August 09, 2012
We all complain about how it seems like every show is derivative of something that came before. But there are occasional shows which really do break the mold, and strike out into entirely new territory. Here's a small list of shows like that I can think of. Of course, being unique doesn't necessarily mean being good; being unique is a big risk, and sometimes risks don't pay off.
Haibane Renmei -- this one is obvious. There's never been anything like it, before or since. By the same token, Serial Experiments Lain.
Muteki Kanban Musume -- (aka "Ramen Fighter Miki") is completely out there. To the extent that it bears any resemblance to anything else, the resemblance is deliberate -- and subverted. It certainly isn't derivative. Miki, the titular unmatched poster girl, is a completely original character so far as I know -- and I almost died laughing the first time she got drunk. It isn't actually one of my favorite shows; I don't really do all that well with slapstick. But it wasn't a waste of time. And we have to give them credit for trying something unique.
Abenobashi Mahou Shotengai -- likewise wasn't a total success. But it was utterly unpredictable, right up to the end, and the three main characters were more engaging than I thought they would be. Most of the episodes ended up as genre sendups, and a couple of them landed with a thud. Even so, it was a brave attempt, and it really did strike out into unknown territory. (If there's any show that could be considered the progenitor of this one, it would be Excel Saga. But I don't think that's really close enough to count.)
Aria, the Animation -- The concept itself is amazing: Mars is terraformed, and one of the cities there is a deliberate recreation of Venice, and our main characters are three girls who are training to become gondoliers. But what's really unique about the series is the basic approach to story telling. This is a magical series, not in the classic mahou shoujo sense, but rather because it inspires a sense of wonder and delight. I didn't get the same feeling from the second series (which I gave up on about half way through) but the first series is pure magic from end to end. AtA is an example of iyashikei, "healing animation" but that's not a genre. It's a description of how it feels to watch the show.
Princess Tutu -- I haven't watched it, myself, and have no urge to do so. But we have to give it credit: how many shows can you name that are about a duck that falls in love with a prince, and defeats her enemies with ballet dancing?
Near misses: Fractale wasn't as original as the director thought it was. It borrowed more from Miyazaki than Yamamoto really admitted to himself. And it just wasn't very good story-telling. (The ending was a real disappointment.) But it was an attempt to strike out into new territory, and we must acknowledge that.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is, ultimately, part of the Giant Mecha genre. Certainly the real story being told was utterly strange and pretty much unique to that point (though it was ripped off later by Gasaraki), but it starts by seeming to be a typical Giant Mecha story.
I think that Ninja Nonsense should get credit for trying something new. It's slapstick, and it didn't really invent the concept of ninjas, but it certainly was fresh and it didn't feel derivative at all.
History: there are shows we look back on now, which have been imitated and mutated dozens of times, which therefore no longer look particularly original. It's easy to forget just how original they were when they first came out:
Dragonball was extremely loosely based on "Journey to the West" but it diverged from that pretty early and never really returned. The archetype shounen series, upon which all others were built. The sad thing is that later on, Toriyama started repeating himself. But early, it was very original.
I think we have to give originality points to Urusei Yatsura. "Unwanted Magical Girlfriend" is now a well-worn and tattered genre, but this is where it all began.
Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at August 09, 2012 06:24 PM (5OBKC)
Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at August 09, 2012 06:29 PM (5OBKC)
I don't see Figure 17 as being at all unique or massively original. Remember, it's possible for a show to be utterly derivative and still be engaging and entertaining. The fact that you like a show doesn't mean it's original.
Nodame Cantabile is a romance story at its core. All the business about music is just paint job.
And I sure don't see anything particularly original about IdolM@ster.
And Azumanga Daioh is "cute girls doing cute things", which sure didn't originate with it. The fact that it's done really, really well doesn't make it unique.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 09, 2012 06:31 PM (+rSRq)
I thought about including Upotte as a near miss, but it isn't really unique enough even for that. Shows that are half documentary aren't new (see e.g. Spice and Wolf) and once you take that out of the mix, what you're left with is a half-rate fan service show mixed in with "cute girls doing cute things".
Magical Girlfriend X is "magical girlfriend". The fact that it has one new idea doesn't make it completely original; it's just a variation on the genre.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 09, 2012 06:34 PM (+rSRq)
1. It isn't unique to cross two genres which haven't been crossed before. To Aru Majutsu no Index isn't unique.
2. It isn't unique to massively subvert an existing genre. Puella Magi Madoka Magica doesn't qualify.
3. It isn't unique to do a fantastic job of an existing genre. Azumanga Daioh isn't unique.
4. It isn't unique to take an existing genre and do it in a new way. Bottle Fairy isn't unique. (It's a "man from mars" show for most of its duration.)
5. It isn't unique to have very unusual character designs. Divergence Eve isn't unique, nor is Macademi Wasshoi.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 09, 2012 06:39 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Jaked at August 09, 2012 08:37 PM (ayzcl)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 09, 2012 09:16 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Mauser at August 10, 2012 01:01 AM (cZPoz)
Posted by: tellu541 at August 10, 2012 04:28 AM (9Llda)
Kino's Journey fits your criteria pretty well. I'd say so do Higurashi (repeating horror/mystery) and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (iyashikei set after the apocalypse). More recently I'd argue for Eden of the East (at its heart about changing society) and
Historical: Ranma 1/2 (martial arts romantic comedy, unwilling fiancees who probably secretly like each other), and Kimagure Orange Road (instead of a magical girlfriend, the protagonist is from a magical family, Madoka is probably the first tsundere, long-running love triangle).
Posted by: muon at August 10, 2012 05:52 AM (JXm2R)
Posted by: BigFire at August 10, 2012 11:39 AM (O7l6D)
Haruhi as the first "let sleeping gods lie" anime?
Re: "History"... what was the earliest seinen-tearjerker-romance/some-dude-fixes-all-the-girls-problems show? The first round of Kanon was 2002, I'd think something would have done it earlier.
Re: "A complete change in theme, genre, and visual style every episode for a full 2 cour?" ... Excel Saga paved the way, with the writer showing up at the start of each episode to give his permission for it to be a sports drama/police procedural/high-school romance/whatever for that week. No episode-wide art style change or tone change though; it just went comedy to (attempted) serious and back to comedy across 2 cours.
(Should these also be, for lack of a better term, "anime-ish" genres? I'm not sure the first chumps-to-champs sports story, or first high-school romance, or first samurai drama would count for much.)
Posted by: Mikeski at August 10, 2012 02:32 PM (1bPWv)
first chumps-to-champs sports story
Um, "Knute Rockne, All American"? And I think the story concept was old then.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 10, 2012 02:45 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Dave Young at August 10, 2012 04:26 PM (ZAk0Z)
If you just mean "magical girl" series... kinda-sorta? Spoilered just in case:
(Outside of magical girl shows, millions of examples. And that's just Dragonball Z.)
Posted by: Mikeski at August 10, 2012 08:19 PM (1bPWv)
Posted by: Toren at August 11, 2012 01:15 PM (7TRcO)
Enclose all spoilers in spoiler tags:
[spoiler]your spoiler here[/spoiler]
Spoilers which are not properly tagged will be ruthlessly deleted on sight.
Also, I hate unsolicited suggestions and advice. (Even when you think you're being funny.)
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