The Obsession with Originality and the Dominance of Reductionist Criticism

There’s a widespread sickness within the anime community.

original
Here’s a gif to take the edge off that edge.

Well, there are actually several issues. We’ve got problems, Houston. But the topic I want to specifically address is the misuse of the word, “rip-off.” Too many fans are overly quick to dismiss a series as a knock-off of another if there’s even a passing resemblance.

Last week, Shokamoka wrote an article about Anime-Gataris in which he seems to have quoted some disgruntled viewers:

The show is just downright mass plagiarism. The best it can do is to alter the names of stolen works to do around the copyright system in Japan.

Talking about this issue wasn’t the point of his article, admittedly, since he was more keen on discussing the three episode rule and how Anime-Gataris relates to it. There’s no need for you to worry, however, since I’m choosing to explore this particular subject. Actually, maybe you should worry.

At any rate, it seems to me that there are a few things these people are forgetting to consider. At least four factors pop into my mind immediately. Let’s take it from the top!

1. They Don’t Understand the Concept of Parodies and Homages

Shokamoka’s quote reminds me of a particular page in Gamma‘s afterword that was written by the author. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Gamma is a superhero manga that features a considerably large cast of superheroes. The thing is, a lot of the characters resemble iconic American comic book heroes. Some moments in the manga are rather similar to those seen in the recent movie adaptations, even.

However, all of that is intentional and the author had purposefully made said characters and events similar to the ones seen in superhero comics and movies. And yet many people had the gall to claim the author was plagiarizing or that the author was ripping off other people’s work.

It’s sad, really, that the author needed to explain the definition of parodies and homages to readers.

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For those of you who don’t wanna bother reading all of that, a work can be called a parody if “you take material from another work and poke fun at it…[or] if the majority of its humor comes from making fun of other things.” As Ogino Jun said, Gamma should be considered a parody since some of the iconic scenes the series references are decidedly less serious and more humorous. It’s a matter of tone, folks. If you grasp the tone, then you can grasp the intent!

According to Ogino Jun, “an homage is when something has scenes in it that pay respect to past authors and works in the genre.” In other words, it’s a way for authors to stand on the shoulders of giants. Paying tribute to older works or authors is a sign of respect and not of bankrupt morals. So stop throwing around baseless accusations!

2. They Don’t Understand Anime is Often Filled with References

I’ll be honest. When I heard people primarily describe Anime-Gataris as some swirling mass consisting of excessive references, I wasn’t really sold. After all, I can pick up any ol’ slice-of-life series and see reference after reference pop up. That’s because throwing in references is a staple in humor for said titles. Many anime series will opt to reference famous scenes that can serve to make the scene even funnier if the audience notices the tribute. If not, the scene will still (probably) make sense. It’s like when Disney sneaks in a line that is funny for the kids but is actually even funnier for the adults because the line can be interpreted in a suggestive way.

Anime-Gataris, by the way, isn’t just defined by references. Admittedly, the tributes are certainly memorable since so many popular titles are being brought up. Given that this is an anime about anime, these “meta” moments where the fourth-wall is shattered into tiny pieces are bound to happen. Be that as it may, the series is actually about long-time anime fans (as well as newcomers to anime) discussing exactly what makes anime worthwhile. They make disagree with one another about the specifics, but they all share a passion for anime.

The premises is not exactly original, but I’m having a fun time watching Anime-Gataris because it’s so sincere. Like how Shokamoka mentioned in his article, no one writing about “special powers battle anime” really brings up the genre’s merits. They don’t talk about how said stories typically feature the weak rising up against the tyrants in the name of justice or friendship. They instead choose to claim a series is “cliché” or “generic.” As a result, discussion regarding said series is predominately negative and / or defensive. Well, this is certainly funny coming from me since this article is primarily accusatory, but hopefully you get my point.

3. They Obsess Over Originality

Several months ago, Karandi posted an article where she asks if there are any new ideas for settings, characters, etc left and if it even matters. She didn’t take a stance, mind you, but she did point out that some people seem fond of pointing out that Series A is just like So-and-So except for this-and-that.

I’m of the opinion that it’s not necessarily bad if a series follows the basic conventions of its genre. Sure, it can be considered boring by doing so. But what’s more important than superficial similarities is the execution. A supposedly generic story that sticks to the basics and doesn’t wander from the tried-and-true can be considered a miracle in storytelling if it knows how to make use of the hand it’s been dealt. Whether or not a story succeeds in that endeavor is definitely reliant on personal preferences, however, since one individual may consider one aspect of the story to have been handled well while another individual may beg to differ.

4. They Oversimplify to Make Things Convenient

This is a consequence of the modern era. Everything’s considered better if it’s miniaturized or condensed. We live in a fast-paced world where brevity is wit and free time is gold. Long-winded thinkpieces can and are enjoyed at times, but many individuals much prefer content that cuts to the chase. Succinct summaries and concise reviews are usually more ideal as we attempt to seize the day (by watching anime).

As a result, a lot of details can end up being left out of such abridged content. That’s the only way someone can even consider Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru to be a “knock-off” of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, in my opinion, unless if they’re trying to make an ignorant statement. “Oh, they’re dark magical girl series and the main character’s theme color is pink. Guess the one that came out afterwards is a rip-off!!”

First of all, using “dark” like that is so vague and meaningless. It’s not like you’re running out of room while writing on a Post-It note, so you had better be ready to elaborate on what you mean by “dark.” Otherwise, I’ll just think you’re clinging onto buzzwords in an attempt to sound smart. Secondly, so many magical girl series feature protagonists who prefer the color pink. Just because Madoka is the most notorious magical girl series in recent times doesn’t mean the series should automatically serve as the standard of newer magical girl anime.

Thirdly, the pacing between the series is completely different. While Madoka includes a few funny moments here or there, the tone of series remains grim after the first few episodes. On the other hand, YuYuYu opts to include at least one episode per season where the girls get to relax and not stress about their nebulous opponents. And yes, episode 3 of Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru: Washio Sumi no Shou does serve a purpose since showing them goof off was the quickest way to establish how the magical girls are when they’re relaxed and how they’ve developed compared to how they were in the opening episode.

At any rate, condensing summaries and reviews is definitely a benefit in some aspects, but is surely a detriment in others. If one goes too far, one can end up comparing One-Punch Man to Boku no Hero Academia when one is basically a gag comedy where the main character is already strong while the other serves as a coming-of-age / origin story for the main character. The only similarity is both series feature superpowers. That isn’t really something to make a big fuss about since it’s like saying that a crimson apple is like a slab of raw meat because they’re both basically red. In short, they’re simply too different to really be compared in a meaningful way.


Ah, I’m tired. What am I even saying? It’s almost 6 AM here. Good night.

38 thoughts on “The Obsession with Originality and the Dominance of Reductionist Criticism

  1. Good post. This is a broader problem with “amateur” (for want of a better word) criticism in general, not just in anime… although I have to say a lot of supposed professionals fall into these traps, too, particularly in the field of games.

    A friend and I discuss this matter a lot. Our main theory is that a lot of people (present company excepted, obviously) are keen to post reactions and opinions without bothering to do any research. And if you have designs on being a “critic” of sorts, you absolutely need that knowledge of historical context, stylistic conventions, cultural differences. And an understanding of things like parody, satire, homage and suchlike! These things should be a given.

    Trouble is, a lot of the worst offenders in this regard simply aren’t willing to take the time to acquire that knowledge and understanding because they don’t feel the need to. It’s something that takes time, after all, and when it comes to the professional sector some half-arsed screed about how [x] is for paedophiles because it has girls with big eyes in it is all you need to get those precious, precious clicks for that sweet ad revenue.

    This is why I’m always much more interested in hearing opinions from talented bloggers and articulate people on social media, because you’re more likely to get an honest, heartfelt opinion that hasn’t been scrawled while hungover to meet an unreasonably tight deadline like the worst sort of school assignment.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Well said. It’s really unfortunate that this seems to be the case. Though I can hardly chalk all of it up to laziness or people not thinking it a necessity. That is certainly a factor, and likely the largest of the many, but alas we also live in a world constantly at hyperdrive. So as much as some of said people may want to take the time to do that research, they fear they shouldn’t, lest the research take too long and all the attention is off of the subject by the time they can talk about it in an articulate manner. Unless they already have the foreknowledge of all these things, so they can speak on these subjects fluently without having to look back much, because the knowledge is already in their head. (Hey. Some people just have an encyclopedic memory, like that) Sadly, we’re at a point where being more thoughtful, like this, is becoming a niche. Primarily because people just want everything so fast. And if you don’t have the following already, talking about things that have fallen out of wider attention just doesn’t seem to produce results anymore. No matter how good you are at talking about it.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Unfortunately, a lot of critics do seem to fail to understand the concept of satire and other important topics. As you’ve pointed out, rashly making blanket statements is their way of doing things, unfortunately. Clickbait culture is alive and well!

      Mmm such individuals usually show much more insight than these aforementioned willfully ignorant critics. There are much less of those college kid shenanigans, too (not that there’s anything wrong with university students).

      Like

  2. As someone who LIVES in the creative realm of homage and parody, thank you so very much ;-;
    And yes! At last, a place where Yuki Yuna isn’t shunned as a Madoka rip-off! (I mean, seriously. Even their themes are almost entirely different. Come on, people).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh man … if we’re going on the pink logic, Madoka totally ripped off Tokyo Mew Mew! I jest, of course. Things really don’t need to be entirely original to be good. Paying respects to favourites (not to mention genre conventions) is simply a way of embracing history, expecations, and the idea that there can be different flavours of broadly simialr things.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Me too. So many things essentially tell the same or similar stories, but you’ll always find people who prefer one telling over another. Which is fine. Sometimes it’s just a minor change that pushes something higher or lower on the enjoyment scale, and I can’t see why that would be bad. So, why not just enjoy what we enjoy and not get worked up over other things being similar? Makes sense to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post.
    I really enjoyed reading yoru thoughts on this issue. I do have to wonder what the people complaining that a show isn’t original are actually expecting sometimes. There’s only so many variations for coherent stories that can be told and if they’d read and watched far enough they would probably realise that everything has been done at least once before (or if it hasn’t there’s probably a reason). It is all about the execution and making an idea that may not be totally original seem fresh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think a lot of it has to do with fandom rivalry. There are people who just get obsessed with their favorite show, and then become jealous or spiteful towards any other series that they perceive as encroaching on their show’s “territory,” and look for any excuses they can find to hate on it or tear it down. That sort of thing in anime fandom goes at least as far back as Macross vs. Gundam in the 80’s, and there have been plenty of notorious examples over the years like Pokemon vs. Digimon, or One Piece vs. Naruto vs. Bleach, or Madoka vs. almost every other significant magical girl fandom at one time or another.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ooooh I have just recently commented my thoughts regarding Black Clover’s big hate and here it is:

        What Black Clover is doing right now is emerging as, you can say it, ‘the next Naruto/Bleach/Fairy Tail’. And naturally, battle shounen fans (not just for Naruto but every other ones out there in general) are enraged as they continue to deny something which exists to embody many things that make their ‘favorite show’ great. That’s really it when you look at the big picture: fanboys defending their favorite show by putting down another. It’s the same degrading application you see in real life, especially at school and work places. Just horrible!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you.
      I’m of the same opinion, too. Being “original” is a quality that is being given too much credit. What exactly do they want when they complain about a series not being original? I am also confused like you. Thankfully, the execution and the presentation is there to shake things up.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Apples to oranges. Both are fruits, but different fruits with different texture etc. I agree homages or pardodies tend to get mistook for plagerisim. I mean Keijo did a brilliant job of it; attack on hip, gate of bootylon, I enjoyed laughing at them two. And you had ppl actually screaming over this. Ridiculous.

    But anyway, brilliant post Remy.

    PS: pffft, light weight. I can or rather do go past 5-6AM every day. However, I do not advocate this sleeping pattern!!.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Guess the one that came out afterwards is a rip-off!!”
    If they even get that right. Sometimes people are so quick to say “rip-off” they just incorrectly assume that the one they saw first came first.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. If anyone wants originality… why are they watching anime? Sure, in the pre-internet days, when it was an imported product, only the best series came over, and everything seemed new. But the mass market wanted the same comfortable tropes and trends, and got them in spades. It’s not **too** unexpected. With only 13 or so episodes in an anime season, it’s easier to give the audience “more of what they want” in another “unoriginal” series, than provide an original series that nobody watches. The other filter, of course, is manga, where mangaka churn out page after page of material with tight deadlines for audiences who don’t want one story too different from another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you might be slightly oversimplifying the situation for mangaka. But your words certainly apply to light novel artists since nearly all of them seem to revolve around isekai stories or stories set in high school.

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  8. I just recently actually corrected opinions about Yuuki Yuuna to my local anime group now that it got it’s 2nd season, when it has originally upon first airing been called a “Madoka rip-off” and described as such in a “seasonal series list” we keep. Ugh. Just…how, even.

    Just marathon re-watched season 1 both in preparation for the sequel parts of season 2 and as a “increased feels” version after having seen the Washio Sumi prequels. It’s just great. I’m honestly thinking of arranging a marathon date to just go through all of it with anyone from said local group who want to come in order to set at least some people straight about the greatness that is Yuuki Yuuna. (Though I do agree with you about the camera angles/sexualization bits you wrote about in another post as well. It’s far from a perfect show either, despite being the only basically post-apocalyptic magical girl show (I know of).)

    But yes. I agree. Basically.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah…well, I can’t fault them too hard, I guess. Madoka just stood out so much that it’s very easy to compare the two series. Good on you for correcting them, though!

      That sounds like a great idea. Let them see the greatness for themselves! I should do something like that, too (Ah, yeah. I’ll be writing more about that next month. A bit disappointing, but it’s still a good show despite the imperfections as you’ve mentioned. I can’t think of any other post-apocalyptic magical girl shows, either).

      Yay!

      Liked by 1 person

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