Some would call these anime’s proudest traditions, but not the respondents of a poll who’re craving something different.
Japanese animation is famous for more actively courting the attention of teens and young adults than its western counterpart. That said, anime is still, undeniably, a youth-oriented entertainment medium.
Because of that, when certain tropes or settings strike a chord with viewers in Japan, you can be sure that dozens of other series will do something similar. Yes, this does run the risk of saturating the market with similar content, but many producers are willing to gamble that a large number of fans will have moved on to other, non-anime hobbies by the time a feeling of repetition really sets in, and so they’d better get what economic lifeblood they can from current fans now, and by the safest, most reliable means.
In other words, stick around long enough, and you’ll start to notice patterns aplenty in anime scenarios. Student Internet portal My Navi Gakusei no Madoguchi recently polled 269 college students (129 male and 140 female) who regularly watch Japanese animation and/or read Japanese comics, asking them what anime and manga situations they’re sick of seeing over and over again, and found particularly negative reactions to the following five.
This was actually a bit of a surprising choice. Sure, some moderately high-profile series, like Birdy the Mighty and Kokoro Connect, have involved characters switching or sharing bodies, and it’s the primary hook of mega-hit Your Name, but a lot of casual observers wouldn’t point to this as one of anime’s go-to storytelling devices. Nevertheless, many of the survey respondents said they’ve already seen enough works that fall into this category. One woman wrote the genre off with “You know what’s going to happen,” and apparently has no desire to sit through another anime where the two souls learn to appreciate each other’s differences through joint body custody.
2. Time travel
Time travel series have been picking up steam, with the convention showing up in Re:Zero, Steins;Gate, and Puella Madoka Magica. “There’s a surprising sameness to [time travel anime],” declared one respondent, and she might have a point, as stories in this category almost always end up funneling the narrative towards a last-ditch attempt to avoid butting up against an unwanted future.
“They’re almost all exactly the same,” lamented one respondent, a problem which gets exacerbated by the current standard of 13-episode anime seasons. Introduce the main character, add potential romantic partners at the rate of one character per episode through meet cute or meet sexy moments, and by the time the harem is stocked, and there’s not much time left for anything of import to happen before the show has to wrap up.
4. Alternate world stories
Whisking the protagonist from our world to a parallel dimension where a grand adventure awaits is a quick and easy way to build a sense of mysterious tension and exotic excitement, but it’s also a tactic anime writers have been relying on since at least 1983’s Aura Battler Dunbine. “They’re boring, since you know what’s going to happen next,” grumbled one male respondent, with another giving the more specific complaint of “Eventually some god-like being makes an appearance, and that just spoils the fun.”
5. Bringing characters back from the dead
For a medium that’s extremely comfortable portraying violence, anime can sometimes be rather reluctant to let its stars rest in peace. “You just know they’re not actually dead,” said one male respondent.
The modern anime era, in which revenue generated from character merchandise is such an important channel of lifeblood for anime production companies, means that killing off a popular character is often a poor economic move, even if it’s an interesting narrative one. Resurrecting heroes and heroines isn’t exclusive to newer shows, though, as if you were an anime fan in the ‘90s you saw major characters in Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Fushigi Yugi eventually shake off death like it was just a particularly nasty cold.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that participants in the survey wish that some characters, and some of these storytelling patterns, would just die already.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he says no matter how much you hate alternate world stories, you should still watch Escaflowne.