Are Some Genres Inherently Bad?

[HorribleSubs] Nisekoi - 01 [720p].mkv_00:07:37_01-12-14

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” [1]. 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.

"So much meandering, pls go somewhere with this." anon, most definitely not aimed at Monogatari!

“So much meandering, pls go somewhere with this.” anon, most definitely not aimed at Monogatari!

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.

LEWD LEWD LEWD LEWD

LEWD LEWD LEWD LEWD

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.

Runge seems like a character fit to be a sodomist.

Runge seems like a character fit to be a sodomist.

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?

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8 comments

  1. Certain genres are better than others only when the best anime of all genres are compared and even that depends on the specific combinations of anime that a viewer watch. In the average, this is not necessarily true.

    All genres are born equal only in theory. In practice, viewing experience would skew things a lot, but at least viewers can put no expectations out of any genre which is in some ways equal. I enjoy most anime genres and hopefully things will stay this way.

    1. Heh, I actually hold the counteropinion, because trying to compare genres by what one considers as the current best may not make for a telling comparison. The comparison itself is also somehow unconstructive: how does one compare Mononoke to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, for example, if one considers the two as the champions of mystery/thriller and cop drama respectively?

      1. Genre themselves are not directly comparable. It’s the inner workings that can. At best, one can compare whether they can fulfill their own potential. That’s how I compare shows of different genres.

  2. B-But what about the semantics of ‘genre’?? …Oh wait, I see you’ve already covered that, heh.

    I’d say most genre fiction – of any genre – can’t really be considered artistically fulfilling, precisely because they’re genre fiction. They attempt to shoehorn themselves into an easily recognisable framework, by whatever conventions the viewer accepts at that time. But whether some genres are inherently better than others, that’s a tough call, really. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that some genres make it easier for the writer to engage with complex themes, but that’s a very loose and easily contested metric for quality.

    But I think you’re already aware of that, so this could just be a useless waste of a comment.

    1. I think that’s what it ultimately comes down to. Because genres group titles by “an easily recognisable framework”, it can’t always be certain that all such foundations are necessarily balanced. I use hentai only because it’s the most extreme example. Considered another way, say you were to rate all anime on a scale from 1-10, and you used 7 as “average”. At the end of having completed all tens of thousands of anime, do you believe every genre would appropriately have a mean score somewhere around 7? (Would hentai be a 7?) Moreover, is that necessarily desirable?

      It’s definitely a loose measurement of quality, but several genres/demographics I feel are niched enough to make this more or less a sane approach. Of course, anything else—slice of life, scifi, fantasy, crime, mystery, thriller, romance, and comedy—would be too difficult to compare because their schema is much less restricted than genres such as romcoms, ecchi, hentai, and friends. I do believe any genre no matter the number of tropes has the ability to succeed, but several plainly start at a greater disadvantage than others. The “generic” word is too strong for the latter~

      1. I totally get where you’re coming from, because MALgraph tells me that my three lowest rated genres are “harem”, “hentai” and “ecchi” respectively. Ha!

  3. Gonzo-nyan · · Reply

    “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.”
    Getting a little over-generalizing on that statement, aren’t we? The fact of the matter is, every genre has its own unique purpose and to judge on a specific genre as whole might be going a bit too far. If a genre does well within it’s own genre and its overall reason for being what it is in the first place, than you could classify it as a good show of its genre.

    Now that shouldn’t mean that, for instance, an action show should be classified as an 8-10 scored show just because it does action very well, you still have to put into account how well its writing is on every facet. But what about something like Hentai, or even ecchi in some cases? Could we say that Hentai can be an exception of this critical rule since its main purpose is to provide sexual images for intense pleasure? It’s one thing to criticize hentai, as you put it as a “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.” But one rebuttal of that statement that no one can argue is, “Is that really such a bad thing?” Because let’s get real here: Sex is one of the most important facets of human existence, whether people want to admit it or not, or at least they just don’t like to publicly talk about it for the most part. For some people like me, we love to judge pornographic works based on their own merit and decide whether it’s bad from a technical and even a character aspect, considering how good hentai characters generally can be more human and genuine in their performances.

    Genres themselves aren’t really supposed to garner any kind of overarching merit between each other. Their main purpose is to distinguish themselves between the classification of individual shows that are clearly different from one another, not necessarily whether one is better than the other. An argument can be made that there can be more bad shows in one particular genre than the rest, which is still a subjective assertion no matter how you put it. Even with that said in the latter, do those bad shows really represent the genre as a whole when there could still be good shows in that genre? You could try to put in a Utilitarian twist into the argument in that the bad shows rule out the good shows in the majority, but again it’s that disconnect between the individual shows within the genre and the genre itself. One may be a part of it, but the show nevertheless can only prove its own individual quality and not the genre’s quality that distinguishes it.

    Nevertheless, well-written article. I might even take up my time to write a response article about how I defend hentai as a genre thanks to this discourse.

  4. […] Nil’s post on the same topic brought up a good place to start when it comes to determining if an anime genre can be inherently bad – starting at the “lowest common denominator,” hentai. The majority of anime fans consider hentai to be bad (just as people feel the same about porn). As for why, well, as Nil states, “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.” […]

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