Zeke (commodore_zeke) wrote,
Zeke
commodore_zeke

Seinen/coseinen tangent

Anime is a funny beast. That sounds like an overgeneralization, of course -- after all, there's a ton out there, in many different genres. But what I've been noticing lately is how many anime series seem to be aimed at audiences we in North America don't even have.

Take Haré + Guu, for instance. Brilliant show, if slightly kiddy; every time I watch it I think about how well it would fit in the after-school animation block. But then I realize you can only say that about 80% of the show -- the rest has stuff that wouldn't be appropriate. What do you do with Weda, Haré's scantily-clad boozer of a mom? Or Bell, the devoted maidservant who gets violent nosebleeds over her mistress's "purity"? Hell, the fifth episode is all about determining who fathered Haré out of wedlock.

This isn't unusual. For every show like Ai Yori Aoshi, where the adult stuff fits fine because the show pitches itself to late teens anyway, there's one like Rosario + Vampire which combines simple kid-friendly concepts and plot structures... with panty shot festivals and incessant breast-size jokes. (I do have examples without plus signs in their titles, by the way.) I enjoy lots of those shows, but they also make me feel vaguely uncomfortable, like I'm watching someone make dirty jokes with my little brother in the room.

There's a word for what I'm talking about: surrounded. No, wait. The word is seinen. It's supposed to mean targeted at males in the 18-30 range, but in my experience, it's more often what I've described above -- material that would be fine for kids from about 12 up, were it not for the gratuitous stuff mixed in. Like most genres, it's fuzzy; I'm not sure why Ai Yori Aoshi is seinen and not shoujo, for instance (though it makes me less embarrassed for enjoying it). Aoi may appeal to some men's fantasies of the perfect girlfriend, but her appeal to girls as an old-fashioned romantic heroine is even stronger. My point, though, is that the seinen audience seems to be one that only Japan aims for. Kids' and even teen shows don't have breast jokes and panty shots here, unless I'm way out of touch.

It's just something I've been thinking about. Which brings me inexplicably inexorably to Soul Eater.

That show is great. Seriously, it's way too much fun -- can't recommend it enough. I'm 40 episodes in out of 51 total. And what I find myself wondering, for a somewhat different reason, is what audience this show is aiming for.


[Very mild spoilers up to episode 40 and speculation thereafter.]
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See, the closer I get to the end, the more I feel a sense of dread. This is partly because I peeked ahead at the show's fourth and last end-theme sequence (I'll call it ED4). It's definitely my favourite of the four, with the best music, but it also goes for some seriously apocalyptic imagery. The second opening theme (there's only two) does much the same. When I saw the battleground in ED4, I got the same feeling as when I first saw the old warehouse in Death Note or Ruhenheim in Monster -- a horrible feeling that this is the last stop, everyone's going to die here.

One thing both themes not-too-subtly suggest is that Shinigami-sama will die. Pretending for the moment that this makes sense (he's Death), it's also an easy guess, and not just because we keep getting hints that he was mixed up in some bad business in the past. This is an epic story about students, and that means sooner or later the master has to die. Otherwise the tension in the final battle isn't high enough. (Yes, there's always the "master gets trapped" scenario, but Soul Eater has played that card already.)

That's not why I have the sense of dread, though. Nor am I worried too much on account of the other characters who seem to be in trouble in those themes. It doesn't look good for poor Stein, and Patti is depicted suspiciously, and of course the end of OP2 absurdly tries to make us think Maka will bite it. But what worries me is something else.

At the 40-episode point, I'm still not sure whether Soul Eater is a serious drama or something lighter for the seinen crowd. That was probably deliberate. But when I see the finale, I'll know for sure. Because if this is a serious drama, Death the Kid is going to die.

It's written all over his storyline. Maka and Black Star are all about personal glory, but Kid has bigger concerns. He sees something evil building up, a web tightening around them all. He can't trust anyone, because he's got reason to think his dad may be part of it. He's determined to get to the bottom of things -- and he'll take a stand even if he's the only one.

But only the main character of a story can get away with that. For anyone else, this path ends in death. Heroic death, to be sure; death that galvanizes the protagonists and maybe makes their victory possible. But death all the same.

That's if the target audience is adults. But there's another possibility. Maybe the show is ultimately meant for younger viewers. Maybe it's prepared to scare the audience but not to break their hearts. In short, maybe Soul Eater is Harry Potter. (The similarities are pretty blatant.)

And in that case, everybody lives. Possibly not all the minor characters, probably not Shinigami-sama, and definitely not all the villains, but the three main kids and their weapons. The argument is the same one I made just before the last HP book came out. Soul Eater isn't the same level of phenomenon, but if it considers the younger audience its priority, it won't kill the heroes.

So what'll it be, Soul Eater? Seinen or the next level up, whatever the hell that's called? Entertainment or intensity? J. K. Rowling or J. Michael Straczynski?

Guess I'll see.

(By the way, I know I'm late to the party. Soul Eater finished airing back in March. But I'm just watching it now, and I wanted to say something about this strange dilemma I'm feeling.)

- Z
Tags: anime
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