Oh, that Melodramatic Shuffle!
This was basically me after 24 episodes of Shuffle!
Originally, I was going to use this post solely to mindlessly bash Shuffle!, but when I woke up the day after finishing this putrid pile of piss (yes, you can’t pile piss; I was just going for the alliteration, you nitpicky bastard!), I thought to myself, “No, that would be far too easy!” Plus, I spent all my time watching Shuffle! bashing it on Twitter, so I figured why waste any more time beating that dead, retarded horse. (Note: I actually do waste more time beating that dead, retarded horse, but not as much as originally planned.)
No, instead, I’d rather use the show to springboard into a topic that is of slightly more interest to me and others: Melodrama in anime. Just as a warning, I will spoil the shit out of some of Shuffle‘s more melodramatic plot twists, so if you’re concerned about being spoiled for that shitpile, then, uh, don’t read this post, I guess.
If you’ve been an anime fan for more than a few months, then you’ve probably noticed that anime is a highly melodramatic medium, both in style and content. Obviously you have the Key-type stuff where girls have ridiculously tragic backstories that are meant to pump as many tears from the audience as possible, but those aren’t the only sources of melodrama in the world of anime, despite sometimes being characterized as such. Code Geass, for instance, is one of the most melodramatic anime of the past few years — every twist in both the first season and R2 is meant to push the audience to the very brink of emotion, and the visual and aural style of the show is not exactly subtle in how it supports this endeavor.
Now, I don’t think melodrama is in and of itself a bad thing. Several of my favorite anime either have highly melodramatic elements or are full-blown melodramas: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Rose of Versailles, Gankutsuou, Kare Kano, Clannad ~After Story~ (obligatory apology to chii lolololol), etc. If I didn’t appreciate melodrama to at least some degree, then I sure as shit would not watch so much anime. But my enjoyment of melodrama does not take place in a vacuum; I don’t often appreciate drama for its own sake, unless 1) It’s incredibly well-written (which is rarely the case in many mediums, much less anime), or 2) It’s poorly-written to a hilarious degree (which is also somewhat rare; most bad drama is just boring).
A prime example of No. 2 if I ever saw one.
Generally, my enjoyment of melodrama rides on one element: The characters. Give me characters I can sink my teeth into, and I will ride to hell and back with them. I generally enjoyed Clannad and was mostly bored with Kanon. Why? Because the former gave me characters I generally liked (especially Tomoya), while the latter gave me characters that made me go meh. (It didn’t help, of course, that the first four episodes or so of Kanon are mind-crushingly dull.) The melodrama in AnoHana and Moshidora is in all honesty no more extreme than in many other anime (though all the crying is sort of lulzy), but neither truly connected with me because the characters never fully clicked. And on and on and on.
This may be different for many people, but for me, there are generally two ways for characters to click with me: Obviously, an interesting personality will do it. Not just one quirk that is the character’s sole definition, but a legitimately interesting personality, whether that character is likable or despicable. I didn’t like Light from the start in Death Note, but at least the guy was interesting. The second option is to make the problem/conflict/whatever the character faces interesting. This is often where I see anime go, even though it might honestly be the more difficult path; how often do you see a problem pushed until it plunges into self-parody?
Aside from the stupid, creepy harem bullshit, the lack of anything interesting to latch onto in the face of intense melodrama is the biggest problem I have with Shuffle! The first half of the show is spent with Rin fucking around like an idiot, and the girls all falling over themselves to please him so that he’ll fall in love with them and they can get married and have a thousand babies and they can cook for him and clean for him without a care in the world like a good wife should and fuck me this sentence should have ended a long time ago. By the time the harem shit slowed down, and the Serious Business portion of the anime began, I loathed everyone in the series and wished nothing but the cruelest torture upon them. And that is basically what I got in the second half, and the reaction it received was mainly mocking, derisive laughter rather than the (I assume hoped for) reaction of, “OMG THAT’S SO HORRIBLE ;___________;”
Melodrama has a decidedly mixed reputation, and a big part of that, I think, is that it is meant to aim straight for the emotions, logic be damned . . . that already alienates a fair amount of people who don’t absorb their fiction emotionally (or through the emotional process that melodrama targets, anyway). Shitty character development is I think another big part of its ill reputation; when one does not give a shit about the characters, melodrama comes off as a desperate grab for attention, a “LOOK AT ME EVERYONE, I’M DOING CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZY STUFF” moment that’s just sad and pathetic.
If a story spends a certain amount of time not giving the audience a reason to give a shit about characters, then eventually the damage will be irrevocable. If I spend 12 episodes despising Shuffle‘s retarded harem antics, then why am I all of a sudden going to care when Bad Things start happening to everyone? On Twitter, ADayWithoutMe recently brought up one of the reasons she wasn’t fond of Madoka Magica: Much of it came off to her like suffering purely for the sake of suffering. That is bad melodrama in a nutshell (although I did like Madoka Magica).
In the first half of Shuffle, Primula is a stoic loli who’s there to speak one word at a time and do fuck all while everyone is at school; suddenly, she’s an experiment subject whose powers could destroy the world! Nerine absorbed the spirit of her clone! Sia has another personality that came when she absorbed the spirit of her twin sister in the womb! Kaede is crazy because she’s devoted her life to Rin after mistreating him most of her life out of the mistaken belief that he caused her mother’s death! Asa is actually a demon like Primula, Nerine and Sia, and if she doesn’t release the magic building up inside her, she will explode into tiny pieces! Also, Rin cuts himself! Yay!
These are all MUCH MORE RIDICULOUS in the context of the show, by the way. It’s all cheap, stupid melodrama that tries to mask its shittiness through ridiculousness. The Kaede arc is the most praised, and to be fair, it at least tries to build drama through a somewhat sympathetic situation (even if the set-up is ridiculous and convoluted), but I couldn’t get into it because Kaede was frankly the character I loathed the most out of everyone, and I thought the explanation for her behavior was just a stupid way to have an indentured servant in a harem. The payoff for that arc is as dumb as all the others, too. “Oh, just let me keep on loving you, Rin, even if I never have a chance, because my life revolves around you and I have no other qualities or aspirations in life!” fucking bleh
Melodrama at its best can add a kick of heightened emotion to a good series; at its worst, it’s tiresome, stupid and a waste of time. (For some, the latter basically categorizes all melodrama, haha.) I’ve got a mixed relationship with melodrama, but really feeling the emotion when it’s actually done well is worth suffering through all the tripe when it’s done poorly, I think. But maybe I would feel differently if I actually bothered watching all the series where it’s done poorly.