy-romance") or the staff ("I expect this Tomino show to deliver its quota of dead characters"), but generally we expect to be entertained, and not feel that our time is being wasted. Once these expectations stop getting met, we quit.

I had the following expectations for the show when I started it (results as of episode 6):

* I expect it to be a dark fantasy story as advertised (unmet)

* I expect kickass action scenes (met)

* I expect high-quality animation and beautiful visuals because Kyoto Animation (met)

* I expect Mirai to be a strong character (haha, nope, unmet)

* I expect a romance that isn't creepy or full of bullshit otaku-isms (UNMET)

* I expect actual scary dark shit happening (met)

* I expect to be entertained (met, with reservations)

* I expect to not feel that my time is being wasted (UNMET BECAUSE OF EPISODE 6)

#5 and #7 made me close to dropping, but as I said before, I didn't. I chose to amend my expectations, with the special clause for #7.


* I expect kickass action scenes (met)

* I expect high-quality animation and beautiful visuals because Kyoto Animation (met)

* I expect Mirai TO DEVELOP INTO A STRONG CHARACTER (actually met!)


* I expect actual scary dark shit happening (met)

* I expect to be entertained (met, with reservations, but still met)

* I expect to not feel that my time is being wasted BY ANY SUCCEEDING EPISODE (met)

The biggest surprise, I think, was #4. Everyone was complaining about Mirai and how they expected her to be this STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER and then she merely turned out to be a dojikko, but she turned out fine by the end. Sure, she's still that same clumsy girl, but she clearly grew as a person who would protect others. Here's where giving someone more time (even a fictional character) pays off and surprises you. It made me look at the show's faults less.

Doesn't it sound like I'm just lowering my standards? If you look at it like that, then yes. But I started the show with expectations that didn't really match it-I wanted it to be something that's not otaku light novel fare but nope, so can't be helped on that one. And it wasn't really a "dark fantasy story", not if you consider the dark part to be "at least half of the story". If you have an expectation for a show that doesn't quite match what it really is, doesn't it make sense to align them, as you understand the show more and more while watching it?

It's like giving a student a math problem and when they can't solve it (let's assume they really can't), you find out why they couldn't. Knowing why, you could give them something actually solvable!

Finishing the show gave me a better grasp of it as a whole, and let me take away things that wouldn't have been possible if I parted with it early. It's true that you don't need to see an entire show just to tell that it's bad or not for you. But when you drop a show, you're making a judgment call with incomplete knowledge. It may be enough for you to make an informed decision (which is what matters), but it's still not the entire picture. That's not bad at all-if you're a blogger like me, you could write about why you dropped it, what made you watch the show in the first place, and what you had expected out of it that was undelivered. And let's hope that post of yours is interesting, because there's nothing more I hate than self-important posts. So you dropped a show. Who cares? Your job is to make people care, and if you can't find a way to do that, please don't write that terrible post.

Kyoukai no Kanata actually had some nice things to say once you scrub away the dirt. It's not a case of a good idea ruined by bad execution, but the execution did a few things right.

A friend pointed this out to me, who had noticed something early on that I, in all my raging about the show's problems, failed to see: the main characters had relatable motivations. I was going to type "the characters were relatable", but someone's bound to comment "hrrk hrrk, he said 'relatable'" and say something about Mirai unable to walk in a straight line without falling on her face.

Anyway, Akihito and Mirai are relatable in the sense that they want the same things as you and I-to be loved, valued, and treated like a decent human being. Akihito is half-monster and has something in him that draws people close to him, not out of genuine friendship (that comes later), but as safeguards who would kill him if he went berserk. Mirai is the last of a cursed line of ~SPIRIT WORLD WARRIORS~ and even her fellow ~SPIRIT WORLD WARRIORS~ shun her because of her scary blood magic powers. Wouldn't it make sense if these two outcasts desire to belong and not be treated like menaces?

What a lot of fantasy light novels fail to do is ground their special snowflake characters for its audience. Sure, we're reading/watching fantasy because we want something that isn't mundane, but we still need an anchor to remind us that if we shut our eyes hard enough, it could all be real. Take Fate/Zero, for instance. Kiritsugu is unrelatable because he has these stupid, convoluted motivations that no real person would have. He doesn't have a foot into the normal world, where we could imagine him going out to buy melon pan from the convenience store.

Well, remember that episode I mentioned before? It actually proved to be a turning point in the show, where the group accepted Mirai, who started to think of herself as someone wasn't alone. And when I think about it, if I had tempered my expectations sooner, I'd have seen that such a pointless episode was actually a big development for Mirai, and it happened right under my nose. Because I was looking at it another way.

The other thing I understood about Kyoukai no Kanata is that it's a story about love. If you strip away all the creepy otaku bullshit (two boys talk perversely about a girl's body while said girl is in the same room hearing everything, oh God please kill me now), there's something interesting that's happening. Akihito is drawn to Mirai physically at first, but becomes increasingly concerned with her as he learns that they are quite the same. Mirai pushes him away, thinking him to be the same as everyone else, but comes to an understanding after some things happen. They reach a point where they make sacrifices for the other without flinching. And by the end, there is a resolution. (Although it kind of apes what Toradora did in the end.)

The love that both characters share does not manifest in sweet or romantic actions, but by the hidden things they do, invisible to each other. I found that pretty great. It was romantic only after I pieced the meaning together. Show, not tell.

It isn't perfect, but I was able to leave Kyoukai no Kanata with some lessons learned. I may have regretted not dropping some shows, but this isn't one of them.
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