Friday’s Feature: Why We Need To Stop Mocking Stories For Trying

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.

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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?

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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.

Your Lie in April

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?

Shocking Truth

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.

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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.

Karandi James

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40 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Why We Need To Stop Mocking Stories For Trying

  1. There is such a thing as trying too hard though. I agree that shows should try but some stuff really does feel overblown. Let’s say, King’s Game as an example, which you know I love, but is definitely on the, “trying a bit too hard” department. So clearly I font think it’s always even a bad thing but it can present in the detriment to the media like it did for many people.

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    1. I think we have slightly different definitions of trying too hard given the example you’ve given. For me, King’s Game (despite my enjoyment of it) feels incredibly lazy. Like they’ve just thrown shocks at the audience to try to mask poor writing and a plot that ultimately doesn’t make a lot of sense. I felt very little thought behind it. While I agree it is overblown, it isn’t a title I would ever claim had actual effort put into it (in terms of wanting to be more than just generic horror) so I wouldn’t have even considered it as a possible candidate for trying, let alone trying too hard.

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  2. Good post.

    For me, a show only “tries too hard” when it has sci-fi or psychological bent to it and goes into overdrive with the philosophical and metaphysical endings, trying to infuse a deeply symbolic and intellectual meaning to its conclusion that actually makes zero sense!

    You know the type, when a protagonist is suddenly spirited away to somewhere that is inside their own soul and their conscience is in the form of a long lost relative or friend that was born under the same star, and they recount a deus ex machina tale of the protagonist and the antagonist once enjoying a past friendship until a traumatic experience caused a rift that was born out of a phantom presence possession their body, thus we get an existentialist struggle concerning…

    Yeah, that sort of thing is somebody trying too hard to appear clever and deep – or to sum it up, the entire Monogatari franchise! ๐Ÿ˜›

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    1. I’ve only ever watched one series in the Monogatari franchise and I barely remember it so I can’t comment on whether or not I agree with you on that one. I will admit there’s a few sci-fi and psychological shows that really do over-reach and haven’t done enough ground work for where they decide to take the story and they end up needing a few too many moments where the audience is just expected to accept something at face value because otherwise it makes no sense. I do recall feeling kind of this way at the end of Paranoia Agent. It all just kind of happened and I think they were aiming for a lot more than I got out of it in the end. I actually said in my review of it that the ending makes no sense unless you just suspend logical thought processes and I’m sure someone, somewhere is annoyed at me for that because they thought it was an amazingly deep analogy of something and feel I just missed the point.
      That said, I’d still hope I wouldn’t say it tried too hard. I appreciated Paranoia Agent for what it was and what I think it was trying to be. It might not have worked out, or maybe I did just miss the point, but at least I always remember that particular anime. It stood out for both what it did well and where it seemed a little clumsy.

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      1. Monogatari is a franchise that infuriates me because I don’t get it and can’t get into it, yet it is beloved by the masses, whose intense reverence of it makes me feel stupid and ignorant for not knowing what I am missing about it. :/

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  3. I think a large part with Banana Fish is that; the source material is several decades old now. Back in 1985 when the manga started; it was that shocking and startling that not only did it feature drugs, rape and other ‘taboo’ topics but it did so repeatedly. Unabashedly, and it was published and put on shelves. It was something very cutting edge and so extreme in most people’s eyes. I’m not saying every anime fan MUST know the source material in order to fully appreciate it (lord knows I’m guilty of only watching) but taking a step or two back and looking up those details certain can help understand why something is so ‘edgy’/’dark’, or whatever.

    Overall, I do agree I’d rather a show make an attempt at doing something rather then being bland. I’ll most certainly watch a show that’s ‘trying to hard to be X’ over something so boringly generic that I’ve seen a million times before already.

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    1. I will admit the Banana Fish anime has made me very interested in the source, unfortunately the first volume isn’t available at the moment from my usual online book shop so I’m waiting for it to get back in stock.

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  4. I often fall into saying the “Tries to hard” as a critique. For me, it’s best to look at it case by case. In Elfen Lied, there was a episode where it showed Lucy being bullied as a kid at school, and eventually breaking down. If it just showed her slowly falling apart I would have been fine accepting it. However, it shows Lucy bullies killing a puppy she took care off in front of her.

    At this moment, I felt like it was a cheap way to make me feel even sadder for Lucy in this situation, and took me out of the moment since it felt very far fetched little kids would be this cruel. Scenes like these are difficult for me to justify a single view on since it ensure it stays in people minds, but also carries the equal risk of loosing viewers engagement. I think it goes too far while my brother who loves the anime thinks otherwise. It’s a mutual disagreement for us on that scene.

    If something tries, and it fails than it gives me stuff to think about unlike something that doesn’t try. When something doesn’t bother at all it’s a boring watch. Unlike something that tries while failing leaves me things to think about.

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    1. The killing the puppy was definitely a pretty blunt way of trying to traumatise a character and to justify Lucy’s position and it was certainly included to make the audience feel for Lucy but as you said, a lot of viewers will just be put off by how cheap it feels given the situation has escalated so incredibly quickly and loses any kind of realistic grounding. And again, this is a case where that’s the discussion that needs to be had rather than just saying it tried too hard to be emotional. Because for some people, that scene landed exactly where it needed to and they caught those emotions, and for others the scene didn’t work and there are reasons for that. When we label it trying too hard we kind of cut off the discussion because we aren’t actually identifying what is wrong only that we didn’t really like it.

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  5. “Tries too hard” isn’t the same as “tries”, not even remotely. I honestly can’t see how anyone could confuse the two.

    A show “tries to hard” when it keeps beating you over the head with something. Or when it abandons subtlety and nuance in favor of browbeating and manipulation. Or when it just keeps hitting the audience without allowing them to breathe and time for the characters and story to develop.

    “Your Lie in April” is a prime example – it’s not that it tried too hard to hit us in the feels, it’s how they kept trying too hard to hit your in the feels. It’s that it *never* stopped reminding us of how horrible Kosei’s childhood had been – it often didn’t trust it’s audience to remember even so much as week. It seemed to have a quota of reminders that Kaori was Deathly Ill, etc… etc… It’s that we had no room or time to breathe because it just kept hitting us in the same spots in our feels – leaving them bruised and battered.

    Consider the new episode of Anime Crimes Division that dropped today – it can’t go even so much as a minute without reminding us “THIS IS A SPOOF AND A COMEDY”. That’s a prime example of “trying too hard”.

    “Trying too hard” is not a good thing. It’s bad writing and worse execution. And it’s something that we *should* be calling out when it occurs.

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    1. Only the judgement of where something is trying to achieve something or trying too hard to achieve something is a decision that each individual will make. There are plenty of viewers who don’t feel Your Lie in April is trying to hard but rather simply tried and succeeded at creating an emotional piece. So many things that have great effort and care being put into them get struck by the label of trying too hard simply because they tried to do something.
      Again, bad writing, lacking nuance, and poor execution are all things that should be called out, but none of these are the result of trying too hard. They are the result of inexperience, lack of finesse, poor planning or a myriad of other issues that could all be called out. Trying too hard doesn’t tell people what the problem is other than the show didn’t quite succeed at what it was aiming for. I think it is better to be specific about where the problem actually is rather than attacking a motive which may or may not be the cause of the issue.

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  6. I honestly donโ€™t mind it when animes try something. And it doensโ€™t always have to be something new either. If a show tries to be like another show, if done well…I will never complain about that. Take Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress for instance. It tried to be like Attack on Titan, but still put a twist on it. And in my opinion: it totally succeeded at that mission too ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š
    But when a show tries to do something new…that is even better. They might not always succeed, but I still appreciate the effort (or efforts) that were put into it ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

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    1. I know. The argument that something is just trying to be like something else isn’t really a convincing reason not to watch it. If it does a good job and delivers a good story, whether it was trying to be like something else or not becomes irrelevant to the enjoyment of watching it. The only problem comes when it doesn’t manage to pull off what it tried to do.

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  7. Ever since I watched Chivalry of a Failed Knight & Asterisk War I’ve really been noticing how many generic elements / aspects / plots / cliches / etc. anime share – and when they share too many of these generic things they are doomed to become “perfect 7” average anime that just hit a bunch of checkboxes and didn’t try to create any new ones.

    But that’s the “Rule of 7” at work in media, anime in this case. The creative differences involved to create a 10 can also risk creating a 1. Uniqueness / creativity in media is very polarizing that way. Which is why the easiest media to create is an average 7 that just follows the industry standards / mediocrity – which is clearly what we see a lot of now. From a business perspective it’s understandable that so many anime are these generic 7s.

    I dislike seeing so many anime that feel the same. And it really is a huge risk to try and create a 10 instead of settling on a 7 from the start. So I absolutely agree that we need to be more enthusiastic and applaud creative attempts. Hopefully the lessons learned by these producers in these attempts helps to create better anime in the future, even if it didn’t work out this time.

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    1. I agree. We learn from failure so trying but not succeeding might lay the groundwork for something better in the future whereas just doing what you already know will be okay isn’t going to produce anything more than something that is just okay. And a lot of the time even if the anime doesn’t hit the mark it was aiming for, you can see what it could have been and it still makes for an interesting viewing experience even if ultimately it isn’t quite there.

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      1. Yep. The biggest issue in reality is the consumers themselves who are willing to settle for average anime. As long as producers can intentionally make “7” average anime with good profit, they will.

        Not just anime too. A lot of video game series and television series that do the same thing. For example, as long as consumers are fine with FIFA 2018 being only slightly different from FIFA 2017, they will continue to make the same game over and over.

        In reality if we want to see more ambitious anime, we need to be harsher on average anime. Which in itself is a difficult thing at times I think. Of course this is mostly up to the Japanese consumers, but it’s an interesting topic to talk about here too.

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  8. Looking at it, would definitely want a series that tries its best then to follow a standard course and just be alright. I guess the problem to me is how hard the show wants to make it believable. If a show wants to jump from being one note to something extraordinary, is the transition reasonable? Do I suddenly find this more then just mindless entertainment?

    I keep thinking about Build Divers doing something interesting with it’s A.I. plot and possibly breaking it’s mold of just having characters fight, but the characters are still one note and underdeveloped as a whole and the whole plot did just turn into a big gundam fight. One with epic proportions but still just a fight.

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  9. Your Lie In April is the darker version of Nodame Cantabile in a shorter format. Instead of just being the story of a girl forced to play perfectly and beaten when she made mistakes, instead this girl has cancer and dies at the end. Beautiful story, but still a more focussed and darker twist than Nodame Cantabile, itself a MUSICAL version of Honey and Clover, only with art school replaced by music school with full support of Sony Classical Music Division specifically to sell their collection. Similar deal for April, to sell the soundtrack. April was more dramatic, and tries very hard, and if you’d never seen Nodame you’d think it was the most original anime ever, and I really liked the alternate versions of those classic pieces. April was great. But its less original than you’d think, and maybe deserves a bit of the “trying too hard” accusations. Anime fans have notoriously short memories, especially the new ones who want to see the new stuff at high quality, not the older stuff with lower quality animation because their budget was minimal. Like Nodame, like H&C, and like Ouran. Great shows, but not expensive ones.

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    1. What is wrong with it trying? Whether or not it is based on a previous story (which let’s face it, everything is and can be fit into a very small number of actual story-lines at their core) doesn’t change whether or not it in itself tries to be interesting or dramatic and it doesn’t change whether or not it succeeds.

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      1. And it was beautiful and properly asian-sad, too. Just not as original as it seemed. So if it borrowed 70% of its story from prior programs, and largely succeeded in evoking all the feels, was it trying so hard it succeeded? Or does it deserve the reminder its standing on the shoulders of giants? What do you think?

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        1. Well, if we talk movies the Eragon movie is almost a direct copy paste of the first Star Wars movie and came much later with better opportunities for visuals and all the rest. And yet the Star Wars movie managed to move a generation and the Eragon movie was swiftly forgotten. Given the sheer number of examples where just being derivative doesn’t actually net you good execution in delivering a story, I think any story that manages to deliver what it aims for deserves full credit. Because you know what, just following a laid out narrative plot does not always result in a decent product.

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          1. I agree! Excellent argument and example. And April was a beautiful version of Nodame, with a more focussed story on the performance side without the sidebar into conducting. I kinda wish they’d credited Nodame, since it was only a decade earlier and still showing on the Sony Website (Crackle) at the time April was being broadcast. More dramatic, all the feels, but you also feel kind of manipulated at times during the story.

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          2. That feeling of manipulation is definitely what does put some viewers off. But again, I don’t think that’s a case of ‘it tried too hard’. I think that is because the efforts, while pretty amazing, weren’t as nuanced as they needed to be (sometimes it feels because of the time they had) and the emotions did become too heavy handed at times to emotionally move the audience in the way they wanted (though clearly lots of people really enjoyed being taken on this ride and didn’t have a problem with it).

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          3. I think that more nuanced approach is part of why I like Sakura Project so much. Its about the realities of aging Japan, of rural towns dying because young people all move to Tokyo to have faster lives, and how rural towns are desperate for help, for people to move there and start families, so they can finally retire rather than work because there’s nobody else to do it and still keep the economy alive. That’s all kinds of nuance and subtext in the failures to draw in new residents, and the efforts of these mostly-failed actresses taking this contract to promote the town, and the hostility from the less idealistic older folks who know its going to fail and paying for these young idols is a waste of their money. Its a big and important political commentary hidden in plain sight, but approached in a humorous way, almost like a dark comedy in bright sunshine. And finally, I like the show because it establishes the moe of adult women.

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  10. Back in Fall 2015 I watched two mystery shows that aired that season: Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation, and The Perfect Insider. Of the two, I liked Beautiful Bones a lot better, but if you asked me three years later to tell you what I actually remember about each show, I could tell you far more about The Perfect Insider. Beautiful Bones was the textbook example of a competent light novel adaptation: decent character development, straightforward story, workmanlike execution, but it never took any risks or did much to make itself stand out. The Perfect Insider was often hard to watch, full of rambling, pretentious philosophical conversations among characters who thought they were smarter than they were, and a central mystery I found more confusing than satisfying in the end, but it also broke a few molds and tried some things that weren’t “typical” for anime. It had my favorite OP from that year, for instance, with a unique extended sequence featuring the three main characters as dancing pencil-test drawings. So even though I never want to watch it again, it kept me interested enough to stick with it to the end, and to still remember details about it years later, while Beautiful Bones was so unremarkable that I don’t even remember any of the characters’ names anymore besides Sakurako (and if hers wasn’t in the title, I doubt I’d remember that either).

    In short, I’m with you. Much more interesting to see a show aim high, even if it fails, than to see one succeed at being utterly unremarkable.

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    1. Despite its subject matter, Beautiful Bones really didn’t take many risks in how it told its story (other than leaving it unfinished which is pretty standard these days). I agree. It was perfectly pleasant but fairly forgettable in the long run.

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  11. I don’t mind when shows try too hard. You’d never know how or if some things work and if they don’t if you go for it and try. Some of the best storylines are born from ‘overdoing’ and ‘overthinking’ it. Some rabbit holes are worth falling into, even if there’s nothing world-changing within them.

    I do tend to mind shows that are pretentious, and I hate that word as much as anybody because it’s thrown around like confetti. I guess, in that situation, it’s shows that make it appear as if they put in more effort than they likely did. They try to force symbolism and meaning into things that just don’t have any, or, if they do, it’s very flimsy or silly.

    It’s even worse when the fanbase tries to force feed it to you. “You don’t like it because you just don’t GET IT. Pleb.”

    People can like whatever they like for whatever reason, but I don’t care for shows that make it seem like they’re better or smarter than they are just because there’s supposed to be some message or meaning I’m just not ‘getting’ Even when you do ‘get it’ you don’t ‘get’ why that makes it clever or good. It’s like a cheap ploy for quality points.

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    1. Pretentious is definitely another one of those overused words that at some point may have been valid criticism of the type of show you are describing but now gets thrown at anything that dares to even try to make the audience think or make some kind of statement.

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  12. Honestly, I have more of an issue with shows that don’t try to do anything to differentiate themselves from other series in the same genre, especially if their execution is average-to-poor. If a show tries, at least it’s making an effort. I’ll still pick it up on doing it badly if I think it does, but trying in itself is a good thing.

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    1. I agree. I have nothing against criticising shows that have tried but miss the mark and explaining why they have, but just saying its trying to hard just seems pointless. I really do want my shows to be trying to do something.

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