Variety Limits

I’ve often been told that I cherish variety in my entertainment (particularly my anime) to an unusual degree,  and if there’s one anime I find myself getting into disagreements over more than anything else, it’s The Sky Crawlers (second might be Xam’d: Lost Memories).

Directed by Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell fame, I reviewed The Sky Crawlers favorably, noting that the way it’s able to effectively instill in the audience the same sense of mind-numbing monotony that the characters themselves experience is something quite impressive. Of course, that also makes it difficult to watch, something that can bore you beyond the point of no return, so the debates over the quality of The Sky Crawlers tends to come down to the following question: how entertaining should entertainment be?

The argument against The Sky Crawlers is that you can make a film which conveys that sense of monotony in its characters without having to drag the audience down with it, but my feeling has always been that this is just not the same effect. However, what I realize as well is that, as a person who highly values variety of content and concepts in my anime, it’s not so much that I think the approach taken by Oshii’s film is superior, that there is indeed something inherently more artistic about making the audience live that boredom, but rather that it is a valid approach to take in making a work of art (or entertainment). In other words, I would not want all of my anime to be like The Sky Crawlers, and I do not put it above other anime as I do not prize experimentation above all else: I simply like the fact that something like The Sky Crawlers exists.

Broadening the point of view to not just focus on something as esoteric as The Sky Crawlers, I have to wonder how much people are willing to welcome greater variety in anime provided they get enough of the types of anime they enjoy. We can talk about how there’s too much of X or Y genre of anime and how it might be stifling the kinds we enjoy, but what if that wasn’t the case, and the popular thing was the niche and vice versa? Is any imbalance problematic, or are “problematic” anime okay if they’re in small doses?

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4 thoughts on “Variety Limits

  1. This steps a little too close to the art:not-art argument. I think it devalues the entire medium if we can even concede that Sky Crawlers for Sky Crawlers’s sake is inferior to something more “fun” to watch. Of course, as a matter of preference, we can like whatever we like and watch whatever we watch or value different things, but then there is no argument if simply accept it for what it is.

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  2. I get into this kind of argument with my friends about Xam’d sometimes, when it comes to which half of the anime is superior. I think the second half is better, personally, which is quite the unpopular opinion. I believe it really boils down to how much and how long you’re willing to pick at the confusing aspects of a story as opposed to throwing your hands up and declaring it bad because it makes no sense.

    I’ve seen The Sky Crawlers as well, and I do admit that it’s really hard to watch attentively. I don’t have as high of an opinion of it as you do, but your interpretation makes sense to me. Enough so that I might rewatch it to see what you’re talking about.

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  3. For me, Sky Crawlers is a very European, very arty film, something that could have been made in France in the ’60’s. The picture is built up in a series of vignettes, and conclusions are inferred, rather than stated. The non-war has gone on so long that all the heroism and adventure has been dried out of it, and the only thing left for the pilots is the flying. To modify a baseball quote about seasons, after you are done with a mission, what you do is sit and stare out the window and wait for the next mission.

    I think the anime is not so much boring as it requires the right mindset to watch. It’s like the difference between baseball and football, or maybe between cricket and …. football.

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  4. Pingback: That which survives | HEARTS OF FURIOUS FANCIES

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