The Different Perceptions of “Realism” in Anime Among Fans

What does it mean for an anime to be “realistic?”

It’s a question which seems simple, until you realize that different people interpret and prioritize different aspects of an anime as “realism” based on their own personalities and beliefs.

Take the Gundam franchise for instance. Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers for what is the “most realistic” Gundam series. Let’s look at just Universal Century.

Some will say First Gundam, because of the complex morals the characters possess.

Some will say Zeta Gundam, because it shows how easily government corrupts.

Some will say Gundam 0083, because of the grittiness and detail of the technology and battles.

Some will say 0080 War in the Pocket because of its depiction of what impact war has on the innocent.

Some will say 08th MS Team because of the way it follows the down-to-Earth “common soldier.”

And so on.

In every case, the supporters are correct, but only when they define “realism” by their own standards. Just as easily, I can accuse First Gundam of being unrealistic for having characters realize things a little too quickly, or Zeta for its over-the-top characterizations. I can accuse 0083 of being unrealistic for a lack of depth in its characters, and 0080 for being too preachy in its anti-war message. I can even accuse 08th MS Team of not being about the REALLY common soldiers, i.e. the ones NOT riding in Mobile Suits, or simply say that Gundam as a whole is nowhere close to “realistic” because the concept itself is preposterous.

The idea of “realistic romance” also has the same issue. Is a show realistic because the characters talk like real people? Is a show realistic because it conveys emotions in a way that is easily relatable? Is a show realistic because nobody falls in love (provided you believe true love isn’t realistic)?

You can already see some of the different ways to define “realism” in regards to fiction. There’s an external realism, where everything looks and acts as it does in the real world. There’s an emotional realism, where the characters’ feelings appear to be so genuine that they mirror your own. There’s a conceptual realism, where complex ideas and ideologies show a world of shades of gray. But in these cases and beyond, how we define realism is of course based on our experiences in life.

It’s just up to us whether or not we want to understand everyone else’s “reality.”

9 thoughts on “The Different Perceptions of “Realism” in Anime Among Fans

  1. I asked this question not so long ago too, though it was triggered by people’s claims of White Album being “realistic” and/or “unrealistic”. Experiences does affect one’s own perception of reality, but realism in fiction goes far beyond just ‘realistic = something that really happens in reality’.

    You seem to be on the same boat as moritheil on this one, at least based on this comment of his.

    Quoting gaguri’s comment: “When you cease to ask, ‘hey I haven’t seen these characters act this way in real life’ and start being immersed into their stories, sympathetic towards their thoughts, feelings and actions, then that is realism enough for me.” I find myself thinking (or feeling) this way too now…

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  2. I think “realism” generally applied is meaningless; but specifically applied it can be useful. Any given work of fiction is rarely going to be realistic on all counts, so it’s better to point out where the work is realistic–and where the work is not. It’s a strengths and weaknesses kind of thing.

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  3. For me what counts is emotional realism. That is–no matter how fantastic the plot or situation–the fundamental question: would an actual human being of these character traits think, feel, and act in the way that is being portrayed? It applies in a giant robot or in a harem romance.

    Emotional realism and depth is really also about nuance, about ambiguous motives, inner conflict, and messy conclusions. That sort of thing transcends genres.

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  4. People who care about realism in entertainment (in cartoons, no less) just have a giant stick up their ass. They should just relax and enjoy cartoons, jeeze.

    That’s not to say that a degree of realism isn’t neat in entertainment (OR IN A CARTOON) but I don’t think it’s necessary. If people want REALISM just hang out in some war-torn country. That shit’s real. I’m sure they’ll dig it.

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  5. Yeah. In fact, a lot of adjectives create this problem, since there’s no consensus about what the adjective means. Take these descriptions:

    “The show has good characters.”

    “It has a great plot.”

    “The characters are likable.”

    What do “good,” “great,” or “likable” mean in these contexts? I have my own pet definition of “great plot,” but does that match up with others’ expectations?

    We’re not specific enough.

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  6. Yep, realism is a silly term. Am I supposed to say that Soul Eater is realistic in it’s portrayals of mankind struggling over madness? Realistic in a shounen action fantasy? I’ve heard people say they liked Eden of the East because it was ‘realistic’. I wanted to take a shit down those peoples’ throats.

    IMO: Fuck realism, because you are watching anime. You didn’t come to something illustrated because you wanted it to be just like real life. And you’ll never truly get it. Even if FLAG is the ultimate ‘real robot’ show and has the most realistic characters and world set-up, it still dodges questions like ‘hey, why the fuck do we need a humanoid robot, seriously?’

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  7. I don’t want phony conflict, no matter how cute or well constructed; I want vicarious struggle, no matter how freaked-out and sloppy. The kind of anime realism that engages me is simply this: a sense that the anime had real meaning, importance, or urgency to the people who made it–that you can feel a person’s struggle, passion, or energy behind it. It doesn’t have to be a grim struggle like EVANGELION–it can be a slamdance like FLCL. It doesn’t have to be any particular genre. It can make sense or not make sense. It can be high-concept or low-brow. It could have some manly elements, or some moe. It could even be a relaxing anime–but not the kind just like sinking back into a pillow; I want the kind that feel like lying on the grass under the sun and sky. Just as long as you can feel somebody behind that anime–somebody who doesn’t want to be just sprawled on a couch or hunched before a monitor. Who doesn’t want to, even if they find themselves there.

    There’s nothing wrong with relaxing anime, the kind that are just like sinking back into a pillow. But whereas a person in better health would then get up from bed, refreshed, the otaku just rolls over, and fucks the pillow. The problem here isn’t the eroticism or emotional appeal of drawings and figurines. Otaku decidedly did not invent that shit; it goes way back–consult your Ovid. The problem is when otaku find they have ended up at a place where they are expending so much of their time, money, and artistic talent on stuffing pillows. Pillows with a “plot,” pillows with “personality types,” pillows with “character growth,” but still, the underlying product, the cradle and the receptacle, a pillow.

    To my mind, the answer isn’t to reject moe for manly, if manly means the kind of robot toy and puroresu aesthetic that used to keep anime grounded, before those horrible moe fans came in and ruined everything. All you’re doing in that case is trading pubescence for pre-pubescence, but you haven’t made any progress towards actually growing. If all those tender buds make you feel queasy, it’s not progress to chew on the seeds. What you’re supposed to do with a medium is move it forward, and make it flower. Art is supposed to be a part of life, an enhancement of life, a critique and engagement within life–not a substitute for it. When a person really believes and insists that anime’s proper role is to give them consolation from life, they are insisting that anime be dead.

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  8. Pingback: Realism: Gundam Thunderbolt vs. Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans | OGIUE MANIAX

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