If it could break free of tropes, anime could soar even higher

Reliance on formulaic storylines is holding the industry back from even greater heights

Zareef Daian
Published : 17 March 2024, 01:31 PM
Updated : 17 March 2024, 01:31 PM

The Japanese anime industry is widely celebrated for its pioneering animation techniques. A vital component of global pop culture, anime has continuously entranced audiences with its vivid visuals and distinctive artistry.

Nevertheless, beyond its visually captivating content, the industry tends formulaic storytelling and an excessive dependence on tropes, which can sometimes overshadow its potential for narrative complexity and originality. This contrast between the artistic brilliance of the medium and its narrative limitations sparks an increasingly heated debate among both critics and fans.

The visual allure of anime is undeniable. From the fluidity of action sequences to the meticulous details in character designs and backgrounds, the medium has set a high standard for animation quality. Recent series like Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, and Attack on Titan have pushed the boundaries of animation, blending traditional hand-drawn techniques with state-of-the-art digital technology.

Despite their stunning imagery, many anime series rely on predictable tropes and formulaic storylines. The frequent use of common themes in popular genres, such as the beach episode in high school romances, ordinary people becoming overpowered protagonists in isekai adventures, and the quest for lost family members in shōnen, can evoke a sense of déjà vu among viewers. This repetition constrains the medium's potential for growth and impedes its ability to explore more intricate or unconventional narratives.

A significant factor in this narrative stagnation is the industry's heavy reliance on manga adaptations. While this practice ensures a built-in fan base and reduces financial risks, it typically results in a page-to-page, image-to-image replication of the source material. This approach, while faithful to the original, can stifle creativity and discourage changes to established storylines. The challenge lies in striking a balance between honouring the source material and bringing fresh perspectives to the adaptation process. 

Another aspect of this debate is the anime industry's comfort within its cultural boundaries. Despite its global reach, the industry remains deeply rooted in Japanese culture, often reflecting and reinforcing societal norms and values. While this can be a strength, it also means that anime rarely challenges problematic aspects of its culture. Issues such as gender stereotypes, fan service, and the glorification of certain unhealthy behaviours are frequently glossed over or normalised within the medium. 

Artists and storytellers have a responsibility to not only entertain but also one provoke thought and challenge societal norms through their works. This can be achieved by exploring diverse themes, creating more complex characters, and questioning established conventions. Anime has the potential to be a powerful medium for social commentary and change, yet it often falls short in this regard.

Despite these challenges, anime has its trailblazers who have broken the mould with experimental, unique, and relevant works. Directors like Makoto Shinkai, Satoshi Kon, and Hayao Miyazaki stand as testaments to the potential of anime as a medium for profound storytelling. 

Shinkai's works, such as Your Name and Suzume blend breathtaking visuals with emotionally resonant narratives that explore themes of love, loss, and identity. They are also wildly popular. 

Satoshi Kon, known for films like Perfect Blue and Paprika, delved into the complexities of human psychology, blurring the lines between reality and illusion in a way that few others have. 

Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, has created a legacy of films that are not only visually stunning but also rich in themes, exploring environmentalism, war, and human nature in classics like Princess MononokeNausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Spirited Away.

Mamoru Hosoda blends fantasy and heartfelt, grounded stories in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children offer a unique blend of fantasy and heartfelt storytelling. Meanwhile, Masaaki Yuasa delves into unconventional art styles and narrative approaches in works like Devilman Crybaby and The Tatami Galaxy

These creators demonstrate that anime can be a medium for exploring complex themes and pushing the boundaries of conventional storytelling. Their success underscores the potential within the anime industry for more creators to take risks and push against the boundaries of traditional narratives and tropes. It is through the efforts of such innovative artists that anime can continue to evolve and maintain its relevance as a powerful medium for storytelling.

This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.