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Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Revelation

In May, I published The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis , a story set in a war-torn land inspired by the Medieval Crusades, and following the...

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Using a Genre; Straight, Satire, or Deconstruction - Part 3

In this series of blog posts, the first in some time due to a variety of factors, I've decided to focus on the three major ways people use genres in general; playing them straight, satirising them, and deconstructing them. Each has merits, and none are set in stone. That's what lovely about them!

This time, for this final post, deconstruction is the order of the day. So what is deconstruction, when not applied to Lego or philosophy that is? Well, it's generally applied to stories in various media which take the tropes of a particular genre and examine them with a critical eye and the aim of understanding its interior workings. While satire does something similar, deconstruction tends to be far darker. The word "deconstruction" has been associated most recently with anime, which has become notorious for relying on genre tropes to the point of exasperation, but many of these deconstructions don't actually count as such. They're just dark or violent takes on those same tropes without actually deconstructing them.

It's difficult to pin down what counts as deconstruction, so it may surprise you what I've picked out as fine examples of it. For books, I think one of the best examples for its time is the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Yes, his weird fiction may be a common subgenre now, but in its day it was groundbreaking. While most stories at the time focused on humans overcoming impossible odds, Lovecraft takes completely the opposite approach, using typical story beats of his time, wrapping his distinct and near-nihilistic views on humanity around them, and creating stories that can be seen as a commentary on how these stories are typically told, and how their protagonists are portrayed. Of course every book can have deconstruction in it somewhere, but there are very few which have it as a major part of their narrative.

The same can be said of movies and television, although there it seems to be spread even thinner on the ground due to...reasons. But there are plenty out there. Shrek, in between its bouts of comedy and genuinely moving romance, deconstructs multiple fairy tale tropes people take for granted, accomplished by making its lead character an ogre, a being typically portrayed as a villain or antagonistic minion. A series that I think does this well is Firefly and its movie conclusion Serenity. While it has the usual allowance of sci-fi tropes and concessions, its people are more real than most other sci-fi casts, facing its extraordinary circumstances with down-to-earth responses. A special shout-out must be given to Whedon's writing as he makes characters real even in the most outlandish situations.

In anime, deconstruction has sadly become more of a buzzword than an actual description of the anime's contents. Shows like School Days and Puella Magi Madoka Magica are labelled as deconstruction without actually understanding what a deconstruction is. In my view, they're just ultra-violent or downbeat takes on a genre's tropes without actually deconstructing them. There can be deconstructive elements there, but it's not like the whole show deconstructs the genre. One show I think is often overlooked in the deconstruction line is Neon Genesis Evangelion. It stands as both a prime example of the mecha genre, and a brutal examination of what real teenagers with real problems would do and how they would react when stuck inside a giant mech and forced to fight merciless monsters dubbed Angels.

Video games have a far richer field of view for deconstruction due to their interactive nature. But again it's an industry averse to taking risks, even more so than the movie and television industries as they focus more on high returns than art. The setting I most associated with deconstruction is Yoko Taro's seminal Drakengard/Nier franchise. On the surface a Medieval high fantasy world, its dark twist on multiple RPG-based storytelling tropes from the hero with animal companion and love interest (here a sadistic soldier with a racist dragon and a sister holding secret incestuous love) to the righteous cause of the main character (androids sent to Earth to defeat monstrous machines, only said machines aren't nearly so monstrous and their leaders not nearly so honest as they seem). One part dark fantasy, one part cautionary tales about prejudice and the nature of killing, one part deconstruction of what games are, this franchise is unique in the gaming world. And that's saying something!

Closing Note;
Playing it straight. Satire. Deconstruction. Each has merits. Each has pitfalls. I'm not telling you which to use or which to ignore, only showing what they have to offer. I hope you've enjoyed what I've shown you as examples of these three approaches.

Shameless plug time ;)
If you want a cheap sample of non-violent deconstruction, then why not take a look at When Ai Met Yu: A Modern Japanese Romance, my take on the LGBT-focused yaoi/bara genres.

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