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It is hard to ignore if you are a fan of anime. Each season, you can expect the same type of shows with the same types of characters to come out, and it seems like they are not even trying to differentiate themselves. Ano Natsu de Matteru bears a striking resemblance in name, character design, and setting to Ano Hana from the summer season. Even tropes as specific as “shy, well-endowed, red-haired girl” show up over and over again. Why is this?
It may have something to do with a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture. Anime is created for and aimed towards the Japanese themselves. Remember, we westerners do not hold much sway over what goes into making an anime and what does not. For the Japanese, and indeed throughout many Asian cultures, copying, imitation, and repetition is highly valued.
Katana are forged by a student imitating the exact process that their master uses. Also, Chinese characters have one correct way to be written and must be written over and over again to perfect the flow and the form.
This obsession with perfection through repetition bears itself out in many visible ways in Asia. Think of the notorious Chinese copies–fake iPads, fake Louis Vuitton, fake Starbucks, fake Mercedes-Benz, fake everything. The Japanese themselves have rarely invented anything themselves in the course of history, but they have adopted the inventions of other countries and vastly improved upon them.
Whereas in the west, we put a high value on original concepts and are quick to yell plagiarism or copyright infringement. The Japanese seem comfortable with the truth that we all must stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. We must learn from the best, and the best way to learn is to copy. The endless parade of slightly tweaked anime, then, is a culturally instinctual pursuit of perfection, even if to us westerners, it can feel exasperating and boring.
Perhaps it is instinctual, rather than intellectual, judging from a poll done by BigGlobe.jp, which asked readers to rank the most important aspects of anime when deciding whether they would watch a show or not.
The top three were story, character, and seiyuu. The next highest ranked were design, music, and cinematography. Considering the popularity of anime based on four-panel comic strips, moe characters, and high school settings, it is curious that story and character are ranked so high.
It is possible that the anime fans responding wanted to appear to have deeper tastes than they do in reality. At any rate, it seems ratings speak louder than polls, as there is no sign of a lull in shallow, moe-driven, and trope-heavy anime for the next season or those to come. Still, if you enjoy that sort of thing, there is plenty to look forward to. For the rest of us, a new season of Kore ha Zombie Desu ka? is also on the horizon, a show that takes all those ubiquitous tropes and turns them into hilarious self-parody.