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Old 2011-08-18, 16:22   Link #1
Archon_Wing
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The Criticism of Pandering, and Unoriginality

After reading many a number of posts on the internet, I find that a very common criticism of many a popular anime is that it panders to its fanbase. Recently, it's been popular to attribute moe to a certain kind of otaku pandering. While it's true that many a studio will take to pleasing its fanbase instead of creating an actual story, as in one of those endless dime a dozen harem vn adaptations, it's suddenly become a reason in itself.

Even though I tend to think that fans in general are too sensitive to criticism, it can be hard to deal with people who criticize a series via ad homenim and pretentious arguments that suggest that one is above all this mainstream bandwagoning (the other bandwagon is obviously superior)

I am a pretty harsh critic myself and go to lengths to hate on stuff I don't like, but I still can't comprehend this mentality.

Carl Kimlinger from ANN's reivew of Nanoha is probably a good example of said criticism in which I feel there's more endless talk about otaku pandering rather than actual criticism over the show's actual merit and sometimes even delves into somewhat rather unrelated rants; in fact I learned more about the rants then the anime being reviewed here.

I mean what are we aiming for in these cases; that anime is usually targeted at otaku that we sneer at and thus their tastes don't matter?

It's evident that we see a bunch of tropes in anime that have been reused over and over again to appeal to a certain audience. But we hate them because often times they are unimaginative and bad, not because they have been done before or because they're addressed to people that we happen to feel superior to.

I obviously have my thoughts on why, and it could be attributed to the nature of the internet and the folks that live there, but what are yours?

Edit: Christ I spelled the thread title wrong; I blame spell check
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Old 2011-08-18, 16:36   Link #2
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Pandering and unoriginality are two separate issues imo, although that is an aside.

Also imo they are both things that have existed in the "arts" (i.e. music, literature, film, painting, etc., etc.) for millenia.

Initial thoughts on the subject ... more later perhaps.

Part of the "whole picture" for me is that it is much easier to find fault with things and "tear apart" than it is to emphasize and articulate things that are "good". For myself I am much more interested in people describing and articulating why they LIKE something.

Another part is that it is easier to just trash or praise something on a "simple"/easy level rather than on a detailed, thought through level.
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Old 2011-08-18, 16:40   Link #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flower View Post
Pandering and unoriginality are two separate issues imo, although that is an aside.
They are! However, they are frequently seen together because one folks run out of ideas they take to the reliable solutions of cashing in, and those tend to be the safer, more fan pleasing routes.

Of course, the question here is where do you draw the line? Let's continue

Quote:
Also imo they are both things that have existed in the "arts" (i.e. music, literature, film, painting, etc., etc.) for millenia.
Which I feel is why that every work has to entertain and most importantly keep an audience. Then I remember most of the anime we follow are late night ones.

Quote:
Another part is that it is easier to just trash or praise something on a "simple"/easy level rather than on a detailed, thought through level.
Ah, laziness. A great hobby on the internet that I can't argue with.
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Old 2011-08-18, 17:06   Link #4
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To touch upon the moe topic one more time, as I always love to say, I like to distinguish between shows with moe in them and moe shows. Basically a "show with moe in it" is just that. A show where perhaps there's a character that has some traits that can be considered moe and that's where it ends. An example for me would be Steins;Gate and characters like Mayuri Shiina and Makise Kurisu. Mayuri can come across as a bit of a "moeblob", but she also has a pretty tragic storyline surrounding her that seems to have delayed her mental development somewhat. Kurisu tends to get really embarassed and flustered easily by some of the things the main character points out about her personality and interests and this also tends to come with blushing and her momentarily losing her intellectual aura and basically acting more like a typical girl her age. Both aspects can be considered moe IMO, but they don't necessarily make the show or the characters overwhelmingly moe, they're just character traits to go along with the other ones that they have.

A show like K-On I would classify as a moe show. The characters barely exist for any other reason than to be cutesy and are really limited in their character development in order to fulfill a specific type of moe appeal while minimizing any traits that might detract from arguably being a personifaction of those ideals. Yui is the ditzy girl, Mio is the easily flustered girl, Tsumugi is the prim and proper girl, Ritsu is the genki girl and Asuza is the cat girl. The characters come across more as concepts than actual characters to me and thus I could categorize the show as using it's characters to pander to people who like specific fetishes.

However I think this is a rare example of a case where you arguably can just tackle and criticize a series on that front since it's IMO really difficult to seperate K-On from moe and still be able to say much about the show. To me in most cases criticizing shows for having any degree of moe elements, no matter how small in impact, is a little silly. It may seem like hypocrisy since people seem to get the impression that I'm some sort of rigidly anti-moe person, but that's not the case at all. I simply am critical of shows that attempt to showcase one thing and one thing only and where the intent seems to be to appeal to one very specific niche fanbase only. I find they show a lack of ambition and effort and perhaps this is where I can sort of tie pandering into lack of originality a bit....or at the very least a lack of craft.

This wouldn't normally be a major problem, but I feel that the anime industry had recently given far too much say to a very specific and arguably small group of otaku in Japan to the point where they were practically allowing them to write the series to be marketed at them and to me that is both pandering and the industry belying a lack of originality. The industry however seems to have at least in part realized that a certain line had been crossed and seems to be dialing things back a bit to where they maintain control of ideas and concepts as opposed to the fans.
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Old 2011-08-18, 17:09   Link #5
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There are some tired out ideas that could either be used less, get less focus, or at least be explored in different ways. This is what is usually in the category of "pandering." Seeing overused tropes that are specific to certain types of anime (Most recently moe).

One such thing is popular archetypes like Tsundere.

People get discouraged by these sorts of tropes because it just shows an unwillingness of the writer to create a story that feels genuine and true.

This specifically becomes problematic though in series that are unable to present much substance beyond the trope. The trope alone cannot provide a satisfactory viewing experience, you need more than the trope to feel adequately satisfied. Otherwise what are we even watching the anime for if the trope is uninspired, the anime just over not very entertaining, if we've seen the same thing done before better?
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Old 2011-08-18, 17:18   Link #6
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Regarding where you draw the line....

For me that is a hard question. For me I usually try to get an idea of what a particular work of art is about first (be it literature, film, music, whatever) and then if it catches my interests I will look more into it. If it holds my interest I will usually give it a try. And, of course, with anything there are surprises (good and bad) and "expected results".

I think one defining factor for me (there are, perhaps, several in general) is the love of those involved towards creating a "work" - this is partly taken from a poster who mentioned this in the iDOLM@STER thread; he mentioned that he really felt that the director of the series had a strong love for the subject/series, and that was one of the reasons he (and I, perhaps?) have been attracted to it.

I have never played the game version (not much of a gamer any more), so I cannot make a comparison between the "original work" and its adaptation to the anime as I could with, say, Usagi Drop or TWGOK, where I read the manga first and and thrilled with the anime adaptations. (That is, I assume a similar angle from the poster who mentioning the director's love for the subject comes from.)

****

Regarding the use of "reliable solutions to cash in"....

The arts have also often been a source of income and such, so the "if something sells give em more of it" idea is often used (as in other areas as well) - and it often "works", and many say that it often (but not always) results in a "lowering of quality".

****

I dunno ... for me I do not have a lot of time, so if I am going to spend my "spare time" doing things I want to expose myself to material that will be worth while.

You see ... for me it has always been an important thing to try and understand what I like about things and why I like it, and what I do not like about things and why I do not like them.

At the same time I also feel it is important (maybe even "fair"?) to combine the aspects of "calling a spade a spade" and "giving something the benefit of the doubt".

I really do not feel that there is a lot I can do on a "larger sense" of changing the face of the arts or the like - I am not very talented artistically in many areas at all, and I have no idea how much effort and money it takes to create works of art. But I do feel that being able to articulate things to myself and to share those ideas with others may be something I can ... err ... "contribute" to the larger picture of the arts as a whole? If that makes sense?
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Old 2011-08-18, 17:31   Link #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaioshin Sama View Post
However I think this is a rare example of a case where you arguably can just tackle and criticize a series on that front since it's IMO really difficult to seperate K-On from moe and still be able to say much about the show.
Its always interesting to see how some people get blinded by bias that they fail to see what exactly a show does right vs others similar to it. The shortest evidence. K-On's BD/DVD sales vs Sora no Woto. Enough said
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Old 2011-08-18, 17:34   Link #8
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Originally Posted by Kaioshin Sama View Post
This wouldn't normally be a major problem, but I feel that the anime industry had recently given far too much say to a very specific and arguably small group of otaku in Japan to the point where they were practically allowing them to write the series to be marketed at them and to me that is both pandering and the industry belying a lack of originality.
Agreed.

This industry behaviour also seems self-defeating in the long run, as otaku centric anime have become more insular and self-referencing over time. It will be harder for new fans to get into these anime. I also feel that otaku have changed over time from people who are devoted to a hobby, to people who are part of a subculture.

The US comic book industry went trough a similar process, it now relies on a core 35+ year old fanbase to survive. Having long since lost the ability to market their material to kids.

I have no problem with pure otaku centric shows, or more precise the kuuki-kei (atmospheric) type which seem to attract the most criticism. What does annoy me is that anime aimed at other audiences still get a dose of (presumably otaku) fetishes just to be able to dual market them, but at the expense of the quality of the storyline or characterisation of the show. This has happened sometimes in noitamina-blck shows and some evening tv anime.

Last edited by Bri; 2011-08-18 at 17:43. Reason: grammar
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Old 2011-08-18, 18:12   Link #9
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What is worrying me more is that various series and some franchise are, or have become, consanguine. As in, they are recycling the same old tropes instead of trying something new to push themselves forward, that's something I have discussing with the OP, regarding a certain franchise, whose fans prided themselves in breaking some tropes.
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Old 2011-08-18, 18:36   Link #10
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In discussion about anything the policy I try to stick to is not to criticize something for what it is, but for how good it is for what it sets out to be, or also how good it is generally.

So I don't criticize a Mo show for being a Mo show. If you don't like Mo, why are you watching it? This show was not made with you in mind, it was made for people who like Mo. It would be like if you went to a zombie movie and criticized it because it's not Romantic Comedy.

So you have to judge Mo with the properties of Mo in mind. So I think it's perfectly valid to criticize a Mo show for using hackneyed Mo elements and failing to offer something new, but I won't criticize a show for having cute girls doing cute things, though I might say that that isn't my cup of tea. We all have our own pet tastes, I like Giant Robots for instance, and I'd be equally miffed if someone started to point out that the show was bad because the entire concept of Giant Robots is unrealistic and absurd, as that "critic" is missing the entire point.

That's not to say you can't criticize a genre. But you can't criticize an individual show for being it's genre. So I could write something criticizing Mo by talking about how it panders to unrealistic(and sometimes sexist) male fantasies of female behaviour, and I could cite examples from several prominent Mo series. But if I wanted to do a legitimate review of a Mo show I'd have to do so taking into account the various properties of the genre.



As for my opinions of Mo itself, I see nothing wrong with anime companies making something they know someone else will buy. The amount of Anime made generally is increasing, and it's inevitable that some of that growth will be in things that I may not like.

I don't necessarily think Mo is going to expand the popularity of Anime at all, but I don't see it as a problem unless it totally takes over Anime, which I don't see happening. I think the Anime world is (or should be) big enough to contain Mo fans, Mecha fans, Shounen fans and whatnot, and one of the great things about the Anime fandom is that we can all talk to each other and see the good points of all the various strands of Anime.

People usually make the mistake of thinking it's (for instance) Mecha OR Mo, they fail to see the possibility that we can have Mecha AND Mo. There isn't any predefined limit on the amount of Anime that can be made in a year, the only limit is how much we, as consumers, are willing to buy.
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Old 2011-08-18, 23:43   Link #11
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There's certainly "pandering" ... to some extent that's the function of entertainment giving the audience what they want.

However... a great deal of what I read when the word "pandering" is used sounds more like "SOUR GRAPES" aka "they aren't making the genre I want...." (and the complainers are usually fixated on just one sub-strain of anime they happen to like).

OTOH, as Don implies ... anime thrives best with diversity. The tendency of industry to "circle the wagons" around one subgenre (be it moe or whatever) is not good because there is simply a limited range of topic in any genre.
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Old 2011-08-19, 10:38   Link #12
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Originally Posted by DonQuigleone View Post
People usually make the mistake of thinking it's (for instance) Mecha OR Mo, they fail to see the possibility that we can have Mecha AND Mo. There isn't any predefined limit on the amount of Anime that can be made in a year, the only limit is how much we, as consumers, are willing to buy.
The problem some of the more hardcore mecha fans do not want to associate themselves with Mo. They felt that was making anime even more stagnant and makes themselves look bad. A couple of sites decried Infinite Stratos, Sky Girls and Strike Witches for exactly that reason because these series are popular while the true "Female lead in Super Robots/Real Robots" are doomed to obscurity.
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Old 2011-08-19, 10:50   Link #13
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If you are an american than you should know by now that pandering makes BIG MONEY.

Hollywood does it all the time.

I've learned not to criticize otaku pandering shows because they aren't going anywhere.

I just look for stuff that appeals to me. Sometimes it can be otakuy, sometimes it can be a youth show, some times it can be something different (although those something differents are getting more and more rare).

As far as unoriginality....I go back to what Master Phillip J. Fry said once...

"That's NOT why people watch TV! Smart things make people feel stupid and original things make people feel scared! Nope, I'd rather just sit back and watch the same schlock I've seen thousands of times."
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Old 2011-08-19, 11:07   Link #14
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Originally Posted by asaqe View Post
The problem some of the more hardcore mecha fans do not want to associate themselves with Mo. They felt that was making anime even more stagnant and makes themselves look bad. A couple of sites decried Infinite Stratos, Sky Girls and Strike Witches for exactly that reason because these series are popular while the true "Female lead in Super Robots/Real Robots" are doomed to obscurity.
I would argue about IS that it IS decried because it is a harem in disguise, also not helped by the personality of the lead. And Strike Witches have been pretty repelling with the whole NOPANTS thing.
And Female mecha pilots as leads? If they can be as good as the Major Kusanagi, sure why not?
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Old 2011-08-19, 11:23   Link #15
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Originally Posted by asaqe View Post
The problem some of the more hardcore mecha fans do not want to associate themselves with Mo. They felt that was making anime even more stagnant and makes themselves look bad. A couple of sites decried Infinite Stratos, Sky Girls and Strike Witches for exactly that reason because these series are popular while the true "Female lead in Super Robots/Real Robots" are doomed to obscurity.
It's not just hardcore mecha fans versus moe. It's too easy to blame genre envy. Although there is a good chance this thread will end up triggering the usual pavlov reactions in regard to pro/anti moe.

The meacha fanbse is quite diverse and I've seen older fans, modelers, and gamers mention on mecha forums that they can't connect to modern mecha. It's not just fanservice shows like IS or Strike Witches, but also mixed projects things like Code Geass, Gundam Seed, Macross Frontier or Star Driver. Complaints vary, it's not just the inclusion of moe characters, some don't like emo pilots, high school settings, comedy, efeminate males, shipping etc. Modern anime tropes and character stereo types are aimed at a niche audience and don't always make sense to outsiders without explanation. I think otaku pandering is a problem if you alienate other fans.
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Old 2011-08-19, 12:50   Link #16
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I wouldn't delve to deeply into my mentioning of Mecha (though their fans are often particularly at odds with Mo). My statement would equally have worked if i used Shounen Action instead.

Mecha in itself isn't exactly guiltless of Pandering either, so, as a Mecha fan myself, I'm not too quick to point fingers at Mo. For instance, look at the proliferation of different Mecha in Gundam 00 and Code Geass which you can bet was done to sell model kits, and that's been going on since the original Gundam showed how much money there is in a Mecha show being Toyetic.

Though Bri is right that there are divides in the Mecha Fanbase, particularly between older and younger fans. A lot of the older ones would like "harder" more mature plotting as seen in the likes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes and certain Old School Gundam. But then, hasn't Emo pilots, absurd plot twists, falling into the cockpit and absurd super prototypesalways been the rule rather then exception?

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Old 2011-08-19, 13:17   Link #17
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Originally Posted by Archon_Wing View Post
After reading many a number of posts on the internet, I find that a very common criticism of many a popular anime is that it panders to its fanbase. Recently, it's been popular to attribute moe to a certain kind of otaku pandering. While it's true that many a studio will take to pleasing its fanbase instead of creating an actual story, as in one of those endless dime a dozen harem vn adaptations, it's suddenly become a reason in itself.

Even though I tend to think that fans in general are too sensitive to criticism, it can be hard to deal with people who criticize a series via ad homenim and pretentious arguments that suggest that one is above all this mainstream bandwagoning (the other bandwagon is obviously superior)

I am a pretty harsh critic myself and go to lengths to hate on stuff I don't like, but I still can't comprehend this mentality.
These criticisms usually arise from laziness. It's easier to criticise based on broad categories like the genre of a show, whether it's "original", or whether there's easy to point out elements like pandering than it is to go into detail about characterization, writing, or direction. It's also to the benefit of the reviewer that such criticism can be very short (i.e. "Nanoha is a bad show because it panders to creepy otaku") and counter-criticisms require a lot more effort to formulate.

Pandering itself can be problematic though. When approached by looking at an entire genre, pandering leads to every narrower audiences and increasingly self-referential material. Moreover, the storytelling can get more constrained because the writing has to conform to certain story beats. When approached by looking at individual works, pandering is much less of an issue: it comes down more to how well the story elements are handled. Sometimes the pandering portions can even make a show more entertaining, especially when the material used suits the work very well. Usually, it's nowhere nearly as effective, but poor writing or direction are more likely to be the culprit.

Originality is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. Very few works are truly original, and lots of non-original works can be excellent. Most of the great works of literature and cinema are not original and it doesn't lessen their stature in any way. That this criticism even comes up in regards to anime is absurd. Some 90% of anime are adaptations of some sort, so wouldn't all of them be non-original?
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Old 2011-08-19, 13:32   Link #18
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Excessive pandering, and lazy writing (which is what is usually meant by "unoriginality"), are bad, and problematic in almost any show that they pop up in. As far as anime is concerned, excessive pandering and lazy writing usually equates to an overuse of the most common anime tropes in the book.


However, this really isn't the year for raising such concerns. That year was 2009 and (some) of 2010, imo.

This year, 2011, has had a fair number of good-to-great shows that avoided excessive pandering and lazy writing. Great examples of this are Madoka Magica, Wandering Son, Tiger and Bunny, Moshidora, and Usagi Drop. Yes, there may be some otaku appeals in these shows, but they don't overwhelm the narratives or characters of either of them, and I don't think it would be accurate to label either as "otaku-centric".

Like Bri, I don't mind there being pure otaku centric shows, as long as there's a fair number of other shows out there that march to the beat of a different drummer.

If all anime shows were pure otaku centric shows, then yes, that would get tiresome pretty fast, at least for me. Thankfully, though, that isn't the case right now.

The irony is that the pure otaku centric shows are helped by having different types of anime shows out there. Due to the variety provided by different types of anime shows, I haven't become tired of more otaku centric material (whereas I probably would if not for the variety being there).

Personally, I like to raise the food analogy for discussions like this.

As much as I love fried chicken, if I ate nothing but fried chicken for a full week, I'd start to get sick of it, and want something different for a change.

For me, entertainment is much the same. I don't mind KFA (Kentucky Fried Anime) to specialize in finger-lickin' good moe, as long as the full menu has a bit of a variety to it at least.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Archon_Wing View Post

Carl Kimlinger from ANN's reivew of Nanoha is probably a good example of said criticism in which I feel there's more endless talk about otaku pandering rather than actual criticism over the show's actual merit and sometimes even delves into somewhat rather unrelated rants; in fact I learned more about the rants then the anime being reviewed here.
Kimlinger should never have been given the Nanoha review assignment to begin with. He clearly loathes magical girl anime, so it's a horrible move on ANN's part to give him the Nanoha review assignment, of all things. It would be like asking a shonen fan who hates "slow, boring" slice of life to review Kimi ni Todoke, or asking a slice of life fan who hates "silly shonen action" to review Bleach.

Even so, Kimlinger missed the whole point of Nanoha, which even a magical girl genre hater should get. Nanoha was (at least in its first season) about fusing the magical girl and mecha genres together, to try to achieve the best of both worlds. Obviously that means there's going to be conventional magical girl material in it (just like there's going to be conventional mecha material in it). There's no point in fusing magical girl and mecha together (as the whole idea behind your work), if you're not going to play straight at least some of the conventions of each.
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Old 2011-08-19, 13:33   Link #19
Obelisk ze Tormentor
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Hmmm...If I can have a say about this...

I actually agree with DonQuigleone about a genre can only be criticised by those who familiar with it. Other than those people, the arguments/criticisms will be irrelevant. I think pandering and unoriginality is not the problem of just two or three genres. It’s just that pandering and unoriginality is the true spirit of industry, and it hasn’t been called 'Anime Industry' for nothing. It’s the same like 'music industry' and 'movie industry'. Sure, there are some occasional breakthrough, but you can’t expect every show to be a breakthrough. What makes breakthrough special is that it happens occasionally. We have to admit that not everybody can come up with fresh ideas. Thus, you can’t really blame the studios for producing mediocre anime (whatever genre) that has clear target audience (otaku who will almost definitely eat them up and give the studio all the money they need) or to advertise other products (toys, etc) coz sometimes, that’s the only way out of a financial problem. You can still blame/criticize the mediocre anime, but not the studio coz they are bound by the law of economy (read: again, they need money). One thing that made one studio’s product higher in quality than the other is simply the human resources they (can) got. That can also depend on the money too. Without those cash, studios won’t be able to produce the accasional ‘breakthrough anime’ that we all love.

One exception is that when a studio is already a financial powerhouse, yet they still deliberately produce mediocre anime. That is when a studio (and their anime) earn their rights to be hated.

Well, those are my opinion (some of them are based on facts too).
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Old 2011-08-19, 15:01   Link #20
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Originally Posted by Kaioshin Sama View Post
This wouldn't normally be a major problem, but I feel that the anime industry had recently given far too much say to a very specific and arguably small group of otaku in Japan to the point where they were practically allowing them to write the series to be marketed at them and to me that is both pandering and the industry belying a lack of originality. The industry however seems to have at least in part realized that a certain line had been crossed and seems to be dialing things back a bit to where they maintain control of ideas and concepts as opposed to the fans.
The problem is that a show like Hourou Musuko will be outsold by Infinite Stratos forty times over. While it's gotten more pronounced over the last years, it's not a new problem either - it probably started in the '90s. It's a trap where the shows that sell are the ones that are otaku-centric, while the more exotic fare doesn't. What the industry needs is a way to be able to make money off the general public, but I don't see that happening any time soon. On the plus side, there's still a lot of creative people willing to take risks with their works.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Triple_R View Post
Excessive pandering, and lazy writing (which is what is usually meant by "unoriginality"), are bad, and problematic in almost any show that they pop up in. As far as anime is concerned, excessive pandering and lazy writing usually equates to an overuse of the most common anime tropes in the book.
I think that "unoriginality" mostly means that the critic is familiar with similar story elements from another work. A lot of pandering has very little to do with lazy writing, but rather serve as a way to further connect with, or to entertain the audience. After all, fanservice is one of the most prominent forms of pandering.

I haven't seen all of the titles you listed as non-otaku-centric, but surely something like Madoka should be considered as prime otaku fare.
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