The safest risk

April 16, 2014

Coraline [was] a huge risk. But these days in animation, the safest bet is to take a risk.” –Henry Selick

Many people are risk averse. It’s one of humanity’s natural proclivities. It’s an offshoot of our loss aversion, where we put much greater weight on preserving what we have rather than acquiring more. $20 is not $20 – we value it differently depending on whether we already have it or not.

The problem is that sometimes the safest bet is to take a huge risk. Uncertain victory is better than certain, gradual defeat.

You see this in high-budget Hollywood movies and AAA video games all the time. In an effort to reduce risk, the producers try to please everybody, so they slowly sand off all the edges to make the movie or game more palatable to the general public…only to end up with a mediocre product that nobody really likes. You also see it in careers, where many people will choose a certain, crappy job over the uncertain possibilities of a much better job every single time.

The shows I’ve been blogging over at RandomC this season are instructive in this matter. Mahouka is a divisive story, one that some people love and others hate. That’s good! Better to have diehard fans even if it means haters as well, rather than a bunch of people who don’t really care. As for No Game No Life, it’s the characters themselves who know this lesson the best.

Don’t be afraid of risk. It’s better to risk big, even if you fail, rather than guarantee your defeat by accepting mediocrity. That’s a risk too, it’s just not a very good one.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    “Mahouka is a divisive story, one that some people love and others hate. That’s good! Better to have diehard fans even if it means haters as well, rather than a bunch of people who don’t really care.”

    Quite true. I should shift my line of thinking more.

    I really should stop being a pouting teen when haters come to knock on a series I like (SAO) and should readopt my previous stance of being satisfied that it even got adapted in the first place. It allows more people to know about it also. And as the saying goes “there is no such thing as negative publicity.”

    This would certainly help rehabilitate my ability to interact with the anime community that has certainly turned spiteful and has certainly suffered due to the undue amount of simple trolling that permeates it.

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      As a side note, there is such a thing as negative publicity, but you need to start punching puppies and being caught taking bribes before you get there. Getting an anime is rarely ever an example : )

      But yes, I think that would be wise. Haters are just part and parcel of experiencing a story that inspires strong feelings in people, for better or worse.

  2. Reply


    This is pretty much the biggest thing plaguing the eroge/VN industry right now and why really good VNs like Grisaia are exceptionally rare these days. But the flip side of risk aversion is the demographic of who you’re trying to sell to. You might get a few nods of respect for trying something a bit different, but especially in the case of anime and VNs, the fanbase has been voting with their wallets. They like their more or less cookie-cutter plots and characters with slight variations to make them more delicious. The process is entirely iterative; we take our sentiments and attachments from characters in one universe and shift them to only slightly different characters in another universe. Then when there is more to that world than just the moege-boxcutter characters, we find ourselves supremely impressed by a slightly-above-subpar world that, should we be objective, truly leaves much to be desired.

    This is why I have difficulty enjoying SAO and Mahouka, and to a smaller extent, AoT. It’s not that they aren’t good, but they don’t take risks. They are safe adaptations based upon a LN archetype that people like – with token amounts of modification. One other note on this subject matter: a lot of the shows that have come to be really popular and edge out (what I feel to have more artistic and literary merit) better shows have done precisely the jack-of-all-trades appealing that you mentioned. Lelouch, Kirito (now extra bishie for this upcoming season), Levi. Not just a bunch of cute girls clinging onto a clueless male lead.

    1. Reply


      Of course, there are all sorts of business considerations. It’s easier for me to take risks with low overheard & when I’m only going to be asking for a few bucks for each story – likewise, movies are only asking you for the cost of a ticket and maybe a DVD, so they can take risks too – whereas for anime that are asking for a LOT of money for multiple BDs with two episodes each, yeah, they can’t take as many risks. There’s more at stake, and they’re asking for more.

      Of course there are commercial considerations. These are products as well as stories, and their aim is to make money. That’s not what I was talking about though. I was saying that we need to fight against the impulses to sand all the corners down in pursuit of the easy, guaranteed sell, because it’s neither easy nor guaranteed.

      As for your other point, yes there will always be a few mass market successes. Stephen King and Clive Cussler still sell a lot of damn books, and that’s fine. I don’t look at the exceptions and claim they’re the rule, though. Sometimes lightning strikes, I just wouldn’t count on it though.

      Oh, and the source material for SAO, Mahouka, and Shingeki didn’t pander. Two were released online at first simply because those were the stories that the authors really wanted to tell, whatever their flaws, and Singeki didn’t compromise on much. Their anime are a different mater, but adaptations always are. I’m talking about the original story, and taking risks there.

  3. Reply


    I agree with Jif. I don’t find Mahouka to be very risk taking, but more of a cookie-cutter show that will easily appease the demographics that it’s trying to sell to. It’s part of the larger trend we’ve been bemoaning that rather than being creative and risky, they just adapt light novels that exploit tropes that they know the fanbase will eat up regardless of the quality. That’s how the entertainment industry works, sadly. You have to deal with fickle human interests, so you have to resort to what you know works.

    In contrast, you had ShinSekaiYori, which in its own right was a masterpiece. Of course, it did not sell at all in Japan. It was a huge risk adapting an extremely mature novel.

    What I love about No Game No Life is that it uses Otaku Bait in a very entertaining way… Mr. Steam, Brother and Sister literally can’t function apart from each other, exploitation of the accidental pervert trope to get a feel for Stephanie, Satirical jabs at the popular incestuous relationship trope… That’s creative. That’s funny. It adds a vibrant soul to an otherwise typical story that comprises 90% of anime in this day and age.

    1. Reply


      I may have mixed messages in this post. Mahouka doesn’t so much take a risk as not care if what it’s doing isn’t for some people. It’s extremely detailed and, at least at the beginning, very dry, but it doesn’t seem to pander. It strikes me as a story written by a guy who liked some of those tropes – just as you or I have an affinity for certain storytelling artifacts – not one where all the edges were sanded down. IT couldn’t have been, considering he posted it online for free originally.

      Shin Sekai Yori was a risk, yes, and unfortunately it didn’t pan out commercially. That’ll happen sometimes. That’s why it’s a risk. It’s a shame, but the market has shitty taste sometimes. Often, as a matter of fact.

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