NOTE: Old post, sorta rambly. Also, some opinions expressed are different to my perspective as of now.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard someone recommend or defend a particular work by saying “you’ve gotta shut your brain off and not think about things”. You get works that get described as that in pretty much all art forms, particularly multimedia art forms, but Anime seems to get it more than anything else. Such works include Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill, Mirai Nikki, Sword Art Online, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Guilty Crown, Valvrave, the list goes on and on. My disagreement lies in the fact that those Anime aren’t all the same as one another. A lot of them have a calculated absurdity to them that you can genuinely appreciate as an intelligent thoughtful person, and it insults a work to say you can only like it by lowering yourself. As for the rest of them the amusement lies partly in bad design considering they take serious overtones, and they shouldn’t be put in the same category as the aforementioned that engage purely in good design. The three from that list that have the most calculated absurdity are Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. I haven’t seen Gurren Lagann all the way through so I’ll focus on the latter two.
Kill la Kill is calculated in that it’s pretty much built from the ground up on nothing but fanservice and cliches. That’s not inherently bad considering the series is blatant parody. That’s not to say it just does stupid things and gets away with it because it intends to be stupid. A series built entirely on tongue-in-cheek pandering is an unbelievable feat, not to mention aside from its parody (among other things, mind you) it’s an insanely dense and fast paced series (which I think both subtly and obviously takes a shot at the sluggish pacing of battle shonen adaptations like Naruto and Attack on Titan), and that density and pacing is so thrilling that it forcefully suspends your disbelief rather than simply asking you not to think. Kill la Kill is beyond style over substance, it’s just flatout style, and I really loved that.
JoJo is similar but different. I think I should note first of all that I’m also talking in regards to the original Manga of JoJo which has covered a lot more content than the Anime. JoJo also forcefully suspends your disbelief and has a shit ton of style, but I’d also argue that its substance is just as wonderful. The art is fantastically defined and detailed while also vividly flamboyant, the little details coming from Araki’s knowledge, tastes and influences are endlessly rich, characters like Jotaro who alone are boring characters are supported not only by the character dynamic surrounding them but also by the sheer style of their aesthetic, the action scenes (bar a few from Part III) are all wonderful in choreography and diversity, it’s just an insanely rich battle shonen all around.
With the other shows I mentioned it’s fair to say they kind of are “dumb fun”. Depending on where you stand with each of those shows you’ll either see them as more dumb than fun or vice versa. Out of those shows I’ve only finished Sword Art Online. Sword Art Online is not a terrible series in my opinion, but it is undoubtedly a series that’s inconsistent by bad design rather than by any deliberate tone it sets. Mirai Nikki is one I’d say was just plain dumb, though it is fun in all the wrong ways.
My point is that you don’t need to “shut your brain off”. When something has significant weaknesses that bother you enough that you have to go out of your way to ignore them, is it worth it? When a show’s design is intentionally silly it pays to observe through analysis because there’s an art to being engaging in simple amusing ways just as there is an art to being engaging in complex thought-provoking ways. That may come off as picky, but by being critically literate at a basic level you’re likely already subconsciously picking out those little things that make something plain old fun.