Every genre has its litter of stereotypes, expectations, and form of “generic”—the buzzword of anime communities. The majority of stories fall into telltale signs of trope mongering, and it is obvious why: they are called tropes for a reason, and they wouldn’t be doing their job otherwise. Because several genres are comprised of a hodgepodge of the predictable—hentai, ecchi, fighting, highschool romcoms, for example—can one genre be inherently better than another? Can another genre be intrinsically flawed?
Before we go any further, let’s first establish how we consider the word “genre”, or otherwise any future arguments would lead to a fatal matter of misunderstandings. By strict formality, every genre groups titles by a definition. Science fiction for example is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component” . However, this formalization belies the truth of the ever-evolving change in genres. As new social customs arise, our interpretation of genres change, and eventually so too do their definitions. There is already a nontrivial number of people who would contest to the above definition. Is soft science fiction really science fiction? What about fantasy, steampunk, or historical fiction? (Yes there are indeed radicals who believe fantasy and science fiction belong better as one genre than split into two.)
This also stymies further discussion. If for example we define hentai as “anything with sex in it”, then it would be absurd to claim that hentai is a flawed genre. After all, the potential purely coming from its definition is limitless: if Legend of the Galactic Heroes animates a 10 second sex scene in all of its 150+ episodes, then it must be hentai. Should we call it hentai? Well, of course not! However, this foundational limitation makes any conceivable complaint futile.
This form of genre consideration is rather narrow-scoped, and fortunately, a more natural answer is already in reach. Because genres are always evolving, we can only evaluate them at a fixed point in time. Most of all, a genre may be considered as a melting pot of the tropes currently associated with the genre. They are the majority populace that form the group; it cannot completely fulfill it, but they take the biggest slice of the cake that impact it. Circular logic, perhaps, but all things evolve this way; in other words, it is an endless cycle where as new commonalities form, new tropes amass, and the genre is influenced and therefore paced along in its change.
Now with all those semantics said and done, I’ll say right off the bat that I believe certain genres are inherently bad. But let’s not restrict ourselves to only “bad” or “good”, because whenever one uses such a phrase, it is always relative to another entity. In this case, I believe more generally that certain genres are inherently better than others. Among any way one values works, the common presence of a group of tropes will undoubtedly affect how he or she views the genre as a whole.
Of course, there may be exceptions that provide insight into a genre’s higher potential. However, they are precisely that—exceptions. In other words, we are not considering genres in the future but genres in the present; claiming that hentai is intrinsically flawed does not necessarily imply that every work categorized as hentai must be flawed. “
That is flawed reasoning!” No, because there are few works that tie straightforwardly to a single genre after all.
Let’s first concentrate on hentai, because if any agreement cannot be established on hentai, then there’s little doubt any agreement can be made on other genres. Hentai is bad because of its need to not necessarily pander to the lowest common denominator but to appease the lowest common feeling of the lowest common denominator. There is little artistic achievement involved in getting little boy John’s noodle prim and proper, because there is little effort involved. Very few customers of the genre “mature” enough to “higher brow” or diverser content in order for the genre to evolve more affectedly than the dry formula that makes up almost all of hentai.
You know that thin veneer of a storyline dangling from pounding to pounding? Yeah, what if you tone down some of that raw smuttiness, amp up the sexual tension by more intelligent methods, form actually good characters, and then make them have sex? No I am not an erotic genius. This is actually what eroge do, and they seem to do it well enough that there’s a certain niche (and lewd) community scattered about to make them successful. However, anything hentai that’s “good” is arguably not even hentai anymore. Could you really call such a thing described as only hentai or ecchi? At best, what makes these works good is its serving of another genre—mystery, thriller, suspense for the crazies who like gore-infested lolitas, or romantic drama for the girlies who like emotional pulpy-eyed ladies.
Now that I have your attention from enough gaudy writing, let me end with a closer that I feel really should not be a closer but my primary argument, because I find discusing the inherent quality of hentai, ecchi, harem, yaoi,
yuri, and friends as stimulating as watching a show in those genres. Unfortunately, consolidating an opinion on the word “genre”, and delving into the delicacies (no pun intended) of hentai are only necessary. I guess my reasoning for my “primary claim” will have to be for a potential second article. Disclaimers adieu, I’m going to reach further and make the even more controversial claim: letting loose the fact of whether demographics can be considered genres, seinen and josei are inherently better than shounen, shoujo, and kodomo. Analogous reasoning as above makes this markedly true, however much my favorite series of all time is a thinly veiled shounen and my favorite film of all time is a corny shoujo.
All things considered, we are discussing the middlest of the middleground in every genre, and it just so happens that anyone who subscribes to the belief that “all genres are born equal” has never made careful mention of whether he’s considered hentai or nihilistically chosen subgenres. High school romantic drama deconstruction ecchi harem psychological netorare ecchi, anyone?