What defines a unique anime?

Bleach. One Piece. Naruto. What do these have in common? Aside from being the supposed best-selling/most popular shonen manga/anime series in the market today, all three have had multiple reviews criticizing them for how ‘generic’ they are. Some even call for days in which we’ll see truly unique shows.

But how exactly do you decide whether a show is ‘generic’ or not? And even if it is generic, is it not enjoyable?

Take these quotes to be an example.

“..bleach’s story is generic shonen type”

“copying his own work”

And other scathing reviews of the Shonen Jump Trinity. I admit, I don’t exactly like the three aforementioned shows either.

But the problem here is, upon what do you judge such a show to be ‘generic’? Surely, just because there are similarities , doesn’t mean it’s generic , does it? One of the major arguments used against the Trinity is that it uses too many tropes from other shonen manga, such as Dragonball Z amongst several others.

The thing is, it doesn’t use tropes from Dragonball Z per se, it uses tropes from the entire genre of shonen anime. Big fights, inane/insane power-ups, screaming attack names, the epitome of entertainment for little kids who don’t mind watching something with no story whatsoever. And how do you exactly point out where exactly the source is? Surely, there was something before Dragonball Z which uses such shows of power. Following this logic that Bleach is generic since it has what previous shows have, wouldn’t that imply that Dragonball Z is generic too? Following that logic further, it would imply that everything down the line would be generic to a certain degree. Bring that logic to extremes : what then, would be the most unique manga series? The Four Immigrants?

Saying it takes tropes from Dragonball Z would be accusing it of plagiarism. However, although Bleach is innocent of this, it’s still using common tropes. Tropes from where? Common storylines, etc. This proves to be a challenge as well. Let’s say we have one unique show. Another show adopts a similar approach, and eventually, it multiplies. Now that we have so many clones , is series A unique? And if it no longer counts as being unique, does that make it any worse?

And even if the show is generic, does that make it bad? What defines a show to be bad, anyway? Bad art, bad story, bad characters, et cetera. Just because the characters are similar doesn’t necessarily make them bad per se, just common. Would that detract from your own enjoyment and judgement? Bad art is the show’s fault, but for story and characters, what could you do if it’s ‘generic’ , or common? Truth is, the most common plots will make themselves seem boring to those who have watched others, and so on. (Meaning the less you watch, the more unique it sounds. ) Still, even if you think it’s generic, does that make the entire show itself, bad? Surely, someone likes it, even if you (or we) don’t. It seems that there is a problem with deciding something to be generic or not.

Yet, even after all of this, you cannot deny that Bleach is ‘generic’, if you look at it objectively. Its tropes are all-too-common. The cast of characters is cliché, the fights just slightly different.

The way I see it, however, Bleach isn’t generic.

It isn’t unique either.

It’s both to a certain degree. Some tropes are re-used, some ideas are made. Some characters are repetitive, some characters are new. Some ideas follow along convention ,some put a twist on things.

The truth is, there probably can’t be much, or even a truly unique anime, per se.

Almost everything can be linked to something else. Character types can overlap. We can have the same imouto-moe types in X number of shows, and so on. Just classifying it into a genre makes it start to have a degree of genericness.  And even if there is a unique anime, eventually, some other shows will come along and make it seem less unique than before.

In other words, most shows can probably only be classified as unique for a short amount of time.  Bleach may have seemed to be the greatest thing ever to someone who just started watching anime and reading manga, but after constant exposure to new, better manga, they start to think it’s generic, and that undoubtedly, it’s bad. (It is.)

Shows will be common in some areas, and unique in others. And there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t label an entire show to be generic.

Otherwise, the only way for a show to be unique is to come up with a unique concept that no-one else can possibly employ. When there’s only one of you, you’re unique, aren’t you?

I suppose I’m being a little bit optimistic, but I too, wish for a truly unique show to come this way. Something that no-one has done before. I don’t mind if characters seem similar , I don’t mind if voices clash, I just want a show with a unique concept, a concept that no-one can employ, a concept that’ll stand unique amongst the vast, endless amount of new shows.

I want a show with a high degree of uniqueness.

Sadly, even this show starts to seem less unique when you think about REC. . . .

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33 Responses to What defines a unique anime?

  1. Ming Xuan says:

    Ha. Koe de Oshigoto, I watched and read that.

    It doesn’t matter if it is generic or not. As long as you enjoy it, I don’t see the problem. The problem is I can’t enjoy generic shounen animes, I dislike action and prefer comedy and romance. O.o Yes, I hate Bleach, One Piece, Naruto and Dragonball Z.
    *hides from imminent fanboys*

    • Valence says:

      Which brings me to the point – how does a show’s ‘genericness’ affect its enjoyability? If I watch show A and then B, I could say B is generic. If I watch it in the opposite order, couldn’t I wind up thinking A is more generic than B?

      • MacGuy says:

        I always thought One Piece was the best of Shounen anime… apparently people here don’t think so. No surprise, I guess. The story plots and character development seem to run deeper and the creativity is very much a part of the show. Perhaps I am missing something here… Great article though, I do agree with most that was said here.

  2. Steve says:

    “The thing is, it doesn’t use tropes from Dragonball Z per se, it uses tropes from the entire genre of shonen anime.”

    That’s just about a definition of ‘generic’. If a show is essentially comprised entirely of familiar tropes from a certain genre with little to differentiate it from its forebears or move outside of that one genre, then it’s entirely fair to call it generic. That’s not necessarily a problem as generic is not – or rather, shouldn’t be – an intrinsically negative word; when it’s done well, ‘generic’ can be really enjoyable. The problem is more with the way people use the word ‘generic’: as a synonym for ‘bad’. Though there’s a strong correlation between the two, they’re not intrinsically linked. In other words, generic can be part of a critique of a certain anime, but it shouldn’t be the entirety of the argument. ‘Generic’ on its own is vague and flimsy, but if something is generic and poorly scripted, then we’re onto some real criticism.

    • Valence says:

      That’s the issue I’m trying to address. True, it was a fallacy to say that it uses tropes from the genre of shonen anime, since it kind of implies that this makes it unique, but of course, it doesn’t.

      Generic is repeatedly being used as a reason for why a show is bad – and not just partly, most of the argument itself revolves around linking the show to other pre-existing ones in an attempt to explain why it’s not to the person’s liking, which really started to annoy me. How do you define ‘generic’ anyway? What makes something common at all? And why do generic shows seem so bad to them? Surely, everything has its own pros and cons, right?

      And true, if something is generic and poorly scripted, we’re onto actual criticism.

  3. Shance says:

    Uh, no, the seiyuu story plot is not really a common trope. And no, young and budding eroge seiyuu != seiyuu having relationship issues.

    With that aside, let’s get serious.

    If we are to go by what generic ACTUALLY means, it means something that has the qualities of a lot of things. While it is true that material that have a lot of common things (tropes, character types, powers) can be labeled as generic, it doesn’t really fit the term if it has something that is unique in itself (Bleach =/= Dragonball, therefore Bleach =/= generic). However, we also cannot dismiss something as unique if it heavily employs a lot of common things (If Dragonball = using a lot of common things, and using a lot of common things = generic, then Bleach = generic).

    So yeah, as much as there is no absolute unique visual material, there is no absolute generic visual material either.

    • Valence says:

      I know that Koe de Oshigoto =/= REC. I just wanted to say that both include seiyuu xD

      That’s why I said everything is unique and generic only to a certain degree. Surely, everything has similarities, so how can we have absolutely ‘unique’ material?

      Generic by my dictionary’s definition is similar to ‘common’, which is just like what you said, and what I had addressed. If a show uses too many things we have already seen before, then of course, it seems much more ‘generic’.

  4. kluxorious says:

    No anime is unique nowadays. Even the supposedly unique PaSwG kinda take the whole idea from Power Puff Girls

    • Valence says:

      But that was a parody. We know that it’s a parody, since it’s so blatant.

      …which raises another question: can a parody truly be unique in itself, if all its characters are recycled?

  5. gfddd says:

    naruto sucks

  6. Azure Hoshizora says:

    Popular Shounen Jump mainstream titles all look the same to me… Dragonball, IDK, its been so many years since I last watched it.
    Its kind of like teachers marking essays and everything somewhat appears repetitive. There’s no such thing as “completely unique”. A show HAS to reflect and remind you of something, even if its something that not the slightest bit related.
    I don’t need unique, I just want interesting~

  7. Yumeka says:

    Sorry, meant to comment earlier!

    Great post here. I agree that it’s extremely hard to find a unique anime. The amount of anime and manga stories is so staggering, countless tropes have developed in order to appease different demographics of audiences. I’m one of the fans who understands that most anime is “generic” but that doesn’t matter as long as I enjoy it. Sure, Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach employ a ton of shonen cliches, but they each do it differently. For anime, it’s not about what the stories/characters are so much as how they’re presented. If I like whatever unique flavoring the creators use to spice up the cliches, I don’t care if it was cliche to begin with.

    There are some anime, like Death Note, Haruhi, Mushishi, Spice and Wolf, etc., I think are more unique than not. But even they have their share of generic stuff. It’s just how anime is, so just enjoy what you can or you’ll be on a long journey to find a title that’s 100% unique.

    • Valence says:

      Certain tropes are virtually omnipresent in anime. The protagonist always wins, hidden powers, etc, you name it, they have already done it. Some people may be – or pretend to be- critical, pinpointing areas which seem generic to them, yet not understand that these do not result in the show being any less good. If every show had to be unique, they would have to twist too many tropes – and while it might be unique for a while, soon every show would be the same- wouldn’t it then be generic?

      Some shows are more unique than not, including the ones you have listed. But I think the funny thing is that it’s not these shows which are ‘generic’ – more often than not, it is the source itself , which fits into certain genres, ruled by particular tropes, stories and plot devices, ones the writer could never deviate much from.

  8. trewdys says:

    Generic JPop:

    Generic Visual Kei:

    Generic KPop:
    http://www.google.com

  9. Nopy says:

    I think there can be unique anime, just take a look at Yakitate Japan and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.

    • Valence says:

      ..but the funny thing is that the sources were the ones that were unique. You could even say they were the pioneers of their respective tropes and genres.

  10. Yi says:

    Most anime draws influence from works before it. I don’t put too much emphasis on uniqueness. Besides, cliche aren’t necessarily bad. They became cliche for a reason; the formula worked.

    • Valence says:

      …but it’s this cliche that ruins the formula for everyone else. It’s when too many of these new shows become too similar does the formula collapse and fail.

  11. Pingback: To be generic, or to be unique? | 毎日アニメ夢

  12. Hikokomori says:

    I usually look at anime/ manga for the little detail instead so they all feel unique in some way, but that doesn’t prevent me from disliking some. Though I dislike how some people overlook what actually happens. Like looking at Dragon ball and thinking new enemy, power up, enemy= dead. Their are other factors that make it enjoyable, like how they defeat their opponent, what’s driving the characters and such. Though the better better part of the story was when Goku was a teen. Bleach started really good but then Kubo ran out ideas and the pacing became terrible and fights were repetitive except for their abilities. Naruto to had a good story at the beginning until it constantly focused on Naruto searching for Sasuke. Of course the anime for all these series were bad since they were just watered down and stuffed with fillers.

    I guess if you watch or read a lot of anything the stories seem the same especially if you look at a manga/anime you have not scene in a while of course you can always remember them being better than they actually were to. I think most entertainment takes a trope and adds something unique to it and helps define the trope itself. For me I can read or watch a story I like around a hundred times and not get bored ( over a long period of time), so seeing something similar in formula doesn’t effect how much entertainment I get out of a show. Especially if I get completely sucked in by the story and end up not noticing half of them involves a sword in some way. Though when you don’t get sucked it I can see how someone can see them all as similar and bland. Though it’s probably not similarity that makes the anime boring but the fact that it doesn’t draw you in. That always depends on the person though.

    • Valence says:

      When you get sucked in, the directors have made a great anime. However for the shonen trio this is hardly the case. I suppose it’s not the fault of the original series but instead, of the studios involved.

      For they are the ones who make all the fillers.

      But true, the more you watch the more similar they seem.

  13. Fai D Fluorite says:

    Wow after reading this post I understand why you’ve chosen your blog title “Ambivalence” 😛

    Nevertheless I understand what you’re trying to convey..
    I was thinking Death Note is a truly unique anime or am I wrong?

    • Valence says:

      Nah, I just chose that cos my name was in it . :p

      You can’t say that DN is 100% unique, but rather within its genre , yes. Thar would be a much more accurate way of saying things.

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