Well… that title isn’t exactly correct. Whether you’re a loyal reader who follows me, or just a reader/anime fan wondering what literary garbage THIS writer is going to try shoving down your eyeholes, I’ll remind you/justify myself by stating I don’t believe in anything called a “bad anime.” Any show can appease a viewer for different reasons at different times. For example: You might hate the trashy animation of School Days but love that it covers a topic not often discussed in the medium, or you may love the intricacies of Code Geass’s plot, but are allergic to anything resembling a tragedy. Or maybe you think Pupa is hilarious and recommend it earnestly to friends because you’re a troll trying to earn his special seat in hell. Whatever the case… even if I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “bad anime,” I still believe there are ways to screen shows where, and when, the quality drops considerably to the point where you’ll probably feel like… dropping the anime. So, without further fluff, here are my top ten ways to spot a bad anime.
1. It’s a Harem
Okay, put down the tomatoes and let me explain. There are some REALLY good harems out there (Tenchi, High School DxD, and Kanon come to mind), but most are trying to throw away all the things you love about a good story (Like plot) in exchange for appealing to a man’s lowest common denominator: his lust. As a result, most harems have cardboard characters fitting tested-and-proven tropes to serve us guys’ unhealthy but necessary desires (No… not really). Gems do exist, but if you’re looking for a good quality anime, it’s usually recommended to steer away from this genre.
2. The protagonist looks like a character from a more acclaimed anime
I call this one “Matrix Deja Vu Syndrome.” You’re in a dark room with a bunch a bad-asses wearing tight, leather, gimpy outfits fit for a vampire rave, when you see Kirito from Sword Art Online pass you by and wave, “Hie!” A second later, Touya from In Another World With My Smartphone passes you by, waves, and says, “Hie!” You then say, “Huh, deja vu,” prompting everyone in their five-hundred dollar sunshades to look in your direction like you just farted a can of dog crap. “What did you just say?” your robotic love interest asks. “I just thought I saw an anime character walk past… then a guy who looked just like him with different clothes pass in the same direction.” One of your fellow gimps walks towards them, alarmed with a gun, while Miss-Roboto informs you, “Seeing a similar anime protagonist in a better anime means we’re probably in a bad one, and is indicative of a glitch in the animation studio’s creative team.” Similar to the one mentioned above (Ha), similar protagonists designs, just like using similar personality tropes, is a tried and true method for success, yet may also indicate a lack of creativity in other aspects of the show. Therefore, after seeing a hero in a successful anime, be wary of copycats who resemble his design. You might be a viewing a show more concerned with sales than in creating an intriguing viewing experience.
3. It’s the 3rd Season of a Series
All wide-eyed anime viewers have experienced this to the point where it’s expected but needs to be stated for the novice watchers among us. The first season of your show is perfect. It has the perfect blend between action and comedy, the pacing is to your liking, and it has an ending making you thirsty for more antics. The second season takes things in a slightly different direction, and decides to focus heavily on either the action or comedy aspects of the show while… generally keeping the plot going in a positive direction. Then you have the third season, where the creatives are so frightened of doing the same thing over again (Which is in itself a terrifying trap: Look at Ready Player 2) they decide to jump-the-shark with a rocket ship by introducing aliens in a show grounded in reality, placing complex political drama in a simple action show about survival, or doing away with all the action in a show entirely for balls-to-the-walls comedic gaffs. Are the creators bored, are they following what their statistics and producers demand, or has a new studio taken over the story writing? Whatever the reason (and who honestly cares), it all equates to you wanting to bomb what you once loved. Save yourself the glycerin, trust me, and just avoid the 3rd season all together.
4. Everyone Gives it Medium Scores
This skill of criticism is what I’ll call a “pro-gamer move.” When you go on your preferred anime viewing site, you’ll find three different types of people: The worshippers, the haters, and the brutally honest. The worshippers will flood certain anime, give them perfect 10s (or 5s or Ss, depending on the rating scale) and claim it’s the best invention since the microwave and internet porn. The haters call everything crap because it harms their delicate sensibilities, gives them more views, and, for some reason, it’s somehow hilarious to scream hate at something without a shred of reasoning behind it. The brutally honest dot their reviews with average scores (between 5 and 7… and 8 being excellent), because nothing is truly worthy of being garbage or godly. The trick is discovering which type of person has flooded your review channel: If a show gets nothing but perfect 10s, don’t be a hater and realize, even if the anime isn’t everything you’re looking for, it must be doing something right to garner so much praise. If a show gets mostly 1s or 2s with scathing reviews calling the anime names you wouldn’t label your worst enemy, realize you’re in Hater Zone, and even if the show isn’t doing much right, it’s producing a unique effect to give people strong opinions about it, the effect you might find enjoyable. However… if your anime reviews are wrought with 5, 6s, or 7s, run for the hills, for this is a sign people are trying to find something noteworthy about a show, but just can’t. The show might be overhyped, a gem a few “dedicated” fans can appreciate, or have a single interesting character making it watchable, but it’s not enough to save its viewers from going “Meh” when viewing it.
5. Its plot centers around an element used by a more acclaimed anime
You can consider this a subcategory of “Matrix Deja Vu Syndrome.” You’ll have an anime of the year based on super heroes, then you’ll have three more anime based off the same concept while adding a twist. Maybe the superhero has the power to defeat everyone he meets in One Punch, or maybe there’s a serial killer hiding among the superhero school to kill all the people in tights? Only one of these shows is going to get it right (And don’t kid yourself; only one of them did), and that show is going to be the only one worth of your time. The others will most likely (Not all the time though) be trying to ride a bandwagon to take advantage of the one who “got it right’s” success (Even worse is when so many ride a bandwagon it becomes a genre unto itself. Cough Isekai Cough). Don’t follow the bandwagon off a cliff; avoid the copycats to avoid having to gouge your eyes out due to a terrible anime.
6. It’s made by a studio known to produce duds
Ever heard the saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” Unfortunately, when it comes to anime studios, the apple doesn’t just drop at the tree’s trunk, but floats in the air for awhile, like Dave Chapelle from that Prince skit, defying the laws of common sense to create a line of rotten apples you wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, touch with Masamune. I’m not going to sow studio prejudice by naming some perpetrators here, but if the show you’re viewing has a long list of predecessors with endings lacking plot continuity (*Cough* Panty Stocking with Garter Belt) or a shared universe fitting together as well as a peanut butter and sushi sandwich, then you only have yourself to blame for expecting things to be any different with their studio’s next “big hit.” Yes, sometimes you will find a diamond in a heaping pile of dung (Did you know Steins; Gate is part of a shared universe of shows made by the same studio? That’s right, now look it up and cry.), but I’d argue it’s not worth the smell or the scepsis to go digging. Just go to a jewelry store instead.
7. It’s a studio’s experiment into another genre
I will give this one to you simple: Do you eat food? How about go to fast food restaurants, a.k.a salad bars by the old and Winnie the Poohs wearing tuxedos (For whatever reason; I still don’t get it)? If Pizza Hut told you today they were selling burgers, you might be curious, but would you trust it? How about if Burger King extended its product line into tacos? Ever tried a McDog before? Then why would you trust a comedy studio to make an action series, or one known for slice-of-life to make a horror anime? Just don’t.
8. It’s an Ecchi Anime
I already know this is not going to age well during the year of Interspecies Reviewers, but I can assure you this show was the exception and not the rule. Ecchi extends into many genres other than Harems, is capable of infiltrating any genre from slice-of-life to drama, and is identifiable in the anime if one of the first shots you see of a female character is of her panties, butt, or her boobs jiggling as she struts down the aisle. I believe, and have seen, it used tastefully in anime (No, that wasn’t a paradox you prudes), yet these moments are as few as albino tigers in the wild. If you see such elements in an anime, especially in the first episode as a way to introduce its female cast, expect a rough ride that, chances are, will end in a train wreck of bouncing busts and panty rainbows.
9. It has a highly successful manga
No, anime with successful manga are not bad. As a matter of fact, most of them are good, really good, and I’ll assure you in a moment the title isn’t a lie. Sometimes, a toxic community can ruin an anime experience, and make one wish one never touched its pristine shores, air free of pollution, and pacifist ideology, similarly to one wondering into a Fate Lost Belt. Anime with successful manga are guaranteed to have two different types of sh*t draggers policing its streets: The haters who detest the show with a passion simply because the protagonist took the left door instead of the right one, and the stans who will torch the house of anyone who thinks episode 4 out of 157 might have jumped the shark from the main plot. It’s ironic, because the haters only make people curious about the show even more, while the stans make the community so toxic people bypass their demagogue just to avoid the death threats, resulting in two sides of a war drawing everyone to their enemy’s cause… To avoid this crapstorm, I recommend avoiding the show altogether, or at least until the flame war dies down and these milk-drinkers move on to the next big manga-turned-anime.
10. You either find yourself yawning or confused in the first three episodes
This last one has nothing to do with my subjective beliefs on avoiding wasting hours of your life hoping a tree grows from a nuclear waste site. Trust your instincts when viewing an anime, especially within the first three episodes. If you feel like you're watching paint dry, or like you’re watching the winner of an AMV Festival but expect a plot to be somewhere inbetween the-scene-per-frame pacing, then perhaps you should trust your instincts and get off that bus with Sandra Bullock at the helm and Keanu Reeves riding shotgun. Do it before it’s too late, and you find yourself hoping the final fight between a vampire named Cain and Abel goes somewhere, or caught in an endless summer controlled by an immature girl with god-powers.
In My Epic Conclusion:
Seriously though, thank you for taking the time to read my article. What "bad" anime have you suffered through, and what precautions from this list should you have followed to save yourself from going out Titanic-style? Let me know in the comments below, and Peace Out...
© 2021 Zeron87
Zeron87 (author) on January 06, 2021:
Thanks for commenting Nigel! Yeah, Domestic Girlfriend was a real psychotic treat. If you like torturing yourself as much as me (And from the sound of things it seems like you do), then I'd also recommend Scum's Wish. It's the closest thing to School Days I've seen, where you'll be wanting every character to drown themselves in a river like a wave of lemmings.
Nigel Kirk from Calgary, AB, CAN on January 05, 2021:
Nice to find other anime writers around here! Like you, I don't think there's anything such as "bad anime" as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I do know of anime I didn't enjoy. Most recently, it was "Domestic Girlfriend." It was like "School Days" in the sense all the characters were horrible people cheating on each other and manipulative, but at least in "School Days" the characters got the ending they deserved.