Friday, October 8, 2010
Does Anime Lack Wit?
I recently watched the first episode of the new Iron Man anime.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and felt that it did justice to the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man. I also felt that its characterization and plot did a superb job of mixing a very western Americanized superhero character into a very eastern Anime-esque setting. Iron Man isn't quite a stranger in a strange land here, but the contrasts between his personality and the Japanese culture that he's coming in contact with where nicely played upon, in my opinion.
However, not all felt the way I did here, and one particular comment to that effect stood out to me.
Anime Suki poster jonli made the following observations on the first episode of the Iron Man anime:
"Being a comic book fan as well as a manga fan, I have to say this does not do Ironman justice at all. ... Tony's personality has a lot less "flare", he's like 10 times less charming than he was in the comics or in the movie."
At first, I found this critical take on the first episode of the Iron Man anime to be perplexing. The Tony Stark of that first episode was slick, smooth, suave; ever in control and quite assertive in conversation but maintaining a perpetually relaxed demeanor. The showboating aspects of Stark were on full display in the episode. His intelligence and media savvy (cultural differences notwithstanding) came across well. Tony's alcoholism didn't come up in the first episode, but perhaps that's for the best anyway.
So where was "charm" lacking? Where did the billionaire playboy feel a bit less than his usual self to jonli as well as some other critics? Then it hit me like a repulsor blast from Iron Man Dio: This Tony Stark was not quite as witty as his usual self, you could say.
He was smooth and surefooted in a general overarching sense, yes, and his dialogue was decent on the whole... but was there any particular line that came across as a whimsically winsome witticism? Were there any lines that an Oscar Wilde would smile and grin at, if not laugh over?
The answer is probably no.
And as I thought on this further, another epiphany of sorts came to me: Perhaps this is a problem for anime as a whole, a lack of witty banter as part of a rapturously riveting repertoire.
Don't get me wrong, anime has its memorable lines to be sure. But most are sincere statements of philosophical belief, or dramatic defiant deliveries of dialogue meant to inspire excitement and cheer.
Anime often does drama and suspense exceptionally well. It also can really make you think.
However, I can't think of many one-liners in anime that represented great wit. Even prominent anime characters heralded as geniuses, like Raito Yagami and Lelouch Lamperouge, tend to not be particularly witty characters.
I wonder if this might be a large part of the reason why anime has arguably declined somewhat in the western world in recent years? Western entertainment tends to have sharp, crisp dialogue, loaded with zealously zestful zingers. Indeed, one of the more beloved TV shows amongst what you could call "American geekdom" was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and that show was typically a veritable zingerfest. It had a tremendously sardonic wit to it.
Sometimes I feel that western TV shows (in the sense of shows from North America and Europe; not just shows about cowboys and gunslingers ;) ) can overdo it in the witty banter category. The dialogue can feel contrived and not natural; almost nobody is this effectively witty and sarcastic 24/7, let alone a full cast of characters being like that. However, the other extreme of no witty dialogue at all can leave a piece of entertainment very much lacking savor and spice.
One anime that I felt hit a pretty good balance here was Bakemonogatari
Bakemonogatari was very much a dialogue-driven anime, and its dialogue was frequently top-notch. Hitagi, in particular, displayed a good (but not overbearing) degree of wit. However, I have not met many anime characters like her in this regard.
Perhaps this is partly why Bakemonogatari, in spite of being a show with a fair degree of moe in it, is not the lightning rod for moe haters that K-On! and various Key adaptations tend to be.
Perhaps, then, the issue moe haters have is not with cute girls with cute and blossoming personalities, per se, but rather with overly polite, reserved, and/or saccharine dialogue.
In fairness, moe often requires a certain degree of saccharine dialogue and personality, but it also allows room for wit as well, which we see with Bakemonogatari.
It's been suggested to me that part of the reason why moe is held in contempt by a fair number of anime fans is because moe is perceived as not being "cool". But then, I don't think that "cool" and "cute", or "cool" and "sweet", or "cool" and "caring", are mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary, cute, sweet, and caring can be very cool. But "cool" is a particular mood, a certain tone, a way of carrying oneself, and a certain sharpness in dialogue. A key element to "cool" is a good sense of humor, and hence some genuinely witty dialogue from time-to-time.
Perhaps this is something that anime needs more of.
What do my readers here think? Can either of you think of a particularly witty anime character, or some uniquely good lines from anime when it comes to wit?