Sometimes it's cool to hate what's popular, and popular to hate what's cool! BUT WHY!?!
On the first and third Wednesday of each month, Crunchyroll is (mostly) proud to present "Shane-nanigans", an offbeat new column with a different topic every time, though we'll always have at least a remote relevance to anime, manga, or Japanese culture in general. So sit back, relax, don't kick anyone sitting in front of you, and you might just have a good time!
Last month, the internet clutched breathlessly at its chest and shed an enormous, camp-filled tear at the release of Kung Fury, a crowdfunded, independent, SWEDISH action movie paying over-the-top homage to all sorts of cheesy ‘80s cop movies that (as far as I know) don’t actually exist. Everywhere you looked it seemed to be trending (on the FaceBlogs and the TwitBooks alike!) and being endlessly praised, but one brave employee here at Crunchyroll dared to stand up and...take a...stand...against this hype-fueled, 30-minute long juggernaut of “80s cheese” and declare loud and proud that he didn’t like it.
I won’t out this brave soul here (two hints: he wears many hats and he is not me), but watching his crusade against mindless hype got me thinking a lot about hype backlash. For all you squares out there who aren’t hip to the lingo, hype backlash is a form of negative response to a piece of media that up to the moment of said response enjoyed almost universal praise. It’s despising a thing because it’s otherwise adored. It’s a beautiful, utterly bizarre form of criticism present in almost every media-driven subculture I can imagine.
Within the world of anime, there are countless (COUNTLESS!!) series endlessly praised or derided depending on whoever you’re talking with at the moment. When it comes to anime studios, however, few come to mind with more hype and corresponding backlash than good-old Gainax, everyone’s favorite purveyor of gorgeous animation accompanied by batshit (or just plain meaningless) storylines. So, yeah, let’s look at some kinda-sorta Gainax titles in hopes of better understanding this wild phenomenon called hype backlash.
1. Hipster Hype Backlash! - Gunbuster (1988)
If you ever want to know if someone’s a total hipster jerk about their anime, ask them what their favorite Gainax mecha series is. If their answer is Gunbuster, Gainax’s classic 1988 OVA, they’re either the aforementioned otaku hipster or something around 45 years old.
Not that Gunbuster is bad. Far from it, Gunbuster is a really entertaining mecha series with a great little story and some downright amazing action sequences. However, it’s the way someone who claims Gunbuster as an absolute masterpiece talks about it that leads to a case of what I’ve just now decided to call “Hipster Hype Backlash.” Gunbuster isn’t just good, it’s the best thing Gainax ever did. Expect to hear things like “Oh, you liked Eva? It’s ok, I guess, if you like that sort of thing. Nothing on Gunbuster, though.”
Hipster hype is all about making you, the non-hipster, feel like less of person for not being in on absolutely loving the series in question. In turn, Hipster Hype Backlash (™) is all about finding each and every fault in a series in a deadly counterattack to make the hipster feel bad about itself.
It’s a bizarre form of retaliation; a twisted game where you must take on the attitude of that which you most despise in order to triumph over it. Or at least make it scoff and frown.
Really though, Gunbuster is awesome and you (that means you, Stephen) should go watch it. Don't let elitist jerks ruin an awesome show for you.
2. Mass Hypesteria Backlash!- Kill la Kill (2013)
Whoa there, hold it, stop writing that angry comment! I know Kill la Kill is made by Trigger, Inc.! Honest, I do! That’s why this article is only “Kinda-sorta Gainax Edition!” But really, Trigger is like Gainax MK. II, making outlandishly creative and off-the-wall products that everyone loves. It was even founded by former Gainax employees! So, please, don’t murder me juuuust yet.
Anyway, over the last few years, I can’t think of a single anime (except for maybe Attack on Titan) that more people outright begged me to watch, with each and every plea promising me “OH MY GOODNESS YOU’LL LOVE IT IT’S THE BEST THING EVER.” Well, you know what? I didn’t want to watch it, not right then anyway, and every time another person with even the slightest interest in anime came up to me proclaiming that Kill la Kill would forgive my sins and deliver me up to Heaven, I wanted to watch it less and less.
This, in my experience, is the most prevalent form of hype backlash out there. Everyone’s talking about something, and even if you would normally be interested in a show or game or album of that sort, the nonstop praise and adoration from every angle simply turn you off. You’re sick of hearing about the damn thing, and as a result you just stick your head in the sand until the commotion starts to die down. I can think of a dozen TV shows airing right now that I feel the exact same way about.
Here’s the weird part, though: all those faceless masses who are practically stumbling over themselves and tying their tongue in knots to tell you about how awesome Kill la Kill or Game of Thrones or Dr. Who is? They aren’t wrong! Not entirely, anyway. Kill la Kill is a really cool, really fun show with some of the most exciting fight sequences to ever be animated. It’s got a great cast, a cool setting, and some surprisingly heartfelt storylines...but it’s definitely not the best thing ever. It’s just a really cool fighting show with loads of mayhem and fanservice.
So then why bother resisting what the masses tell you to like? Well, because...they’re the masses, and numbers of voices do not always mean quality. When someone who has just gotten into anime comes running up to you and says “HEY. WATCH THIS SHOW, BRUH.” you kinda give them a look like “Oh, yeah, that. It’s ok.” because you have to take it with a grain of salt. They’re a newbie, a beginner, and of course they’re gonna think this hot new show is the bee’s knees. But you! You’ve been around the block, you’ve seen all sorts of cool shit, and you aren’t about to fall into a frenzy over Kill la Kill. Or you (and by you I also mean me) might just be a jerk. ^_~
So what’s the lesson? Things everyone says are great aren’t always great, but there’s still a pretty strong chance they might at least be cool. Don’t be a jerk, watch Kill la Kill.
3. “Homage is Not a Thing” Backlash- Gurren Lagann (2007)
Holy shit, Gurren Lagann came out eight freakin’ years ago!? WHAT!?! Oh God, I’m so old…
Er, anyway, uh...so this is what you might hear any time someone has something negative to say about Gurren Lagann: “What, Gurren Lagann? I liked it a lot better when it was called G Gundam/GaoGaiGar/Getter Robo/Mazinger Z/whatever other super robot anime I can think of at the time.” Then they’ll scoff at you, pull down their sunglasses and take a sip of their craft beer or whatever the hell's in their hand.
What a useless statement. Seriously. If that’s how fiction really worked, we as a species should have packed up the whole operation years ago. Gurren Lagann is an awesome, awesome show, and like all things it has its flaws, but those flaws should never be listed as “Has a bit too much in common with another, older, super totally awesome super robot show.”
Back in the far-flung year of 2007, Gurren Lagann exploded into the world like a juggernaut of hot-blood and universe-shattering explosions. People loved it, and for a lot of them it was their first real exposure to the beauty of super robots or mecha in general. When something of this nature occurs, it can feel normal to be a bit angry or even hurt that your favorite show in the genre didn’t get the same love when it came out five years earlier.
This is why anyone who read Battle Royale was a little miffed when The Hunger Games devoured the planet Earth. People wanted the whole wide world to know their favorite thing did it first or did it better, and while maybe sometimes that’s valid, it’s not always the case.
Gurren Lagann is not a show that’s ignorant of the legacy of classic and modern super robot anime...hell, it’s an absolute celebration of them! Gurren Lagann is Gainax’s love letter to Go Nagai, Ken Ishikawa and all the other men and women responsible for every beautifully over-the-top mecha series ever. Hate it if you want, but you’d better have a better reason than “Spiral Power sure is a lot like G Stone Energy sure is a lot like Getter Rays.”
4. "Vagaries of Hype” Backlash- FLCL (2000)
I’m gonna be up front here, everyone. I hadn’t watched FLCL in its entirety until this year. I know, I know. Go ahead, throw your rocks and drown me in the river. Better late than never, right?
However!! I had watched episodes before...I just didn’t particularly like them, or really even understand what the big deal was supposed to be. Why was this? What was I missing? Where was the amazing show everyone had been promising me for nearly two decades?
I meditated (not really) on these hard (not really) questions for a whole five minutes before reaching a conclusion: saying something is awesome!!1!1 is really, really vague, and it means something different to everyone.
In my case, I get really into the story of things. I like a lot of plot and character development and action scenes that get me emotionally involved. I like to cry when the Merry Go saves the Straw Hat crew at the end of the Water Seven arc. FLCL certainly has all of those things, in its way, but they’re very much obscured behind a screen of bizarre moments and nonsensical outbursts.
FLCL may not be awesome in the exact ways I usually prefer a series to be, but there’s more than enough going for it to be great in other ways. For one, it’s an absolute feast for the senses. The art and animation are utterly gorgeous, each action scene is beautifully choreographed, and the soundtrack composed of songs by The Pillows is both amazing and unforgettable. FLCL’s story could have deep hidden metaphors or be 100% meaningless and it doesn’t really matter. The show is just amazing to watch, and that’s something I don’t think I fully understood until very, very recently.
So I guess what I mean is...even if something’s not your usual cup of tea, try to consume it in such a way that maybe you can enjoy a new flavor? Yeah, let's go with that.
5. “Neon Genesis Evangelion Hype Backlash”- Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
Well, you knew we had to come to this, didn’t you? Is there any series considered more overrated or overexposed than Evangelion? Probably not. Like, everybody knows about it, right? To me, nothing is a better poster child for the dangers of hype backlash...at least in the world of anime.
Now, going forward here, I want it to be known that I’m only considering the ORIGINAL TV series. No End of Evangelion, no weird alt-universe manga, no completely unnecessary Rebuild movies. Just Neon Genesis Evangelion, the overrated yet possibly underappreciated 1995 TV series.
I love Evangelion. Like...I really, really enjoy its company. For me, I think a lot of that love comes from just how damn solid the show feels from start to finish...from turns as fun monster-of-the-week mecha series to depressing end-of-the-world drama to WTF final episode, it’s just solid and great to watch. I love the characters, I love the world, I love the creature and mecha design, I love the unique, memorable soundtrack.
What’s more, I think it’s important to consider how new and refreshing Evangelion was...in 1995. Shinji Ikari, with all of his weird issues and struggles and nonstop crying, has become a meme here in 2015. A running gag about a wimpy protagonist who can’t get his act together long enough to save the world. Other characters from Eva get similar treatment, and that is just...such a shame and disservice.
Shinji is a wimpy crybaby and Asuka is a moody nutcase because, hey, that’s how 14-year-olds are. Rei is how she is because, well, she’s not even really human. A whole hell of a lot of the adults in Eva are flawed and corrupt and clueless because that’s how adults really are in the real world. These are all people thrust into downright insane circumstances trying their absolute best to come out of things alive, and they have the audacity to show real, negative emotion quite a bit.
We’ve been given shows with casts like this countless times since Evangelion debuted twenty years ago, and as a result the strength of such ensembles has been continually eroded. This is a big part of why Gurren Lagann felt so damn fresh and exciting when its cast punched holes in the space-time continuum with sheer positivity. So when looking at the world of Eva, don’t think of it as the meme its become...try to consider it seriously, even though some parts ARE undeniably goofy or melodramatic.
Another factor in the backlash against Evangelion? Misguided fandom, I think. So much is made of “religious symbolism” in Eva, or the deep, complex story...when in reality the show is severely lacking in both areas. If you go into episode 1 hoping for a lot of poignant religious references, you’re sure to be disappointed when it amounts to “Yeah we took a lot of words from Christianity and used them to sound cool,” because that’s about all it is. Similarly, I don’t think there’s a lot of weight to the notion that the story is “deep.” It’s very personal, and there are subtle clues and references that sharp viewers can discover to help them better understand the story, but there’s not an overabundance of material with real philosophical weight.
There’s also the fandom and expanded universe’s rampant, creepy sexualization of every underaged cast member...but I don’t have much else to say about that 'cuz it's weird. Sorry.
Really, you can apply almost all of these different forms of hype backlash to almost all of the series mentioned here, I think. Neon Genesis Evangelion was better when it was called Space Runaway Ideon. I hate fighting shows but Kill la Kill had incredible character designs and animation. So on and so on. Ultimately, we’re all totally welcome to have our own opinions on a show, positive or negative, for any number of different reasons.
You just need to watch the thing with an open mind first.