So if you’ve been following the Spring 2013 season at all, you’re probably aware of how much of a hubbub Aku no Hana has kicked up. The trimodal mal score distribution attests to the strong difference in opinion, which has caused tensions to flare up in any number of discussion forums. Forums nominally for discussion, anyway, because there hasn’t been much actual discussion going on.
I go through these threads, or at least as much of them as I can stomach, and what I actually see is a familiar cycle. One fan points out the low quality art-style of the show, and expresses disapproval. Another refutes him by defending the general position that non-traditional art styles can enhance an experience, occasionally tossing in the interview with the mangaka* and the words “butthurt moe”, for catharsis. Fan #1 replies with something sarcastic, and the talk descends into a swap meet of insults. With slight variations, this conversation has happened hundreds if not thousands of times on hundreds of individual websites. At no point does either person actually address the other’s position. And that’s the key problem; people aren’t using this disagreement to start a discussion (something that would involve actually reading and responding to the other’s words), but to either directly or indirectly stick it to others they hated anyway.
All of this non-discussion is merely a symptom of something that’s been true for years; there is no anime community on the internet, just a bunch of circlejerking, self-superior subgroups. Each one of these subgroups is equally closed off to a different part of anime. It is, on some level, expected to see people hammer a show based on one look at character designs and plot summaries, as harem or battle series fanatics narrow-mindedly avoid things like Redline because of character designs. Those who are nominally open to a wider range of series still regularly discriminate by genre, disdaining the battle/harem series (not to mention their fans) and missing out on genres with definite quality to offer. The logical extension of their mindset has them defending something wholly because its different, rather than because it’s good.
I’m personally fed up with both groups. To me, both of those mindsets are totally contrary to maximizing how much one enjoys anime and manga. I say this because I’ve experienced perhaps more than most the feeling of having many others categorically my favorite shows categorically disregarded by genre and not given a second look. I just like anime in general, in all its varieties. I like it all the more so when directors find new ways to construct a fun, engaging experience. What the hell does it matter whether that’s being done to a school life comedy or a psychological/sci-fi thriller about memories or a coming of age saga about fighting squids that represent low self-esteem?
When I look at the anime community on the internet, I see people focused on what they see as art, and people focused on what they see as entertainment, and all of them choosing a side and hacking away at each other. To me, enjoying anime is a broad-spectrum activity that’s about staying engaged (however you want to do so), and I’m always interested to hear how others enjoy it, even when their own paths through the medium differ widely from my own. The real-life anime fans I know may be quirky, but this is one of the main reasons I wouldn’t trade them away for anything; we can actually talk about enjoying anime on more than one fixed level, address each other’s ideas mano y mano, and even disagree while staying civil. And that’s ultimately where real discussions come from.
Full disclosure; I stand by two positions in regards to personal views of the actual issue being not-discussed:
1) Aku no Hana’s character designs are, in a vacuum, perfectly fine. I count Kaiba, Redline, Noein, Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji, Kare Kano, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure all among my 50 favorite anime. I’ve seen good directors handle nontraditional character designs and visual styles to great effect.
2) Aku no Hana’s direction is alternatively lazy and heavy-handed, with little clear focus on actually telling a story or conveying emotions. Aku no Hana’s direction does not show the same level of thought as other nontraditional artstyle shows, taking advantage neither of dynamic camerawork or fixed-angle takes. I personally think Hiroshi Nagahama gets way too much credit for directing one (admittedly amazing) anime, as Mushishi was an adaptation of a Kodansha Manga Award winner that came with the lion’s share of director’s work (storyboarding, camera angles) already done, and with other people handling the excellent sound quality. Yuu Kou produced similar (if slightly weaker) results from KMA winner Giant Killing, but nobody’s arguing that he’s a genius.
*Approval from the mangaka means exactly nothing for a very basic reason; creators have been known to willfully scuttle their own series time and time again, without any help from outsiders. A few more prominent examples; the reboot of the Genshiken manga, Rocky V, Darker than Black’s second season, everything after the timeskip in Naruto, and, of course, the Star Wars prequels.