One of the many things I love about animation is the number of different ideas it can portray. Live action can only show that which can be displayed in real life which leads suspension of disbelief to often be broken when live action tries to portray more “out there” concepts. Animation never looks real, which means that the gap between normality and abnormality within the medium is much less jarring than it is in live action. Anime tends to be very aware of this benefit of animation, and because of this many anime embrace absurdity to its fullest extent.
The kind of absurdity displayed in anime is usually of a specific type. The over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek way that many anime display their weirder aspects could be described as camp, and they often embrace these elements wholeheartedly. In fact, anime as a medium is so thoroughly entrenched in camp that it often appears to be taking itself too seriously when it goes for a darker and more serious tone.
The most clear example of the type of anime I’m talking about is Jojo. Contrary to how it may appear from the outside, Jojo does in fact have serious writing and legitimately emotional moments. But it’s a show which often relishes in its own silliness.
Every action in Jojo is over-the-top and treated as far more serious than it is, even at times when the show itself is aware that the events taking place are farcical at best. The show’s well known poses are treated as completely normal things within the show, but this makes it even more clear that the show is aware that it’s not normal. Anything Dio says makes it clear how much the show loves to indulge in its own ridiculousness.
This acceptance of its own absurdity and this ever present and clearly beloved camp only lends to the show. Jojo’s appeal lies in the fact that despite the incredibly fun and ridiculous antics that the show is known for, it can still tell an interesting — and at time emotional — story. This becomes even more clear as the writing improves and the camp is turned up in the later parts, but this appeal is evident from the very beginning.
To direct this to a show I watched recently, Girls und Panzer captures this camp appeal excellently. The premise alone is ridiculous, but the show itself never questions it. This world where girls driving tanks in competition is a common sport is presented as a completely plausible version of our world, and this is what makes it clear that the show is in on the joke. A lesser show would attempt to seriously justify the reason why such a ridiculous premise actually makes sense, but this only makes it clear that a show is taking itself too seriously. A show which really knows how to use camp will just sit back and show what it wants to, with no pretenses and no need to justify anything.
Everything outside the premise — from the Anglerfish dance, to the Soviet-styled team singing Katyusha while driving towards our heroes, to the drifting fucking tanks — makes it clear that the show doesn’t recognize any of this as realistic. The show knows that it’s dumb, and uses this as an excuse to go all in and make itself as fun as possible. And this works, because it allows the show to not worry about the unimportant details and just make as fun an experience as it knows how to. Embracing its own absurdity lets the show craft a fun and compelling story while still displaying really stupid stuff every episode.
This level of camp seen in Jojo and GuP doesn’t work all that well outside of animation, at least not in the same way. The things that Jojo and GuP do can’t really be done outside of drawings without totally breaking the suspension of disbelief. Anime has many upsides, but one of its most notable is showing these incredibly stupid things while still maintaining verisimilitude, and that’s an incredibly valuable thing.