At first I really wanted to give this editorial a really clever name that made fun of the fact that almost every anime, at least as of late, takes place in a school, but it’s late and I’m not clever, so the blunt title will have to do. Theming and setting is something that is incredibly important when it comes to any form of storytelling, fiction or not. Fiction, however, has a much larger dependence on it, since fiction stories take place in a world that doesn’t exist yet the importance of the theme and location of your story becomes higher than a non-fiction story. As far as a non-fiction story is considered, the setting is almost entirely already there, and how you theme it is up to you. The importance of those two narrative elements in fiction is almost a different case entirely in comparison to the non-fiction application. Let’s get into this, shall we?
Last week when I added a new reason to the list of my weeaboo sins, for a brief moment I mentioned that not every fictional production needs character development within its cast. Much to my surprise, no one brought this up to me and after I reread the post once it went live I was afraid that it would look like I was being hypocritical with my prior editorials, having written one entirely about the importance of characterisation. Either people glossed over this or understood the difference I’m about to bring up, which is that characterisation and development are two different things.
Characterisation is the build up and profile behind the character, who they are, and what traits they display. Character development is how a character changes over time because of events that happen to them. But what does this have to do with theming and setting? Well, when we want to pull of a story where our cast of characters undergoes little to no change, theme and setting is beyond important. Some themes and settings can take a cast of characters with zero development and pull them off beautifully, while others crash and burn with this model.
Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?, aka Is the Order a Rabbit?, is a show that pulls off a cast of characters with close to zero character development but is still not only one of my personal favourite shows, but also a show that many people (at least that I know) considered one of the best shows from its season. While this is partially due to the insanely cute cast and the mass pandering to the anime community’s love for specific tropes, I like to at least pretend that most of the reasoning behind why it did so well was because of the setting and theme of the show. The somewhat classical feel to the setting and the theme of various girls working at various cafés worked out for the show in a perfect way.
Starting with the setting, the classical feel to the town the girls lived in gave it a sort of relaxing vibe, making it seem like the area was a more simple time or like the setting itself was at peace. Even with the cute and silly antics going on in the show, the shots made up only of the setting, or the simple moments the show occasionally takes to build its setting made the town itself have a sort of differing personality. The town seemed like one you’d want to take a summer vacation to in order to relax and take your time off without disturbance. This is important because it gives the show itself a relaxing feeling. In a way, it successfully distracts you from the fact that none of the characters are changing in any meaningful way and the show’s episodic nature.
The theming, on the other hand, gives the show and its characters a purpose. Each character has a job, goes to school, and spends time with friends like a normal person, even if the characters interact with each other in a way that’s perfectly oh so slightly abnormal. The theme and idea of the show that various café girls are friends with one another almost entirely removes the idea that the show is just wasting your time since the characters and the show itself has something to show you, has insignificant as it may be to some people.
So, with a setting that feels relaxing and highlights the antics of the school girls we watch since they stand out while also having a theme to give our characters and show a purpose, we have a successful production that doesn’t develop its characters in any notable way. How do I know that’s what Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka? is doing? Well, because its, in a way, mimicking a type of storytelling to a mass audience that the West has pretty much perfected at this point: the episodic situational comedy, or sitcom.
Western sitcoms use the same method of storytelling I just went through and detailed for the first anime that came to my mind when I wanted to display the impact setting and theming had on a story. Sitcoms take a setting that invokes an automatic mental association and gives their characters some sort of purpose that also brings them together, and creates antics that happen with the characters and makes them stand out in comparison to the otherwise bland or simple setting without detaching them from their defined purpose or trivialising the purpose behind the production itself.
When these patches are put into effect while following other standards for conventional storytelling, like giving the show a belivable theme and a purpose so the audience doesn’t have to suspend their disbelief or characterising each of the static characters to follow a distinct and unique personality that simultaniously complements other chatacters and is complemented by the personalities of other chacters, you can have a main cast of entirely static characters with the right appeal and pull it off in a generally enjoyable way. Now, if Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka? was disected and every element was judged in comparison to a generally agreed to be high quality show, it would fall appart into a trillion pieces. But, as it’s own stand alone thing, it can generally serve to be a nice piece of what I like to call relaxing comedy.
As always, thank you so much for reading this week’s editorial! It really means a lot to have a regular audience who actually enjoys reading what I have to say about anime. If you’re at all interested in what I’m up to on the other six days of the week or want to see me vaguely talk about each ediotiral topic before it goes live, why not follow me on Twitter? I initially had a darker and more serious editorial planned for today, so maybe we’ll see that on a later date, since I did have quite a few ideas for it build up. As always, I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by mangaka Koi.