Mayoiga: Hilarious Parody or Serious Drama?

So the title of this article may confuse those who have not followed the discussion revolving around Spring 2016’s Mayoiga. Crucially, that debate has been around the question of “is Mayoiga intentionally bad or not?”. That simplifies the issue a little but it none the less strikes at the divide between critics. See, Mayoiga has split people into camps, with those answering the question with “yes” under the stipulation that its comedic quirks are blatantly obvious versus those answering “no” with the argument that the negatives are from fault not design.

I sit in the “no” camp which by looking at the aggregated ratings for Mayoiga seems to hold the majority. You might then be wondering why I want to bother arguing for the majority? Well, simply put, I am interested in the other sides perspective, only I can’t find someone to champion the cause so to speak. Rather than sit back with smug self-satisfaction I want to proactively put forward my case in the hopes that it can become a talking point for the peeps on the other side of the fence.

 

Now from the arguments I have seen, the evidence for Mayoiga’s comedic and even parodying nature stems from the tone it sets from the very first episode. For those that don’t recall, the first episode opens with a scene on a bus wherein the principal cast introduce themselves to each other. Here are some choice quotes from that opening:

“I’m off to a world with no foreign currency exchange, thanks!”

“I’m Hyoketsu no Judgeness. I’ve made my peace with this shitty world. If you get too close you’ll get frostbite!”

“I’m going to shoot everything up from now on!”

Those are just examples. Other scenes which need to be seen not read involve a fight over usernames and a melodramatic display between Manbe and Piitan the star-crossed lovers. Using this as a baseline to understanding the show it actually seems obvious that this level of ridiculousness has to be serving a larger purpose. As the episode goes on it appears the story won’t purely be a comedy jumping from pun to joke but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be parodying tropes of the horror genre within the confines of a stereotypical horror show.

If you want a more in-depth reading of the first episodes then I suggest checking out this crunchyroll article – click here

So why are you arguing this POV if you don’t agree with it?

Well the simple answer to that is because I don’t disagree. At least as an initial impression I don’t feel it is wrong to consider that entire first episode as an elaborate satire of horror & mystery tropes. If someone takes that and then uses it as the lens to view the full product that makes a degree of sense. On its own I don’t see a valid argument for why it can’t be a parody. The problem for me arises because the first episode does not exist in a vacuum. The focus should be placed on later events that act against the very purpose of satire and parody. Elements in the writing work against this initial conclusion and even go so far as to provide context to rationalize these earlier moments in.

This might seem a bit jarring if you aren’t familiar with Mayoiga but I want to jump right ahead and explain myself here. Out of context those aforementioned characters with their irrational behavior and absurd mannerisms would appear to be something you’re not supposed to take seriously. However, as the story unfolds in the second half the anime goes beyond that surface level and deep into the psyche of our cast and the intentions of the Nanaki that haunt them. See we learn that the characters nonsensical identities are deeply rooted in the trauma of their past. We are given a depressingly harrowing window into their backgrounds that even when viewed as comedy, are simply not designed to be funny. There isn’t a punchline with these character moments, no “ha! aren’t they silly?” or “wow this is just like X trope but exaggerated for comedic effect”. It distinctly lacks commentary.

 

For the record, I don’t think these backstories were especially great but they did actively serve their purpose in humanizing the cast. Their desire to escape from the world and all the pain it entails for them suddenly makes sense. Those moments we noted earlier are no longer ‘absurd’ as they are tragic. These people have been through so many hardships that they are disconnected from a normal way of life. I can’t laugh at that. I can’t say it jabs at other works in the genre. It’s simply saddening. Personally I believe that to continue viewing the work as a parody under the assumption made in the first half is wrong. The writing doesn’t want you to just laugh at them because it gives you a means to understand them. You can still laugh at the absurdity but now rather than that comedy being part of some grand meta-narrative, you are actually just laughing at broken human beings as the story tells you.

 

So if what you are saying is true, why was the first episode so misleading?

 

I’ve watched the whole show at this point. I know how it ends and I know what it does in the second half to reverse the assumptions made by viewers in the first half. With that in mind, I see the first episode as a time-saving exercise in an anime that wanted to accomplish a lot of things in only 12 episodes. They of course don’t have time to give a fleshed out introduction to the multitude of participants on the tour and deliver the story they want to tell with only 20 minutes of screen time per episode. As is later revealed the director wanted to focus on the conflict and resolution behind the nature of Nanaki village and how the characters interact with it in regards to their troubled pasts. To this end while quirky and even sometimes crazy one line introductions aren’t the best, it provided more time for the show to focus on other things. Think: If we had known about their backstories before everything started going wrong, we would lose the investment in finding out the answers to those mysteries. The Nanaki would no longer be an enigma because we would know exactly what their purpose was. That would be the death of tension, which I can imagine that writers would not want to do.

Following on from this. I want to say that the real mistake the staff made, was not in committing to the satire, but in unintentionally misleading audiences. It was never meant to be a satire to begin with. When adding in the context of the second half of Mayoiga where things begin to be revealed, I would rather believe the staff made an error in judgement, rather than believe they didn’t know what they were doing to begin with.

Ultimately Mayoiga was a failure because it couldn’t communicate its intentions well enough


 

So now I better tackle the opposite view on the matter. Given the limited articles on Mayoiga I will be using this one as the reference point. It was written by the same writer as the previous crunchyroll article mentioned so it seems the most relevant.

I thought I’d finally figured the show out and then I found myself smacked in the face with what felt like a mid-show genre shift. And then I realized: it was a mid-show genre shift, in a sense.

And, you know what? The Lost Village made it work.

— A quote from the article I want to leave in, so it is expressly apparent that even as an opponent of this line of thinking, we both felt the same tonal shift in the second half.

To summarize the articles viewpoint, he argues that we as consumers are so accustomed to stories playing by a preconceived set of rules that Mayoiga’s tonal shift was yet another meta commentary, this time taking that subversion of expectations to an entirely new level by changing the course of the show completely. As the author states, ‘The Lost Village truly laughs at the idea of genre’.

Personally I believe the argument here is not sufficient enough to be convincing. His point is only made possible because he ignores the retrospective qualities of the mysteries revelations. Rather than using the newfound information about the characters to look inwards on their previous actions, he uses that information to look outwards. To reach his conclusion the initial behavior of the cast has to remain nonsensical, yet it always made sense, we just didn’t know that yet. For his stance to be true, we have to acknowledge that the absurdity of the first episode was not to retain the mystery behind their pasts (and subsequently the tension of it manifesting in the form of the Nanaki). Yet those elements are needed to reinterpret the second half by default. His interpretation treats the narrative as separate jigsaw pieces that can be moved around at will to make two pictures, rather than one jigsaw that requires you to see the picture forming as you unravel it to then bring it all together into one piece.

I find it increasingly unconvincing when you factor in the ending. The article uses the fact that no one dies as further evidence that the second half also subvert’s horror tropes as the first did:

Having already subverted the horror-thriller conventions (the masterstroke here is that no one actually dies in the show)

Yet, I believe this crucially overlooks a key aspect. The fact that no one dies may be true but those who stayed actually faced a fate arguably worse than death. Staying in the village without confronting your Nanaki is established as fatal, at least in one sense of the word. You lose your sense of self. Your experiences and identity. You stop caring. With no past you can have no future. You, by all accounts, no longer exist. It might subvert horror tropes if you interpret it as only applying to literal death but expanding that meaning beyond a narrow definition reveals that it isn’t actually subverting anything. Taking a different path to the same conclusion is not inherently a subversion.

(Yes their is promise of preventing the effect of staying in the village but no real way of fulfilling that promise)

Either I have missed an intricate detail that is derailing my thought process or Mayoiga just wasn’t what everyone claims it to be. I have tried multiple angles to view this show from but I keep being pulled back to the same judgement. I don’t want Mayoiga to be a bad show, that is simply how it is. I won’t post a score here. I don’t want that to become the topic of conversation. I will however say that Mayoiga was a failure in my eyes for the reasons I state near the beginning. The result was by fault and not through design.


 

Side note: The articles I referenced here make frequent pointers towards Mari Okada as the writer for Mayoiga. For clarity and because I believe this is the wrong way to approach the show, Mari Okada joined the project late in development and had no direct hand in the foundation of the story. She, along with other writers, worked to deliver the story as it is now and is not wholly responsible for the success or failure of the show. Using her past experience as a means of interpreting the story is categorically the wrong way to go about it.

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4 thoughts on “Mayoiga: Hilarious Parody or Serious Drama?

  1. Here’s the thing, even if Myoiga was trying to be a praody of genre breaking conventions then given the audience reaction it missed its mark. If the satire is so subtle no one gets it than it isn’t really making its point. I really liked the humour of the first episode but the show didn’t continue with that line of thought, or any line for longer than a few episodes and sometimes shifted tone mid-episode and not in an interesting kind of way but in a way that suggested no one knew what was going on.

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    1. Yeah, the ambiguity of that interpretation is definitely a problem. I mentioned this in conversation with another writer who argued the parody angle but it came down to this:

      “Satirical cartoons are deliberately made to draw attention to themselves and convey the message it wants as straightforward as it possibly can. This is why it favors minimalism. Busy work and unnecessary details detract from the meaning of the satire. If Mayogia is truly comparable to these satirical cartoons, then it would be following the same rule set. But it doesn’t though. It is busy and loaded with meaningless details. Focus is paid to the characters backstories that are not funny without a twisted sense of humour. The story actually takes time to try and explain why the characters became who they are, even if it fails miserably. There is a conscious attempt made in the writing that works against the purpose of satire.”

      From my experience, the parody nature of Mayoiga that most people lean on ignores the rationalization of the characters and events that are apparent in the work itself. If you ignore those details then of course there is no other way to see it but as a parody. As you say, if the show was aiming for that, then audience that “got it” is a small esoteric minority, yet how can that be when the evidence is so stacked up against it?

      Probably wrote far more than I needed to here but I’ve spent so many hours talking on this topic without anyone acknowledging these points.

      Thanks for the comment by the way!

      Liked by 1 person

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