The anime blogger and critic community have always had a soft spot for buzzwords. However, this post will be focusing on a very specific word that I consider to be overused to the point of basically being meaningless. I’m talking about the word, “dark.”
Now if you’re describing a series as “dark” but following up with what makes you consider said series to fit such a specification, then I would say you’re basically in the clear. Taking the time to explain your statements is key in any sort of analytical writing, after all. Be that as it may, I have a suggestion for you nonetheless. More on that later.
But if you’re saying a series is “dark” and then moving on as if that statement holds any sort of weight and is some sort of satisfying conclusion, then I’m going to have to stop you right there.
We’ve seen it happen for Puella Magi Madoka Magica back in 2011, it reared its head for Made in Abyss in the previous during the previous season, and now it’s back again for this season’s Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou. Just observing that the shows are “dark,” or that the characters in each series are in a “dark” setting – none of that is good enough.
Anyone with a working pair of eyes can see that. So go beyond just stating the obvious.
Talk about the visual dissonance viewers experience when the characters who explore mature themes and who are placed in grim, ruthless situations are mere children. Describe how you feel about these kids learning what it means to deal with psychological problems and coming to terms with what it means to love someone. Discuss your feelings about the aforementioned shows portray how kids realize that humans are insatiably curious despite being fragile and prone to self-destruction, how children accept that humans will wage war despite the horrible consequences associated with such an action and will point guns at each other over food.
Evaluate how characters are constructed, how ideas are conveyed, whether a series is successful at provoking an emotional response, etc.
Because if you don’t and if you reach for the low-hanging fruit, then you’re left with vague statements like “the child characters are placed in a dark setting. Check out this series if you like dark stuff.” Such a reductionist approach is what allow people to inaccurately claim that Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru is a knock-off of Puella Magi Madoka Magica when both series explore different themes and only have superficial similarities. Yet the aforementioned common point, that both series are considered “dark,” is there, hazy, undefined, and surprisingly unquestioned.
There lies the problem. What does “dark” even mean? Many people seem to just nod upon seeing the word as if it means anything and accept the term like it belongs there. But does it?
Because I’ve seen the word be used to describe bloody, gory series, such as Berserk. Shows where characters deal with sexual, taboo themes get pinged, too. Some examples of that include Netsuzou TRap and Kuzu no Honkai. Meanwhile, some would say series that try to be “edgy” can be labeled as “dark,” too. I’m looking at you, Fate / ______________.
In other words, the definition of the word is so variable between individuals that just using the term gives nothing for the reader (or listener) to work with.
As for those of you who use the word yet explain what pushed you to describe a series as such, you’re doing great. I just find myself wondering if the word is needed in the first place since it means so little that you have to elaborate upon what you mean so viewers understand your thought process. Why not cut out the middleman and streamline your content?
Anyways, this is just food for thought. Just think about it. If you consider it to be junk food and cast it aside, then that’s okay, too.
That’s all, folks.
(This post was inspired by an ancient topic I wrote almost four years ago where I asked for recommendations of “dark” anime for a friend on a dead forum. Well, it’s still alive, but it’s dead to me. No one seemed able to make up their mind about what it meant to be “dark” and that really left an impact on me)
(However, this post reminded me that I’ve yet to talk about this, so I’ve been mulling this over in my head for weeks until I just decided to go for it today. Thanks, Team Prattle!)