Attempting To Define “Psychological” Anime

If you go onto the “Anime Search” function of MAL you’ll be presented with a list of genres to choose from, with the purpose of narrowing down your search. Most of these are straightforward like “Drama” or “Action” one should know exactly what they’ll get from shows with these tags. Some are a bit more loosely defined, especially the Anime specific ones like “Seinen” or “Shonen”. These tags tend to describe the target demographics (Shonen means boy, for instance) and as such one can expect certain things from that.

Look across the list though and there’s one tag that stands out. Psychological. The tag stands out to me for a reason. What the fuck does it mean? In this context specifically, what does Psychological refer to?

The definition of Psychological is as follows: of, affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person.

How would one apply this to a show? It’d be a very difficult thing to do. Take it too broadly and you could use it to define every show that attempts to make you think (which is basically every show). Going too narrow though and it’d be a very subjective tagging, being only for shows that make you question your fundamental beliefs, which of course would differ from person to person. The real problem though is the lack of a middle ground.

Let’s use comedy as an example. Not every show with a joke is a comedy but it is not a tagging one ascribes to specifically to things they found funny. There are such things as bad comedies. We strike a middle ground here, shows with a distinct emphasis on making you laugh are comedies, whether or not they succeed at doing so. There’s a reason notoriously bad films like “The Room” are not classified as comedies, because all the humor comes from it’s ineptness at being a drama.

So where do we find this middle ground with Psychological? Where does one draw the line for how much a show has to affect your mind to be classified as Psychological? The more casual definition of a Psychological show would be “a show that gets you thinking” but that is of course way too broad.

I ruminated on this for a while to attempt to come up with a definition. The reason being that when I look at MAL’s “Psychological” line up, I strongly disagree with the classification of many shows with that tag. But I didn’t exactly know why.

Here’s the 10 most popular shows with that tag followed by whether or not I consider them worthy of such a tagging:

  • Death Note (Yes)
  • Mirai Nikki (No)
  • Tokyo Ghoul (Mostly No)
  • Elfen Lied (Yet to watch)
  • Psycho-Pass (Yes)
  • Madoka (Yes)
  • Evangelion (Yes)
  • Kisejuu (No)
  • Erased (No)
  • Re:Zero (No)

Basically 4/9. What is it that separates those shows though? What unifying feature do they have that the others lack?

Ambiguity.

The conclusion that I’ve come to is that a Psychological show is not one that only makes you think about crucial moral issues but offers no one definitive answer to the questions posed.

I’ve talked about utilitarianism in Madoka and how no one answer is presented to the audience. Psycho-Pass is a show I constantly praise for it’s use of multiple viewpoints on any given issue. Death Note asks the question of whether or not we should kill for good and presents this as neither right or wrong, you could conceivably side with or against Light (at least at the start). Eva, from what I have seen of it, presents multiple different ways of dealing with depression through metaphor.

The other shows lack this unifying lack of a concrete stance. In Erased it’s obviously a good thing that the girl was saved. Re:Zero is much more of a character study of Subaru than anything else. The idea of Mirai Nikki having any consistent thematic purpose is nearly laughable unless of course the question being posed is whether or not it’s OK to have a Yandere girlfriend (The answer should be a universal no).

I hesitate to outright say Tokyo Ghoul isn’t, it has hints of open ended questions about it in regards to what makes one human, but they are so often overshadowed other elements that I feel that the show isn’t Psychological.

To me a Psychological Anime is one that presents the audience with moral questions and lets them decide for themselves what the answer is.

 

This one’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve always had a general sense of what a Psychological show was but was never able to pinpoint exactly what made one Psychological until I really thought about it.

The definition I gave is not definitive, I’m very open to other interpretations, I just feel that the current definition (if there even is one) is way too ill defined to be functional. Anyway let me know what you think below.

Thanks for reading,

Psychime.

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