Can “Pretty” Really Carry a Series?

This is somewhat related to the issues raised in this post.

Meta context: Another posts found in the depths of my drafts folder, except this one actually had the start of something I wanted to say anyway due to it being relevant this season (you’ll see why in the post itself). As per the opening lines, it was started when I watched Kochoki, or in other words, May 2020 (about a year ago…!). That said, I tried to make the result open-ended and I think I may have made it too open-ended…

Kochoki is an interesting blend and yet exactly what it promises to deliver on – it’s bishonen Nobunaga Oda, as per its subtitle, but also massively Anime (Kichou’s laser eyes still bug me) and also leaning into historical rumour a lot (Kichou may or may not have been a ninja).

The real problem here is: do I care about the guy Nobunaga Oda…? Not really.

So obviously the “bishonen” bit is the key.

In fact, these are the same complaints showing up when it comes to Bishonen Tanteidan and Fairy Ranmaru, for as far as I’ve been following people’s coverage of it (let me lay them out in a style akin to the former series):

  1. The series is style over substance.
  2. It’s made to attract people who like guys.
  3. It knows what its target audience likes and it goes for that.

(In fact, for a lot of these bishonen series I like, such as HypMic, people have those exact issues.) The problem with this is that some people take issue with the core parts of the anime, such as characterisation and plot, as a result.

Of course, whether “pretty” can carry a series is case-by-case and it also depends on how far you’re willing to analyse – Nisio Isin’s work, including Bishonen Tanteidan, is full of puns, so it’s only got extra depths to people who can recognise those puns are there, for instance. It could just be the anime is one arm of a wider franchise made to move money, which is overwhelmingly the case.

However, being a shallow piece of work is not necessarily a point in the anime’s favour either, if that’s what you want. It’s kind of what Cameron (also known as Iniksbane) was going on about when he tried to explain why he liked Akudama Drive by means of explaining pulp fiction – except, of course, instead of explosions and cyberpunk, you have subtext and aesthetics. Furthermore, if the priorities aren’t there in the first place, there’s no point complaining – in the case of Hypnosis Mic‘s anime, it’s constructed like a musical, and so plot is thin, if anything. To go even further, in the cases of slice of life anime which just happen to star bishonen, there is barely any plot to speak of…and that’s the point.

In the case of the other post I wrote on the similar subject, it could be applied to bishoujo as well (because otherwise things like KanColle and Touken Ranbu wouldn’t exist), but I think the topic of this post is mostly directed at bishonen shows because there seems to be a double standard in how this is treated – bishoujo series normally get a pass because the traditional male dominance of anime and associated spaces means those who like bishoujo are generally more lenient on their own entertainment (and because bishonen shows, on average, tend to be more known for their over-the-top qualities than the bishoujo ones are), but because of the fandom’s ability to analyse (particularly fangirls who study characterisation, plot points and so on for fanfic and/or shipping purposes), bishonen shows targeted at those who like guys have to (or at least, are expected to) have solid foundations. Sometimes those anime – heck, even those series – just fall apart if you look too closely…


So I think I’ll end it there because my argument started to go around in circles without really giving more than an “it depends on your case”. So, what’s your favourite series that gets the complaints above? (Certainly, those criteria are deliberately rather vague, so you could count some shonen, but also Free!.) Do they deserve that?

4 thoughts on “Can “Pretty” Really Carry a Series?

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  1. I certainly think “pretty” can attract a lot of viewers. There’s a ton of merit in seeing a single well-curated screenshot/gif/etc that will get my attention and maybe I’ll be super into the show. I think the challenge is what you posed pretty early on which is the idea that many shows will be more about style over substance.

    I, personally, prefer if the series can admit it’s style over substance. That’s not a big problem for me! It’s really nice to watch something simple in story, but looks absolutely stunning from time to time. This doesn’t make a series bad, it’s just self aware and doesn’t try to pull anything too out of left field so it stays consistent.

    It would be interesting to observe the longevity of a ‘pretty’ series. The argument that cool animation will always be cool animation (Disney, Studio Ghibi, Shinkai Makoto films, and a few others I’m woefully forgetting have proved this) feels a bit different when it comes to anime that are just ‘pretty’. I’d be curious to know how many of these series curate long-haul (2+ years I’d say) fans, or if these series have fallen by the wayside in most fan’s minds by the next season.

    I hope I’ve strung my thoughts together well enough here that I’m still on topic lol.

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  2. Continuation… Because I think a lot of series have pretty characters, there are lots of options out there. If a plot isn’t good, I can find another show with pretty characters. That’s where I was going with my thought. XD

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  3. I think a lot of series are “pretty” or have pretty characters, so no, just prettiness alone won’t make me continue a show. I also love One Piece and Kaiji, two shows that some people think are “ugly.” I definitely value plot more.

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