Separating anime from its paraphernalia

An example of a drama CD

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.


23 Replies to “Separating anime from its paraphernalia”

  1. Wait, Rock Bison used to bully Kotetsu? D:

    And I think I just agreed with you. Maybe it’s the fact that sometimes media is meant to be incomplete that the “extra features” will give them extra money. I mean, I can spend my time eating food and buying some school supplies instead of knowing that Shinjiro repaired the FeMC’s slipper in a Drama CD of P3P.

    1. If I like a story, I’ll buy its extra junk. I just hate this idea that “You have to see this and listen to that to get the full picture!” Sorry, but the full picture should be in the original material.

      1. Yeah. I never get people being that way. I usually reply these dudes with “how the heck should I know, I don’t understand Japanese!”

  2. Can’t say I agree with the sentiment. Every fan has the right to judge a series based on the series itself (and nothing else). Nobody is denying you that right.

    I see no reason, then, why people should be denied the right to judge a franchise based around a series for its drama CDs and manuals and whatever else.

    It’s no use to take it personally when people defend a series they like. And obviously they will know the nooks and crannies of that franchise better than you.

    To begin with, an assertion of “the whole picture should be in the original series” more or less boils down to “drama CDs and such are not allowed to add anything new and relevant”. And I suspect most fans do expect those dramas to be relevant, even if in small ways.

    1. Oh come on. Nobody’s being “denied the right” here. That is so overdramatic. I’m merely expressing my opinion that anime series should be judged separately from any misc. add-ons. I’m just saying I don’t take someone’s criticism of any anime series seriously when they factor in drama CDs and whatnot. What this has anything to do with rights, I don’t know.

      To begin with, an assertion of “the whole picture should be in the original series” more or less boils down to “drama CDs and such are not allowed to add anything new and relevant”.

      Nope. That’s not what I’m saying. There’s a subtle difference in the argument you’re not considering. Otherwise, what would be the point of sequels? Still, we judge sequels separately from the original series, don’t we? As such, drama CDs and such can add something new, but the original series should be complete in its own way. Extra material like drama CDs can fill in the gaps of the original story all it wants, but I’m saying it shouldn’t fill in necessary gaps that should have been in the original series to begin with. If an important character motivation isn’t properly developed in the original series, but instead, in some drama CDs, the original series is still flawed regardless of the latter’s existence. Maybe the overall story improves — I’ll grant that — but an anime series should also be judged on its own two feet.

  3. Yes and no. I agree that you shouldn’t need to listen to drama CDs to be able to judge a series. Drama CDs are extras for the fans. (To whom it is significant because it is created by the team that made the anime and therefore “canon”.) Their content is stuff that the anime creators deemed unnecessary for the main content. In Rock Bison’s case it’s entirely a flashback so I can see why it’s an “extra” – he deserves an episode set in the current, or at least more scenes being bros with Kotetsu. But I don’t see why you put OVAs in the same category? They are more likely to be direct sequels rather than some “sidequests”, and so I include them in the main body of work. I mean, some series only come out as OVAs… Mind you, I think it’s perfectly fair to review a series based on that season alone. I was disappointed that Rock Bison and Fire Emblem didn’t get their own episodes, and that criticism still stands even if they do get episodes in season 2 (which I’m expecting to happen) since it means they wouldn’t have if the show hadn’t sold well.

    1. Sequels should be judged separately. An OVA should not affect how one judges the original series. If I watch Haibane Renmei and feel that it was a great anime series, some hypothetical terrible OVA that comes out years later — one that I’ve never seen — shouldn’t affect the quality of the original series in my eyes. Likewise, if I watch an anime where the story or one of its characters is underdeveloped, some future OVA that “rectifies the problem” shouldn’t still affect how one thinks of the original series. The overall story might improve as a result, but no matter what, the original series should stand on its own two feet. When I criticize Tiger & Bunny, I’m criticizing the anime series. I don’t care if the drama CDs does what the original series should have done in the first place.

      1. I think I see where we’re disagreeing. For me a sequel is still part of the “original series” unless it’s a spin-off. I *can* (and do) judge sequels separately but when I refer to a work I tend to include sequels – especially if it’s an obviously continuing storyline. (Anime has many of these since a season is limited to 12/13 episodes, and so a season only covers half or less of the original story.) I do the same for dramas like House. I may have prefered the early seasons to the new ones, but I still include them all when I think of House as a series. A better second season won’t improve the first one, but it does raise the quality of the series as a whole.

        And yeah, I agree with you about TB and it’s drama CDs. They are fluff anyway.

        1. Yeah, we’re getting into semantics. You’re judging the overall product. I’m talking about taking shows season by season. We are each entitled to our own methods. I just want to get across the idea that I should haven’t to listen to some drama CD to judge an anime season.

  4. I actually kind of wanted to make a post about this back when Infinite Stratos was airing. You did it better than I would have, anyways.

    I agree. I believe that any work must be judged completely independently. I’d even argue this case to a degree in the individual units of a movie series or anime series of seasons, but that’s a different matter. For some reason, whenever I levy a criticism of a light novel, manga, or VN adaptation, people are quick to note that “it was better in the source material.” Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but the source material isn’t the adaptation. Likewise, it is not my concern if a motivation / action / whatever of a character wasn’t explained in an adaptation but was in the source material/extended material. The problem lies in the execution of the narrative, not with the viewer.

    1. This is somewhat related to another post I did, but I feel like people get caught up on canon. Sometimes, when I criticize an anime adaptation, I’m just criticizing the anime adaptation. I’m not attacking someone’s precious manga or whatever. I’ve probably never even read the manga. But for almost every series, there are those fans that will turn to the adaptation’s “Holy Bible” as a defense of something I was never even talking about.

  5. I agree with you. If a movie, tv-show, anime or whatever, needs something out of the “original” product to justify some stuff, it actually fails, because, well, the original never really explained it to us.
    Your example with Maul is a good one: he was just some evil dude being evil and not playing a significant part in the story (except… being an evil dude). If you need books to flesh him out, it’s downright bad. That means that when you watch the movie, you will never know a thing. Meaning the movie itself failed, because it can’t stand on its own feet.
    However, you can argue that the Star Wars universe itself is expanded and still good, but that is a different matter.

    Oh, and hello there. I found this site just a couple of days ago via another blog and I have been lurking here since then. Love the posts, really do.
    … I have to admit that the Aria pic above is what made me decide to start commenting here ^^’

    1. Well, I poke fun at the Star Wars expanded universe for adding, in my eyes, such an inane amount of detail to the original story, but I don’t seriously care whether or not people enjoy this sort of thing. I’m not sure if I’d personally say the effort has been good, however, but I haven’t read every story out there. Some stuff is just beyond ridiculous, though, and I blame the extended universe for the silly double-bladed lightsabers that every developer feels compelled to add to their Star Wars video game.

  6. Slightly related: What did you think of the Shiki OVAs? Do you consider them an extension of the story or an extra? Is it a requirement for a series to develop every character (especially one with a large cast like Shiki) to a certain level of depth or satisfaction? I sort of understand with Tiger and Bunny because each of the characters leading up have had their 15 minutes so where is Rock Bison’s and Fire Emblems? Here’s the thing though, what if they never intended to release an OVA about them? What if the show never intended to develop them? I mean Ben probably isn’t going to get his own OVA either but I don’t think they ever intended to develop him. Is there a certain percentage of screen time or a certain number of lines a character must have before they are required to be developed/given their own spotlight for an episode? Perhaps we may be creating an expectation for development for a character that was never intended to be developed. Then is an OVA addressing a fault in the main story or is it just providing extra content or expanding the world. Going back to Shiki OVAs, they told the story from a different perspective and explained a few minor plot points that you had to be astute enough to even notice (such as the woman who refused to come out of her home because her mother had risen), but I don’t think of that as addressing some flaw in the original series, but as expanding on the upon it and adding a new perspective to the story.

    1. I’ve mentioned somewhere that I think T&B‘s problems are minor. I wasn’t standing on some pulpit and declaring that the anime was crap because of it. I don’t expect every character to be fully fleshed out. I’m not going to take a stab at defining the percentage of time a story should devote to one of its characters. It’s a subjective, gut feeling just like any other sort of film or, in this case, anime criticism. When T&B gives time to only the younger, prettier characters, hey, that’s going to elicit a remark or two. The existence of some drama CD to flesh out Rock Bison’s past doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference to me regarding the anime.

      As for the Shiki OVAs? Extra. Did we need to see them to understand the story? Nah. When I was watching the series, did I feel as if I needed to see the story from another perspective? Not necessarily. The OVAs are thus just extras in my eyes. I’m not declaring that every OVA’s purpose is to address flaws in their respective stories. I’m just saying that some people turn to extras such as OVAs as a defense for a flaw in the original series and I find this rather silly.

  7. You know, you just made me realise that I’ve never actually listened to a drama CD that progressed the plot of an anime. They are usually used to adapt a manga chapter that didn’t get animated, or they’re just an excuse for the characters to be silly, or enact fan-girl fantasies. The first and second cases are pretty much Hetalia, with the exception of the bizarre counting sheep CD. Yami no Matsuei’s just acted out an ordinary episode and had a scene where the villain gets a bit frisky with the hero.

    Have you heard T & B might be getting another series? I’m quite excited for it, should it ever happen. You’re right, Rock Bison and Fire Emblem get no character development whatsoever except for throwaway statements about their character. It’d be lovely to see more of them, since, well… Everyone else has been developed thus far. Tch, honestly, Karina. Give these two guys a share of your spotlight. :P

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard about a T&B sequel. I quite like the show so I’m happy to see the story continue, but I hope it isn’t about Kotetsu. I feel his story should be wrapped up by the end of this series. It’s just more poetic this way — an over-the-hill superhero gets his last hurrah and retires to a peaceful life to raise his daughter.

      1. Yeah… that’s how I think it’ll end. Kotetsu will have one big last mission, and receive all the adulation he deserves, then slip back into obscurity, while still maintaining a friendship with Barnaby. :)

        It’d be fun if they end up being like Mr. Incredible and Frozone – both have families, but both still hang around with each other, if only to go ‘bowling’. :P

        1. In my opinion, T&B‘s success is all due to Kotetsu. None of the other characters come even close to being as remotely charismatic as the guy. While he deserves a proper ending where he finally returns home after a long odyssey, a sequel without Kotetsu is also a pretty daunting prospect. Does Sunrise create a whole new character? Will they make Barnaby, who’s been kind of stiff all season, the lead? Cynically, I think it would be hard for Sunrise to resist making the sequel about Kotetsu again.

  8. Extra material outside the main story is definitely nice, but I agree that it has to be self contained to a decent extent in order to be good. To go with the Aria picture at the top, the Aria OAV is a nice story that adds to the overall setting, but isn’t required viewing to really appreciate and understand the rest of the show. That’s how I think any and all bonus material should be.

    1. Oh you Aria nuts. I wonder if some of you only read the post because I stuck that image there! If that’s the case, aha, trap sprung.

  9. I agree with you on your main point. An anime TV series (or movie) should be able to stand on its own two feet, and can (and should) be evaluated separately from its associated paraphernalia.

    Now, it’s fine and good to evaluate, say, a three-season anime in its totality, but I think there’s also value in evaluating each season on its own.

    I also tend to view Drama CDs as treats for hardcore fans. They should hardly be “required listening” for every viewer. With this in mind, I see where your video game DLC analogy may be closer to the truth than you or I would want it to be. The Nanoha franchise, in particular, relies very heavily on multi-media presentation – There’s zounds of stuff you’re missing out on if you only watch the anime.

    However, I largely disagree with you on… Tiger and Bunny. ;)

    I like Blue Rose’s character, and I think she’s been developed well, and I think that the show benefited from having a prominent female hero as a frequent point of focus. Rock Bison is a good character, but in some ways, he’s simply another Kotetsu: An older veteran male hero, one that’s frequently “down on his luck”, and is more or less a regular guy. Basically, I’m not sure how much we can get from Rock Bison that we don’t already get from Kotetsu. Blue Rose, OTOH, offers a much different character type than either of the two titular characters.

    It is regrettable how Fire Emblem has been a complete and utter walking stereotype, though. I agree with you there. Shame he wasn’t made a bit more multidimensional.

    1. I might be inclined to agree with you about Blue Rose if I thought she added something worthwhile to the story. To me, however, she’s just a half-baked love interest for Kotetsu who also doesn’t think being a hero(ine) is glamorous enough. It’s hard to sympathize with such a character. Yes, I agree that Blue Rose has more potential than Rock Bison to give T&B something unique, but I feel as though she hasn’t been properly utilized. I don’t really care about her as a character. As a result, why not see what the same writers can do with Rock Bison. Sure, he might just end up being another Kotetsu, but he could also be very different. At least the mystery remains with him. I already know that the show has wasted Blue Rose’s potential.

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