On the Suspension of Disbelief

By Nomad(Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated)Otto

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted in a fair while, this is for three very important reasons:

THE GOOD: Quals, which I passed, meaning that I’m no longer a masters student, but, rather, a doctoral candidate…. whoooooooooo (this means nothing other than the fact that I’m closer to having an extra three letters after my name)

THE BAD: Research, which has been going not at all, since I can’t get the damn equipment set up right. Also, I need to pick my committee, which is a challenge and a half, considering one of the people I’d like to pick is on sabbatical.

THE UGLY: I’m teaching a bunch of pre-meds, and, as you should know, you can’t spell pre-meditated murder without pre-med, especially when they keep fighting over stupidly small numbers of points, even though I’m the “mean TA”.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is not only a fairly accurate summary of my life right now, but, also, for having a very unusual element, that the characters cannot see outside of the frame of the shot. To quote Ebert,

“Sergio Leone established a rule that he follows throughout The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The rule is that the ability to see is limited by the sides of the frame. At important moments in the film, what the camera cannot see, the characters cannot see, and that gives Leone the freedom to surprise us with entrances that cannot be explained by the practical geography of his shots. There is a moment, for example, when men do not notice a vast encampment of the Union Army until they stumble upon it. And a moment in a cemetery when a man materializes out of thin air even though he should have been visible for a mile. And the way men walk down a street in full view and nobody is able to shoot them, maybe because they are not in the same frame with them.”

This is a pretty weird rule, and, at first, would seem to hurt the immersiveness of the film. However, rather than hurting our ability to understand the movie, it helps a great deal, because what we see is exactly what the characters see, which means that our understanding of the characters’ actions is deeper, since we know exactly what they’re reacting to.  People can suspend their disbelief in weird ways, but, the more unusual the thing that we are being asked to believe, the less likely they are to belive it. The way around this, of course, is to do what Leone did, and to present the world, complete with the rule, and to not draw attention to what the audience is being asked to accept. What does this have to do with anime, you may ask? Well, below the fold will have the exact detail, but, to summarize:

Nodame Chokes again

Nodame Chokes again

Out of the stuff that’s showing this season, the problem in Nodame is one that strikes me as being non-fixable AND annoying enough that it reduces my enjoyment of the whole show by enough that I feel like ranting about it. Hyakko has art problems, ToraDora has tsundere problems, and Ef has pacing problems, but all of those are either fixable, or things that don’t bother me an enormous amount. But oh, Nodame, you done have problems what can’t be fixed, because they’re a problem of the setting, and are big enough of a problem to break suspention of disbelief.

I’m referring, of course, to the language barrier. Lots of stories have the characters go to some foreign country. It allows you to change the scenary and introduce a whole bunch of new characters without requiring a continuity reset. The problem is, of course, that when you’re in a foreign country, people generally speak a foreign language, which means that your characters don’t speak it unless they’re polyglots.

Moreover, your audience generally doesn’t speak it unless THEY’RE polyglots, which means one of three things: 1) You have people speak the language in question, and subtitle it. Except for the fact that it means that your scripts will need to be looked over by someone who actually SPEAKS the language, and your actors will have to be able to pronouce the language in a way that doesn’t cause physical pain to listeners. 2) You have (miracle of miracles) everyone in the country whom the characters interact with speak the language your audience speaks. Not super hard if you have, say, Americans in northern Mexico, or Brits in Spain, or what have you, but it strains credulity to have everyone in Paris happen to speak Japanese. Finally, you have option 3) your characters are speaking whatever the other language is, but you, through the magic of television, will render their speech as if it was, for example, English, or Japanese, or whatever.

Option 3 seems to be avoiding the problem of breaking the suspension of disbelief, which will hurt the audience’s ability to emotionally relate to the story. However, if executed improperly, it’s no better than option 2, and, in fact, a fair bit worse. How can you screw up something so simple as option 3, you might ask? Well, let’s go to the play by play.

Alright, so, you have Nodame, a notorious screw-up, in a foreign country. Obviously, she’s not going to speak the language at first, so, you have an episode of grace in which to get her to learn the language, which they did in an amusing way. So far so good. The problem shows up, when Nodame uses some random French phrase. I get that it’s funny and random, but, wasn’t she just talking in French? What the heck? I know it’s a tiny thing to cause such a big reaction, but, it annoys the hell out of me.

Anyway, suspension of disbelief. It’s important. Don’t break it without good reason. Expect me ranting about more minor things as the pressure increases.

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