Every so often, when I criticize an anime for dropping the ball on a particular character or plot thread, some readers will counter with “This was explored in the drama CD/OVA/etc!” What’s my reaction to these comments? No. An emphatic no. I don’t want to hear about some extended universe nonsense. Call it old-fashioned, but I think every story should be self-contained to a certain degree. I will judge an anime series by itself and I will judge an OVA by itself. And while I’m sure OVAs and whatnot are fun for the fans, the quality of an anime series should not be contingent upon extras.
Where does this refusal come from? In Star Wars, there’s something known as the “extended universe.” Writers, with approval from LucasArts, churn out an inane amount of fiction about anything and everything. Is that the random alien who appeared onscreen for all of two seconds in one of the movies? Well, we’ve got a short story out there for it too! While I do think this kind of thing is silly, I don’t have a problem with it. Fans can enjoy whatever they want. I take issue, however, when fans use the extended universe as way to cover up the flaws of the original material.
This is a real Star Wars extended universe character. No, really!
A lot of people who saw the Star Wars prequels were justifiably disappointed by the new trilogy’s flawed execution. One problem, for instance, is the complete and utter throwaway Darth Maul character. He serves almost no purpose in the narrative. Darth Maul’s just another evil face inserted into the movie to make unnecessary spins with his glowy weapon. Ultimately, like Jar Jar Binks, I suspect he was created just to push merchandise onto the kids. Countless Lucas apologists were quick to point out, however, that his origins were or will be explored in Star Wars-related books, comics, etc. But so what? That doesn’t make the character any better utilized in the actual movie.
The same should be said about anime as well. Anyone following along with Tiger & Bunny can agree that there are some rather under-utilized characters. This isn’t a major criticism of the series; it was simply an observation that guys like Rock Bison and Fire Emblem rarely got any screen time. Instead, we were treated to two Blue Rose-centric episodes. Nevertheless, I was informed that these guys did or will potentially get their time in the spotlight through an OVA or drama CD. So what?
Apparently, Antonio used to bully Kotetsu. Sounds interesting, but we’re gonna give you an episode about Karina having a crush on Kotetsu instead!
A anime series’ story should just be judged on its own merits. If a character is woefully underdeveloped in an anime series or movie, so be it. No OVA or drama CD will change the fact that the original is flawed. This is a bit of a slippery slope, but imagine if anime studios started to resemble video game developers. What if companies decided that an anime can be far from perfect because “we can always correct the problem later.” This is a major problem currently plaguing video games. With the advent of easily distributable DLCs (downloadable content), a lot of publishers are pushing for developers to cut corners to get games out before they are necessarily complete. What about bugs? What about bonus materials like misc. sidequests and secrets? It’s okay — we can just add these extra features later and nickel and dime our consumers.
Okay, so maybe that example is a little too dramatic for anime. Still, I refuse to buy extras, like an OVA or drama CDs, in order to properly criticize an anime series. I will buy these things for other reasons, but they should never be a factor in judging the original material. Any extras should be judged on their own merits. Besides, there’s the whole unsavory “I’m a bigger fan than you because I watch so-and-so and listened to so-and-so” rhetoric that I would like to steer away from completely.