Recently, a friend of mine told me that he was going to watch Kamisama no Memo-Chou, and I, having watched 5 episodes and dropped it, decided to tell him that it really wasn’t very good. I told him about how I thought the first episode was pretty great, with solid writing and an impressive sense of style, and how I initially thought it would be a much better show than I thought it would be beforehand, but it squandered much of its potential, becoming fairly repetitive and dull. Somehow, among him getting pissed off at me for dropping it before the ending, and me recommending some other shows he should watch instead, he asked me if I liked Naruto, to which I responded that no, I actually kinda hate it.
I’m not a fan of long-running Shonen, I find that due to its nature, and the fact that the plot is just sorta being made up as it goes along, I find the genre to be poorly written in most cases, devolving into overlong fights and trite dialogue. This was pretty much where the conversation ended, after he told me he no longer trusted my opinion and claimed that Naruto was extremely well written. So here I am, ranting about what I believe to be quality writing in anime. It’s not as cynical as it sounds, trust me.
I’ve been re-watching Bakemonogatari, and that is my go-to example of good writing in anime. Dialogue is handled extremely well, with every line having a purpose, and the smallest of asides often say more about the characters than many other shows do throughout their entire runs. And speaking of characters, they’re all pretty great. They aren’t just archetypes; they have quirks and bizarre idiosyncrasies, because, you know, most people do, this, I should mention, is not a realistic show by any stretch of the word, but it still manages to be both relatable and extremely entertaining. Conversation moves at a snappy pace, in a manner similar to that of films by Quentin Tarantino, and a lot is left up to the imagination, people don’t need everything spelled out to them, the mind is fairly incredible, and is capable of filling in the blanks by itself.
Therein lies one of my primary problems with Shonen, it’s often just about the spectacle. Everything is very cut-and-dry, everything is told to the audience so that they couldn’t possibly miss a thing. After all, who wants to think? There’s a 5-episode long fight to be had. I don’t mind spectacle, I thought Redline was fairly brilliant, and the plot definitely takes a backseat in that. No, the reason I dislike it in Shonen is that it just isn’t entertaining enough to back it up, and isn’t that what writing should be; entertaining? At the very least, it should be able to illicit some kind of emotional response. When a joke is well told, I laugh; when a fight is well-executed, I get excited; when Drama is pulled off well, I should feel a connection to the characters. I get none of that from Shonen, emotions, too, take a backseat to the action, and most long-running Shonen doesn’t even have the budget to make those fights look very good.
Bakemonogatari manages to take these problems and work them in its favour. It doesn’t have the greatest animation in the world, but it makes up for it with one of the most unique visual styles I’ve ever seen, and it’s not just there for show, the visuals were perfectly in line with Bakemonogatari’s tone and atmosphere, and not a thing feels unnecessary. Whereas Shonen, to quote Zero Punctuation reminds me of a politician “someone who can talk for hours and never say anything”, Bakemonogatari always seems to be saying something. Even if an episode is almost entirely made up of two characters just sitting around, talking to pass the time, hell, the visuals themselves tell their own story.
And really, that’s what I’ve been getting at, writing in Shonen never feels deliberate, and I resent that. Don’t waste the viewer’s time by repeating the same thing constantly, maybe all Shonen writers have really low opinions of High School students, that they can’t think for themselves. But here I am, a High School student, and I’m listing everything I think is wrong with the genre. When your target audience is attacking you, that’s when you’ve got a problem, so please, try and act a bit smarter, OK?, High Schoolers aren’t quite as stupid as you think they are, and you’ll reach a broader audience at the same time.