In My View: Yes, Genre is Important

Over the last few months, I’ve heard a few comments dismissing the importance of genre. These vary from saying that you can’t say that a show is bad because you don’t like a genre to genre is a marketing tool developed to sell more stuff.

First, I want to say that genre is important for so many reasons that I’ll get into later and that it’s a natural outcropping of human bieng’s desire to categorize and understand their environment. When faced with a plethora of entertainment choices it would be almost impossible to pick what you wanted to watch without genre. If I say that Kenshin is a shounen fighting show, then it brings to mind certain plot types. The viewer is going to know it’s going to involve fighting (perhaps tournament style, perhaps not), that it’s probably going to involve a plucky young hero (although it doesn’t in this case) and it’s going to involve some big badasses that the hero has to beat, even though it won’t seem at the time that he has a chance.

The viewer is going to “know” all of these things without me saying anything more than shounen fighting show. The actual genre becomes a type of short-hand communication tool, so I don’t have to say, “Well there’s this show set around the beginning of the Meiji era in Japan that focuses on this swordsman who has sworn not to kill any body. He ends up getting into a lot of fights with people who try and pick on his friends or his country. And some of these people are real badasses and he has to train some so he can beat up on them.”

While that second description is more accurate, it certainly isn’t as easy to say as shounen fighting show. Also another important use in language is distinguishing it from other things. If I argue that Kenshin is the best shounen fighting show ever, it actually means something different than Kenshin is the best anime ever or even the best television series ever.

But even more important than its use as a communication tool, is its importance as a analysis tool. While I agree with Saturnine that a show can be analyzed outside of its genre,  a show also has to be analyzed within the conventions of it’s genre.

If you noticed on my little discourse about shounen fighting shows, I mentioned at least one way that Kenshin is different from the conventions of the genre. Instead of a plucky, young hero, Kenshin is a battle-weary ronin trying to atone for his sins. Now without understanding the genre, this would lose any importance. Essentially he’d become just another hero. And you’d be stuck analyzing him as just another hero. (Of course by applying that label to him I’ve classified him, so I’m not sure if that’s okay with the anti-genre advocates).

This holds true for any genre. Without a sense of the history and conventions of the genre, then you’re just as likely to say a mediocre series is great because individually it is. The funny thing is that nobody ever does this, and that’s because they know that those series aren’t great because they used the genre as a gauge.

While I do agree that judging as good or bad based on it’s genre is a mistake. It’s just as much of a mistake to go the other way and say that genre isn’t important, when it’s so obvious that it is.

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9 Comments

  1. I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at. Yes, in terms of organization and terminology, categorizing things into “genres” obviously proves useful. I don’t think anyone ever questioned that.

    The real issue is negative connotations surrounding specific genres, where people will instantly dismiss a show because it falls under that particular label. In this case, genre is not as important as people make it out to be, since no genre is inherently “bad”. While certain genres tend to produce more crap than others, it still does not entail that every title from that genre is crap. Thus, when determining whether a specific title is actually good or not, THEN the genre proves irrelevant. From your closing paragraph, you seem to agree with this.

    With that said, you’re not really going against the grain here or anything. In fact, I’d say most people should have the common sense to have already recognized this.

  2. By the way, I liked your old layout better. =)

  3. @ Sagacious C – Actually it was largely a response to a couple of comments I’ve read about genre. Mostly that genre isn’t useful or necessary in analysis.

    And your right, I don’t agree with classifying a show as “bad” because a person doesn’t like the genre. Although I think that when determining is a show is good, then genre actually is important. Because it’s necessary for comparison.

    Yeah, not necessarily my best post. It’s just that I was trying to narrow my thoughts down on the subject to one or two specific points.

    Darn… to be honest, I’m trying to keep both sites updated. I’m just putting this one through AnimeNano since so many people seem to like WordPress. And I thought I might go with a little bit of a change up.

  4. WordPress is worth it for the pingbacks and the easier commenting, if nothing else.

  5. Hmm, this post reminds me a lot about the discussion of character stereotype terms such as ‘tsundere’ and whatnot, in that they should serve more as starting points than as the entire picture.

    This holds true for any genre. Without a sense of the history and conventions of the genre, then you’re just as likely to say a mediocre series is great because individually it is.

    I’m confused on this. Are you saying that without proper of knowledge of genre, we can overrate shows, much like how a first-time anime watcher can be floored by an entry-level shonen such as DBZ or Naruto?

    Personally I find it’s the opposite, in that I tend to glorify things in comparison, but that might be a result of the wide quality range of the genres I tend to watch.

    (Oh, and new site looks slick. The grey textbox backdrop is a bit off-putting compared to the very understated black of the Blogger one, but overall I think it’s better. It’s just different, which throws me, but, y’know, change good.)

  6. […] what Sagacious C said in the comments, no one’s questioning the usage of genre in an everyday basis. My argument is an entirely […]

  7. […] some coincidental genre-talk crossfire going on around other places, combined with my following of 2007 hit Nodame Cantabile, I […]

  8. @ CCY – That has been my experience. Mostly more in books than anything. For instance, I know a lot of people who’ve read Neil Gaiman and think he’s the sweetest thing since bread and butter. Now I think his books are good. But in comparison to all the fantasy I have read, I’d say there are better ones.

    But I have seen this with anime as well. People are likely to be floored by a show like DBZ or Naruto because they haven’t seen a Kenshin or even a Fullmetal Alchemist (although who hasn’t seen that show by now).

    In a lot of ways, I do think that fans of a particular genre are more qualified to judge whether a show is good or not. But I also think that it is expected that they’ll like those shows more.

  9. […] Aside from anything linked in the above, all this kicked off because of the Search for Number Nine’s suggestion that ‘Genre is Important‘. […]


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