Ode to Broken ThingsJanuary 4, 2011
If your anything like me you have found yourself dissecting your choices in entertainment and what they mean about you. I occasionally sit back and wonder why I truly enjoy the things I truly enjoy. During these examinations I have come to one major conclusion. The artists and works I usually like the most are usually very flawed. I loved Kinoko Nasu, Rumiko Takahashi, and Yoshiyuki Tomino but they are all idiosyncratic artists with highly imperfect works under their belt. This realization lead me to another even more shocking revelation. All the most influential works in a genre are not the masterworks but flawed works. All the shows that define radical shifts are often riddled with major flaws but are inspiring despite that fact.
Flawed works are sometimes the most special of all; they are chance taking stories that don’t quite have all the details worked out. When breaking new ground it is no surprise when one gets lost along the way. This can occur in many different facets from having the amount of episodes suddenly shortened due to low-ratings or lulls in the middle of the story as they try to stretch or even extraneous characters taking up too much time. But these are also stories that surprise you with their decisions and that’s a most powerful and memorable reaction.
The examples that spring to mind immediately are two of the biggest game changing mecha shows of all time, Mobile Suit Gundam and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Both shows constantly had their episodes counts changed during their production leading to major changes in the story during production which were often detrimental. They both have wildly inconsistent animation due to budgetary constraints. Gundam was plagued with odd dialog and Tomino’s peculiar characterization. The last third of Macross is usually considered the weakest and feels tacked on. Neither show is objectively flawless and can be picked apart rather easily. But they were innovated and bold for their time. They both changed the way people look at mecha forever. The characterization and formulas of both shows would influence countless imitators, protegees, and successors.
Any game changing show really depends on the context of its release, more often than not this can be summed up by what year it came out. The title that comes to mind for me is Space Battleship Yamato, a classic, but not a flawless work. Parts can be hard to watch now, if you hadn’t seen it when it was more fresh, without the knowledge of its importance in those early anime days. But there is no denying the impact of this space opera that showed that a dramatic anime could garner a huge fanbase. The medium was different after Yamato hit the airwaves and likewise the world of anime and its fans changed much with the premiere of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Love it or hate it, think it is overrated or the best thing ever, some people would (and have) describe the anime scene as pre- and post-Eva. And just like many that came before it, watching it now and not acknowledging what the world was like when it came out can make you view it very differently. Even for myself, seeing The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzamiya after the fact gave it a different feeling.
In contrast think of the works that you think of as near flawless masterpieces. Like any piece of art they are flawed but for the most part they are solid works that get almost universal acclaim. The cherished works of Satoshi Kon and Hayao Miyazaki are often cited as shows that inspire creator to go into animation. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is awe-inspiring and beautifully crafted. But how often do you see people trying to imitate them? But how often are they considered revolutionary? How often do they change how anime in the genre that produced them? Oddly enough as amazing as these works are they rarely go on to be as influential as their ugly ducking cousins.
A perfect 10 in anime, personally I think it quite rare; even in arbitrary grading like MyAnimeList, I am pretty stingy. And just looking at it, with the exception of the original Gundam movie trilogy (which is a remake anyway) I can say that none of those shows changed the face of anime forever. There can be a difference between being a masterpiece and being revolutionary. Where would we be without the risk takers? Not even the greatest of them all, Osamu Tezuka, did everything perfect. And I don’t think any of us mind too much. Even if something is imperfect, or a flop, it can inspire other to think differently.
It comes down to the fact that a flawed work can be improved up. A masterpiece is often created in the prime of a genre. The flaws and kinks of the genre have been tested so a great director can come in and take what has come before it and make it sing. But something with almost no room for improvement might be a challenge and an inspiration to live up to as an ideal they are sadly often creative dead ends. A flawed work on the other hand says to a creator that they can do better. When are show makes tragic mistakes but is still inspiring and enjoyable it often gives creators a direction to work towards with a road map towards an even better creation. New frontiers are not only filled with new ideas but with new dangers and mistakes to be made. A flawed work is often the best soil for new frontiers.