Writing Extremes: The Inane light and the unpleasant dark

Today, I thought I’d talk about two types of writing aesthetics, both extremely unrealistic but on opposite ends of the spectrum. To be specific, the light-hearted work that’s over the top and goofy compared to the excessively grim and gritty work. Now, you can have a light-hearted work that has a realistic scenario and characters just like you can have a dark and edgy work that’s very realistic. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the ones that go overboard.

To begin with, let’s talk about the overly goofy. To use an anime example, Heroman is like this. With villains who are one-dimensionally evil and a goofy super hero story with no sense of realism. Alternatively, consider Galaxy Angel. A zany comedic work with only a tenuous relationship to reality. Is that a bad thing? I would argue that it’s really not. A series like Heroman can be fun and entertaining in its absurdity. It may not have verisimilitude, but it’s also not trying to. This silly, over the top aesthetic can work for comedies or for more light-hearted action works.

Let’s move on to the area where I’m going to spend a bit more time. Namely, the excessively grim and gritty work. It’s just as unrealistic but, in my opinion, it’s worse. Why? Well, that’s because the overly light and fluffy aesthetic has some genres where it works and the overly dark stuff really doesn’t.

Think about it. Whereas the overly goofy stuff can be comedic or entertaining, the overly dark stuff is meant to be dramatic and serious. The problem is that it doesn’t work on either of those levels. In trying too hard to be dark and adult, it ends up going outside of any realm of believability for there to be a real drama or connection with the characters and no connection means no dramatic tension. Take Cheesesteak Suppository (Aku no Hana) or Midori Shoujo Tsubaki. Both works try to shock the viewer with how extremely dark they are, but neither one works because their characters read more as exaggerated parodies than as people. Which doesn’t work for a serious dramatic piece.

Compare them to something dark and well written like Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin or even BerserkBerserk may have fantasy elements, but the characters are complex and the dark moments are balanced with normal, everyday scenes that show the characters acting as normal, everyday people. In contrast, the excessively grim and gritty stuff has to constantly emphasise that its characters are abnormal and dark to the point where their characteristics are so far to that extreme end that there’s nothing about them that’s relatable or realistic. For a goofy comedy, having completely absurd and exaggerated characters can work. In a serious work, it just ruins any potential for immersion and makes it seem like the writer’s trying too hard.

Of course, I think the biggest problem with the excessively dark end of the spectrum is that works in this category frequently try to handle serious issues. Abuse, Sexual Assault, Murder, Insanity and so on. These topics get thrown in not because the writer has a good story use for them, but because they think it’ll make their work seem more adult. The trouble is that it, like the rest of the dark content, gets handled in a very over the top and rather puerile way. Rather like a young teenager trying to sound “adult” when they clearly have no real conception as to what they’re talking about. Bringing these issues up in the way they do just illustrates how far removed these works are from reality and comes across as disrespectful to those serious topics.

Let me emphasise, once more, that things can be either goofy or gritty without going to the extremes and those works are fine on both sides. But, when discussing the extremes, I am personally a lot more okay with the overly light and goofy than I am with the overly grim and gritty. Both are completely outside of any realm of reality, but the goofy stuff can be entertaining in certain arenas & the gritty stuff just comes across as unpleasant.

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