I’ve watched many anime and something I’ve noticed when scraping the barrel of a particular genre is how conservative many anime are with creativity and new ideas. Many times I have watched different anime that were essentially the same anime with only slight differences. For example – Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry and Gakusen Toshi Asterisk are EXTREMELY similar, you will feel like you watched the same anime twice with these two. It’s something that occurs quite a bit within genres; magic school, slice of life, shounen, et cetera.
At this point it’s clear that the anime industry has become very well established. Not just in terms of producers, studios and other companies, but also in terms of ideas. Genres are very well defined, and you can bet that anyone creating a particular anime will have a checklist that they can follow for any existing genre that will follow the industry standard to a T. Anime has been around for long enough that one could easily analyze all of the successful past anime of a particular genre and gather what made them so great. This creates a safety net that new creators can use to ensure that their anime will not fall below the average viewers expectations.
The problem comes with creative differences, and this is what I wanted to write about. The Rule of Seven is a rule that I heard originally for game design that applies very well to anime. The summary of the rule is this: on a rating scale of 1 to 10, it is easiest to create a product that will be rated a 7 – this is because the elements you add that may propel your product to a 10 to some people can also tumble your rating down to a 1 for others. To achieve an average (7) rating, all one needs to do is follow the industry standards, but to go beyond involves risking the 7 rating, for better or worse.
To strive for a 10 means using creative differences from the standard. Creative differences can make masterpieces and set new standards, but they also can result in failures. They can also polarize the viewer to a particular rating – what one person may love another may hate. Basically, the very element that may make an anime a masterpiece can also make the anime unwatchable.
Baccano! is a perfect example of how a creative difference can polarize viewers into having a very positive or negative opinion about an anime. In this case, the creative difference is the non-linear method of storytelling where the story jumps around between past and present instead of telling the story in a straightforward linear fashion. The choice to present the anime this way leaves a strong impression on viewers that has a large impact on their opinion of it. If you look at reviews, there are very positive reviews striking this choice as genius, and there are very negative reviews stating that this choice was irritating and chaotic.
I think in the case of Baccano! the choice worked out as a net positive, as the anime has an above average rating of 8.5, but this is an example of the risks that need to be taken to elevate an anime beyond the average. And even though the anime has an 8.5 rating, and was enjoyed by many, the creative differences used also ruined it for some. The reality is that you can’t please everyone, and that is the core lesson learned from the rule of 7 in regards to using creative differences. The more ambitious you are, the more polarizing opinions will be.
And this is ultimately why so many anime feel similar – to deviate from the industry standard is to risk that comfortable 7 rating. Businesses will always look to avoid uncertainty, and creative differences create uncertainty. You can see this in all types of media – games, movies, books, even music. And to be fair, if it works then it works, the industry standards became standards because people enjoy them – even if certain elements can become repetitive. It is just safer to go for the sure thing and settle with a 7 than take the risk and strive for a 10 and so that’s what we see.
And with all of these 7’s floating around, it just means that when a 10 does surface it will be that much more enjoyable.