[I’m a big fan of funny-bad and Shichisei no Subaru comes so close. I can’t recommend it as a genuine disasterpiece, but it was so comically unpopular both within Japan and without that I could only find three other reviews of the complete series beyond basic episode impressions! So, as someone who adores bad anime, I felt that I owed Subaru a loving shake – even if I’m six months too late and don’t really love it. Also, for whatever it’s worth, I do recommend my impression post on Subaru for a more serious thematic discussion on making meaning in an online world. Here though, I’m just having a laugh.]
There’s a fun quote often attributed (without evidence) to the 18th century writer, critic, and scholar Samuel Johnson in response to some “manuscript” he had reviewed and apparently disliked. It’s apocryphal, so the wording varies with the source, but it usually goes something like this:
Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
Heh, that’s gotta be one of the sickest burns in all of literature. Beyond the insult though, I think there’s some hidden wisdom in the wit. I often notice an unfair impulse by casual critics to take “unoriginal” as a synonym for “low quality,” especially among online fan communities looking for “objective” reasons to review bomb something. But the quip does the opposite: it observes an instance for which original does not mean good and unoriginal does not mean bad.
Of course, since that’s just a baseless claim drawn from a pithy, unauthored aphorism, I’d like illustrate the idea with an example: the summer 2018 video-game fantasy anime Shichisei no Subaru (English: Seven Senses of the Reunion).
Back when it first aired, Subaru became an easy target for mockery because it so shamelessly imports the plot and characters from AnoHana into a Sword Art Online-style video game setting. A mysterious ghost girl with blonde hair and blue eyes returned from the dead to bring her five childhood friends back together? Yep, that’s AnoHana. And a overpowered swordsman with the personality of a brick wall traipsing through a virtual reality death game? Yep, that’s Sword Art Online …and um… apparently Subaru too. I mean, just look at the two lead characters and their likely inspirations:
I jest because plenty of anime characters look alike, but then they also have near identical personalities and narrative functions sooo… As I concluded in my impression post on the series last summer, Subaru is “not exactly bad… just astoundingly unoriginal.” Mind you, it’s not good either. To add another quip to the quote, the good parts (AnoHana’s premise) aren’t original, the original parts (Subaru’s genetically determined video game skills?) aren’t good, and the other unoriginal parts (Sword Art Online’s …Kirito) aren’t much good either. But even if the series as a whole doesn’t achieve anything better than a tepid “bleh,” that mediocrity makes Shichisei no Subaru such a perfect case-study to demonstrate my point: original does not mean good and unoriginal does not mean bad.
I think I’ll take a revised “good, bad, and ugly” approach here to break down Subaru into “the unoriginal good, the unoriginal bad, and the original ugly.”
Oh, and did I miss a category for the “original good?” Nahhh, ssshhh…don’t worry about it!Continue reading “Shichisei no Subaru review: evidence that original does not mean good, and unoriginal does not mean bad”