Friday’s Feature: The Power of Clichés, Archetypes, and Being Predictable

How Not To Summon a Demon Lord - Episode 1 - Diablo

We all know about anime clichés, archetypes and tropes and we’ve all kind of come to accept that there are certain characters and events that we’re going to run into again and again. However, for some people, the existence of clichés and archetype characters who don’t break the mould are enough for them to scorn a show and turn away from it. They label it unoriginal or boring and might claim it offers nothing. And yet there are a lot of good reasons for stories not to go off script or venture into new waters.

That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be nice occasionally for things to be changed up a bit or presented in a new way, nor is it excusing the lazy use of clichés for laughs in exchange for actually writing a story or considering the purpose of the characters but it does mean that just because something is entirely cliché does not mean it is bad just because it is. I think we need to consider the context and the execution (as well as which cliché it is because there are some clichés that individuals will accept more readily than others) before making up our minds.

It is kind of timely to visit this topic with so many new shows starting for the season. It is inevitable that first episodes will be riddled with clichés. And for those who consider that a death sentence on a story that is something you will have to accept.

Why?

Island1a

First episodes need to get their point across, set up what their tone is going to be, introduce characters and give the audience some impression of who they are, as well as do some basic world-building. And they need to grab the audience’s attention so there are going to be some bells and whistles thrown in. All of this in some twenty minutes. It is a lot to ask and while some shows put off some of these attributes for later episodes and choose to either focus on world building, tone, or characters rather than all of them in one episode, with the short attention span of viewers these days that’s a pretty risky move. That’s where clichés and archetypes come in.

Archetypes are recognisable and memorable. They also cut through a lot of explanations because people already know what is on offer. In a first episode a female character might come across as the ‘manic pixie girl’ and a male character might be ‘generic self-insert isekai protagonist’ but it instantly establishes where this character is starting and the tone the audience can expect. Depending on which character archetypes we have on display the audience can begin making predictions about the kind of narrative path we’re about to walk and what is on offer. They may have seen it before, but they haven’t seen this version, so as long as the quality of how things are being executed is there, or there is some reason to believe that things are going to get shaken up in future episodes, there’s no reason to dismiss something just because it seems like it might be similar to about a thousand other stories.

Cliche events and actions such as first meetings, finding a secret power, some sort of misunderstanding, and so on serve much the same purpose in these first episodes. They may not be terribly original but as long as they are presented with integrity, that isn’t a huge problem. The issue isn’t from the archetypes and clichés themselves, the issue comes from the lazy way these are sometimes rolled out.

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If we take a look at the current anime season on offer we might look at something like How Not To Summon a Demon Lord and begin with the take down criticism of it being horrendously unoriginal, derivative, and the same as about a million other stories. And certainly it isn’t exactly ground breaking as we’ve seen a player trapped in his in game character that is some sort of demon in Overlord, we’ve seen transported to another world about a million times, and a world based on a game fairly recently in Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody. We’ve certainly seen ordinary socially awkward guy instantly surrounded by bunch of girls of various types who for whatever reason all end up in love with him (more times than I can count).

The set up is incredibly generic, and then the events in the first episode are incredibly cliche. We have more fan-service moments then I’d care to recount right at the moment, an obnoxious jerk who wants to teach the protagonist a lesson and consequently gets beaten down, and the cute girl who eats a lot. Then the main character who is so incredibly recognisable as a gamer with no social skills or ability to talk to other people without assuming some sort of in game role (No Game No Life and about a million others).

All of this might be enough reason for some anime viewers to pass on this show entirely and I’ve certainly seen a fair number of reviewers who have thrown all isekai offerings this season into a basket and if that basket had been more than just metaphorical they’d have set it on fire (much the same to how I feel about idol anime really). However, not all isekai anime are created equal and while episode 1 of How Not To Summon A Demon Lord certainly didn’t blow my socks off, it did a decent job of setting up a potential story of interest with characters that have most definitely started out as cookie cutter archetypes that we’ve seen before but they all have growth potential.

This is where it gets tricky. The anime now has a short window of time to convert viewers like me from ‘maybe’ into definitely following the show. While generic cliches and archetypes work well enough in first episodes to establish ideas, if the show doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to do anything more than walk the well tread path of other stories, or worse, it has established the characters and then it leaves them exactly where they are, then the show becomes utterly deserving of the criticism of being unoriginal, derivative and not worth the time. But a first episode isn’t enough to make that judgement.

Though episode 2’s opening act with Diablo waking up with his hands on the boobs of both of his female companions probably indicates where this show sees character development.

DemonLord1b

While comparing first episodes I’m really looking at How Not To Summon a Demon Lord or The Master of Ragnarok and Blesser of Einherjar to add to this season’s watch list (but not both because even I draw the line on isekai at some point). At the moment How Not To Summon a Demon Lord is slightly edging out The Master of Ragnarok for the simple reason that I had more fun with the first episode and the potential story set up looks like it will have a better pay off. Also, cool explosion (sorry, deep down I’m six years old and I know it) and the reference was cool even though I never watched the anime being referenced (memes do wonders for filling in context sometimes). The Master of Ragnarok didn’t get an immediate skip though because despite the overly harem qualities, the overt sex jokes, and every other poor generic idea this genre likes to throw at us, it does have the slight intrigue of not being another world but potential the past earth and the protagonist isn’t just arriving, he’s already there and established. It gives it just enough points of interest to earn a second episode consideration despite all the flaws with the first episode.

Regardless of which isekai I end up watching, the point that clichés and archetypes aren’t all bad can be made pretty clearly through an anime that also aired recently, Cells at Work. Outside of the concept that the characters are all anthropomorphic cells doing jobs within the body, there’s really nothing particularly original about the first episode. While AE3803 might be a truly adorable red blood cell, she’s your stereotypical naive and shy girl on her first day at work. She’s confused, she gets lost, after a chance encounter with a guy who saves her she literally clings on to him as he shows her around before he saves her again. If we took out the fact that they are blood cells, it is pretty much the script of any romantic comedy anywhere or even an action flick (actually, take out first day on the job and we’ve more or less got Temple of Doom working here).

Cells1b

Yet most viewers would agree that Cells at Work presents itself in such a way that it feels original, fresh and entertaining. The change in setting and the clever way that is integrated into plot and character development allows them to execute a fairly ordinary and familiar story in a way that people appreciated and enjoyed. Something isekai stories might start doing if every ‘other world’ wasn’t generic fantasy land type B (why are no other worlds ever technologically advanced or just completely different from anything we’re familiar with – pseudo-medieval settings have been done to death, move on).

As a reviewer, I’m not above calling something cliche or generic, but at the same time, that isn’t reason enough for me to condemn a story and stop watching. As a fantasy/horror/action/sci-fi fan (in movies) I am well used to seeing very familiar characters and plots time and time again. What I want isn’t something that reinvents the wheel or revolutionises story telling; what I want is a quality story with a purpose and passion behind it that lends integrity to the work. Though that also might be asking too much sometimes and maybe I should just stick to wanting to be entertained for twenty minutes because that is something I’m more likely to achieve.

Alright, over to the readers. What do you think about the use of generic plots, tropes, cliches and archetypes and what do you think about the start of the Summer anime season? Be sure to leave me a comment letting me know.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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31 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: The Power of Clichés, Archetypes, and Being Predictable

  1. I complain about my fair shares of cliches, generic stories, and archetypes, but by the end of it what matter most to me is the execution. The underdog sports story for instance has been told countless of times, yet it still works because certain writers understand why they worked in the first place, and put their own spin on it.

    Another thing that can possibly win me over is if it feels like the people behind a creation put effort into it, and do the best they could to entertain the viewer. Like the anime Ultra Maniac, it didn’t have the best animation, and the writing was messy, but it made the impression on me it simply wanted to entertain me, and won me over time. Sometimes for me, simply knowing something is simply trying its best is good enough for. Other times, I roll my eyes thinking a production team of dozen people, and this was the best they could do spring to mind negatively XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s sometimes this sense of the passion and effort that went into crafting something that even if the execution doesn’t quite land you can appreciate what they tried for. Whereas other things just feel lazy and slapped together and even when done reasonably well they aren’t as endearing to the audience.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I mean, I’m a huge fan of sports anime so those get pretty repetitive and genric in more ways then one. It’s a matter in those types of story while the characters have arch-types (i.e. glasses character, the unwilling final member, the member with trauma regarding the sport, the too-good-to-come-to-practice, etc) they are usually fleshed out enough where I don’t mind the similarities and repetitive/generic members. I’m with you mostly, I don’t mind the use of them but there has to be SOMETHING in there that makes it compelling to watch.

    Also, I’m only watching 4 currently airing anime this season and two of them are sports related so… can’t offer much on commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It makes sense that these archetypes show up all the time in sports anime. If you sit down and think about possible issues or causes of conflict, there really only is a finite list of plausible situations so really a lot of sports anime are going to use them. I mean, you could throw in something totally original, but I doubt the audience is going to swallow it as a sensible idea.
      That means it isn’t about doing something new but doing something interesting with what the audience is familiar with.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pretty much, there’s only so many combinations and possible outcomes so it’s a a matter of how is it delivered and how popular is the sport.
        And that last point hits the nail on the head. Being already familiar with sports helps, and it makes it so much easier to follow along rather then being something completely new.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “First episodes need to get their point across, set up what their tone is going to be, introduce characters and give the audience some impression of who they are, as well as do some basic world-building” Yup…and then there are shows who throw all of that out of the window in the second episode and pretty much destroy everything cool that was set up (Yes I am talking about you Angels of Death) In general though, I don’t mind tropes/generic plots. If something works, why do it differently. I am a pretty easy guy to please. If the story is decent enough, it has some fun character I don’t mind if a series walks on familiar ground. When it doesn’t try to achieve something a little bit more though…it usually grates on my nerves. Great post: and I am also like that 6 year old kid: cool explosions are great 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Angels of Death definitely didn’t do what I was hoping for in episode 2. Pity really given it had some great stuff to build on and yet it seemed to keep everything that annoyed me in the first episode and amplified it while giving us nothing else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha…I wish I had taken a picture of my facial expressions when I saw the episode early this morning. It would have made for some great comedy (which…this totally didn’t). I’m going to give this one more episode to improve..otherwise this might be one of the first times since Black Clover that I am actually dropping something again.😊

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As a general rule, I’m quite forgiving of tropes and genetic plots. Their existence makes no real difference to me in terms of whether something is a potential watch or not. Stories like that sell, so I kinda expect them to a degree. What it comes down to for me is execution. If two sites are running similar storylines in similar settings with a similar cast, what I watch will come down to which did a better job of making me laugh, getting me invested, or just plain being awesome. It may be one, both, or none, but clichés won’t be the key reason for my decision.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, I think it is to be expected. I mean, you can have a story that’s built entirely on common tropes, but pull it off so well it’s easy to like, or one that’s so bad it’s easy to dislike, so it makes sense.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think archetypes and tropes exist because they have a narrative value, as characters that are inherently conflicted, for instance (the Reluctant Hero, the Pacifist Warrior), or simply to save time and energy by saying “Here’s a type. You know him/her.” Failing to take advantage of that is bad writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My vote is that as long as the work isn’t /just/ a bunch of cliches and common trappings then no real complaints. Then again I’m pretty easy going when it comes to stuff so maybe that isn’t how most folks see it. I agree with ya though. Great article! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very well done review and analysis as always!
    And whoop! I’m glad I’m not the only one to get overly excited over the explosion scene…
    And yes, I hate the fanservice as much as you do, even though I read the manga and liked it.
    I have to say though, even more is coming…so be prepared.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I guess I’m at the point where I realize that avoiding common tropes and storytelling conventions isn’t an inherently good thing for a story. Originality is more than just scenarios, motivations, settings, premises, etc.
    The real value of originality is when all those components come together in a way that the audience might not expect. For me, a good story is always better than just the sum of its parts, and that’s why the ‘originality’ of a single component is such a negligible thing when it comes to criticism! (At least in my mind)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it is definitely in how everything comes together. Even what seems like a really stupid idea can end up being quite entertaining if they manage to put things together just right.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You know, while reading this post, I kept on thinking how I haven’t watched that many Isekai shows. So, even if I was confronted with a generic Isekai character, settings or events, it wouldn’t bother me a whole lot. For me, it would be something new. Ah, I think what I wanted to say is, apart from how clichés can be reinvented, sometimes the most generic things can be a revelation for someone new?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely. It explains why fans of older anime sometimes dismiss new shows where new viewers sometimes fall completely in love with anime for the same show. For older viewers it sometimes feels derivative where for someone new to anime it feels fresh and it does it well and that’s what they needed.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I will admit to being one of the “bad guys” as much as I love a unique anime, I also love my go to tropes on busy weeks and when I don’t have much time to pay attention. It’s nice sometimes when you’re busy to just multitask while thinking “ah yes, this is when the male MC is caught peeping on the female MCs (even though that’s not really what he’s doing) but the misunderstanding causes her/them to beat him into outer space…. Oh, and there’s the nosebleed” 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is something comforting about familiar patterns sometimes. Now, if it happens too often or if the story doesn’t offer anything new it might get a little too much, but I can’t deny there’s something fairly comforting about knowing the roadmap of where something is going.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think we’re seeing all these repetitive tropist anime because they sell, and the studios can only get funding if they can guarantee a certain audience size for world export. It works for world audiences, but it takes fewer risks than we saw before 2006, when the derivative bubble burst and anime streaming got reliable and cheap, coincidentally. Available funds to buy anime evaporated then, and piracy was so cheap it was pointless to try and sell. Older fans like (and Irina) talk with our anime friends about this kind of change from the old days. The new shows are beautiful, and they often include references to stuff we’ve seen from the old days, so the in-jokes keep coming, and we have a good laugh. There’s also good reason for youngsters like yourself to watch some of the old 4:3 shows so you’ll get the jokes too. All the Explosion jokes are referencing the Dragon Slave spell from Slayers, which is over 30 years old now. We get the joke, and we laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

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