NOTE: Old post, a little rambly. Also, some opinions expressed are different to my perspective as of now.
Recently I read a fantastic but fairly brief article by Bobduh, one that I’ve been aware of but haven’t read. You can find the article here:(http://wrongeverytime.com/2013/07/09/media-goals-and-critical-evaluation/), and he talks about the importance of the fulfilment of goals of a series as well as its artistic merit. I found this intriguing because I tend to come across criticisms for a lot of Anime that are much more “bad story” this and “bad characters” that than any legitimate broad evaluation that can confidently back up such generic arguments. This is similar to points that others, myself included, have made in the past, but I feel it’s worth making clear what a series’ goals mean in a broader sense.
I personally hate sticking to the categories of story, character, animation, sound and enjoyment, because it’s extremely vague. I should hope that very few works of art are made with the creators going “gee whiz let’s make something good with good characters and good story and pretty visuals and a nice soundtrack that’s fun”. There are much more specific intentions than that in mind even with the most mindnumbingly simplistic works of art. The categories themselves certainly hold value, and there’s no excuse for outright ineptitude in any one of them, but with anything you watch try to understand how those aspects make or break the series on a fundamental level and on a personal level.
Let’s start with “Kill la Kill has bad animation”. I’ve heard that many many times since the series has aired. It’s certainly not in any broad sense “well animated”, but I think that judgement misses the forest for the trees. When a series like Kill la Kill is so in your face with its inconsistency in animation it’s clearly not an oversight resulting from bad design. As a matter of fact it’s very clearly an intentional stylistic choice when you’ve got Mako sliding around the room like a flat piece of paper in a three-dimensional space. Would fluid animation enhance that? No way. You may not like that style, but it’s a style that exists very much with the goals of what the series wants to be in mind, and I’d say it undeniably works to some notable degree in direct enhancement of the erratic tongue-in-cheek tone. Some people have pointed out to me that there’s certain action scenes in the series that they believe are damaged by the lack of animation, but for me that’s not an issue because the density and aesthetic complete the action scenes for me just as much if not more than clever choreography would in another series. I personally have a great appreciation for the overall goals for the series that I’ve derived. What I find to be valuable in the series is something that some may define as “pandering”, but it’s the way it panders that impresses me. Considering it’s so broad in its fanservice it’s less “buy our show” to me than it is a reflection of the kind of crazy pulpy industry that Anime has become. You may how your own ideas about Kill la Kill, but that’s not exactly what I’m discussing here. In short, Kill la Kill does quite a bit in terms of actively achieving its own goals and arguably I believe its artistic merit makes that valuable.
Madoka Magica is another series that I believe has gotten flack for reasons irrelevant to what it is. Bobduh himself has gone on record to point out how people like to call out the show for its “shock value” even though every dark scene in the series is very much in direct service of the narrative and thematic goals of the series. Madoka Magica clearly isn’t a series which has goals as simple as “let’s make a story about characters you feel sad for”, because there’s very clearly a much broader and more intelligent narrative in there than that which knows what it’s doing. Your emotional attachment boils down to subjectivity, not so much what the series does right or wrong. The biggest target for that way of thinking that Madoka just wants you to feel sad for its characters is Mami’s death. First off, I think it’s just people arbitrarily pointing to the fact that she was only around for three episodes. Relatively speaking three episodes isn’t particularly a lot but first off Mami wasn’t the be all and end all of the series and it didn’t hinge on you feeling sad when she died. Secondly, three may be a small number, but put it this way: Mami had about 45 minutes of characterisation. Sounds a lot better now, doesn’t it? 45 minutes is plenty of time to spread out strong characterisation well, and I’ve seen different works of fiction put much less time into much more important characters before killing them off, and yet none of them have ever been called into question because no one actually takes anyone who tries to argue that seriously with those works. Mami’s death has some pretty broad implications in the narrative. The series showed that Mami was important to Madoka and Sayaka because she was a role model who gave them a seemingly protected perspective on the magical girl life through the direct dialogue between them regarding whether they should become magical girls as well as through showing them witch fights in which she tried to protect them. The way Mami talked to them about being magical girls and acted as a mentor directly related to how her perspective was shaped by the reasons as to why she became a magical girl. When Mami dies they lose that safety, causing them to doubt whether they should have followed in her footsteps due to what happened to her. That’s reason enough to warrant an emotional attachment to Mami due to her very clearly defined and directly shown importance to Madoka and Sayaka, but more importantly than that it’s of very direct benefit to the overall value of the narrative. That scene continues from them on to expand the complexity of the situation pretty damn effectively and leads to the development of some very mature and very human themes. That’s narrative goals, that’s the difference between a shock twist and a series expressing its themes effectively and consistently throughout while also providing something fundamentally strong to potentially be emotionally invested in.
I think Bobduh goes into it more deeply and looks at it in the broader perspective of differentiating values of narrative goals such as considering the goals of a series like SAO are quite arguably less important than the goals of a series like Madoka, but I decided to just focus on two shows that I personally felt had artistically valuable goals to illustrate how important it is to look beyond a generic definition of a good series and to consider whether or not certain aspects are actually fundamentally positive or damaging to what a series at its core is and what it intends to be.