It’s become a fairly common criticism of a number of shows. It’s trying too hard to be…It’s just trying to be edgy…It’s trying too hard to be deep…And this week we added the question of whether or not Banana Fish was trying too hard to be shocking.
As I read these sorts of comments and questions, I just have to wonder if we’d all prefer writers didn’t try. If they all just settled into a generic status quo where you never stick your neck out, never take your plot too seriously due to fear of someone accusing you of trying too hard, and where every character has that knowing and self-deprecating personality so that they could never be accused of trying too hard.
Honestly that doesn’t sound like such a fantastic alternative and even while I might agree that some shows miss their mark for what they were attempting to achieve or came across to ham-fisted in conveying their emotional angst rather than providing a nuanced watching experience, I still find the comment ‘trying too hard’ to be fairly meaningless. Of course they were trying. They may not have succeeded but you can see what they were aiming for. And that is where more useful criticism can come into the equation. Why haven’t their efforts hit the mark? Why aren’t you moved emotionally but rather being critical? Was it all too far removed from reality or was it more that they hadn’t developed the characters sufficiently for you to care about their overwrought experience?
So do we address the question of whether or not Banana Fish is trying too hard to be shocking? Not really. What we need to ask instead is does Banana Fish succeed in being shocking or has repeated rape attempts, violence, and torture of characters we’re still only just getting to know (because the plot hasn’t slowed down for even a moment) diminished the impact of the shocks? Opinions will vary on that and that’s just fine but saying the show is trying too hard to be shocking doesn’t help. Quite clearly it is trying to shock. Whether it is succeeding is the question of the day.
Likewise, do we address the question of whether Your Lie in April is trying too hard to hit audiences’ in the feels? Again, that is exactly the purpose of the writing, the narrative, and everything else in the show. Of course it is trying to make audiences feel. So let’s ask instead, does it succeed? Given the huge fan base (and my own personal experience in tears toward the end) I would suggest for the most part, yes. Then again, there will still be viewers who are either more cynical or just don’t connect with these particular characters would say no. And there we can have a discussion about what does and doesn’t work. When we just accused the show of trying too hard didn’t further the discussion in the slightest.
You mean they tried to do something?
We could also look at the regular criticisms of shows like Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul as trying too hard to be dark, edgy or whatever else the buzz word of the week might be. Now, those two descriptors in and of themselves (dark and edgy) have been used to the point of almost meaninglessness and again you have to ask whether or not it is succeeding at making something that is dark in its themes that is still enjoyable for you to watch or whether the need to repeatedly throw blood and violence at the screen is something that detracts from the viewing or not. And again, answers will vary and these are ideas that can be shared and discussed with evidence and reasons.
I don’t mind shows that try. I want them to. I want them to aspire to achieve great things and to tell their story with conviction. I want the writers and directors to have a vision, commit to it, and bring it to life. I want people to try so hard to produce something and then I want them to try some more. The end results may not hit the mark. They may have more ambition than talent. Their aspirations may rise far above their budget.
But you know what?
If they stop trying we’re going to have a lot more bland stories out there as no one is game to take a risk or to try to be anything.
Thanks for reading.
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