Scattered Thoughts on Multiple Narrative Perspectives in Scum’s Wish

One of the things that I find most interesting about Scum’s Wish is its structure of having multiple narrative perspectives. In the first couple episodes Hanabi immediately seemed to take on the role of the protagonist, the character whom we would vicariously live through as the story unfolded, experiencing her feelings and thoughts exclusively. However, the series didn’t waste very much time before taking a sharp turn in its narrative and character progression and perspective, proving this original assumption to not be the case. It begins to shift in episode two, which ends in Ecchan’s point of view, and from then on it slowly but steadily breaks free from convention altogether. Half of episode three is seen from Mugi’s point of view, followed by episode four being told from four different perspectives, and it only grows more sporadic from there. As the series goes on entire episodes are devoted to exploring the individual stories of what in any other series would be considered “side characters”, making any semblance of narrative consistency completely non existent.

It’s hardly unusual for a series to devote entire episodes to developing the personalities and backgrounds of their side characters. In fact, amongst critics who hold concepts such as character development in high esteem, it’s intrinsically required for a show to do so in order to be considered to be of high quality.However, narrative consistency is also a crucial factor for many of these same critics. Background characters should be developed, but also shouldn’t distract from the central narrative.

Scum’s Wish blatantly defies these critical standards. What we would think of as being the show’s “side characters” aren’t simply given a momentary place in the spotlight before being pushed aside to return to the established narrative perspective. Most series featuring large casts of characters among whom it would be difficult to distinguish a single protagonist generally take a much broader narrative approach, telling the story from the perspective of an outsider looking in rather directly from the character’s point of view. However, in Scum’s Wish, so long as they’re given focus, the story becomes about them exclusively. They become the protagonists of the series, blurring traditional character roles altogether.

While being one of the show’s most audacious ventures from a narrative standpoint, for many viewers it also became its downfall. When the story required the viewer to separate Hanabi from the role of the protagonist to allow the perspective to shift to the other characters, it understandably created some confusion and ambivalence amongst some viewers. According to the MAL statistics, this aspect of the show’s structure wasn’t overly detrimental to the majority of its viewership, but as the show entered its second half I started noticing people becoming more vocal about their criticisms of the series. The story begins and ends with Hanabi, which, for many of these viewers, made her inseparable from the role of the protagonist regardless of how the perspective would change throughout the series, and seeing the writers temporarily put her development and exploration on the sidelines to examine the worldviews and perspectives of completely different characters, for lack of a better term, feels wrong, and even without sharing this sentiment it’s not difficult to understand why some viewers would feel this way. It’s partially because it provides us with little time to get to know and care about each of the characters individually, but perhaps more fundamentally because it’s radically different from how we’re used to experiencing every day life.

As people, we are only able to see the world through a singular lens, that of our own. We’re incapable of fully understanding what the world looks like through the eyes of others, which is why the best stories focus on creating a protagonist that general audiences can easily relate to and root for, and perhaps most importantly, that they can vicariously live through. By removing the role of the protagonist, Scum’s Wish created a void in its narrative structure that is difficult to fill and justify with plot and characterization.

I might as well just get it out there; I wasn’t a big fan of Scum’s Wish, primarily because I don’t relate to or connect with any of the characters personally like some viewers are able to, and its multiple narrative perspectives certainly didn’t help in this regard. I understand that the characters aren’t necessarily supposed to be likable, but none of them were focused on long enough for me to become attached to their personalities and individual stories. It’s not that I can’t become invested in or enjoy a show with unlikable characters, it’s that it didn’t give me the time needed to become invested in them. With that in mind, I can actually agree with many of the criticisms I see of the show and understand from my own experience how it left some viewers unable to relate to it.

Despite its narrative perspective being the source of my disconnect with the series, I think this unique style of storytelling reflects and enhances the interpersonal nature of its conclusion. Thanks to the show’s multiple perspectives, throughout the series we explored how each character saw themselves as the protagonists of their stories. Each had their unique individual goals and wanted to experience a traditional “heroes journey” to achieve them. However, by the end of the show, none of the characters were able to accomplish their goals, or at the very least didn’t gain the result that they would have preferred. But their stories didn’t end just because they didn’t get the happy ending they wanted. In the final episode, each character prepares to move on with their lives with all of the emotional baggage that they picked up along the way, and in this moment I was finally able to make an emotional connection with them. They all seemed to say, “Yeah, we made some mistakes, and now we have to carry their weight, but that’s okay. We’ll live on”, and the show’s structure of having no protagonist allowed me to understand what this realization meant to each of the characters individually, making the conclusion to the story feel almost personal, something I can’t say for most of the show.

Maybe I’m being too romantic about all of this, given I was more than happy to put the series to rest when it finally concluded. However, paradoxically, the part of Scum’s Wish that has caused me to feel so indifferent towards it as a whole is the very same thing that intrigues me about it the most. Its multiple narrative perspectives exemplify a fascinating and audacious style of storytelling that I rarely encounter outside of the literary field, and despite some of my critiques of its application within this particular series, I’d really like to it see done again. If this storytelling method was able to keep me engaged in a series as personally unmoving as this one, then I’d be interested in seeing how I would respond to a show with a similar structure featuring characters that are a little bit easier for me to connect with and relate to.

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Scattered Thoughts on Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A sentiment I see expressed increasingly often in discussions on “slice-of-life” anime is a general disdain for the tropes and trends that have become commonplace for the genre, and it’s one that I can hardly judge. Before delving into the anime medium, my misconception of it as being full of obnoxious tropes was one of the things that kept me from experiencing what it had to offer for the longest time. In light of this, it makes sense that some of the most loved and critically acclaimed slice-of-life/drama shows within anime fandom are the ones that avoid these tropes entirely, or attempt to subvert or deconstruct them in a fresh and original way, which is why I’m surprised, intrigued and oddly pleased by the fact that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has become one of the most popular shows of the Winter season.

Of course, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. This is Kyoto Animation we’re talking about, a studio with a successful track record of creating satisfying and critically acclaimed shows within anime fandom with the exception of only a precious few. However, especially after watching the trailers, one could hardly be blamed for not taking it seriously. After all, they made it clear that Dragon Maid was going to be as trope-y and stereotypical as your average run-of-the-mill slice-of-life. However, what I found interesting after watching a few episodes was that the show didn’t just include the tropes and cliches associated with the genre, it practically embraced them. Except that it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill slice-of-life show. It was good. Even with all of the tropes of the genre that a plethora of anime fans would look down upon in derision, it became one of the seasonal favorites with “casual” and “hardcore” fans alike.

Perhaps the best answer to this peculiar phenomenon can best be explained by the concept that “the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Dragon Maid does have its fair share of fanservice and cliches, but they alone are not what define the show. However, it is neither defined by its strong characters and world building. It is these multiple elements married together in paradoxical matrimony that make Dragon Maid so unique. When I see tropes and cliches like those in Dragon Maid elsewhere within the anime medium, the impression I’m often left with is that these scenes and cheap gags are efforts by the creators to make up for what the series lacks elsewhere, which is how we end up with shows such as Sword Art Online, The Asterisk War, Izetta: The Last Witch and the plethora of seasonal throw-away shows that the community silently and unanimously decides not to talk about. However, Dragon Maid doesn’t have any incentives to implement such mediocre attempts at compensation. It’s characterization is genius and its world building is splendid. None of the characters are defined by their stereotypes despite the show’s blatant self awareness that they are, in fact, stereotypes.

When Kobayashi’s colleague meets Kanna for the first time his comment is something along the lines of “I like the loli goth thing.” The show recognizes in the dialogue that Kanna’s character design is, in fact, a common archetype. However, she is not a loli goth character. Despite her stereotypical appearance, as we see in her actions throughout the show, Kanna is just an ordinary little girl with the same needs of validation, acceptance and individuality that all humans experience. Likewise, Fafnir is the goth butler who hates humanity, but over the course of the show slowly assimilates into human life and attempts to come to an understanding of their nature. Tohru is introduced in the trailer making a pun about the size of her breasts and also serves as the token lesbian character pining for the unattainable affection of the individual she’s infatuated with, an archetype that has become prominent in “cute girls doing cute things” shows. However, we learn later that Tohru is still dealing with a traumatizing past and has as much to learn from her time with Kobayashi as Kobayashi does from her. Speaking of Kobayashi, her characterization and personal development as she begins to allow more people into her life and see them as members of her family, despite her ambivalent and apathetic relationship with her immediate family, has made her one of my favorite characters of the season. The family dynamic between all of these characters is handled with such care that it feels like a welcome breath of fresh air.

Suffice it to say that Dragon Maid didn’t need tropes and cliches in order to appeal to a broad audience. I haven’t even begun to touch on it’s subtle world building or gorgeous animation. It has plenty going for it. So what’s with the inclusion of these stereotypes?

Many anime fans are quick to criticize shows of this kind for their inclusion of such redundant cliches that I can’t help but wonder if the creative minds behind the show didn’t take it as a challenge, this show being their way of saying “We’re going to make a show with all the tropes you say you hate, but we’re going to make you like it.” If that was their intention then they certainly succeeded, a huge number of anime fans having fallen into their trap. I believe that it is this duality and the sum of its whole that makes Dragon Maid and it’s stunning popularity so interesting and unique. The concept of cliches and substance working so well together is one that normally exists only in the imagination and is rarely found within the medium, yet Dragon Maid pulls it off extremely well.

Now, I can’t say with certainty that I’d enjoy the show more without some of these gags and cliches, and despite how good they work within the show there are still a handful that I find tasteless and unhelpful. However, I can’t help but appreciate their place in making this series so self aware and intriguing. Surprisingly, even while being full of tropes, Dragon Maid ended up being a more heartwarming and pleasant viewing experience this season than Interviews With Monster Girls, a show that avoids these stereotypes entirely, which leads me to wonder if the general sentiment that “tropes equal mediocrity” is a deeply flawed one.

And that concludes my current train of thought.

Scattered Thoughts on Bakemonogatari

Well, I just finished Bakemonogatari for the first time and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. The problem I’ve been experiencing since the final ending theme has been making those thoughts and feelings cohesive, even to myself. Since they’re all still too scattered in my mind to make a full article out of them (for now), I thought I’d just offer a few of my initial thoughts upon completing one of the best selling anime series of all time.

If I were to attempt to describe Bakemonogatari in a single word I’d have a difficult time deciding on one that completely sums up the shows intentions and impressions. Intriguing comes to mind, as does fascinating. I’ve heard it described as a bit pretentious, and although I’m not really fond of that word, I can understand where they’re coming from. I suppose I’d probably end up summarizing it as innovative. From the direction to the soundtrack, the editing to the flow of the story, and the characters to the art and color design, this show broke boundaries. One of the things I find most interesting about Bakemonogatari is that none of its individual facets are original by themselves. The show combines bits and pieces from the horror, romance, harem, drama, suspense and thriller genres, all of which have been done extensively in anime. What makes this series so fresh and creative is the way in which all these individual parts work and flow together. I can name many, many shows with colliding, conflicting genre conventions, but none that work nearly as well as Bakemonogatari does.

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