Out of the many cool things that adulthood brings, I’d have to say my favorite is definitely being able to buy food whenever I want to, wherever I want to. Taco Bell? Gotcha. Wendys? Done. Chipotle? Already there, fam. Also, I can get Skittles at the check-out without having to ask mom first! Awesome! Yet with all this freedom comes the temptation to overdo…and all too often, I end up overdoing just that. An overload of junk food plays havoc with your body, and I’m beginning to consider working out more, horror of horrors. As bad as junk food is though, you have to admit that it tends to hold several properties that make our guilty pleasures seem slightly less taboo. Even more interestingly, our favorite anime may hold a similar allure.
Why does junk food exist if it’s so bad for you? I mean, Starbursts and Doritos aren’t exactly the Holy Grail of nutritional foods. Obviously, the answer is pleasure: junk food just tastes good. It might not be the best in the long run, but it fulfils the purpose it serves: making me feel good for the moment.
In the same way, “junk food” anime might not offer the deepest storyline or the most fulfilling character arcs. What it does well, however, is giving the viewer pleasure during the entirety of its duration. Take Konosuba, for example. I started the show on a whim: I was doing Calc homework and needed something in the background I could look up at every so often and enjoy. The show sounded interesting and had more than 3 stars on Crunchyroll (as you know, I’m a hardcore anime snob), and so I clicked on the first episode. One laugh-filled evening and 12 episodes later, it was 1:30 in the morning and I had finished the first season. Alongside my Calc homework, no less!
As far as plot goes, Konosuba is light fare, but the main draw of the show is its comedy. Playing on the expectations for a fantasy anime, switching classic character roles and even making death irrelevant, the show is just fun. I can’t say that the character development or the overall lore is particularly deep, but it makes me laugh consistently when I need it. Could I be watching something objectively “better”? Sure, I guess. But do I want to? Not really: Konosuba fits right into the “comfort food” slot of my media fare, and as an engineering student, Lord knows I need de-stressers.
What about the value of such shows, though? Just because food might taste good doesn’t mean that it’s good for you, or for the overall landscape of consumer health. What makes shows like this worth the effort put into making them, or even good for those of us who enjoy them? Well, take a look at the ratings! If the Konosuba was worthless, people would react. Its ratings would be down, its visibility would be low, and there would be huge arguments on Reddit over its merit as an anime. Oh wait.
The worth of an anime is, in the end, determined by you as the viewer. Whatever label someone might slap on it, as long as you find value in it, the work has accomplished its purpose. As junk food calms the nerves and comforts the soul, so do “junk food” anime. More than that, less serious anime provide a nice way to unwind after marathoning a dark edgefest like Parasyte: The Maxim or emotional fare like Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. These shows might not be exceptional or extremely avant-garde, but they don’t have to be. Like your secret stash of Oreos, sometimes a show just needs to be there for you when you need it, and that is the beauty of this type of show. Far from junk, comfort food anime might not impress overall, but they fulfill a more basic need in our entertainment diets: consistency.
Not to be confused with predictability, consistency promises the viewer a similarly rich experience with each bite. While individual episodes of a show might be different, the overall quality of the show, the characters, and the way they interact with their world all remain the same, giving these kinds of shows a grounded feel. Why do you think grand epics like One Piece, Dragon Ball, or Naruto have lasted so long? Their commitment to consistency has given each of them an enduring charm and presence, despite the simplicity of the plot or the sheer quantity of filler episodes. The reason we love these shows and the reason they leave an impact is because in the end, they’re just good. And that’s all they need to be.