The term deconstruction has not only lost its true meaning, but due to its abuse in anime reviews it’s now a meme. Everything is a deconstruction of something, anything that is not a deconstruction is shit and still nobody understand the true meaning of the word deconstruction. This is incredibly evident in the case of Puella Magi Madoka Magica1: one time a “look-at-me-I’m-so-fucking-intellectual” guy dropped the term in a review and since then the meme started to spread. Let me point out something about this article before you go on and read it: I’m going to explain what a deconstruction is and how deconstruction techniques can be applied to animation; I’m not here to accuse PMMM or any other anime to be or not to be a deconstruction so, if you’re here to read my personal idea about PMMM and other animes please switch to a different article.
Also I’m splitting this in multiple sections (that’s a thing I usually don’t do on blog posts) because I want this to be easily accessible for everybody: in §1 we’re gonna talk about deconstruction in literature, in §2 we’re gonna find a meaning for the term deconstruction that is applicable to animes and in §3 we’re gonna point out why we should stop using the term deconstruction, but especially why being a deconstruction does not make an anime necessarily great.
1. What is a deconstruction?
Deconstruction is a text analysis technique introduced by Jacques Derrida in attempt to show that language has no meaning at all and so that a search of the meaning of a text in something (words, author or reader) is completely pointless and nonsensical. As you can imagine from the word itself deconstruction is about finding atomic elements in a text, take them apart from the context, analyze them and came up with the response that the text has no meaning at all. Let me explain this better with a simple example.
You’re entering a café since you want something to eat but right at the entrance you notice a small sing saying “Only small-size animal allowed inside”. That seems kinda clear, right? It seems to tell you that you can’t bring inside a huge dog, a snake or a monkey, but you can have a chihuahua with you. Now let’s apply some deconstruction to this strange sign: we have some atomic parts like inside, animal and small-size. By logically analyzing those atomic concept, trying to figure out how they really relate to each other, we can easily find that our interpretation of the sign (the meaning we had given it) was wrong: now the sign seems to say that “everything that is not a small-size animal is not allowed to enter”; this sign does not allow humans to enter! We can also say that this sign also contradict itself since it does not allow legs to enter because legs are not small-size animals, but small-size animals have legs and they should be able to get in. To conclude: the sign has no meaning at all.
It should now be clear what a deconstruction is about. Let me recap this briefly: to deconstruct a text we need to find its atomic components, take them apart from the context and analyze how they really relate to each other without any external influence.
2. Deconstructing a genre
Now that you know what a literary/philosophical deconstruction is you’re probably thinking “ok, but how this whole defining-the-term game can help me understand if an anime is a deconstruction?”, well, let’s see. First let’s point out that the term Deconstruction have a slightly different meaning in animation: it’s not about proving that a show hold no meaning at all, but it’s more about criticizing a genre; so it’s better to call an anime “a genre deconstruction” or “a deconstruction of [name of the genre] genre” rather than a mere deconstruction.
So, how do we deconstruct a genre? The technique is kinda the same used for literally and philosophical deconstructions: find atomic elements in a genre, take them apart from the genre itself and analyze relations between them, usually this last step involve some sort of realism thinking (we’ll see now). Let’s bring an example on the table: School Days. I, along with many others, think that School Days is actually a deconstruction of the harem genre and it’s easy to see why. In School Days we have all the common elements we can find in any other harem anime: a male protagonist, many girls and awkward situations. The deconstruction begins when we remove the harem genre’s clichés and, looking at our atomic elements, we ask ourselves: what would happen to a real guy facing these situations? The answer is Makoto having sex with every girl in the show and paying for his actions. So school days have actually somethings to say about the harem genre: it’s trying to criticize the whole genre by deconstructing it; it’s trying to say that those clichés that make the genre are meaningless to reality.
3. Being a deconstruction isn’t important
It’s time to talk about the real issue with the term deconstruction: its abuse. Seriously; it’s impossible to have a discussion about PMMM or Neon Genesis Evangelion2 without having someone drop the “because it’s a deconstruction of the mecha/magical girl genre” line. This is even more meme than the “best girl fight” thing! You can’t even barely imagine how salty people can become while arguing about this term.
That’s so wrong because people actually use the term deconstruction to mean something else: the more diffused misconception is that deconstructing is about subverting a genre‘s standards; let me tell you a thing: painting a pink wall a bit black have nothing to do with deconstructing. As we have seen, being a deconstruction is a completely different thing from being an original/revolutionary anime and, more importantly, if an anime is a deconstruction this doesn’t mean that it’s a good deconstruction or that it’s necessarily a good anime (think about School Days, that is absolutely garbage). Deconstruction is a complex term with a complex background and an intrinsic paradoxical nature thus it should be used only by those who really know how to deal with it (i.e., those who study animation); it’s not a term to use to express how much you love a certain anime nor to add it extra deepness.
So the next time you’re facing a discussion about an anime that is widely considered a deconstruction like PMMM or NGE don’t throw in the “it’s a deconstruction” argument because it adds nothings to the discussion; if you’re trying to argue about why you like a particular show you can come up with better words: talk about the plot, the characters, animations, art, OSTs, talk about the deep philosophical references you found in it, explain why it’s your favorite anime (if it is), try to set up a debate on Kyubey’s utilitarianism, discuss the last two episodes of NGE, explain why Mami’s theme is named “Credens Justitiam”, ask if somebody else has noticed references to quantum physics in NGE or simply throw the “because X is best girl” card! The possibilities are countless: it’s time to stop this deconstructing meme once for all.
- Usually shortened to PMMM.
- Usually shortened to NGE.
- Tim Nance – What is a Deconstruction? – https://youtu.be/Cku46UJRlNo
- Digibro After Dark – Reacting to Watchmojo’s Asinine Anime Deconstruction Video – https://youtu.be/KT6EdojMvUs
- Under the scope – What Actually is A Deconstruction? – https://youtu.be/qBuo4vi_A0s
- WtWAnime – “Decontruction” – https://youtu.be/yHMC3n27r1M
- Lawlor, Leonard, “Jacques Derrida”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/derrida/ – Retrieved 10 July 2017