As kids, when we first start watching anime, we kind of get the impression it is all giant robots and lots and lots of fighting (or magical girls, which are much the same except that they’ll hit you with sparkly hearts instead of a sword and the results will be more or less identical). For me, growing up with Sailor Moon and the like, that is what anime was and while it was cool and all, I probably wouldn’t have become the obsessed anime fan I am today except that there is so much more to anime than that.
As the internet actually became functional for watching videos (believe me if you didn’t grow up being introduced to dial up where waiting for even a single page of text to load was torture you have no idea how painful it was to try to watch or access anything else and even after dial up was a thing of the past slow internet speeds continued to be a major problem for access in Australia) there came the realisation that there were all these other types of anime out there. Suddenly, anime wasn’t just the beat ’em up amusement for when you felt like turning your brain off but was something that could be explored and where stories of all sorts could be found.
And that’s where this feature actually gets started because realising that anime wasn’t just about kids beating monsters meant that you then had to say more than just watching anime. You were watching a shounen or a mecha or a romance or a myriad of other types of anime. And then you get those series that you just can’t explain what genre they are at all.
Let’s look at Angel Beats. I love this anime even if it makes me cry every single time I watch it; even if it is deliberately contrived to pull on your heart strings. So it’s a drama then? Not really. Certainly there are dramatic elements and the conclusion of the series would have you believe it is a drama or a romance but the show itself deals out healthy doses of comedy, action, slice of life, and fantasy. To simply call it a drama would not really get the point across at all and anyone who started watching it expecting a drama would probably hate it by episode 2 because the first two episodes deal very much with the comedy and fantasy elements of the show.
Now mixed genres are certainly not exclusive to anime stories. Many movies and books cross several genres particularly romances. The number of hybrid genres that have become mainstream such as romantic-comedy, historical-romance, and supernatural-romance are clear indicators that while romance is indeed a big genre people tend to prefer their romance paired with something else these days. It helps keep things interesting and moving.
If we were to look at a show like Full Metal Alchemist defining genre becomes really difficult. MAL lists it as an action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, magic, military, shounen. And yes, all of those genre elements are there. But what genre is Full Metal Alchemist? If we were going to file it somewhere under a genre title which one would we choose? I’d probably go with adventure given the whole thing follows the journey of the main characters but you could legitimately choose any of the other genres listed there and justify why FMA should be there.
So the question becomes, does genre matter? Why classify things if they are going to cross between genres and incorporate other elements?
From my point of view I think it is because regardless of the window dressing, stories tend to follow set patterns and that pattern is embedded within a genre. That is why Angel Beats ultimately is a drama and Full Metal Alchemist ultimately is an adventure story at least from my point of view and I fully accept that other people will classify them differently. Despite the comedy and all the other elements that come in to create subplots, excitement, or just fill time, these stories when broken down follow patterns that we are very familiar with. It is this adherence to basic story patterns that makes something mixed genre rather than just a mess of ideas that may or may not come together into something comprehensible.
One thing I’m fairly certain of is that we’re going to see more and more stories (anime or otherwise) that will push the boundary of the genre they are in and draw on elements of other genres. Whether they do this well will remain to be seen.
What are your thoughts on genre in anime?
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