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Ode to Broken Things

January 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.

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6 comments

  1. Very good post. I think much of what you say is true, what are often regarded as masterpieces aren’t often regarded as groundbreaking. I think you’re right when you say that the shows that try something new, even though they are often flawed, are the ones that really change a genre. You bring up a great example with Tezuka. While many of his works are considered masterpieces, it’s the less known more experimental works of his I think were the most influential on the medium. Things like Ode to Kirihito and MU, while not usually held in the same regard as Astro Boy or Black Jack, I would say had a larger impact in the manga world as far as breaking new ground or exploring themes which hadn’t really been looked at before. I feel that was what made NGE stand out so much at the time. Even if you didn’t like it, it was something different, something that hadn’t really been tried before. A giant robot series where the robots became really a secondary element, and the character study took the forefront.


    • NGE is a clear case of the SAS motto: He Who Dares, Wins. It dared try something radically different. In places it falls apart for a variety of reasons but the mere fact that it broke the mold so much will earn it a place in history despite its numerous flaws. As you said it’s unique look into the character aspect of the show has been attempted before but never to the degree that NGE had done so. And that is what changed the genre forever.

      I will also mention on a side note that it is also becoming apparent that Tezuka has a decent sized catalog of manga that was totally forgettable. Manga that were not as polished as Black Jack and Astroboy but not as experimental as Phoenix and Mu. Rainbow Parakeet and Don Dracula level stuff. Not bad but also not memorable in general. But the mere fact that Tezuka’s catalog is big enough to have that range is a testament to his skill and amazingly prodigious output.

      – Hisui


  2. In my view, what distinguishes good imperfection from bad is AMBITION. For example, I’d never say the original gundam series was perfect, but it was quite ambitious, and that remains true regardless of your interest level in mecha anime or anime at all. Same for Tezuka works like MW and Ode to Furries.

    But since I skew towards being haughty, I hasten to add that breaking the mold shouldn’t be enough to be considered ambitious, with the ending of the aforementioned Neon Genesis Evangelion being a prime example of what happens when unambitious self-indulgence mixes with severe budgetary constraints. Notable? Maybe. Good? Hell naw, and I’d point to the fact that no one else aims to end their shows that terribly as evidence enough for my point.


    • That’s the first I’ve ever heard anyone accuse Evangelion of being unambitious.


  3. [...] helped cement the idea that anime was not just for kids in Japan. I just don’t think it is as timeless as the old school fans. But that aside I feel that if you have any interest in the history of anime [...]



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