Story Pile: The Great Pretender

Anime is a crapshoot.

This slot has been tied for The Great Pretender for the better part of a year. The plan was, after seeing it, being so intrigued with the opening, that I’d watch the whole thing in the first few months, once Crunchyroll had it on their ads-paid area.

When I felt it was time, I watched the first two episodes.

Thought about it…

And stopped.

It’s not like it’s a ‘bad anime.’ That’s because ‘bad anime’ is a nonsense phrase that doesn’t mean anything, ‘Bad’ is a nebulous wallpaper word of a term; it means something, as a sort of social signifier, but it doesn’t tell you much about the thing. If you don’t know me, you don’t know what I mean by ‘bad.’ If I say that the anime failed to interest me, or that its themes didn’t seem to matter much, that’s all the same stuff, in just more words. After all, how am I going to show you that failure, that thematic resonance, without telling you all of what I saw? Without turning the review into a retelling, without making this critique into a storytelling tradition, it seems like it’s just not worth the effort to attribute the state to the series itself.

But in common, social shorthand? Yeah it’s kinda bad.

Because if you know me, and ask ‘hey, is this good,’ you mean something like ‘hey, did you enjoy this?’ Or, sometimes, ‘hey, do you think I would enjoy this?’ and those are pretty broad questions. After all, a lot of media I partake in, even if I don’t personally enjoy it, I’ll sometimes talk about it in its general space, how it relates to other media. It’s part of my job, the ability to connect things to other things, to put media in a greater context.

And when I want to be cruel, I want it to be with purpose; does this show warrant cruelty?

Well, not really. It’s just an anime I planned to watch this year, and tried to watch, and dropped. I didn’t drop it for terrible reasons — it didn’t offend or upset me. It just gave me a first impression that told me hey, I’m going to do this, and then proceeded to execute on it in a meaningfully clear way that made me extremely, extremely bored.

When you play with confidence tricks and magic, there’s a – well, there’s a trick to it. In most forms of media, when you have cuts and edits, you need to be able to communicate the ‘natural’ in a way that doesn’t strain things for the audience. The number of different layers, the extent of potential tricks, these need to be things that comply with reality – and one of the challenges of magic is making some remarkable or unreal things seem extremely real and normal. Anime is a format of hyperreality – it lets you convey the ridiculous and overwrought, and that works really well for a whole host of genres, a whole set of stories.

I’m not saying you can’t make an anime about confidence tricks or scams of optical illusions, mind you. It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s that when I watched the first episode of this anime, which was asking another eight-to-nine hours of my life to see if it ‘got good,’ the ways it was unreal made the confidence tricks it was trying to convey seem not like cleverness and anticipation, not like manipulating and controlling the attention of the viewer, but instead about, well, just plain bloody magic.

A skill Fox has said I have developed is the ability to abandon things. Nerds are told, a lot, that we are completionists, that we have thousands of interests, that we are constantly consuming an enormous arrangement of things. Nerds don’t play videogames, we’re told, nerds destroy them, nerds focus on them.

I am done with The Great Pretender, and it’s not because it does something wrong, or bad, or gross, or vile, or something you need to be warned about…

It just failed to control my attention.

The ending is great though, but that might be because Freddy Mercury was extremely good at his job.