Originality versus Execution

Management: Another brief one. This topic could easily be expanded into questions like “what is originality?” and “what is the intersection of craft and voice?”, as well as the way craft and insight inherently lead to a level of specificity in storytelling which makes any good genre piece “original” enough to avoid feeling derivative or superfluous. But those are easily essays by themselves.


When forming your opinion of a show, what do you value more highly: originality or execution?


Originality can make a show noteworthy, or even influential.

Execution is what makes a show good.

Either way, true originality is a very, very rare thing – generally, a unique idea is achieved by combining elements of prior stories, prior aesthetics, prior tricks of pacing and direction, in order to create a specific aesthetic and narrative which serves the purposes of a new show. And even if something really is unprecedented, that in itself might be valuable because it offers future shows a new tool, but if the show that actually introduces that tool is beset by other failings or doesn’t even use that tool well, it still won’t necessarily be a good show.

Anime actually has a leg up on mediums like literature or film here, in that it’s a far less fully explored medium (which could also be considered a nice way of saying it has a very limited critical catalog), so there are new visual ideas and aesthetics emerging fairly regularly. But if we’re talking on a personal level, then I have to admit I’m a person who approaches anime as a storytelling medium, where sound and visuals can certainly supplement or elevate narrative, but in a vacuum mean little more to me than a beautiful book cover does for a book I’m reading. I’m a story craft person, and I don’t find stories interesting because they surprise me with new ideas – I find stories interesting because a skillful craftsmen can spin well-worn materials into truth, enlightenment, empathy, catharsis. As I said, new ideas aren’t good or bad, they’re just new, and offer new opportunities. Whether a show makes the most of those opportunities is a reflection of execution, which is a combination of absolute mastery of craft and a creator’s individual voice, which is generally where most passion or creativity is expressed.

Most storytelling is not a result of spinning raw, brilliant and unprecedented ideas out of nothing – most storytelling is a result of taking maybe a dozen big ideas (a romance between a teacher and his former student! a story about how class relations are affected by generational shift! a fable about letting go!), tossing in a scattering of fifty or so small ideas (frame it around the condemning and eventual tearing down of their favorite bookstore! some kind of cat motif! his arc goes here->here->here! change the color palette depending on character perspective!), staring at the fifty thousand brushes, saws, and hammers known to every writer/director/etc, and setting to work.

8 thoughts on “Originality versus Execution

  1. For me persay, I think a good balance between the two is needed for a show to click with me. Too far in one direction causes a buncha problems. For a great executed thing with an unoriginal premise, there’s Monsters University and Turbo. It executes the kiddy cliches well and all (well, maybe not Turbo), but if you’ve seen one of those college or “dream big” movies, you weren’t exactly getting anything out of it. However, if you don’t execute a great premise well, you get the majority of Bones’ output (goddamn Eureka Seven Ao). Now if I had to choose one, it’d probably be the well-executed thing. I’m no fan of Lagann, but it executes its super robot cliches really well and I can respect it for that. On the other hand, Jormungand has a premise not touched on by most anime. And it’s one of the most worthless anime I’ve seen in my life because of how badly it fucks it up.

    • I feel it’s often a tricky distinction to make, since honestly, something that’s executed with incredible skill will tend to be populated with shots, characters, conversations, or ideas that differentiate it from other examples of the genre, even if the genre frame and story beats are familiar. They don’t have to be incredibly unusual – just being very vividly and intelligently portrayed can make the elements distinctive. But this sort of gets into my “not all goals are created equal” thing, where a standard moe SoL could be the most well-crafted standard moe SoL possible and I’d still only give it a 4 or 5 out of 10.

      • If there’s one argument I can’t stand, it’s the ‘it’s good for what it is” argument. Probably second-hated after the “it’s fun. Isn’t that enough?’ argument. You can say a snuff film is well-produced for what it is sure, but it’s still a snuff film.

        • Yeah, something that’s pure entertainment or escapism just doesn’t go as high on my scale of evaluation as something with really powerful themes or really insightfully portrayed characters. And agreed on the “you shouldn’t critically evaluate things, things should just be fun” point – that’s just straight anti-intellectualism, and I don’t really consider it any different from responding to a critical essay with “tldr 2deep4u” or something.

          • I’d add “be funny” to something that would go high on my scale in addition to the stuff you mentioned, because I can overlook a lot of bad stuff if it’s funny. Ex: I rank Urusei Yatsura a 10 on my MAL and it’s premise is pretty much To-Love-Ru’s. But it’s really funny (to me at least), so I can overlook the whole magical alien girlfriend thing and all.

      • “it’s good for what it is” aint’ that bad really
        What’s the difference between that and “it’s good, but not really my thing”?
        Nothing wrong with admitting something has it’s merits without caring for it. I don’t like the idea of folks using that as an excuse to try to please everyone all the time though

  2. Excellent points here. I also wrote a post about this topic a while back, but you summed it up better and more concisely XD I also believe that true originality is nearly impossible to achieve, and that the ability to take the best of existing ideas and weave them into something good, is ultimately better than just doing something new. Or, to simply take an overused cliche and revive it with quality writing, direction, and aesthetics, turning it into an “ambassador” if you will for its genre. Coming up with something original doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of effort and care was put into it – the way it’s executed is more telling of that =)

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