A few anime blogs here on WordPress have already been dishing out their first impressions for the new shows lining up for Spring 2014 and the consensus thus far seems to be a common plague to anime. In fact, it’s an issue that’s infected many media types, especially books and TV shows.
A lack of “show, don’t tell.”
Although the idea is basic enough, it doesn’t hurt to define it one more time. In media, “telling” is just what it sounds like. You explain, often in great detail, what’s going on and why and by who, etc. “Showing,” on the other hand, simply lets the story run, leaving you to figure out what’s going on for yourself. For example, explaining through a monologue that Gundams are extremely destructive machines is “telling,” where as a scene where a Gundam is destroying an entire city, cars crushed, buildings trashed, bridges wrecked, “shows” us a Gundam is powerful.
One of the main issues with “telling” vs “showing” is that it outright accuses the audience of being painfully stupid. And while that assumption works fine in some academic paper writing, as it forces you to define scholarly terms so as not to lose your reader, the concept doesn’t cross over into the creative fields well. While not every viewer/reader is going to be a super analyst, most audiences can actually think for themselves and pick up most bits of info on their own, and some will feel a bit nettled if a show denies them this pleasure. For example, you don’t need to tell your viewers they’re looking at the distant future when you show them a picture of a space colony. However, media is rampant with an addiction to “telling,” with long running anime (often in the Shonen Jump categories) being the biggest offenders (Fairy Tail has been especially bad at this lately). Of course, this means that anime heavily focused on simply “showing,” are pretty rare. Anime such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are pretty good examples of favoring “showing.” The main character’s personal view is our only “narration” and, let’s be honest, he hasn’t a clue what’s going on. All we have is disjointed information from various characters, and for all the viewers know, all those world theories are just pure imagination/wishful thinking of the characters themselves. No clear answers are ever given concerning Haruhi or the world around her. The characters and the audience therefore have to figure out for themselves what to believe and what to dismiss.
A few other shows tend to lean on “showing,” such as The Eccentric Family, Durarara, and Princess Tutu (I’ll go into this more next week), to say nothing of a few, more “experimental,” shows rated just a bit too mature for this site (looking at you Utena) . The lack of “all knowing” narration and/or characters leaves the viewers to figure out what’s up, which is actually pretty fun when the show pulls the right strings. I mean, who doesn’t like to nerd out on a show, trying to piece together the little mysteries and guess what might be around the corner? Because as ominous as saying, “what happened the next day changed everything,” sounds, it’s just not as gut punching as simply showing us the change from the get-go.
Also, I don’t trust people. So if you tell me, “This guy is a villain,” I’m not buying it until he’s trashing a city in a mech. Just sayin’.