So let’s talk about spoilers again.
Often have I made the argument that spoilers don’t matter, that a series should be enjoyable in spite of them. The idea behind this line of thought is that the craft of storytelling dictates that strong writing, directing and so on overcome any details you may know going in. In fact, as I’ve argued is the case with School Days (my first piece about anime so please be kind, it’s particularly superfluous), being spoiled can change how you approach a series for the better. You may think that I’m therefore an advocate for spoilers or at least don’t care about being spoiled but the truth is that I put tremendous value in the idealized concept of the “first time.”
The element of surprise is a powerful thing because it elicits a raw, genuine reaction from its target. You leave your emotional agency at the door when you give yourself over to a storyteller. In fact, it’s the distinct job of the people “making the sausage” to preempt how the audience will feel at every turn and shape their craft around it. This becomes much more difficult when you lose the ability to catch the viewer off-guard. Screenwriters are taught to keep the audience thinking half a step ahead of the characters so you can then subvert expectations but when your audience is a full step ahead of you all of that careful emotional sculpting can be for naught. How much you feel the effect of a writer’s intentions is inverse to the amount of information you know about the series going in.
I do need to emphasize that surprise doesn’t equal shock as I deride in my School Days piece. Constantly killing characters off or trying to generate buzz through stark, splashy moments is exactly the type of spoiler I think is overvalued in modern pop culture. It’s not that these events are always cynical or void of meaning and in fact even in scenarios where they are as such they can contribute greatly to the “first time” impact. However, the “surprise” I’m talking about is a more nebulous concept.
Think of it this way: I’m watching Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid at the moment. As someone who decided to try a few seasons not watching anime as it airs but is simultaneously present in places these shows are discussed I’ve seen my fair share of screenshots and gifs across every episode of the series. Each time I come across them in the series it’s a bit cool to understand their context but ultimately I get the sense that I’ve seen it before. Sure, it’s a slice of life series where plot is of little concern but these seemingly surface-level “spoilers” take away from the emotionally-driven impact of its first impression. I think this is important. However analytical I or anyone wants to approach a series and try to “objectively” assess it, we’re emotional creatures at the end of the day. Our appreciation for something is experiential. I’m not saying having seen and been obsessed with the maximum cuteness that are Kanna gifs over the past three months has necessarily caused me to enjoy Dragon Maid less but because of it the act of watching the series has taken on a sense of going through the motions.
A lot of series simply wouldn’t hold up for a second viewing either. Your “first time” can be a blissfully blinding experience, one in which the mechanics of a story, flaws in character development and other critique-worthy elements can be glossed over because you’re latched into its world. We all have series we watched years ago that are personal 9s and 10s but if we watched them with more seasoned eyes they would fail to capture the same magic. In fact, I’d wager that would probably be the case for me with School Days, a series that my uncommon approach to hinged heavily on the tension of nebulously knowing its conclusion as I dreadfully watched everything leading up to it play out. My analysis of its themes would likely stand, an important part of why I love the series to be sure, but what sticks out in my mind when I think about School Days are those four straight hours of pure unease.
On that note, I think it’s important for us analytical types to take into account the emotional appeal of series. Perhaps it’s not something that needs to impact our analyses but we’d be remiss to disregard that for many or even most audience members it’s how they engage with their entertainment– solely as entertainment. It’s the typical pundit class dilemma of approaching a subject matter with a greater importance than your typical person would ever even consider. We can pick apart Sword Art Online for millennia but for the countless fans of the franchise these characters clicked in and that’s all they need to fuel their fandom. They’ve bought in for life, or at least until they’ve moved onto the next thing. And you know what? I think that’s worth celebrating as a community, that people can love things on their own terms, for their own reasons. Who are we to deem what does and doesn’t have value?
Don’t take this as an admonishment of textual analysis. You’re reading this blog so I don’t need to tell you why it’s an important element to the appreciation of any art form. However, it’s the more “fanboyish” side of appreciation that keeps a community positive and engaged. Fostering this will make people more open to appreciating in-depth critique and analysis, even if it doesn’t line up with their own takes.
Whatever your own opinions on this subject, picking a series you know nothing about– perhaps one that never gets discussed– and jumping in head-first is an experience worth having from time to time. If it turns out to be to your liking, sit back and let the element of surprise draw you in. Take in the moment because moments are what fuel memories.
Also, sexual innuendo. You were all thinking it.
I continue the discussion on spoilers in a follow-up post that you can find here.