You would think that comedy, a genre that is so polarizing because not everyone has the same sense of humor, would be the easiest genre to complain about. This should go doubly for a medium like anime in which the humor resides in the culture or popular culture that the majority of us don’t come from or fully understand. But you would be wrong. Some times it is our own ignorance that makes this type of humor all the more funny, allowing our own minds to fill in the blanks and contextualize the humor to suit our own tastes, despite the fact that we are way off what the underlying meaning of the joke might entail.
There’s a saying that if you have to explain a joke, it’s not a joke, or at least not a very good joke. With this contextualization in mind, if you’ve ever watched a subtitled comedy or slice of life anime you might have noticed the context footnotes being shown at the top of the screen just in case we wouldn’t understand some term or proverb that is unique to Japanese or Chinese culture. The mere act of having to read these set ups makes us one step behind a native Japanesian when the punchline is delivered. This is why I think many anime aimed at westerners resorts to using a type of comedy known as “universal humor”. And this humor is what I think is the main problem with comedy anime.
You may be asking, what is universal humor? It’s humor on such a base level that any child or simpleton can understand it, something that anyone of any culture can find funny in the right context. Examples of this are things like toilet humor, calling people unintelligent or a character being obviously, characteristically unintelligent or simply overreactions to unlikely or unfortunate situations. How can you tell when this universal humor is occurring in anime? Quite easily, in fact you might have picked some up already with the many visual and audible cues that are used constantly which are about as obvious as a drumming “Ba dum tsh” rimshot or a trumpet’s “womp womp womp”. I’m of course talking about the “Baka!”s, the “Nani!”s and the “Soka”s.
So if those are some of the audible cues what are some of the visual cues? I’m so glad you asked hypothetical readers! There are of course, the ones that go hand in hand with the audible cues such us a zooming in and out or panning to another frame or character. However, the visual cues for universal humor that are generally a lot easier to identify are the comical facial expressions. This can be an over dramatic face, a confused blank face, or a face that doesn’t match with the anime’s design, instead adopting another for the sake of referencing some other anime or cartoon.
Examples of this can be seen in anime like FLCL where the animation suddenly flips to being similar to the style South Park uses, or when a slice of life ‘Kawaii’ character’s face suddenly adopts manly features more similar to a shounen style anime. And don’t forget there are always the swirly eyes, pursed lips and….unintentional up-skirt or boob-grabs to fall back on *sigh*. With that beautiful segway, I will talk about ecchi/romantic “comedy”, and yes I had to put the word comedy in quotation marks. In my previous post I wrote how I don’t like romance anime and one of the reasons I forgot mention in it was the romantic comedy genre. I seriously don’t understand the line between trying to make you laugh and trying arouse you in some of these shows. Japan’s sexuality has become a mainstream meme for a reason. That’s not to mention how rinse and repeat the nature of the jokes are. These main characters aren’t just clumsy, they’re opportunists predators.
As I mentioned at the start, humor can be very polarizing and if some of this kind of humor is right up your ally, you might not get what I’m complaining about. However, for people who have been watching anime as long as I have, some of the punchlines end up becoming predictable to the point that some anime pick up on them and then use the assumptions to build up and make them funny in a completely new way. That’s how comedy should work, you should be surprised by a joke’s punchline, not roll your eyes at its predictability. In the end that’s my main problem with comedy anime, the humor is predictable, not all of it, but a lot of it.
The Problem with Slice of Life Anime