I was honestly surprised when I looked through all of my editorials and found that I haven’t talked about this before when I find it to be a huge problem and something definitely worth sparking conversation over. It’s a topic that was the frontline of defence when the infamous Kill la Kill aired and it’s still an extremely overused defence whenever something in a show doesn’t make sense and is brushed off by the production as dismissable. This week we’re going to discuss suspension of disbelief.
In most notable cases of popular media, suspension of disbelief isn’t even a topic worth discussing because of how well the unbelievable is pulled off. Suspension of disbelief is the willingness for the audience of a production to stop using critical judgement in order to allow themselves to believe in the unbelievable. Usually suspension of disbelief isn’t a problem because more popular works of fiction do a good job of convincing their audience that what they’re currently experiencing is something possible in the world at hand. Personally, I believe that whenever an experience does a flawless job presenting the impossible as possible, suspension of disbelief isn’t even exercised. If you’ve convinced your audience that something exists then that’s exactly what happened, there was no need for the audience to even force themselves to believe what’s happening. No conscious effort has to be put forth.
The next question to be asked now is asking if suspension of disbelief a bad thing. Should it be considered bad if a production needs it’s audience to just believe what is being told to it even if there is no explanation? That depends. Small amounts of suspension of disbelief here and there is a sign of poor writing at moments, but it isn’t the worst thing in that case. Shows like Kiniro Mosaic, Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara kuru Sou desu yo?, Nichijou, and Mirai Nikki use it in ways that are largely excusable. Kiniro Mosaic having a sloppy excuse for how native English speakers can just suddenly learn fluent Japanese, Mondaiji-tachi having no logical explanation as to how each member of the main cast got sent to the new world they were in, Nichijou leaving a lot of Hakase’s inventions and Nano unexplained, and Mirai Nikki having the most botched ending ever are all relatively small things when compared to the entire production. None of the problems I pointed out in the shows I mentioned were too directly involved with the main purpose of the show.
When suspension of disbelief is a bad thing is when it begins popping up multiple times and begins creating plot holes. As I mentioned earlier, Kill la Kill was defended by the its legions of fans with the argument that you just needed to turn your brain off and enjoy it as a fun show. The first problem in that defense was that Kill la Kill wasn’t even a fun show in the first place, but it also suggested that the only way to enjoy the show was to suspend all of your disbelief. You had to abandon critical thought entirely in order to enjoy something and take it as purely fun. While I could rant on and on about how ignoring critical thought would make you miss some of Kill la Kill‘s obvious plot points for hours, the main point here is that requiring your audience not to think in order to understand your show is a bit of a half-effort from your writing.
When your writing requires suspension of disbelief there is a problem from a pure writing standpoint due to you essentially cutting out your audience’s ability to think about your show on any level. You can’t just do something so strange that it doesn’t fit with the context that you had given your audience so far and then write it off without an explanation, assuming others will just deal with no explanation. This popped up in the anime Love Live! School Idol Project as well, and while I watched the show I commented on it several times. How does the group wind up with professional grade music to sing to when the only person they’ve shown to have knowledge about music was Maki is just one of the millions of questions I asked on Twitter while I watched the show. A lot of people just wrote it off as me hating on the show (which I did do, I won’t lie) but some of those criticisms, while surprising even to myself, were legitimate. If you’re trying to make me believe that the show you’re presenting to me is actually happening in your purely fictional world, it has to at least make sense and remain consistent.
If your own story doesn’t follow the rules you presented to the people you’re trying to make sure understand the story you’re telling, you’re doing it wrong. I feel like that’s a pretty agreeable point. If your story doesn’t make sense in a way that affects the main point, you need to explain something so your audience understands what you meant. In requiring a fallback of suspension of disbelief, you’re not only hurting your production, but you’re missing a chance to clarify your vision and make sure your audience sees the parts of the story that are important to you. It’s fine if the part you’re requiring the audience to fall back on suspension of disbelief for couldn’t be further from the main point of your show since there’s no need to spend time polishing something in that area when you could spend that same time polishing the main purpose (your production would be much better if you did spend the time to make everything make sense, but at least it’s excusable here) but when your main purpose is hindered by you deciding not to make sure your writing only enforced the reason you’re making what you’re making in the first place. If you don’t care enough to make sure your plot made sense, there were no plot holes, and suspension of disbelief wasn’t a requirement, you can’t expect your audience to care.
Thank you all so much for reading this far! I hope you all enjoyed the piece and I really hope it stimulates some thought or conversation on the topic because it’s definitely one worth discussing your opinions on, even if mine happened to be rather strong. As always, if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not doing my part for this blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter. I’ll see you all again next week!
The features image from this post was drawn by pixiv artist lumi.