Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"This show knows exactly what it is."

Hey, long time no see.  As if I'd see anyone around here anyway. I really should be doing other things right now, but I rambled this out a few days ago and felt like procrastinating, so it's going here.


I frequently use the description that a show/book/game ((from here on I'll reference a "show")) "knows [exactly] what it is." It's a quality that's difficult to define as the it involves first, the circular notion that something "is what it is." But it is pretty recognizable in my book, with a little training.  Generally, this kind of show holds a quality of being cliche and/or shameless, but does so in just the right way. It's cliches then become a reason-- if not the main reason-- for liking it. It also may exhibit some genre-savvy and, in more comedic moments, even reference itself as such in a 4th-wall breaking way. This kind of show was created, not to be profound or original or push boundaries, but to be very good at "what it is."  It ends up excelling at being a confident genre piece and tends to leave a bit of room for thought by the time it's finished.  In a sense, if the show were personified, it would have very high, but modest, self-confidence and would strut the world being itself for all it's worth-- and possibly more.

More often than not, this statement has more to do with characters and writing than production quality, but it shows all the more if the production is good, too. Generally if a show "knows what it is," it's a sign that the production staff knows "what it is" and have consequently put forth the effort to make it the best "what it is" that the show can be.

I think it was first used in my circle ((I think I got the description from one of my friends)) to describe Devil May Cry (game/anime/manga/novel/etc., 2001-present) and Star Driver (anime, 2010).  It applies to things like Highlander (movie/TV/anime, 1986-2007), Firefly (TV, 2002-2003), and Slayers (anime, 1995-2009). I've most recently used it on Bloody Monday (J-Drama, 2008, 2010). I think it can also apply to Mackerel Run (K-Drama, 2007) on the writing and production end, but from the politics surrounding the show and some signs that it may have been prematurely cut, it seems that the marketing and producers themselves weren't quite sure what they were dealing with. Mackerel Run is also an example that something doesn't have to be flashy or expensive to show it's colors.

Faith (a.k.a. "신의" [Shinui] or "The Great Doctor," K-Drama, 2012) could almost be described this way, however, as a bit of a counter example.  Sometimes it knew, and sometimes it didn't. Overall, it either didn't really know that it was "what it was" or didn't want to be "what it was," and lost steam.  "What it was," was a video game/anime-like piece of period fantasy;  what it wanted to be, was a time traveling love story.  One of the reviews on states, rather accurately, that Faith "doesn't seem to know how good it is."  It could have been an awesome, super-powered fantasy with political intrigue.  It didn't quite seem to have the courage for that.  In other words, the show didn't want to be itself. Don't get me wrong; it was still pretty good.  But often the most disappointing things are those that were good enough that you know they could have been better. I loved it anyway; if not for what it was, what it could have been... and Choi Young.

In my book, a show "knowing what it is" is a good-- nay, EXCELLENT quality.  It is a point of high praise.  However, these pieces tend to have cult followings, and may be very prone to developing anti-fans, probably most often because of their genre specificity and cliche-ness.  I understand this type of show is not for everyone, but more often than not, it's what I look for these days.

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