In light of the upcoming animation of Chainsaw Man, one of the most meta, original manga titles out there, it’s a good time to revisit anime that similarly deconstructed their respective genres. While there are certain staples and tropes associated with genres that help readers and viewers recognize story beats and plots they enjoy, some of the best work is done when these genres are deconstructed.
Genre deconstruction anime are series that take a recognized storyline associated with a particular genre and turn it on its head. A lot of the story beats are familiar to an audience, but something has been shifted to make it just the slightest bit, or a great deal, different. Often they might be thought of as darker takes on the material, but this is not always the case.
In the third installment of the Digimon series, Tamers took it upon itself to revisit a lot of the components of its predecessor series with a more serious outlook. The monsters are now part of the human world, not contained to their world, and cause havoc throughout as they are, indeed, monsters.
Furthermore, parents and governmental entities are now aware and part of what is going on as well. This results in a darker tone for this series, which allows it to deal with questions of grief a lot more than previously seen. The recent Digimon Kizuna being one of the best anime movies of 2020 has also taken its cue from Tamers to explore the connection of the Digimon to infancy and growing up, it’s clear to see this approach to the franchise shook up the established tropes.
This might seem crazy by today’s standards, as Ruroni Kenshin is a classic, but at the time of its original airing, it was an anomaly in the samurai or jidaigeki genre. Being a samurai warrior did not just mean amazing battles and rewards. Kenshin explored the impact being part of these battles had mentally and socially on the main cast, instead of simply reiterating that the main characters were good. Kenshin himself has taken a non-killing vow.
It also set itself in a particular historical period, in which being a samurai was no longer allowed. Nor was it likely that you would win a fight. After all, society was modernizing and there was a new status quo, enforced by guns. And bringing a knife to a gunfight never ends well.
The premise of Samurai Flamenco is that of Kick-Ass: a random good samaritan citizen obsessed with superheroes decides to become one in a world with no powers. In this series, the random good samaritan also happens to be a model. A vastly underrated series, Samurai Flamenco looks at the superhero tropes and turns them on their head by adding a very strong level of realism.
At least until about halfway through when it changes in tone and the audience is treated to a whirlwind progression of events. But the acknowledgment of the issues trying to be a superhero brings up serves to bring up typical tropes and poke fun at them in its first half.
In the world of Kakegurui, high-stakes bets and games are played at Hyakkaou Private Academy. The children of the wealthy families that attend this school will bet insanely large sums of money as part of the way the social climb. Over time, however, the stakes have risen to absurd levels for a series set in a school.
Death and slavery to political officials have all been potential outcomes of games. It is also worth noting that it is a majority female cast, a rarity for this genre, and our main character, Yumeko Jabami, is allowed to express the insanity that male lead characters in similar insane genius roles have demonstrated. Just like with those characters, viewers can not help but root for Yumeko to make it, even though she is crazy.
This classic series’ big selling point is precisely how it is a deconstruction of the mecha genre in a more nuanced way. The mecha are no more than tools for the characters to use, and the main meat of the story is in the relationships between the characters and the cases they pursue.
Patlabor illustrates time and time again how, while yes the suits are impressive and our main characters’ relationship with hers is as well, at the end of the day they are only suits. The true narrative strength of the story is the human characters and motivations behind many of the cases and decisions the characters make.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
1997’s Revolutionary Girl Utena was a pioneering story for its time. Featuring a queer romance, powers ups, and enlightening commentary on gender roles and growing up, audiences at the time were very much unaware of what they were walking into.
It took the tropes of a traditional shoujo romance and turned them on their head. Relationships that in shoujo would be seen as cute or desirable were shown to be incredibly unhealthy. A lot of the black-and-white elements of shoujo were also thrown into question as more morally gray angles and motivations show up throughout the story.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun
Like Utenathe Nozaki-Kun series is a play on shoujo tropes. Instead of taking it to darker narratives, however, this series explores the assumptions of an audience familiar with shoujo tropes and dials the comedy up to eleven. After all, it is one of the top anime about making manga.
The inspiration for Nozaki’s shoujo heroine is a male character, while his male lead is a female character that enjoys presenting herself as the male lead in school plays. This same dynamic plays out with another couple in the series as well. And shoujo tropes such as the girl’s sleepover are instead fulfilled by the male characters or Nozaki acting as his female lead to help inspire him. A more comedic deconstruction but a deconstruction nevertheless, it deserves a spot on this list.
This series is considered to be one of the best anime of the 2010s, and for good reason. Re: Zero took the isekai trope of being dropped into a new world as a character after dying in your world, and played it out straight. The main character has no additional powers or smarts, only the aid of those he meets.
The only thing he can do is return to the spot where he last died. And he does this several times throughout the series. Predictably, it is not good for his mental state as the story progresses and he finds himself dying and losing allies brutally. His lack of social skills in the real world also even affects him negatively, later on, demonstrating that as much as he runs away, he is still the same and must improve on his own.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
If Patlabor deconstructed the mecha genre by getting it down to the basics and focusing on police cases and human emotion, Evangelion went the opposite way by having a war setting and living machines. The horrors young soldiers face are truly brought to the surface in Shinji’s suffering, as opposed to in other mecha battle anime in which everything is always fine.
With some of the best-designed villains in anime in the Angels, Evangelion truly played into the horrors mecha would be in a real-world situation. It also introduced characters that seemed to fit certain pre-established tropes only to later reveal that there was a lot more to them, similar to Nozaki-Kun‘s more comedic approach.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Few series make quite as large a splash when they premiere as Madoka did over a decade ago. The magic girl genre was truly deconstructed as it had never before in this series. Madoka became a magical girl after making a contract with an adorable creature and audiences thought they knew what they were getting into.
At least until Mami is killed and the tone shifts accordingly. Madoka truly delved into how and why young girls would be willing to fight eldritch monsters, and most of the time the reasons were truly sad and revealed that they were simply preyed upon in a moment of weakness. With the announcement of a sequel to the 2013 movie imminent, audiences can expert even further deconstruction takes place.
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