Misunderstood Shows

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.

20 thoughts on “Misunderstood Shows

  1. I know how you feel. I’ve ranted about this many times, but I feel that Ouran High School Host Club is often dismissed or admired just for being over-the-top shoujo parody with lots of pretty boys and slashy set-ups.

    In reality, the show– and even more so the manga –is incredibly intelligent in the way that it depicts its characters. To be sure, the humor is generally bright, zany, goofy parody…but the dramatic moments of Host Club virtually always revolve around the characters being teenagers trying to figure out who they are.

    That’s in stark contrast to most shoujo series. Let’s take some current examples, Special A or Itazura na Kiss. Both are decently done; I actually have become pretty fond of Special A now that I’ve read the manga. But their dramatic moments are all of the contrived romantic type and less introspective.

    Those romantic drama moments can have their place, but I think Host Club really stands apart in mostly avoiding them in favor of simple character growth (with the exception of the final anime arc and recent manga chapters, and in the case of the latter, they’re handled extraordinarily well…especially if you’ve ever read Bisco Hatori’s first work, Millennium Snow, which is pretty mediocre in comparison).

    …Sorry, ranteriffic. But yes, I thoroughly understand what you mean about misunderstood series.

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  2. I agree, Ouran is a show I can’t seem to ever get my friends to watch because they write it off as too gay. Not gay as in derogatory but gay as in homosexual.

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  3. @sdshamshel: “I agree, Ouran is a show I can’t seem to ever get my friends to watch because they write it off as too gay. Not gay as in derogatory but gay as in homosexual.”

    Yet I bet they love Code Geass… ^_^

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  4. This is a fairly nice post, and I think that the root of your issues lies in the fact that both Hokuto no Ken and Lucky Star are shows that are popular in the sense that people talk about it – a lot. That creates these misunderstandings imho. So… it’s possibly a chicken and egg problem?

    To gia’s comment: I wonder if the manga of Ouran actually had the same impact on me as the anime. I agree with gia that the anime is outstandingly intelligent, especially Kyouya’s background story – but does that apply to the manga?

    On a side note: I have never read Hokuto no Ken, but of course I’ve heard about it. Am I not manly enough? *hrr*

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  5. I think there is nothing specially worth noting in the example of Hokuto no Ken. Some people like it for the violence and could care less about the “passion” but that is fine. As long as you can get what you want out of it…

    I personally dislike Lucky Star because it’s crappy otaku humor no matter how it may try to invite people to…do what? Watch the show and spend money on merchandise? Gee, that’s something I’ve never see before alright. It’s one thing to make a show about the fans that watches said shows, it’s another entirely different matter to make such a show enjoyable. For some, the enjoyment comes from being a show that fans enjoy, but that’s no different than enjoying Hokuto no Ken just because you enjoy exploding heads.

    The real problem about a show’s reputation comes when people avoid perfectly good shows they could enjoy because of it, and I don’t really see it happening for either show.

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  6. I’ve explained in the past just how Lucky Star actively engages the otaku community, but I guess it bears repeating.

    Yes, there is the buying of merchandise. Therein lies the first example: the Patty and Konata CD which the two of them actively shill on the show, telling the fans that this object that exists in the show also exists in reality.

    The examples go far beyond merchandise though.

    In one Lucky Channel, Shiraishi Minoru asks the viewers to consider that the definition of “tsundere” has changed over time, thus opening up discussion on how moe itself may be changing. It is telling fans to discuss among themselves facets of their own otaku subculture.

    In another episode, we see that Kagami and Tsukasa work at a specific shinto shrine during the new year’s. This shrine exists in the real world as well, and subsequently became a popular attraction for otaku. Some otaku even left messages there such as “Konata is my wife.” Later in the series, when Konata and the other girls visit a shrine on a school trip, Konata comes across a message tied to a tree which says, “Konata is my wife.”

    THIS is what I mean by the fact that Lucky Star is aware of its own fans, and no show has ever done it to the extent that Lucky Star has.

    This is different point from the humor, and you’re welcome to dislike that aspect of it (as well as the active engagement part), but you’re acting like this is something that’s been done before and it really isn’t.

    As for Hokuto no Ken, your thinking is off when you separate the violence and the passion of the characters to that extent. How it really works is that the initial violence is what gets people to check out the series, but it’s the raw emotion of each and every encounter that keeps people reading, and it does so in a way that has yet to be matched by its shounen descendants.

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  7. I don’t think you mean what “actively engages the otaku community” actually means? Just because the anime itself presents an opportunity to talk otaku within its own confines doesn’t mean fans are going to do anything else different than they were already doing. You might as well say “having a seiyuu stage show actively engages the otaku community.”

    What you really mean is that it plays on the nature and aspects of the fan community?

    If anything Lucky Star came off more like a cheap way to cash in on something people were already doing. It’s a very simple example of art imitating life, and fans responded to it no different than any other popular anime. Look at Macross Frontier for contrast. It does exactly the same thing Lucky Star does (regarding merchandise) within its confines but it works all those tie-ins within the premise of the show rather than casual 4th-wall-ish non-sequiturs. In episode 10 it even gives a tongue-in-cheek self-critique on one of its more modern chapters of the franchise.

    I think people can definitely agree or disagree with what you are premising as what Lucky Star has accomplished, and what it intended to do, which explains why the show has the reputation you think it has.

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  8. “As for Hokuto no Ken, your thinking is off when you separate the violence and the passion of the characters to that extent. How it really works is that the initial violence is what gets people to check out the series, but it’s the raw emotion of each and every encounter that keeps people reading, and it does so in a way that has yet to be matched by its shounen descendants.”

    It isn’t really my thinking as I am just stating my plain observation of various fan’s reaction after watching Hokuto no Ken. Just because some people like it different than the way you like it doesn’t mean it is the only or preferred mode of liking it.

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  9. Macross Frontier makes plenty of references to its fans, but as you said, it’s done in the confines of its story and its universe, and is mostly clever nods to its fans and its history. Macross Frontier is chock full of such things.

    This is not what I’m talking about.

    I am talking about the fact that Lucky Star pretty much goes, “HEY YOU! OTAKU! CHECK THIS OUT. THIS SHOW KNOWS WHO YOU ARE. YES YOU. OVER THERE IN THE HAT.” Macross Frontier tries to be an enduring show with roots in the past. Lucky Star tries to be a show very much in the present that entrenches itself into the otaku subculture as it exists in the here and now.

    You’re welcome not to like it, which seems to be the case as you refer to it as “4th-wallish-non-sequiturs” but really, give me an example of a show that embraces the living otaku subculture to the extent that Lucky Star does, even if it’s done with profit in mind.

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  10. My point is pretty simple: people can like whatever show however they like. Someone who likes how Lucky Star has all these direct references to otaku culture is no different than someone who likes Hokuto no Ken because Kenshiro is cool and explodes things.

    But for me, the problem with Lucky Star is well-summed-up by your little example. Ever walk past a strip joint at a seedy part of some unnamed city?

    “HEY YOU! CHECK THIS OUT. THIS SHOW KNOWS WHO YOU ARE AND WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF. YES YOU. OVER THERE IN THE HAT”

    Sorry, as cheap as otaku culture is today, Lucky Star was a tad too low for comfort. And it’s sort of ironic how in the same post you decry the same kind of cheap marketing that plagued anime in the 90s.

    And to answer your question: Genshiken?

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  11. omo: Nah that’s Kanokon. And it does so by accident. Also, cynical much? You’re worse than I am on a bad day. Sure the Haruhi ad was obviously too much for comfort I agree but…

    Konata makes for a cute longhaired Haruhi cosplayer and I’m not particularly the biggest fan of both series.

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  12. I’m not even having a bad day, but I admit my tone is definitely too rude, so I apologize.

    But the thing is, Kanokon doesn’t have any fanboys praising it as some kind of activity that “engages in the otaku culture.” Lucky Star on the other hand… well, there are some things the show did well, which is why I even bothered to watch it all.

    I think people need to realize that one man’s T&A is another man’s cosplay reference to some other show–they’re all good.

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  13. I think that, in general, Japanese animation and comics do an amazing job of exploding the mundane and making what should, by all rights, be laughably ridiculous into something human, relatable, and touching. I think HnK does all those latter things: good super robot anime does it too.

    There’s this interview with Hirohiko Araki where he plots a bunch of popular manga on a scale: the up/down is focus on introspective development versus plot development, and the left/right is the classical method versus the abstract, more or less. He labels HnK as about halfway into the “emotional section”, because, you know, it’s really just about these brothers working out their weird kung-fu issues.

    http://comipress.com/article/2006/07/25/516

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  14. I love that chart if only for the fact that according to it Golgo is like the perfectly balanced manga.

    Also, I suspect that there’s a secret third variable of FABULOUSNESS indicated by a title being written in the color red

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  15. Pingback: Omonomono » The Facination with Objective Ranking

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