Hello there whoever might be reading this blog of mine.
As you may or may not have noticed, I am a person who likes to rave and talk about Clichés, in fact it may seem like that is all I talk about now, seeing that I haven’t uploaded any of my other writings yet. So you might have asked the question: “Why the fuck does this guy care so fucking much about clichés in his chinese cartoons?” And my answer to that question would be that I hate, no I loathe clichés. I am a person who values originality and new ideas, clichés are the exact opposite of that, they are reused, stale and often shallow. And to my unfortunate fate, clichés are sadly everywhere, from films, to books, to dramas, to video games, to pornography, to anime, to visual novels and to manga. One cannot simply watch a medium without encountering clichés. And the longer one watches shows within a certain medium or genre, the more likely it is that he will become fed up with those clichés. I will use this post to elaborate, explain and talk about clichés in general.
First before I say anything further, I must establish just what exactly is a cliché to begin with. So thus I make the following definition:
“Cliché is a term used for anything including characters,settings,tropes, plot twists, plot devices, stories and premises that may have been original at some point ,but became overused with the passage of time mostly due to the effects of popularity and the success of the original.”
When we are a talking about clichés, there are a few terms that we need to use.
First is the Originator. The Originator as its name implies is the source of the cliché, its origin that carried within itself the idea, the meme or the concept that later was morphed into a cliché. Originator by default are ideas and concepts, that enjoyed or still enjoy popularity and success. For without popularity or success, it is extremely unlikely for something to become a cliché. However popular and successful doesn’t necessarily imply good. It is a logical fallacy often used by plebeians to think so. The point I’m getting here is that many clichés were bad from the origin but spread due to their success, like a bad plague or a virus. This is relevant because clichés in general ruin the originator, even if the originator was originally good and well thought-out. The reason for this is the ancient law, called “Repetition breeds contempt.” Meaning: The more you see the same thing, the more likely you will grow to dislike it. Have you ever grown tired of anime having beta, virgin, cowards for male leads? Have you ever grown tired of the overuse of school setting in anime? Have you ever gotten tired of tsundere characters? Then you know very well what I’m talking about. By the time you might see the original idea, which by itself may have been good, you will likely to have grown to dislike it, due to the tremendous amount of newer anime that copied it. And believe me, statistically speaking, you are more likely to watch a newer anime than an older, so it will go down the way I say it.
Copy and Paste: The act of the idea or concept being copied from the Originator to another new work. If this act is repeated for a sufficient time, a new cliché is born.
Inspirations and Copies: Here is another important thing, as a widely successful Originator will cause both of these to appear. The latter is more common, while the former is quite rare. Inspiration is when you see something, be it a story or a character or some other concept found within the show, and you get an idea from it. For example what if Starship Troopers had mechas? What if the Count of Monte Cristo was set in space? Or what if Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was recast with ninjas? You get inspired by the originator, draw some elements and add your own to it, creating something new. In an ideal world this is how media and shows should evolve as they would try to something more from the already existing and done materials. But sadly this isn’t what happens. Because most of the time copies are made instead of inspirations. Copy is something that is very similar or exactly similar to the Originator, and sadly often much worse than the original.
Carbon Copy: A case copying, where there is virtually no difference between the copied elements and the pasted ones. See picture related for self explanation.
Fragment: A type of copy where not 100% of the originator is copied, but only the major parts and traits of the originator. They even add new elements to the fragment but this doesn’t help much, as the problem with fragments is that they are often made worse by the new additions, it is a sort of de-evolution, instead of progressing the already existing material, they worsen it. The main difference between a Fragment and an Inspiration though is that the additions in the Fragment are not big or relevant enough to not make it just another copy. This is relevant because even in the case of inspiration there is such a thing as bad inspiration, but Fragments cannot even be counted as such. For the sake of being scientific, I shall list 2 examples of a Fragment.
One, which I have talked about 2 years ago, Kingdom of Zombie.
And the second example would be the case of Ayanami Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Tabitha from Zero no Tsukaima. Tabitha is a known Ayanami Rei clone, another famous and quite overused cliché. Both are seemingly emotionless, and both only talk when necessary. In addition, the two are equally blue haired, flat chested and short. They are always calculative and pretty much never lose their calm. So whats the difference you might ask? Well the difference is where Tabitha’s obvious inferiority lies. Their nature, Ayanami Rei is a tube grown clone, crossed between a human and the alien lifeform known as Lilith, specifically created for piloting Eva unit 00 and for the instrumentality project. Her whole existence, strange nature and behavior immediately makes sense with this back story and deepens her as a character once discovered. Now lets look at Tabitha. Tabitha has the same damn characteristics an behavior as Ayanami Rei, surely she must have some strange and bizarre background that caused her to be like this. Nope~ Tabitha is just a princess who was trained as a mage and sent onto many dangerous missions, that’s her origin. Enough said I think.
Next on the line is something that will surely catch your attention: Cliché Evolution. Because oh yes, Clichés indeed evolve, quite a lot actually. It is not a strange to find entire Cliché families with dozens of Subclichés under their belts. If a Cliché is successful enough to be used for a lengthy period of time, then it is only a matter of time that it will start dividing and produce sublclichés. Subclichés are like Fragments, except they copy a cliché instead of copying an Originator. They have additional frequent and common details than the parent cliché, but just like fragments, they cant be separated from it due to still being 90% similar to the parent. I think that I have illustrated this quite well in my Modern Tsundere and Chibi Tsundere anime clichés post. There isn’t any real limit to how many subclichés can form out of a cliché, as long as its popular, more can emerge and more will emerge. Even subclichés can spawn their own subclichés. It is a really one giant mess of a cliché family.
But division into subclichés isn’t the only way a cliché can evolve. Because Synthesis and Anti-Thesis also exist. Take this for example: Tsundere, the Modern Tsundere is loud, impulsive, obnoxious, active and violent. Let’s consider the Tsundere the Thesis. Now look at the Dandere, her traits are silent, emotionless, careful and inactive. Dandere can be the Anti-Thesis to the thesis of the Tsundere. Combine the two and it becomes Synthesis: Kuudere, which shares bits and bits of the traits of the Tsundere and the Dandere.
Although keep in mind that this was only an example, Dandere didn’t form out Tsundere, although Kuudere is really a synthesis of the two. But in theory, you can get something new, by combining or creating its polar opposite. To give you a proper anti-thesis example. Take the Yamato Nadeshiko, the ideal, traditional Japanese women in culture. The Yamato Nadeshiko is shy and beautiful like a flower, a very feminine woman, a caring wife and a loving mother once married, typically submissive and obedient to the husband, this is the thesis of Yamato Nadeshiko, the ideal japanese woman. Now for the anti thesis: Tomboys and Genki Girls, both are loud, hyperactive, boyish, wear their hair short and typically lack the traits of the Yamato Nadeshiko, it was obvious that they were born out from a desire for the opposite.
Synthesis and Anti Thesis are the only ways Clichés can actually evolve into something good, but sadly it rarely happens. Sometimes it takes decades or years for a new idea to show up this way.
Now that we have successfully clarified all the relevant terms on this subject, its time to move onto more important matters.
Why do clichés exist? Short answer: Profit. Long answer: In an ideal world things like anime would be done for their own sake, art for the sake of art. But in our corrupted real world, everything is profit-oriented as art is produced by greedy, mega corporations and scammers, who have little interest in actually creating something. Neon Genesis Evangelion is and was one of the most successful anime ever made, meaning it was also one of the most profitable one. Seeking to emulate the success of the Eva series, other studios and creators have tried to the same thing as Evangelion, they took characters, concepts, ideas and what not from it and put into their own shows. Thus a whole breed of Evangelion, Asuka, Ayanami, Shinji Ikari clones were created.
All clichés start in similar ways. And from a business point they are right by doing this, because if you use clichés rather than create something original, you are less likely to flop according to statistics. This is because these clichés already have fans, even now you can find hundred-thousands of people who are fan of Tsundere, Dandere etc. despite being overly used and cliché. By using the clichés, the studios are appealing to the fans of this cliché, which increases the likely-hood of profit. Likewise, less time and resources are spent on copying a cliché than creating something new, therefore it is also cost-efficient.
Are clichés inherently bad? By nature they are, as I have already mentioned, clichés are born out greed, plagiarisation and absolute lack of creativity. They are fated to eventually become repetitive, boring and even annoying to the ones that watch them. The more important question is. Is something bad if it has clichés? The answer to that is no. A few cliché here and there won’t make your anime bad, it is the overuse of clichés that makes it bad, anime that are so full of them that pretty much every element of the work is just another cliché, see Angel Beats for example. A skilled writer or director can actually use Clichés to their advantage, by parodying them or deconstructing them. But of course cliché by themselves are still nothing but negatives.
Conclusion: As most mediums, anime has developed its own unique clichés. However not many people know about them( aside the most famous ones of course) and even less took their time to categorize these clichés. I am one of those few. Clichés are objectively bad from a critical viewpoint, but such a viewpoint sadly matters little to the average person, it is a fact that clichés are popular and will always be like that, because the majority enjoys them. Because of this, it is the small minorities duty, to be the voice of reason. To point out the flaws, the crimes against art, the overuse of clichés within an anime, to the unknowing mass and create more well informed, critically-thinking people.
“Using clichés is like wearing someone else’s old and dirty clothes. They might have looked good at one time, but they don’t look good anymore. They don’t fit right and they don’t smell too good and they do nothing to improve your looks and bearing.”