Do Genre Labels Hurt Viewers? (Yes)

Genres can be very useful categories to have. There are certainly flaws with them — the definition of Slice of Life is overly broad and used to describe dramas far too often for example — but it’s useful to be able to categorize things. Even if things don’t perfectly fit in boxes, it makes sense to describe a general collection of styles and tropes as a genre. But I think this “genrefication” can unfortunately lead to a large number of viewers totally passing over things they’d be into.

Most genres are incredibly varied. Drama includes Shirobako alongside Lain. Slice of Life includes Aria alongside Yuyushiki. Romance includes Spice and Wolf alongside Oreimo. These shows obviously have some similarities which allow them to fit within their genres, but it should be fairly obvious that they aren’t that similar. They all totally differ in approach, tone, themes, plot, and really every conceivable element aside from a few things. Someone who would dislike the drama in Shirobako would have no reason to dislike Lain. Someone who didn’t like the elements of romance in Oreimo shouldn’t be predisposed against Spice and Wolf.

In spite of that, this predisposition often occurs. People take genre labels less as categories thrust upon shows in an attempt to describe them and more as inherent parts of the show, and from there preferences lead people to totally rule off shows which are described with one genre.

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To some extent this makes sense. People aren’t dumb, and they should be able to tell when their preferences make them unlikely to enjoy certain shows. Someone who doesn’t like slice of life anime in general probably isn’t going to like Aria or Yuyushiki. Someone who doesn’t like it when romance is the main thread won’t like Spice and Wolf or Oreimo. When it comes to clear cut genrefication like that it’s mostly fine. But unfortunately that’s not how the world actually works.

Genres are obviously just things that people decide fit shows, and because the actual definitions for most genres are incredibly up in the air, people will rule out watching shows they have a good chance of enjoying. Shirobako frequently gets described as a slice of life despite being much more of a genre. Someone who dislikes iyashikei and CGDCT might see that and decide not to watch Shirobako, and that’s harmful. Someone who dislikes slow paced shows about relatively little would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore Shirobako because people call it slice of life. This is just one example of how genre labels can hurt viewers.

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Now, you might be thinking that my issue is just with people describing shows incorrectly. I do have an issue with that, especially in regards to slice of life, but that’s actually not my main issue. Even if shows were grouped in the way I think is correct, I still believe genre labels would hurt viewers. This is because they give people inherent impressions as to the structure of an anime, often in harmful ways.

Hearing about a show by any means will predispose you to expect or look for certain things no matter what, but genre labels do this to a particularly large extent, especially as the idea of what the mean becomes further entrenched. Even knowing a show is a Drama or an Action series makes you think certain things about it. If you get told a show is an Action show before watching it, and it turns out that other than a few fight scenes it’s mostly focused on character interactions, you’d be disappointed. Of course, it’s still possible to enjoy that show, but being given a false impression of what it is will hurt the experience in this situation even if it was on accident.

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What do I propose as a solution here? Well it’s not as if we can actually stop using genre labels. I myself use them frequently, and I don’t want to be hypocritical. I merely advise caution when using them. Try not to describe a show in terms of its genre unless necessary. Most shows appeal on a level that a genre can’t accurately describe. Additionally, try to branch out. Every genre has quality content in it, if you’re willing to search hard enough. Familiarize yourself with everything, if only to know what you’re talking about. Basically, don’t end up as one of the people who talks about mecha after only watching Gurren Lagann and Eva, or one of those who talks about magical girls after only Madoka. Just try not to let these labels box you in, or you’ll find yourself and others hurt by it.

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