Are enjoyable stories different from good stories, and does that matter?
This is a topic I have been sitting on for a while, and I’m not sure what to think about it. Let me start by explaining what I mean with the title, and how the question sprung to mind.
There are many stories out there that I think are enjoyable. The issue is that once you go onto a forum to discuss your favorite books, manga, anime or tv shows, there will often be people who find issues with the things you like. Over time this got me thinking about some of the shows I really enjoy, and what makes them good. Back then I drew the conclusion that there might be a difference between a good, well written story and something that is enjoyable but not particularly good.
To give a better idea of what I’m talking about, I want to use the anime ‘Is it wrong to pick up girls in a dungeon?’ Or ‘Danmachi.’
I have often said that I thoroughly enjoyed the anime, and now that the most recent season wrapped up in December, I still stand by that statement. I’ll give a quick description of the show for those unfamiliar with it:
Bell is an adventurer who’s special. He lives in a town that has a large dungeon at the center, and the adventurers living in this town join familia. These are, as you may have guessed, families. These families are led by the gods. Think of figures like Loki, Hermes, Hephaestus, Ganesha and more. My religious knowledge isn’t quite up to speed to know who they all are exactly, but I’ve read enough fiction to have a rough idea. These gods have the ability to level up the adventurers, whenever they reach the required skill to do so. It’s kind of like a video game, and when it first started airing it got lumped in with the other Isekai shows that were booming. It is a bit different though, in the sense that it is more of a traditional fantasy show insead.
The important question is; would I call Danmachi good? Yes and no. There seem to be a lot of interesting things going on all at the same time. Why is Bell leveling up so fast? What are these gods up to, some of them definitely seem shady. Why are the gods here in Orario (the town they live in) and what is the dungeon exactly? On the other side of the coin is a story that seems to be very focused on the here and now, not really exploring enough (in my opinion) of these interesting plotlines. Now I will admit that I have yet to read the source material, and I plan on doing so because I have a suspicion that it’s a lot better than the show, but I’m not including that in this analysis. The anime on its own has been running for 6 years now, starting out in 2014. That’s 6 years without delving into the more interesting story elements. It feels like I’m watching the introduction of a story, and we have yet to reach the middle part.
Now it is important to remember that in many, if not all, cases the anime is used as an advertisement for the original work. The idea is to give a glimpse into the story and then urge you to buy the light novels (or manga in other cases). So from a marketing perspective it’s not a bad way to go about it, because it certainly has me interested. It’s very enjoyable for sure.
I didn’t quite answer the question that I put at the start of the last paragraph. I admitted the story was enjoyable, but does that mean I think it’s good as well?
For me, this lies a bit more complicated, as I am quite critical of stories. I consider myself a fledgling writer, and I try to look at stories with that in mind as well. I think the characters in Danmachi are what sells the story. If you didn’t think the characters were interesting, you would probably stop watching. To add to that, I think the long term plot is appealing as well, setting up questions that I would love to see answers to. But the short-term plot is… lacking. This is where I start getting more subjective, since it is very possible other people really enjoy the short-term storytelling, but I do not. That’s not to say that I think it’s bad, but I just think it’s a bit average. It feels like fantasy-tropes put into an interesting setting without doing anything that makes it really stand out. If I had to name a similar show I would probably pick something like My Hero Academia. It sets up interesting questions, but the answers so far seem unsatisfying. So I would say both shows are enjoyable, but not what I would call really good.
Now the most important question of the day; does it matter?
Honestly, I don’t think it does. Not a lot, at least. From a literary perspective I think it falls a bit flat and that means it’s not really being inventive. But at the end of the day, we consume media for entertainment, and if it’s entertaining enough it doesn’t really matter if it’s adding something completely new and innovative or not. I do believe that if a story does something innovative it can certainly elevate the story, but the same thing can be said about a story that’s not particularly inventive, but executes everything really well. That is how I felt about the early parts of My Hero Academia for example. I like it when a show does something creative that catches me by surprise, and the shows I end up liking the most are the kinds of shows that surprise me with their story. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy shows that don’t innovate. I thought Danmachi was very enjoyable, and I hope anyone who reads this piece considers giving it a watch. And who knows, I might come back to this topic once I’ve read the light novels, and see if my perspective has changed. Either way, thanks for reading, and please tell me your opinion on this subject. Am I talking out of my ass or do you think there’s some truth in what I’m saying.