Well-known shows tend to gain reputations, good or bad, that dictate how people view those shows. Often times, these reputations are deserved, but there are some instances where the general impression of that show is primarily because of a lack of understanding. Two easily misunderstood series that come to mind are “Hokuto no Ken” and “Lucky Star.”
These examples, Hokuto no Ken and Lucky Star, don’t have to do with whether or not I think a show is good or bad. I like Maria-sama Ga Miteru but I can generally understand why some people don’t like it and their reasoning tends to be justified. Dragon Ball Z is another one where the reasons behind its popularity/anti-popularity tend to be very transparent. I don’t think the same thing applies 100% to either of the two titles.
Hokuto no Ken is one of the most popular shounen series of all time and the archetype of the shounen manga that we know today in the form DBZ, Saint Seiya, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and so on. Its most famous feature is most definitely the various methods through which Kenshiro causes severe cerebral (and bodily) hemorrhaging in his opponents. While this image is certainly not undeserved, it’s also the leading cause of why people are mystified as to its popularity. Some people even mistake it as “silly” or “comedic,” not understanding that the real appeal behind HnK is the way in which passion is imbued into every single situation. The 90s release of the Fist of the North Star movie in the US by Streamline Pictures is partly to blame for all of this, as the movie pales in comparison to the original manga or the tv adaptation. Kenshiro is not just a skilled assassin, he is a compassionate human being who fights for the downtrodden and wishes to save the world, and it’s this conviction which carries the entire story. Exploding heads are merely there to display Kenshiro’s amazing power, which certanly impresses the boys reading it, but also is contrasted with his kindness and humanity.
Lucky Star is sometimes called the “Anime Version of Family Guy.” The problem here is that people do not see beyond the use of references and into the differences in the way humor is delivered. Lucky Star almost never uses non-sequiturs in its jokes, and most of the time the jokes are either observational or involve some sort of set up. The references used, no matter how obscure, relate strongly to the situation at the time, rather than employing the cut-aways that make Family Guy famous and derided by Eric Cartman. As to why Lucky Star is popular, references alone would not be enough as plenty of shows for otaku employ references. The real reason why Lucky Star is popular is that it’s an incredibly self-aware show. It knows otaku are watching and it does more than wink and nod, it outright asks fans to interact with the show itself.
I think it is up to us fans to try and accurately convey what a show is like to new viewers. I know it isn’t easy, and I personally find it difficult to explain most anime to people because the way stories are set up tends to be very different from how stories can be summarized in the American culture of which I am a part. Professional attempts tend not to fare much better either after all (the Chobits manga ad, for example). I just hope that people are able to like or dislike a show for actual reasons rather than simply misunderstandings.