Not so Innovative

Have you noticed that Western media can be hailed as innovative and original just by doing something that’s relatively common in anime/manga but not common in Western media? I’ve noticed this brought up a lot. To use some specific examples, with Legend of Korra, Pacific Rim & Disney’s Frozen.

Now, before I start let me make one thing clear. I’m not saying anything negative about any of these works. This isn’t about judgments, positive or negative, on their quality. The reason I’m bringing these three up specifically is just that they were popular works that I’ve heard this mentality about a lot. I’ve had multiple people tell me how innovative Legend of Korra is because it made the bold move of having heavily implied lesbianism, in a work for young teenagers. I’ve heard about how original Pacific Rim is with its narrative of humans piloting giant robots to fight Kaiju. And I’ve been told that I should applaud Frozen for daring to break the Disney formula by being more about the relationship between the girls than it is about the romance with what’s his name and Anna.

There’s just one problem. I’ve seen all of these things far too often for them to really be called innovative or unique elements. There’s nothing wrong with any of them as elements. In fact, I’m fond of all three of those things in media. At least when they’re done well. But I’ve seen a lot of slice of life/ magical girl/ assorted other anime aimed at younger audiences that have heavily implied LGBT characters, see basically the entire Precure franchise, or in some cases, such as Sailor Moon, outright stated LGBT characters. Similarly, I’ve seen a lot of mecha works where the humans are fighting Kaiju (I’m also familiar enough with super sentai that I know it happens a lot in those) and I’ve seen plenty of magical girl/ slice of life anime where the main focus is on the relationships between girls. So, why are these three works specifically heralded for these elements when they aren’t even close to being the first works that have used them? Personally, I think there are three major reasons.

Part of it is just that these works were more mainstream than a lot of anime. And, sadly, when an anime like Sailor Moon gets licensed it’s probably going to be censored so that Haruka and Michiru have more of a platonic relationship. A such, a lot of people are more aware of Legend of Korra ending on a yuri note than they are of the fact that yuri girls are very common in magical girl works. And how many giant robots fought Kaiju in a big Hollywood blockbuster before Pacific Rim? And Frozen is only the second Disney film where there was such an emphasis on the relationship between sisters. Lilo and Stitch did it first, though. Either way it’s not common. I would still argue that these works being better known, at least in the West, doesn’t invalidate all of the other works that have done similar things.

The second reason is just a bit of ethnocentrism. We do have a tendency to separate Western works from Eastern works in our minds. Even if it’s common for Eastern works, we still give Western works credit just because we aren’t used to seeing it from them. Similarly, if we saw an anime that used a common trope to Western media that we weren’t used to seeing from anime we’d probably give that anime credit for innovation just because it’s doing something different for that type of media. However, the fact is that the boundaries between Western and Eastern media don’t matter all that much. In our modern society we can easily get exposure to their media and they can easily get exposed to ours. It’s natural that we’d be influenced by one another. Which is naturally going to lead to tropes and conventions crossing hemispheres. It’s really more of an influence from that other media than it is about true innovation.

The third reason is quite simple. A lot of people like those elements. People want to see more LGBT characters appear in works for young audiences. We want to see more giant robots fighting Kaiju and we want to see more works where the relationship between women is an important element. Because everywhere we look we see media where everyone is straight, action movies about an over-muscled bloke with guns instead of a giant robot and pieces of media where there’s one token lady character or where the women don’t really have relationships with other women. As such, works like Legend of Korra, Pacific Rim & Frozen are a breath of fresh air and we praise them because we want to see more things follow in their footsteps. I understand that.

However, you can call works like that a breath of fresh air because you don’t see those elements very often without pretending like they’re completely unique and no one else has ever done them. After all, they don’t have to be completely original or “boundary pushing” to do what they did in a compelling way. Praise them for it if they used the element well, criticise them if they didn’t and acknowledge those works that used the element in question before. Maybe you’ll even find one that seems to have directly influenced the work you’re looking at. And maybe looking into that angle will lead you to more works that use the same kind of element and you can check those out as well.

Ginga Ojou-sama Densetsu Yuna: Full of Zaniness and Yuri

Ginga Ojou-sama Densetsu Yuna was created in 1992 as a video game created and written by Mika Akitata and released by Hudson. The first titles were released for the PC Engine, known in America as the TurboGrafx. The game franchise also saw installments on the Sega Saturn, Playstation and, mos recently, PSP. So, it was a moderately successful series even if it never got released outside of Japan, which it didn’t as far as I can tell. The series got two OVAs based on it from Movic, J.C. Staff, King Records & Toho. The first was released in ’95 and it’s the one we’re going to be looking at. Oddly enough, these did get released outside of Japan in spite of the games themselves being unavailable. So, let’s take a peek and see if we can figure out the reason for that.

Story:

Our tale opens with a giant mecha slamming down to earth… to win a cooking contest. This mecha is being piloted by our heroine, Yuna, who promptly offers the dish she’s made to a masked woman, whom she also dedicates her cooking victory to. This OVA may just not be the most serious of things. /it may also be very yurirrific. We cut to the Galactic Alliance where one of their members expresses concerns about the possibility that Yuna may be out to conquer the galaxy. They promise to send an investigator. The next morning Yuna’s school gets a transfer student who seems to be staring at Yuna a lot, which Yuna takes as a sign that she likes her. Deep, intellectual things ensue. Either that or shenanigans. It’s one of those.

Now, the series does have a story to it, but it’s very much a tongue-in-cheek narrative and really isn’t important. It mainly serves as a backdrop for the absurdity. So, how well does the humour work in this? Well, it does have its share of really funny moments, including a scene that parodies Sailor Moon and the tone works well for what they’re doing. It also has some moments where the jokes are just kind of dumb. For instance, there’s a reoccurring joke about Yuna’s friend, Yuri, eating excessively. There are also some jokes that are clearly playing off of something from the games and I can’t really judge those since the games were never released here. Hey might be really funny if you know the context, but they’re just not going to do anything otherwise.

Characters:

The cast of characters is really simplistic. The major characters mostly work in a comedic sense but the more minor characters tend to get attached to one joke, which may or may not be funny or not get any lines at all. The climax includes what I presume to be a bunch of game characters in small cameo parts. Which is fair enough. I’m sure that fans of the games were glad to see What’s her face and Whatever her name was.

Art:

The artwork and animation are a bit dated. It’s pretty reminiscent of the art in Battle Athletes. It’s competent and looks fine but it’s certainly not anything great nor does it really do anything different. The climactic action sequence can be difficult to follow at times, though. It looks like they were trying to rush through it by just throwing things at you quickly.

Sound:

They did get a pretty good cast on this one. Yokoyama Chisa, Touma Yumi, Orikasa Ai, Araki Kae and Yajima Akiko all make appearances, which may make you question how many Gundam Wing actors they’d have gotten if there were male characters in and major roles and they all give competent performances, as do the other actresses. The biggest problem with the acting is that it tends towards over-exaggeration. Which does kind of work for the series aesthetic, but it does get tiring. The music is from Arisawa Takanori, the same Gent who did the composition for Sailor Moon. His soundtrack in this isn’t as stellar, but it’s still impressive stuff.

Ho-yay:

There’s quite a bit. Yuna seems to have a thing with at least three different girls, Liavelt, Misaki & one of the girls who shows up very briefly. The series does pack a lot of yuri scenes into its two episodes. Some cute, some funny and some both.

Final Thoughts:

Ginga Ojou-sama Densetsu Yuna has some funny moments and some that are kind of stupid but inoffensive. It has some well done zany characters and some who are pretty pointless. All in all, it is a decent enough little series and provides some enjoyment. My final rating for it is a 6/10. If you’re interested in a tongue in cheek series that pokes fun at magical girl and mecha tropes, you might want to give it a shot. Next week I’ll take a look at Death Parade. 

Five Constructive ways to improve Steel Angel Kurumi 2 & Love Hina

Last time I did one of these it seemed to go over fairly well. Like last time, I’m going to look at something I liked and something I didn’t for this. And there will be spoilers, of course these are both comedic works, or trying to be in Love Hina’s case, so that might not matter to you. You may agree or disagree with me on these, but in my opinion these are some improvements that could be made to these series and they aren’t going to be in any particular order either. Let’s start with the bad one.

Love Hina: 

1. The Harem Aspect: to put it simply, the harem element is really forced. Most of these girls have no narrative reason to be interested in Keitaro. You could cut it down to a love triangle with him, Naru and Otohime and nothing of value would be lost. I know, shocking that a harem series would have contrived attractions to the main protagonist. Maybe next I’ll talk about how it would be better if the characters had personalities.

2. The Characters should have personalities: Honestly, this is part of the problem with pushing the harem aspect so much. Neither the girls nor Keitaro ever develop personalities beyond the banal since the series is more interested in watching Keitaro run around like an idiot and be physically abused by the girls for no good reason. If they’d left the bulk of the girls out of the love nonagon then they could have done something with the character personalities instead.

3. Stop with the Incest: The truly sad part is that even with all of these girls as potential love interests, the incest element didn’t need to be there. Kaolla Su didn’t need to have her significantly older brother try to marry her nor did the solution to that problem need to be him marrying his other sister. Sarah didn’t need to have a crush on her adoptive father and, if we’re including Love Hina Again, Kanako didn’t need to be Keitaro’s sister. She could have been a childhood friend who’d made a promise with him and gone overseas. The only difference would be that Keitaro would have to have another reason for turning her down besides the sibling thing and that would have required him to have at least some personality beyond the boring cliche.

4. Abuse is not Romantic or funny: I shouldn’t have to say that, but Love Hina seems to be under the impression that it’s hilarious when a woman beats a man and that a woman who beats a man must just really love him and it just serves to make the humour and romance both much worse than they had to be.

5. The Bathing Scenes do Nothing: Love Hina includes a lot of scenes of the girls taking baths and there’s really no reason for it, except the obvious cheap tactic to appeal to the straight male gaze. At most these scenes will result in a comedic abuse moment or yet another conversation about how Naru totally doesn’t like Keitaro, Ladies and if you fall for that Naru also has some pristine swampland to sell you.

Steel Angel Kurumi 2: 

1. KarinkaKarinka is the third steel angel in the series. She’s not a bad character, but she really doesn’t do that much. She shows up about halfway into the series, fights with Kurumi, develops a crush on Nako and then shows up in the climax. The series really could have done more with her.

2. The yuri use of sister: I’m not going to complain about a yuri anime having one girl refer to the girl she likes as “onee-sama” or sister as it translates to, even though I find it very odd. My problem with it here is that they don’t do a good job of telling you that that’s what they’re doing when Saki refers to Kurumi like that. Instead, they kind of assume you saw the crappy first series and know it from there.

3. The fan-service: This was my big complaint when I reviewed this series. There are a bunch of scenes with the characters starkers or largely starkers, including several where Uruka gets put in some ridiculous bikini/battle bikini. The series could have used the time wasted on fan-service for better things, like giving Karinka more of a presence.

4. Less Exaggeration: Yeah, this was a slight problem with the acting for the series. There were so many exaggerated comedic lines that it got a bit grating after a while.

5. Sever the connection with the first series: Honestly, the connection between this series and the first one is pretty tenuous as is. There are just some minor allusions. That being said, it really doesn’t need that connection. They could have easily done the same thing they’ve done with Kaon & Himiko vs Chikane & Himeko (yes these are the same writers who did that), had similar characters in a completely different setting. he trouble with keeping the connection is that it makes people like me who hated the first series hesitant to try this one and it probably pisses off fans of the first to have a sequel that basically invalidates any satisfaction that they got from the original’s romance.

Love Hina Again: Now with more incest

This week I’m talking about the sequel OVA to Love Hina, Love Hina Again. But first,let’s go over what happened previously in Love Hina. Blandon is a loser who consistently fails his university entrance exams. He fled his parents’ house where they wanted him to get a job and make something of himself to be the building manager of his grandmother’s girl dorms. Where he was abused by virtually every dull and insipid inhabitant of the building. Being a masochist with a poor idea of what a healthy relationship looks like, he fell for the girl who beat him most often, Narusegawa. After stammering around with the blindingly obvious, Blandon, Narusegawa and Otohime learned the partial truth about their past together at the Hina building but only after having it spelled out for them. And somewhere along the line a twenty five year old wanted to marry his thirteen year old sister but settled for his other sister who was basically his own age. So let’s look at the sequel and see if the romance actually improves. It wouldn’t be hard to do better than the first series, but I’m guessing it probably doesn’t and that this is going to be painful.

Story:

We open with Blandon, Naru and Otohime on the Tokyo U campus, because they all managed to pass the entrance exam. And it only took Blandon and Otohime three tries. Blandon gets his leg broken by his main love interest. Her abusive ways are even worse when we see actual consequences beyond him flying into the distance and coming back without a scratch. Especially since they still treat it as not a big deal. With his leg broken, Blandon misses a bunch of classes. Which makes no sense. A broken leg may hurt and make it harder to get around, but this is set in Japan. They have reliable public transit. It’s not like he can’t reach his lectures and do his course work. It might make sense if they were treating the abuse situation even semi-realistically and he was afraid of being around Narusegawa, but that isn’t the case. It’s played up as him having to skip the classes because he couldn’t possibly take the bus or something with a busted leg. Except that he could, easily, and he’s just being a dumbass. While he recovers, he misses so much of his classes that he decides to postpone starting until next semester and he goes off with Seta to do archaeological digs. While he’s gone, his younger sister, Kanako, shows up at the Hinata apartments and tries to drive the other girls away so that she can have him for herself. Yes, that means exactly what it sounds like. But it’s okay because they aren’t blood related. They’ve just been raised as siblings since they were really little kids. I’m sure that’s not an insulting attitude towards people who were adopted at all. When Blandon returns his sister goes after him with gusto and Naru finds herself having to confront her true feelings so that she can continue to be sociopathic towards him.

So, this series features the same problem with incest that the first had, except that it’s even worse in this one since the Blandon, Naru & Kanako love triangle is the major conflict which results in it being more prevalent of an element. The romance is still highly abusive and we’re still supposed to support the most abusive girl. The first series’ one redeeming factor was that roughly 30% of the comedy worked. In this series, they took that number down to zero. The narrative arc itself is really stupid and predictable, with the ending we all knew was going to happen when we’d gotten a few episodes into the first series.

Characters:

Our cast is just as banal and one-dimensional as they were in the initial series. The only new additions are Kanako and her flying cat. Shockingly, she’s an archetype with no real personality. She’s pretty much defined by her brother complex. Her cat is more of a prop than a character. It can talk, but never has anything useful or interesting to say. Its few lines are basically used to exposit about how much she’s into her brother. Because they still assume that the audience needs everything spelled out for them. The characters are still obnoxiously thick and slow on the uptake. On the positive side, this series is much shorter so they can’t have them flail about nearly as much as they did in the first series.

Art:

The artwork is improved a little bit with the characters looking more detailed and the backgrounds being a bit better. Of course, they still have a real problem with fan-service. They have a short montage scene of Kanako trying to seduce her brother by putting herself in compromising positions behind every door he opens. We also get an up-skirt shot of one of the junior high girls, because class is something for other people.

Sound:

The sound remains the strong suit of the series. We’ve got the same group of talented actors giving a more mediocre performance than you’re probably used to, but still one that lets you hear that they are skilled. They’re joined by Kuwatani Natsuko as Kanako and her performance is on par with the others. You can tell that she’s good at what she does, in spite of her not having anything to work with. The music is pretty decent. Although it’s certainly not as strong as it was in the first series.

Ho-yay:

Love Hina Again does throw in some “lesbians are hot” scenes. There’s one involving Motoko, an alleyway and blatant molestation and another involving Kitsune on the couch and blatant molestation. Kaolla Su also cuddles up to Shinobu for one scene.

Final Thoughts:

Love Hina Again is actually worse than the first series. It features higher levels of incest, no funny jokes, more unlikeable characters, weaker music and slightly improved art. In every aspect that really matters, it fails miserably. My final rating is going to be a 1.5/10. Next week I’ll look at Ginga Ojou-sama Densetsu Yuna: Kanashimi no Siren.

Manga Review: Metroid

I have a special fondness for the Metroid franchise and basically every game in it, except for that one atrocity committed by Team Ninja in 2010. Why Nintendo thought that the group known for their jiggle physics would write a female character respectfully is beyond me. Getting back on topic, in the early 2000s, before that thing stained the franchise, there was a sixteen chapter manga written by Tazawa Kouji and drawn by Ishikawa Kenji. Was it a preview of the horrible thing that was to come to the franchise or is it a worthy part of the lore?

Story:

We open with chibi Samus on a mining colony with her parents. The Chozo come seeking the rare material they’re gathering but they get turned down because all they have has already been scheduled to be delivered. The Chozo leave peaceably, but the space pirates promptly show up, led by Ridley. The Chozo return seeing that everything has been razed and everyone is dead save one small child, Samus. They decide to take her to their world, Zebes, and infuse her with Chozo DNA for science. Actually, it’s because her frail human body won’t be able to survive on Zebes for long. As she gets older they help her hone her superhuman abilities and train her to protect the peace in their stead. They also gift her with her iconic power suit. Eventually, she separates from them at their urging and works with the federation, at least for a time.

There are some plot details in this that Team Ninja re-purposed for their pile of excrement. The difference is that in here they’re interesting and handled pretty well, whereas in that it was the exact opposite. Honestly, the biggest problem in this manga is the pacing. They skip over and rush through quite a bit. There are times where they really do have to for the story and towards the end they skim over a lot just because they’re covering material from Super Metroid but there are other times where it feels like a lazy way to change Samus’ character without actually having to show her develop. To be fair, there aren’t many moments like that and they do show the impetuses behind her changes even if they don’t show the changes themselves, but there are a couple. On the positive side, the narrative is really compelling and there are a lot of good moments. The world building is superb. The story also manages to keep its dramatic tension well in spite of the fact that you know basically how things are going to go down if you’re familiar with the games.

Characters:

One thing this manga does spectacularly is fleshing out Samus’ character. They also show her development out of naivete and into a true warrior and all around badass. There are some cool side characters too. Particularly Samus’ former partners from when she was in the federation, Kreatz & Mauk. You also get some insight into Mother Brain and Ridley.

Art:

Ishikawa’s artwork is mostly really good. There are some points where the action doesn’t flow all that smoothly (not many but some) and there are moments where the federation ships look like boots for some reason but it’s mostly well done with good action sequences, expressive faces and really interesting character designs. The artwork on the various Metroid creatures is really good and you can tell that he either knows the games well or at least did his research so that he could make them mesh with their game portrayals.

Ho-yay:

There’s a young girl who acts a bit like she has a one-sided crush on Samus but there’s really not any romance in this manga. Which is good since Metroid doesn’t need any of that.

Final Thoughts:

This manga is actually really good. Whether you’re a fan of the games it’s based off of or not, it’s a compelling sci-fi story with interesting characters, and strong action sequences. It is better if you’re a fan of the games, but it’s not required. For myself, I give this one a solid 8/10.

Love Hina: A Masochist’s Fantasy

It’s been almost a year since I was asked to look at a harem series. This one was written by Akamatsu Ken. In the year 2000 it was adapted into an anime by Xebec. You may remember them from Bakuretsu Hunters, Bottle Fairy, Mnemosyne & Zombie Loan. So, about half their stuff I’ve reviewed has been good. I don’t really anticipate this one joining them but let’s take a look and see what happens. Maybe it will surprise me.

Story:

Our tale opens with Keitaro, who I will refer to as Blandon for the rest of this review, our protagonist. He dreams of entering the prestigious Tokyo U, in spite of having failed the entrance exam twice. Why is he so set on this particular school? Because he and the only girl who ever liked him way back when they were really little promised to get into Tokyo U together and series like this have no attachment to reality so promises made when you were five or six are something you remember and still care about fifteen years later. Blandon’s parents are tired of him leeching off of them and they want him to find a job. Despondent over being expected to do something productive with his life, and having been invited, Blandon goes to visit his grandmother at the girls’ dorm she runs. He quickly finds out that she’s scarpered and he was called over to take over as the building manager. Shenanigans ensue as he finds himself surrounding by attractive young ladies who regularly beat him.

The biggest problem is with the romance elements. To put it bluntly, they are horrendous. First off, most of Blandon’s potential love interests are actively abusive towards him. Including Narusegawa, the one we’re supposed to be pulling for. Yeah, I don’t care how much Blandon lacks personality or what a loser in general he is. No one deserves to have an abusive partner. The only two exceptions are a junior high school girl named Shinobu and a ditsy girl named Otohime. The other four girls, plus some side characters, all act like sadists. Is Akamatsu just a masochist? Is the idea of being surrounded by girls who hit him just the ultimate fantasy for him? Even if that is the case you’d think there would be a safe word or something. This series also has an obsession with incest. We’ve got a nine year old girl who’s obsessed with hooking up with her father. But it’s okay because he’s just a relative who adopted her and not really her father. We’ve also got a subplot of Kaolla Su’s brother trying to marry her. But it’s okay because he’s really her cousin who was raised with her as a brother. We’re also expected to ignore the fact that he’s in his mid twenties and she’s thirteen. If Akamatsu really thinks this is romantic as opposed to incredibly skeevy, he really needs a psychiatrist.

The main narrative itself is also really predictable, but it’s going for humour rather than serious story telling so that’s fine. As long as the jokes work. The comedy is mixed, though. There are a lot of stupid jokes about Blandon being beaten because a man being abused by a woman is hilarious. There are also stupid jokes about him doing something perverted or something that just looks perverted out of context, which usually lead to him getting brutalised, of course. There are also some zany comedic bits and those can be funny at times. Overall though you’re probably looking at jokes that work maybe 30% of the time and that’s probably a generous estimate.

Characters:

There’s really not much to these characters. Blandon is your typical harem protagonist who looks plain, excels at nothing and has no personality because he’s there for the audience to project themselves onto. Which is something that this and Twilight have in common with the difference being the sex of the character like that. Personally, I’ve always found that to be rather insulting for a character who’s supposed to stand in for the audience. I know that they do it so that anyone can put themselves in this guy’s shoes, but it’s still expecting us to project ourselves onto a massive loser with no redeeming traits aside from being generically good-hearted. The girls aren’t much better in terms of complexity. They’re pretty much a group of archetypes with no real personalities because, I guess, girls with complexity aren’t sexy? I mean, they might have their own thoughts and opinions on things and that would just be terrible. It’s much better if they’re really bland and super predictable. There’s also an issue in this series with the characters being extremely thick to the point of obnoxiousness. They can’t figure anything out unless it’s explicitly spelled out for them. Especially towards the end where the series assumes its entire audience is made up of morons and keeps repeating the same information so that they can hammer it into our skulls for the climax. Seeing these twits struggle to figure out the blindingly obvious really makes me miss Hyouka and the protagonist’s basic problem solving skills.

Art:

The artwork can be strongly summed up as “meh.” The backgrounds are pretty plain but they work well enough. The action sequences are passable but really repetitive. The character designs are fine. The biggest problem is the fan-service, sometimes involving the junior high girls because class is something for other people. All things considered, however, it’s neither good nor bad.

Sound:

The sound is by far the best part of the series. We’ve got Hayashibara Megumi pulling double duty as Blandon’s aunt and Shinobu’s school friend. We’ve got a lot of other talented actors as well including Horie Yui, Asakawa Yuu, Kurata Masayo, Noda Junko, Yukino Satsuki & Ueda Yuji as Blandon. These are some highly skilled and prolific actors. This may not be any of their best roles but you can certainly tell that they’re a skilled group. The music is really good and I’m not just saying that because most of the lyrical stuff was sung by Hayashibara Megumi. That’s only 90% why I’m saying it. The music is well done though and has a good amount of energy and excitement to it.

Ho-yay:

There’s a bit. There are three scenes of girls sharing kisses, although it’s more played up as being hot because girls are kissing each other rather than being used to illustrate anything about the characters and their sexual preferences. Motoko has a trio of fan-girls who follow her around. There’s also a scene where you see two old guys holding hands.

Final Thoughts:

Love Hina is a stupid, poorly written series. The romance is awful, the comedy has some moments but is largely weak, the characters range from being generic to being really annoying. The only thing that’s really well done is the music and you can easily find it without having to trudge through all the idiocy. My final rating is a 2/10. Next week, I’ll look at Love Hina Again. No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be re-posting this review. That’s the actual name of the sequel OVA. Because someone thought it would be fun to have me review both this and its sequel. I hope he’s feeling hyper x giddy over that decision right now because I’d like one of us to find joy in this situation and I’m certainly not excitedly anticipating the sequel to this thing.

The Illusion of Depth

Have you ever noticed that media with strange and outlandish imagery is often celebrated as being deep and thought provoking regardless of whether or not that imagery actually adds up to anything. In fact, these works are frequently more celebrated than truly complex works that are more straightforward in their presentation. Why do people find this illusory depth so compelling? My theory is that there are five primary factors behind it.

The first factor is simply that it’s human nature to look for meaning. We like things to happen for a reason. When we see strange images we want them to have meaning behind them. Even if there isn’t any intended meaning we’ll construct one because it’s difficult for us, as human beings, to accept that some things are meaningless and that that’s okay. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with constructing meaning where there is none. I would just encourage awareness when that’s what you’re doing.

This brings me to the second factor, which is tangentially related to the first. People don’t like to feel stupid. When someone sees something with really odd imagery they assume it’s gotta add up to something and they don’t want to admit that they don’t see what that might be because doing so makes them feel like they’ve failed in some way. This is particularly true in situations where you see other people raving about how deep something is. Therefore, they hoist a meaning onto it or they look at what others have come up with and select the interpretation that they like best. By doing so they can say that they get it and feel intelligent.

This brings me to the third factor. It’s really easy, and simultaneously psychologically satisfying, to construct a deep meaning for something.You could take something as basic and action-oriented as Dragonball Z and give it a deep meaning about the psychological breakdown of a neglectful husband/father (Goku) who retreats from reality and imagines himself as a great hero to excuse the fact that he was never there for his wife or son and pictures his son’s new father as a green alien who happens to be a mentor figure for his son and who happens to be part of an asexual species so he’s not a threat in that way. The reason there’s a time-skip with Goku being dead is because he loses his visitation rights and can’t imagine what his son looked like during the time he didn’t see him. You can literally do that with any series and come up with something. That’s also why you get so many fan theories floating around online. It’s satisfying because it makes you feel intelligent for having “cracked the secret.”

This brings me to the fourth point. There’s an attachment to constructed meanings. Once you’ve assigned a meaning to a work you tend to be proud of that meaning. Especially when the creator of that work hasn’t come forward with what it actually means or even when they say it means nothing. It’s something you came up with that gave you satisfaction and made you feel smart. It’s not really surprising that there would be investment in it.

I have to stress once again that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s an entire critical philosophy that’s dedicated to constructed meanings. However, that brings me to the final point and the negative side of constructed meanings. A lot of people become really rabid about them. Which is strange in the sense that the whole constructed meaning (viewer/reader response) line of criticism is based on the idea that there are no wrong answers. Someone can believe that the meaning is X, Y, Z or nothing and they’re all equally valid. But a lot of the people who use this school of critical thought will get deeply offended by answers that are the opposite of theirs or by the idea that there’s no meaning. For a lot of people it’s easier to pick a meaning for works like this, even if they think it’s actually total bollocks, than it is to face the wrath of the rabid portion of its fan-base.

So, that’s why the illusion of depth can be so much more alluring for some people than actual depth. Because we want meaning, finding it makes us feel smart, it’s easy to come up with something if you want to, it gives you an attachment to the interpretation and there are always the people who will feign a constructed meaning just to avoid making people mad.

That being said, I would encourage actual critical examinations of works like these. Go into them without any expectation for meaning and see if the idea of meaning actually holds up. If it’s something without any proper meaning and it does require constructed meaning, go ahead and construct one if you like. Just be aware of that and treat people who came up with different answers, or with no answer, with respect.

That’s what I think on that topic. Feel free to leave a comment on what you think of illusory depth or if you think there’s a factor to it that I missed or if you’ve got a constructed meaning to share or a story about dealing with someone who took that far too seriously. Next Saturday I’m planning another manga review so we’ll see how that works out.