Recently I came across this blog post by omo, where he spoke of, interestingly enough, “cliché complaints”. He tied this into Guilty Crown, but I’d like to take a different direction first. What makes a complaint cliché? Well when I generally think of something that’s “cliché”, I generally think of something that has ceased to retain any meaning. It has moved beyond the realm of actual meaning and stepped into the realm of “evoked meaning”. To put it another way, something that’s cliché is only really there to remind you of other things, and not necessarily impart a meaning itself.
Can this framework truly be ported over to “complaints”? To take an extreme case, if someone really has no idea about what they’re complaining about, then yes, I would assume so. But most people generally think about something before they criticize something. However, that doesn’t stop a complaint from being generic or even overused. The point is, though, that the only reason complaints are overused is because that there exists an overused concept that elicits such a complaint.
To be completely honest, I think the burden here shouldn’t be on the watcher to have to enumerate exactly why he thinks X sucks every single time he sees it. I don’t have to watch Manyuu Hikenchou to criticize it. I’ve seen enough stupid “generic gigantic breast” shows to not have to waste my time to find anything specific about that show to criticize. The mere fact that Manyuu Hikenchou even included characters with such oversized racks that they begin to exert a gravity of their own is clearly to evoke meaning, and not create any. The visual cues are all there. Based on every other gigantic rack show I’ve seen, I know what’s going to happen. There will almost inevitably be a beach scene, an onsen scene; one of the women somehow falls on the male lead, etc, etc. The burden of proof is on the show itself, and not on the watchers, to prove that it is indeed not another generic “big breast” show.
But sometimes creators try to introduce small variations into a generic show to try to somehow make it more interesting. Does this truly make the show less cliché? I would argue no. Just because you stage something like Hamlet in a 1950s diner doesn’t meaningfully change anything. Sure you can interpret it differently, but Hamlet is still Hamlet. There will still be the ghost of his dead father, his now-king uncle, Hamlet will still kill Polonius, etc. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if you put women with gigantic breasts into feudal Japan, some alternate universe, World War 2, the Sun, planet Alpha Pi Theta the third, whatever. The meaning does not differ. I still know that there will be the beach scene, onsen scene, etc, and I can still criticize the show for still retaining the core of “women with big breasts”.
Also for having outrageous censoring…
The example of “big breasted shows” though is rather extreme, and I doubt anyone will meaningfully disagree with me there. But I would argue that there is no difference between applying this reasoning to those kinds of shows and to much more “mainstream” shows (I’m using the term rather loosely here) like Macross Frontier, C, Angel Beats!, Guilty Crown, etc. Criticisms that apply to earlier iterations of the same theme should apply to this iteration unless proven otherwise. Why can’t the criticism against Lelouch from Code Geass or Renton from Eureka 7 pretty similarly apply to Shu from Guilty Crown? For a derivative work, there should be no problem with using a derivative criticism. To be honest, it’s a waste of my and really anyone’s time to have to spell out the same criticism again. It’s enough to call Super 8 the “generic summer blockbuster” with all of its connotations without the criticisms being called “imprecise”, or having that criticism being called “cliché”.
Some complaints are overused, sure, but they cannot be imprecise if the work is similarly derivative. To return to the starting example here, Guilty Crown, there really should be little problem applying a generic criticism of rather mindless fanservice to it. In episode 2, I saw breast physics, Shu crawling behind a scantily clad Inori in an air duct, a tsundere HanaKana in a wheelchair, etc, etc. I shouldn’t have to explain the rationale behind such things being bad. There really isn’t a point behind me saying:
“The sort of fanservice seen in Guilty Crown is to obviously make people squeal in their chair as they get erections from fantasizing about these things. It doesn’t add anything to the plot, it doesn’t add anything to character development, nor does it add anything to the setting itself other than to make it look even sillier. In fact, what all of this fanservice does is to try to make more money for the animation companies by pandering to the otaku elite.”
The entire above paragraph can be simply spelled out in roughly 5 seconds with “Guilty Crown indulges in mindless fanservice that doesn’t add anything.” Is that criticism imprecise? Sure. Is it so imprecise that there is something valuable lost when someone reads it? No. If anyone asks me to clarify that statement, I will have no problem typing the entire thing out. But most people should understand what I mean by that criticism. I would like to type the entire paragraph out every single time. Unfortunately, I don’t have an infinite amount of time, nor do I have enough patience to type that out every single time.
Thus you get distilled complaints; those that are brought down to their very essence. While some meaning is indeed lost, the complaint is no less valid than the full one typed out, nor is it any less precise by any significant value. After a certain point, distilled complaints may begin to look alike, but this is precisely because we keep on seeing the same faulty things over and over again. In the end, the fact that we begin to notice “cliché complaints” is, in my eyes, only another indication that the anime industry is losing creativity fast.