I’ve been thinking lately that anime doesn’t depict relatable human emotion as often as I’d like it to and began wondering why that is. There’s no shortage of drama in many anime story lines, after all. It shouldn’t be all that hard for a studio to punch you in the gut or make you cry out in joy since animation is a visual medium and we as human beings are quite used to seeing emotion playing out before our eyes in our daily lives. Why, then, do I feel like the depiction of emotion in anime is largely unsuccessful? In a word, I think the answer is melodrama.
Japanese entertainment on the whole seem rife with melodrama, to the point where I feel hard-pressed to name something that doesn’t include it. Part of this is certainly due to my limited exposure to Japanese media, to be sure, but I’m left to wonder why most of what I see from that nation suffers from excessive amounts of this literary technique.
I guess it’s worth talking about melodrama itself before continuing. For those not in the know, melodrama is essentially when a character begins acting almost irrationally emotional in order to appeal to your, the viewer’s, emotions as well. The plot can also be melodramatic, throwing characters into emotionally-charged situations without adequate explanation for the same purpose, to make you feel something. The inherent problem lies in the “make you” part, because the entire point is to force you to feel something that you might not feel naturally in a given situation. It can work, I’m told, but I’m not well-read or well-watched enough to summon up any recent examples.
This leads to a lot of scenes in anime where characters are thrust into a situation that doesn’t really match the tone or context of the rest of the show in order to drag an emotional response out of you. This can be as simple as an ordinarily upbeat and chipper show, perhaps even a comedy, suddenly being thrust into an emotionally charged situation at the very end. Thus, instead of laughing at some slapstick humor like you have been for a dozen episodes or more you’re suddenly exposed to a dark, sometimes downright disturbing situation and these fun-loving characters are changed into walking sacks of depression or anger. More insidiously, melodrama might be infused into the show from the get-go but not completely explored until the creators wanted you to suddenly be happy, sad, angry, or any other emotion. There’s a lot of ways that studios use melodrama, and in my experience it’s almost always bad for the show as a whole.
So, there’s the foundation of my point laid bare. In my next entry I’ll give some examples of shows that make excessive use of melodrama (which shouldn’t be difficult, as my pictures have no-doubt shown) as well as shows that either use it well or don’t need to use it at all with better results. I’ll end with a question for you: Do you also find the depiction of emotion in anime somewhat lacking? Do you also attribute it to melodrama or do you believe that something else is at work here?
I look forward to your thoughts.