Hard or Soft, how would you like it Goshujin-sama?

March 13, 2009

code geass

Wabisabi once wrote about the words kouha (hard) and nanpa (soft) and their usage in anime fandom. The idea was that kouha refers to hard-hitting minor and difficult works like Ghost in the Shell, while nanpa refers to popular and easily accessible works like erogame adaptations for softies. Personally, I don’t find this elitist distinction very interesting. Although I’m not about to re-define what kouha and nanpa actually means, I do want to share with you the sort of anime I personally associate with when it comes to hard and soft.

Allow me first to briefly talk about a certain article I read in a magazine so you can see where I am coming from. It was basically about an architect coming up with a design proposal that conflicted with what his client originally had in mind. The client wanted a house with a sharply defined masonry structure to make strong presence around its surroundings, while the architect preferred to use light-framed structure for softer and more open connection between outside and inside. Exactly the same house, yet two drastically different alternatives in working towards our senses as we approach what lies inside it.

hard

Examples of Hard

So when it comes to hard and soft in anime, I’m interested in its approach more than its content. Shigurui is an extreme example of hard in that it wastes no time establishing its unbearably tense atmosphere through zomg father fondling his own daughter intimidatingly sexual and violent imagery, as well as its disorienting sound direction. Series like FLCL or ef – tale of melodies maye not be as intense as Shigurui but their energetic/artsy storytelling methods still demand our full attention and in my view, definitely closer to hard than soft. In comparison, Koi Kaze and Honey and Clover are examples of soft in that they are more relaxed and soothing in tone and invite viewers to settle down and get to know the characters first, before dealing any emotional blow. They are thematically very serious and hard-hitting, with very strong and developed characters, but the way its raw emotional power affects us is more unhurried and subdued. To strike the deepest of our emotional chords, perhaps stories need to creep inside it without being too forceful. La Maison en Petite Cubes is another perfect example despite its unconventional visuals.

Examples of Soft

Examples of Soft

I guess it wouldn’t hurt to indulge in more musings. If something is too mellow and flat, there is a danger of losing viewer’s attentions. At the same time, being forceful can become too intimidating for people to approach if no luxury is provided to settle things in slowly. Perhaps that is why Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is critically better received than Oshii‘s Ghost in the Shell because it is told in a ‘softer’ manner (by no means is TV series is soft, but it’s definitely toned down from the movie). Personally I liked how Ghost in the Shell movies were tense and immersive, but I can see how it may turn some people off. I guess talking about White Album here is relevant but I have not seen the anime to make any credible comment. Now the question you’re all begging to ask: do I like it hard or soft? My answer is, it depends (ducks rotten tomatoes). But if I had to choose, I suppose I’ll go with hard, simply because they are usually more creative and powerful with style. How do you like yours?

On a concluding note, perhaps there is no way to define whether something is hard or soft. I think everything is made up of varying degrees of hard and soft element, and it is up to the animators to find right balance for the kind of stories they wish to tell.

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15 Responses to “Hard or Soft, how would you like it Goshujin-sama?”

  1. coburn Says:

    My first reaction was to think ‘I want both!’, because a lot of good series manage to throw in a change in density at some stage. Not so much a balance as an alternation. Although that system serves to make the experience of the show somewhat unreliable – and unpredictability stops the viewer from just throwing on a soft episode for relaxation.

    I’d boil it down too liking both, but all of my favourites have some hard elements. Not all of them have softness worth speaking of. Which is a kind of answer.

  2. Sasa Says:

    Actually I don’t think the distinction between ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ is that elitist – especially considering that “Princess Tutu” or “Haibane Renmei” are very highly esteemed among anime fans. If I had to name outstanding, ‘elite’ anime with depth and whatnot, both titles would definitely figure on the list.

    Relaxation is important… I guess Natsume Yuujinchou and nearly every other slice of life show have nothing hard in it, but it’s also not exactly suitable for everyone’s taste. Not to mention that I like the genre a lot.

    And so to me, the distinction is rather meaningless. As for myself, I seem to like all kinds of anime, I suppose – both hard or soft, mainstream and obscure anime.

    By the way, a really good example of a hard anime would be Paranoia Agent in my book, and it also is one of my favorites.

  3. gaguri Says:

    @coburn
    Ha, if I didn’t write this post my first reaction would be HARDDD…but nvm ^^. Balance is indeed the key. But like you, I seem to have stronger affinity for anime that seems more ‘hard’ overall.

    @Sasa
    Ah, I agree that my examples of soft, including Tutu and Haibane Renmei are very well regarded, so there is no elitist distinction there. I was just refering to the way Wabisabi from Iwa ni Hana separated ‘kouha'(hard) and ‘nanpa'(soft), as in, kouha refers to difficult and minor works, while nanpa refers to easily accesible works like harem/visual novel adaptation. I tried to offer a distinction that differed to that.

    I also agree that distinction is meaningless in terms of separating what is good and bad, it all depends on their usage. Still, it was interesting and very relevant for me to look at different ways in which designers/artists approach their intended audience, which can appeal to some, while repelling others.

    And Paranoia Agent would definitely rank somewhere very extreme end of hard @_@

  4. Sorrow-kun Says:

    Certainly, I don’t think the distinction can be used as a criteria for judging quality. It’s a little ironic that you used a Code Geass pic in the opener, since even though it was a widely popular anime, one could kinda argue that it was pretty hard at some stages.

    I think White Album is a pretty good example of why “hard” can sometimes be overbearing. I find it interesting that you used titles like Koi Kaze, Haibane Renmei and H&C as examples for “soft”. All of these have something in common, in that they’re all strongly character-centric dramas. But because they were so easy on and, more importantly, open with the audience, they basically let them in and gave them every chance to care about the characters and what was going on. It’s not totally ridiculous to say that White Album is similar to these titles in content, but because it’s so hard, it’s just no where near as effective at drawing an emotional investment between the audience and what’s going on in the anime. That’s what makes ef so amazing. It’s a strange exception to all of this. It was hard (maybe not as hard as White Album), but it still gave the audience ample opportunity to understand and sympathize with the characters within the romance/drama framework. Well, the first season at the very least.

    I think White Album just tries too hard to be hard. It’s inappropriate for the type of anime it is, ie, an eroge adaptation where all the girls want to jump the male lead for reasons only known to the writers.

  5. animekritik Says:

    @sorrow-kun

    That last sentence on White Album is lovely, and it sums up why I stopped watching the show.

    @gaguri

    i like it hard. i want to love the characters and share their pain and i want it now, so do have the villains hunt the main character’s mother and stick her dead body on the wall (ep 1 of Galaxy Express, for example).
    I guess the big danger with “hard” is that the writers might go for the action and forget about the personalities involved. But a good show like Evangelion shows you can have it both ways..

  6. schneider Says:

    A good deal of my favorites are hard shows, but the bulk of my viewing is made up of soft ones, really.

  7. gaguri Says:

    @Sorrow-kun
    Seeing as how I won’t have much opportunity to spam pics of CC, I thought this was nice picture to go with my misleading title but I too think Code Geass is closer to hard than soft, especially R2. If they toned down on frantic pacing, over the top gestures and everything wtf, would it have been as controversial and popular? Anyway, some excellent insights in your 2nd paragraph!

    @animekritik
    Yea I think there is many danger to both approach, and that seems to be one of them for hard. Evangelion still allowed me deep inside the characters, while repelling some people with too much wtfness, which probably explains its polarising nature.

    @schneider
    Industry appears to be churning out more soft anime, so maybe having a bulk of them as your anime diet may not be so unusual ^^

  8. kadian1364 Says:

    By your definitions of hard and soft, I prefer soft. By Wabisabi’s definitions, I prefer hard. Since the distinction is that you’re grouping anime by style and flow, how the story is told, while Wabisabi seems to separate shows by content, what kind of story is told, this makes sense to me.

    There certainly are appeals to both ends of both spectra, but I think Sorrow-kun hit the target: certain styles just go very well with certain kinds of content, while pushing style and content that clash may be detrimental to a series, a la White Album.

  9. gaguri Says:

    That’s a very concise summary that covers essential points of my post. Thanks for dropping by and giving me your perspective of it :3

  10. Kitsune Says:

    Dichotomizing data and other things may lead to spurious conclusion…

    Hmmm… That’s an interesting selection for “hard” works. I have not seen Shigurui and it sounds like it should stay that way 😛

    If you want to define hard based on approach and how much attention it requires, Xam’d: Lost Memories is it: plenty of latent content there. If you want to define hard by how disturbing it is, I guess it might be Now and Then, Here and There for instance.

    My selection of anime depends primarily on visual characteristics. Some plot has to be there, but if anime looks boring visually, I will drop it. Also, sometimes I’ll never see an anime because I really don’t like character design ( two very popular anime fall into this category, but I’ll not tell you which ones 😛 ). Thus, art and direction are my primary criteria, rather than the animation itself or the plot.

  11. omisyth Says:

    It does always depend for me. There are soft shows, such as Natsume Yuujinchou, and hard shows, such as Gurren Lagann or Soul Eater. As long as the quality’s good, I’ll watch, regardless of hard or softness.

  12. gaguri Says:

    @Kitsune
    Well, I think dichotomising can be useful and amusing when making generalised observations, as long as one does not aim to come up with the conclusion. As for Shigurui, I highly recommend it…as long as you can stomach extremely disturbing gorey and sexual scenes…

    @omisyth
    I guess some way or another, we all arrived at pretty same obvious answers ^_^b

  13. lelangir Says:

    Not sure if I could come to a universal truth on hard vs. soft, though Haibane is definitely a “hard” one for me.

    @WhiteAlbumhaeters: RINA SAIKOUUUUUU

  14. gaguri Says:

    Hmm I don’t deny that Haibane has some of the most surreal and confronting scenes in anime, but my general impression was girls talking and doing normal things in a very soft manner. I suppose this goes back to coburn’s idea of alternation (sorry! I thought you meant balance!) and not so much as a balance.


  15. […] think this comes a bit back to the idea of hard and soft anime that gaguri from Ha Neul Seom proposed about a month ago, and that, to expand on the idea, in […]


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