What makes a show “mature” or “for adults?” I see people throw these terms around in a condescending way, saying that shows like Steins;Gate or Madoka are inferior to shows like Monster because they’re aimed at teenagers. Are there any actual guidelines or metrics here?
It has mainly to do with the audience they’re aimed at, not the maturity or worth of the work itself. Many works aimed at teenagers have themes or concepts also or only relevant to adult audiences, many works aimed at any audience have great aesthetic/artistic merits, and many works aimed specifically at adults are as lacking in substance or maturity as any you could find. Plus, most people watch things to be entertained anyway, so if you’re being entertained, then your media is doing its job.
Being concerned about the perceived maturity of your media (or condescending about the perceived superiority of your tastes) is generally a symptom of insecurity, and something that people ironically tend to grow out of after a certain age.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t really answer the question. I believe the original poster was asking more about what intrinsic qualities of shows make them mature, not how they’re defined by other people.
You’re right; I was mainly trying to address the sentiment he gets at in his post, and the intention behind the comments I believe he’s responding to.
The reason I didn’t directly answer “What makes an anime ‘for adults?'” is because I believe that’s pretty much a fake concept, and that while shows can certainly contain themes, topics, or subtleties that require a mature and critical (I’m guessing this is what is meant by ‘adult’) mind to parse, people of every age enjoy a wide variety of media, and that’s fine. I can’t stand reality television, for example, and personally find it juvenile and depressing, but many other adults watch plenty of it.
But that’s not really getting at the key issue here. More importantly, I think the kind of ‘adult versus non-adult’ distinction posited here, where Monster passes but Madoka or Steins;Gate don’t, strikes me as a particularly insecure and virulent form of elitism, where a show’s surface aesthetics (gritty, no speculative elements, situated in a specific historic moment) are used as the hallmarks of its maturity, not its level of aesthetic craft, thematic depth, writing, or any other deep-tissue indicator of artistic quality (not that Monster’s a bad show at all, but I wouldn’t place it categorically above the other two as far as ‘for adults’ is concerned). If we wanted to limit the definition of shows that are ‘for adults’ to shows exclusively concerned with themes only relevant to adults, we’d be excluding a great deal of artistically vibrant and meaningful shows; if we instead categorize according to aesthetic merit or strength of writing or thematic resonance or whatever, we have to accept that many shows aimed at younger audiences are worth recognizing.
Basically, I think the categorization of shows as “for” certain audiences based on their aesthetic or specificity of themes is symptomatic of a pretty shallow way of evaluating or appreciating media. Unless we’re only talking about watching shows that are relevant to the viewer’s own experience, in which case… nope, that doesn’t change anything, tons of themes have universal resonance. And again, I’m being specific to art here, not entertainment, which is far more subjective and unique to everyone.
Admittedly, I have my own standards of shows that I believe are worth watching or that are talking down to me or whatever, but I try to keep in mind that my own line is not the end-all-be-all of ‘adult’ merit.
And in the interest of further expressing how silly this quest for maturity in entertainment is (and that I’m not totally oblivious to the subtext here):
- Watch whatever you want.
- Watch stuff like Naruto with sequential plotting, sneer at level 1.
- Watch stuff like Code Geass that maintains self-serious aesthetic, sneer at levels 1 and 2.
- Watch stuff like Monogatari that displays some craft, personality, and themes, sneer at levels 1-3.
- Watch stuff like Kino’s Journey or Aku no Hana that displays a generally high level of craft, sneer at levels 1-4.
- Discover film, sneer at all anime fans.
- Read only David Foster Wallace and James Joyce, sneer at anyone who enjoys anything.
- Watch whatever the fuck you want, give sneering muscles a rest.
This makes it sound like you’re disavowing the value of age classifications in general, which seems pretty misguided – isn’t age classification still a useful term when describing the expected content or style of storytelling in a show?
I don’t disagree; my complaint is mainly with people using stuff like that as a weapon, not as a tool to explain a show. And I don’t deny that for most people, that aesthetic stuff really is critical to their appreciation, and thus useful when having a show described to them (hell, I’ve actually used Monster’s synopsis to entice a non-anime fan to try the medium, specifically because I feel he evaluates shows largely according to their surface aesthetic).
I also kinda think that our standard methods of categorizing media does many works a disservice – one example of this being the “anime” = “cartoons” = “for children” perspective that is pretty much the standard in the West.
Management: The original discussion ended there. However, I think the point I was making scratched at but never fully addressed something fundamental about my perspective on media criticism, so here’s one more attempt to better explain myself.
Brief Aside for the Cynics and the Critics
I know this perspective might come across as devaluing criticism or art evaluation, but I’m not really trying to do that. My main point here is that people should be able to watch what they want to watch, and that our general methods of evaluating media seem to place much more emphasis on creating a reductive hierarchy than actually celebrating a meaningful relationship with art. And when it comes to that meaningful relationship, I think the sharpest of us can sometimes be the worst offenders – cynics who see recycled elements and dismiss an entire show, critics who see tired plot devices and construct an entire narrative of the show’s purpose. As far as that instinct goes, I really just want to emphasize the importance of humility, curiosity, and a genuine love of media.
When you dismiss a show out of hand, you may be right to, but you may also be missing something of true merit, even if it exists within a broken frame. Personally, I rarely watch shows expecting to be swept away and utterly entertained. Obviously: I’m a crusty, jaded, cynical critic myself. What I do watch shows for is to learn, be it through understanding new perspectives, seeing new tricks and pitfalls in various types of storytelling, or simply being more aware of my own thought processes. And to make the most of every show, I feel it’s pretty necessary to engage media from the perspective of asking what it can teach you, not what you can say about it.
Sure, in the end I generally try to synthesize my thoughts and articulate what I think the show is trying to say, and I certainly don’t always maintain this standard of humility (nor should anyone be expected to, nor does every piece of media actually reward this perspective). But I think media appreciation and criticism are pretty much an endless journey towards a fuller perspective, and that when people make hasty dismissals of media, they are denying themselves steps on this journey. Even if your ultimate thoughts still miss something (as all our thoughts regularly do), I don’t think there’s ever a downside to giving a show a chance. So, as pompous and hypocritical and assumptive as this makes me, I just want to say: Embrace humility. Always be curious. There is always something to learn.