Hard or Soft, how would you like it Goshujin-sama?
March 13, 2009
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.
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.
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.