Thinking Points (VII) – Hades Project Zeorymer and the Right Way to Like Bad Films

Zeorymer uses its “Hades Attack” in episode 1 of Hades Project Zeorymer.

 This blog is almost entirely about popular, escapist media. I do not pretend to admit anything I write about is anything but. What makes this interesting to me, however, is what makes something good escapism. Escapist media is arguably a euphemistic term for mass culture that isn’t particularly thought-provoking, and offers simple fantasy fulfilment. This in turn is euphemistically described as “just a bit of fun” or a “guilty pleasure and the term “switch your brain off” is used to justify liking something considered of poor quality.

This is total mealy-mouthed nonsense. There is – or there should be – no particular shame in liking something that is objectively flawed or even objectively poorly-made. Most people who consume media tend to be relatively discerning, and to a certain degree critical of what they consume. They do not exclusively consume one form of media and so it is entirely natural they will like both intellectual and simplistic works. Such is having a varied diet of media. However, liking flawed things requires one thing on the part of the consumer; acknowledgement of flaws. Being able to see the good in something flawed, and identify what makes something enjoyable, requires a critical eye. A film may have a poor storyline but good camerawork, or lighting, or acting. A book may be structurally weak but have dazzling use of imagery. Even a poor pop record may be melodically weak but harmonically interesting. Reducing this art of finding the strengths of a flawed whole to a simple “it’s a guilty pleasure” truism is harmful to critical discourse.

Finding the strengths in something flawed is not always a simple thing, yet being able to explain why something widely considered bad is personally enjoyable or interesting is a vital skill to retain a critical outlook on the media. For an example, I will use the OVA Hades Project Zeorymer. It is narratively weak owing to rushed pacing. It has largely dull action sequences. Those are its two biggest failings, yet despite these I can see a lot to like about it – or at the least enough good ideas to make it worth watching. There is a solid justification for the poor action that perhaps does not work in execution (that the hero is in a position where his enemies are outclassed by orders of magnitude, making the story less about his fight with the villain and more about his reasons for doing so), and while the action is traditionally uninteresting, with minimal movement or dynamism, the focus is not on an exciting battle but instead on showing the futility of resisting inevitable death.

I would recommend Zeorymer to someone looking for a dark science-fiction story because of what it sets out to do, with the caveat that the execution is not brilliant. It is a good example of a poor piece of film that nevertheless has an interesting idea behind it. I would not go around saying Zeorymer is a great piece of animation or science-fiction writing because it is so heavily flawed this would be untrue. This is the difference between uncritically watching poor-quality media, and critically watching it. It would be easy to say you should watch Zeorymer “with your brain turned off”, or dismiss it as a “guilty pleasure” but really I feel no guilt in having it in my DVD collection – and I wouldn’t think of watching it mindlessly. To watch something without engaging on it on any critical level – and be able to enjoy it because of this – means it fails as a piece of fiction or media. If the only way to find merit in something is to have no critical standards at all, then it by definition has no value.

So what of this? What is the “correct” way to watch bad films, or read bad novels? The answer, insofar as there are ever absolutes in how to watch a film or read a book, is to consume bad media with an eye for what it does well, rather than celebrating its mediocrity. The cult of brainless consumption shuts off critical debate, and encourages a sort of anti-intellectualism. Even something with apparently no depth to it must still be enjoyable for a reason – even if that reason is simply impressive aesthetics or an approach to familiar ground that is notably different from the norm. I judge a piece of media as a failure if I can find nothing to celebrate about it; a case in point is Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. It’s another poorly-paced, incoherent film about giant mechanical warriors thumping it out, but unlike Zeorymer there’s no kernel of a good idea in there trying to get out. Zeorymer tries to challenge the expectations of an action film by showing the action from the enemy’s perspective – unsatisfying staving off of an inevitable painful death by a dispassionate “hero.” This isn’t particularly rewarding to watch visually but I admire it for trying. By contrast, Transformers has no such attempt at innovation in plot terms, and is happy to remain at the lowest-common denominator in all fields – action, narrative and general visual design. The only way I can enjoy watching it is to completely avoid a critical approach – literal brainless consumption without engagement – which shuts off the debate about where it goes wrong.

This debate is thus a twofold one; not only is it a matter of finding the good in bad things, it is about accepting the flaws in them as well. Failure to do this, thus consuming media uncritically, is what leads to a stifling of the chance for improvement and the continued mediocrity of escapism – simply because something is fantastical, or over-the-top, does not mean that it cannot be innovative, or interesting – and accepting that it doesn’t need to be, and enjoying something without thinking about why, is thus harmful. This is not an attack on escapism, or a broadside against liking flawed products. What it is is a reminder that even if something is flawed, it can still be enjoyable – although in order to properly appreciate something like that, it must be considered even-handedly. Thus, “switching your brain off” and excusing flaws is a bad thing – mass media, and bad stories, should be consumed critically.

I’ll conclude this with a simple test for everyone; next time you consume something, be it Transformers, or Call Me Maybe, or Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh or even The Da Vinci Code, ask yourself why you enjoy it. Don’t accept it’s enjoyable because it’s mindless – otherwise you’re admitting you’re happy to be mindless.

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3 comments

  1. Shinmaru

    A movie along these lines that comes to mind immediately is one of David Cronenberg’s first movies, Shivers (aka They Came From Within). There’s a lot that’s bad about the movie: the acting is atrocious, there are quite a few boring bits and the dialogue is almost as bad. Cronenberg was still in the part of his career where he couldn’t write any dialogue that sounded like it would ever be spoken by actual humans, but except for a couple of lines here and there, he also hadn’t quite perfected that delightfully weird tone that pops up in stuff like Videodrome. (“Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!”) But the concept of the movie — parasites that turn people into sex zombies and are spread like venereal diseases — is pretty interesting, and it goes to all the weird places Cronenberg generally goes. The actual directorial work is rough, but it nails pretty much everything you can ask for, especially since he had a bucket of shit for a budget. I find it to be an interesting commentary on conservative views of sexuality, too.

    That’s just one example. I like a fair number of works that are quite flawed!

  2. Digibro

    This is a nice post. It makes me feel like it’s my duty, more than something I want to do for laughs, that I honestly get into the bones of what makes Garzey’s Wing so damn entertaining to me that I call it one of my favorite anime.

  3. Pingback: Diēs Caniculārēs – The Dog Days of Summer | The Untold Story of Altair & Vega

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