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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has now graced the Switch with rave reviews. While many are excited to play the game, some players have one interesting concern on their minds: will it be “too anime”?
It’s a criticism that I’ve personally seen circulate through a lot of discussion about Japanese IPs like Fire Emblem, Shin Megami Tensei, Street Fighter, Tekken, Guilty Gear, and many others. Every time there’s a new entry into a classic Japanese franchise, it always seems to be “too anime” compared to the earlier titles.
The argument has been heavily used against Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in comparison to the first Xenoblade due to it having things like more blatant fanservice, a more shounen hero, and a more “generic” art style and people are worried 3 might be the same. Is this complaint really valid though are Xenoblade and all these other games getting too anime?
They’ve always been anime
So what do people mean by too anime? It seems to be primarily the stereotypes most associated with anime, primarily. Shounen tropes like heroes screaming about friendship and dreams, fancy power-ups, and a lot of fanservice.
People say that Xenoblade 2 was “too anime” and contained too many of these elements compared to Xenoblade 1, yet the first Xenoblade 1’s protagonist looks like this:
Shulk over here looks unmistakably like a character out of an anime. In fact most of the plot points of Xenoblade 1: magic swords, giant sentient robots, and love triangles involving childhood friends have been staples of anime and JRPGs for years. If you want to go further, these were ideas that Xenoblade director Tetsuya Takahashi outright said were inspired by ‘Boys’ Manga’.
And if your problem is “too much fanservice” or “too many waifus”, well Xenoblade and even its predecessor Xenogears had those as well. Xenoblade Chronicles X even had a boob slider for its customizable characters and fans complained when it was removed from western versions of the game.
If you look at other Japanese video game franchises, you’ll see that few of them stray from their anime roots: Shin Megami Tensei took elements from Devilman and even Dragon Ball Z, Guilty Gear is directly inspired by the manga Bastard and people complained about the new character Lucky Chloe in Tekken 7, yet Tekken has had anime-inspired characters since the original game.
At the end of the day, anime is a huge cultural institution in Japan, the same way Disney is in America. With that in mind, it makes sense that many Japanese video games take elements from anime. These are ideas that their Japanese staff and audience grew up with and are naturally familiar with. It would be pretty difficult to remove all that context when they likely consider these tropes and ideas fairly normal.
What Counts as Too Anime?
Another problem with the too anime criticism is that it’s hard to define what counts as anime. A lot of people treat the term “Anime” like it’s a genre, thinking only of the stereotypes from shows like Naruto and Demon Slayer.
In reality, anime is a medium made up of multiple different genres and art styles. Cowboy Bebop is just as much an anime as Lucky Star, One Piece, or Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt. This further muddies the water of what “too anime” is supposed to mean as they are so many anime for video games to take ideas from making it difficult to figure out what aspect of anime people have a problem with.
Dark Souls for example takes heavy inspiration from Berserk to the point that there are multiple Berserk references hidden in each of the Software’s games. Does this mean that the Souls games are also “too anime” since they clearly take inspiration from manga/anime?
It’s almost like the term “anime” isn’t meant to be descriptive and becomes fairly meaningless when used as such.
The Bad Aspects of Anime
In all fairness, some people are a little more specific with the “too anime” argument. They may respond by saying that they don’t mind the game having anime elements but rather take issue with games implementing more tropes that they don’t like from anime to the point that they feel it’s a detriment to the series identity.
For example, Dead or Alive has always been a pervy game with anime influences but it had a wide range of different ladies for different tastes. Dead or Alive 5 though, saw emphasis placed on new characters Marie Rose and Honoka: a gothic lolita, and a ditzy schoolgirl that’s basically a Love Live character, clearly meant to appeal to that stereotypical Otaku crowd.
After that they quickly became the face of the series, being the mascots of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 and were even the main character of Dead or Alive 6, overshadowing many of the prior characters and their more serious storylines.
This argument is more understandable but is perhaps a little misplaced. If your problem with the game is that the writing or characters are bad then that’s all it is: the writing or characters. To me, it still feels disingenuous to say that the problem is that they included anime tropes and that the anime influence has made it worse. For comparison, when a movie like Morbius or Fant4stic comes out, it’s not like people say that they’re “too comic book” it’s just that they’re bad at using the tropes of a comic book in their storytelling.
Once again, however, even if you try to say that “too anime” means “too many anime tropes”, a lot of those tropes still appear in older games. I mean, let’s not act like Kasumi, Ayane, and Hitomi from the earlier Dead or Alive games weren’t also meant to pander to anime-loving otaku.
As previously stated, Japanese video games and anime are inherently interlinked. Without trying to strawman, a large chunk of the “too anime” crowd seems to come from westerners that find the Japanese influences too embarrassing for them to handle.
There is nothing wrong with not liking anime, the problem comes with people saying that the anime is “ruining the series” when the term “anime” is so reductive. For example, I’ve even seen a video saying that fighting games would be able to break out into the mainstream if they were “less anime” but it never really explained what anime aspects it wanted removed. Anime can mean so many different things that you can’t boil it down to a set of tropes you don’t like.
I feel this argument also overlooks the fact that the anime influence on these games has always been an integral part of their inspiration and appeal. I honestly can’t imagine what a “less anime” Guilty Gear or even Street Fighter would look like and to be honest, I think they’d be pretty boring by comparison.
Ultimately, the anime influences are likely here to stay and I think these franchises are probably better with them than without them. If one entry doesn’t quite get it right, let’s just hope they do better with the next one.