To be generic… or generic?


Generic fanart I picked off Danbooru by clicking the first nice picture on the page. Pixiv ID 5432

Valen has written up a post before about the ‘genericity’ of an anime, and eventually came to the conclusion that every show will be generic to a certain extent. Yumeka from AnimeYume later came to the conclusion that generic shows can still be enjoyable. All well and dandy, yes, but today I offer you a further extension.

All anime is generic. That’s right, you read that right.

There is no such thing as uniqueness in anime. Or in anything, for that matter, but for now I’m keeping my thesis narrowed.

First things first, though: Generic. What does the word even MEAN? We’ve been throwing it left and right, criticising the Big Three of being “generic”, but we haven’t really been thinking much about it. Just like how people call something “moe” but ask them what it means and they give you some vague answer like “It’s impossible to define properly *smugface*.” In other words, they don’t know as well.


ge·ner·ic adj \jə-ˈner-ik, -ˈne-rik\

a: relating to or characteristic of a whole group or class
b: being or having a nonproprietary name <generic drugs>
c: having no particularly distinctive quality or application <generic restaurants>

In other words, the word “generic” basically means to be blah. Which kind of brings us to a kind of circular logic about the Big Three:

But, digressions aside, all anime is generic because there is no such thing as an original storyline. Yes, there can be ‘original’ characters and ‘original’ settings or whatnot, but all anime inevitably ascribe to particular story progressions that have been around since, like, the dawn of humankind. Here I refer to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots (which is smattered with copious amounts of Jungian theory as a kind of attempt at philosophy), which you can read about very nicely on the TVTropes page.

Let me now refer to shows that were possibly considered unique previously.

Done by *AYU*, pixiv id 1599077


The first six episodes (in chronological order) ascribe to the sequence as described by the Rebirth plotline. Summarized:

  • Shit happens.
  • Shit seemingly gets resolved.
  • Suddenly, shit hits the fan. Big time.
  • Shit now appears to cover the whole world. Hero/heroine is in deep shit.
  • Suddenly, the shit disappears by the efforts of some person the hero/heroine knows (and probably wishes to bang), and all is fine and well.

Pray do tell, how is that not a summary of what happened with Haruhi and her enclosed spaces, and how Kyon pulled off a Deux ex Machina with his Kiss of World-Bending Power?

It's a show about being seiyuu, last I heard

Koe de Oshigoto! (as referenced by Valen as a possibly unique anime)

Some weird mishmash of The Quest and Comedy.

  • Basically, the search for some weird shit the hero/heroine wishes to know/obtain. In this case, it’s Kanna’s wish to become a great eroge voice actor. She’s got her party, as well – if not exactly a stereotypical one.
  • Tell me, how is this NOT a large cast with a story rooted in miscommunication?


Done by Tabula on Pixiv, ID number 2114204

Mudazumo Naki Kaikaku (basically a fusion of Fist of the North Star, Saki and Modern World History – if that makes any sense at all. Also, not an anime but a manga, but there was no better example.)

It’s like some massive compilation of Overcoming the Monster subplots. Since it’s impossible to show this without some form of description, spoilers ahead (well, you probably won’t understand any of it without context anyway, so it’s fine).

  • Anticipation Stage: Basically the start of the manga. Koizumi has to save Diet member Taizo from George W. Bush at the table. Here he heeds his Call to Adventure, albeit with all his abilities already intact.
  • Dream Stage: All the battles with Kim Jong Il, Vladimir Putin and the like. He wins comfortably enough with everybody looking upon him with awe.
  • Frustration Stage: Adolf Hitler utterly out-power-levels the Pope in terms of mahjong power, and Koizumi, who has been completely unable to beat Ratzinger, is likewise completely out of his league.
  • Nightmare Stage: Koizumi’s training with the Three, emerging stronger than ever after having simultaneously beaten Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in a match. Then, his match with Hitler on the moon.
  • Thrilling Escape from Death, and the Death of the Monster: Well, we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

These three – ranging from ‘hey this is pretty unique’ to ‘wtf is this shit’ in un-genericity – can be clearly described by a combination of Booker’s abovementioned Seven Plots. How then, would you call them not generic, i.e. not being related to a characteristic of a whole group or class?

It’s just pointless to argue, really.

About Carillus

"Any sufficiently advanced application of locupletative language is indistinguishable from writing magic."
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17 Responses to To be generic… or generic?

  1. Ming Xuan says:

    It is in human’s nature to seek out answers to questions, even one that has no real answer.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention To be generic… or generic? | Ambivalence , or is it ambiguity? --

  3. Niku says:

    If everything is generic, maybe that word should be thrown out. It’s quite an awful word in the first place to be used to describe these sort of things when it’s definition works best when describing things that lack specific branding like generic drugs. Generic is like a template, like the plain shirts used by Cafepress that have the specific design of the product applied to it. So generic used as a template would be ‘shounen action’ or ‘romantic comedy’ and contain the elements necessary to brand them as such.

    • Carillus says:

      That’s precisely the problem with describing anything creative as generic. Generic needs a base to work from, and since the base is basically what is popular, it becomes kind of pointless since even the most unique shows – once they become popular – become ‘generic’.

      Even supposedly generic terms like ‘shonen action’ or ‘rom com’ came from people actually coming up with the idea in the first place. Basically: Trope starters. The problem is that people then start to back-relate the trope, and think the series follows the trope instead of creating it in the first place. THEN it becomes generic.

  4. This led me to something that my fellow writers and myself always say:

    It’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution.

    There are no original ideas anymore. Every idea comes from another one, we’re all copying each other in some way or other, but it’s HOW you pull it off. It’s your specific characters who are taking on the roles, it’s the way you tweak it to make it your own.

    The same applies to anime. How many harem series are there out there? People keep watching them because even though they’re the same, they’re also different. They’re executed in wholly different styles (or at least semi-different styles, depending on the ones in question).

    So there’s the wannabe-published author’s view.

    • Carillus says:

      As a somewhat-writer myself, I’ve heard that being said many times before as well. The discussion on ‘genericity’, though, is something that I really do not like, because, well, no one bothers to define what the term ‘generic’ actually means. The whole attempt to write on genericity of anime by various anibloggers is what gets to me precisely because EVERYTHING is generic when taken in a certain context.

      Just by having a plot, you are already being generic. Just by having a story, your work is generic. It’s a bit like losing The Game (I lost, by the way): You can’t really win, you just make other people lose more than you. So the way to go to being unique is only to subvert tropes as much as one possibly can.

  5. Valence says:

    Holy crap a post? Pinch me I must be dreaming!

    This was, however, the exact thing I argued against. Given how everyone judges a show to be ‘generic’, one would come to the conclusion that everything is generic,which simply shouldn’t be true, that’s why I argued that everything can be generic and unique to an extent. And how else to judge how unique it is simply by how it comes up with original or subverts certain tropes? That’s what I meant when I said the shows have a certain degree of uniqueness and how generic they were.

    One major problem with how people judge a show to be generic however is how they use it as a one-size-fit-all reason to explain why the don’t like a particular show X. Problem is, it has to have worked at some point, since you’re seeing these ‘generic’ tropes appear again.

    • Carillus says:

      The point of this post is to demonstrate how everything can be generic at the same time and not unique, since people somehow fail to elaborate on what ‘being generic’ means. Here I give an example of how it might work to serve as a basis off which to launch other arguments against ‘genericity’ on.

      tl;dr: It’s to serve as a prologue to your post on genericity, somewhat.

  6. Fai D Fluorite says:

    I’m still not convinced that Death Note can be classified as generic.Name a series which Death Note rips off?

    • Carillus says:

      As I already said, it’s not that they rip off any particular series in particular, it’s that the storyline can be condensed into a series or combination of tropes.

      Death Note is a close-to-textbook example of the Tragedy plot progression. The Anticipation Stage is when Light wishes to be able to eradicate all criminals from the world, and gets the Death Note that was thrown into the world by Ryuk.

      The Dream Stage comes when things go exactly to plan, and he creates the persona of Kira and gains the respect and fear of millions of people across the globe. It is here that it seems as if he has fulfilled his intention of becoming the god of the known world.

      Frustration Stage. L appears, and closes in on Light. Light has to make a very well-planned series of moves to get L off his tail, and gain his trust.

      Here the series goes into a Overcoming the Monster phase, when L is eventually outwitted by Light, and things once again go according to plan. After this, it is again a repeat of the Tragedy plotline, until Light dies at the hands of Ryuk himself.

      Hence in its ultra-condensed form, Death Note is indeed tropic, and as a result, can be considered by the first definition as generic.

      My point here is that arguing for something to be generic is not a proper argument but a load of bull, since genericity is too general a term in the first place.

      • Fai D Fluorite says:

        Oh now I get what you mean.But that’s not the case only for animes.For any other entertainment show,nothing is unique.It can be said everything is generic!

  7. Logopolis says:

    If you ever find yourself thinking a word correctly describes everything in the class of objects it could possibly describe, it means you’re defining it badly. What’s the point in having a word like ‘generic’ if it applies to everything, and so, tells you nothing about the things you describe with it?

  8. Yi says:

    If you cast a net wide enough, you’ll be able to capture everything. I can do the same thing too. Every single story ever has a set up, a conflict, then a resolution. By that reasoning, every single story is generic. But not every single story is. When you call an anime generic in a critical sense, the word carries a different connotation than simply following a story-telling structure.

    • shumbapumba says:

      I wouldn’t agree with this. Many stories are left unresolved. Of course a definition of resolution would have to be given before this argument could properly be pursued… Another strain of thought is: do texts that do not subscribe to this formula then cease to be considered stories? I don’t think so, but that’s me.

      Of course, i do agree that one could argue that there no longer exists anything entirely ‘new’ (original, non-generic, etc), this basically lies at the heart of the postmodern movement after all (simplistic explanation, I know).

      • Yi says:

        Yea… I overgeneralized the story structure when I said “every.” I recognize that not all story follows the same formula. That doesn’t contradict my main point though, which is that just because something follows a particular structure doesn’t mean that it’s generic. Otherwise, you run the risk of labeling too many things generic and that word loses meaning in critique terms. You also run the risk of having too narrow of a definition for unique/ orginal works.

  9. hikikomori1969 says:

    In the end generic is just a word, it reminds me Vagabond except instead of looking for the meaning of being invincible it looks how to completely unoriginal.

    As logopolus said if you call all anime generic theirs not point in calling it generic. Unless you were implying that all anime is generic because it does the same thing over and over again while other mediums do something different.

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