Do Spoilers Matter?

*Spoilers ensue for: Death Note, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Juuni Taisen’s early episodes, Anna Karenina

When I was 9, I was taught an important lesson when I inadvertently spoiled Death Note for my mom (I have a cool mom who reads manga). My mom didn’t let me read her manga at the time because I was too young, so I picked up the next volume of the manga that she borrowed and started reading the back of it. I only uttered the phrase “After L dies…” when my mom dropped her book, stared at me in shock, and proceeded to give me an emotional lecture, at the end of which I promised never to spoil anything again. My mom was…quite the L fan.

L dies spoiler

So since a pretty young age, I’ve held the opinion that spoilers really matter, and as an English Lit. Major now, I’ve always done my readings in time because the fear of having a novel spoiled in class is enough to prevent me from procrastinating. If I do happen to fall behind on a book I really like, I’ve even gone as far as to skip the class that discusses important parts of it. But in life, you can’t be fortunate enough avoid spoilers all the time. So how much do they really affect your enjoyment of a story?

This summer, I was reading the Haruki Murakami novella Nemuri when it spoiled the ending of Anna Karenina for me by referencing how Anna throws herself in front of a train. That frustrated me greatly because I knew at that point that Anna Karenina was going to be on my reading list this term. Well, the term has passed, and I have to say that to my surprise, this major spoiler did not ruin my enjoyment of the novel at all (and yes, it was a fairly enjoyable novel despite its intimidating length). Conversely, the spoiler allowed me to notice little things about Anna’s character that seem to justify her impulse-suicide from very early on, which made the sense of doom building up to her death all the more effective for me.

Now let’s talk in terms of anime. Different from a novel, where you can take in everything at your own pace and insert your own insight into imagining scenes visually, the sound and images that make critical moments urgent as well as dramatic are already given. Ayron from Reading Between has a great article on how music can affect great scenes in anime that I highly recommend. And a lot of these critical moments are made great by the tension and suspense leading to them and the shock when the final reveal goes in an entirely unanticipated direction.

juuni taisen necromancist
No man, I’m a necromanc-ist

Take the recent Juuni Taisen for example. I don’t think I’d have been able to tolerate Boar’s snobbishness and over-confidence in her battle skills if I knew beforehand that she was going to die in the first episode. It was the shock of the moment that she fell into Rabbit’s trap that made me give Boar all my sympathies. If I knew that she was going to die just like that though, I wouldn’t have bothered investing myself in her story arc at all and would probably have found her internal monologue far more annoying than it already kind of was. But after realizing that there’s a more-or-less predictable order to how the characters die, did that impact my enjoyment of the show or ability to appreciate their arcs? Well, I did kind of enjoy Chicken’s arc, but honestly couldn’t care more about characters like the Tatsumi brothers or Dog. But that’s probably just because somebody like Dog was never meant to be an important focus in the story.

death note L death

What about Death Note? After that memorable lesson with my mom, it’s not like I can un-see the major spoiler for myself when I went on to watch it (it was one of the first anime I watched because my mom convinced me to watch it with her). Well, I have to say that the moment L dropped dead was a lot less impactful than it could have been. I can even say that it was underwhelming. He just…dropped off of a chair. The slow motion made it worse for me, and the epic music leading up to the point didn’t help enough. But this is a scene that’s named by so many people as the most memorable in anime, in a show that I really did think was epic!

madoka magica mami-kyubei
Gotta love Madoka Magica’s shadow imagery

On the other hand, knowing that Kyubei is “evil” and that Mami dies didn’t really ruin the fun. Perhaps there would have been more discomfort and uncertainty as the reveal happens if I hadn’t known, but this additional knowledge did allow me to notice little things about Kyubei’s manipulative tactics and also consider the extent to which he can really be seen as evil. If I hadn’t known until late on in the story, Kyubei would probably be much more of a villain to me because I wouldn’t have had the time or objectivity to consider his role throughout the series.

fate zero ideal

I am also one of the people who watched Fate/Stay Night before Fate/Zero. This watching order made Fate/Zero a much more tragic show, when you know that despite everyone’s relatable dreams or solid philosophies, what they are fighting to the death for is only an empty promise.

So to sum it up, it seems like spoilers can help with characterization and provide perspectives of insight, but also have the tendency to prevent you from relating to characters as strongly. Whether it negatively impacts your enjoyment of a story probably depends on the focus of the anime then. Spoilers don’t go well with plot-focused anime, but are actually okay with something more concerned about exploring characters. If characters are strong enough, then you don’t really need the aid of dramatic sound or suspense to be able to relate to them.

That being said, I’d still avoid spoilers out of habit, and may or may not continue skipping classes if another of my favourite books is at risk of getting spoiled. I do have friends who actively look up the ending of anime series to see if it’s worth watching. I do not understand those people… So I’m curious, do people care about spoilers like me, or should it really not matter?

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7 thoughts on “Do Spoilers Matter?

  1. I’m not too concerned. While I try and watch an episode before reading someone else’s take on it, that is more so that I can make my own mind up about things. If I happen to catch a review of something before I watch it, it doesn’t bother me all that much. That is probably because I love rewatching stuff anyway. What is good, is good, and it doesn’t matter how many times I see it or whether I know it is coming. Shows that don’t survive pre-knowledge or having been watched before probably aren’t quite so affective in the first place if they are relying on shock and awe to get their moment across.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, it varies. If it’s something I’m following along with, I don’t want spoilers. I feel like some of the enjoyment is taken away if people start posting stuff right away and/or without any warnings. Yet something like Madoka Magica I think I would have been upset if I was expecting to get my light, fluffy magical girl fix and got what it was instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, definitely. I honestly want to experience Madoka as a fluffy show to see what that’s like before it all got dark. But then I probably wouldn’t have watched it for the fluff, so thanks to the internet for spoiling?

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  3. My feeling is that the things that are actually ruined by spoilers are usually the things that didn’t have much going for them besides the shock value of the twists. Things that are well-crafted tend to be enjoyable and possible to get emotionally invested in even when you roughly know what’s going to happen.

    Also, unless you’ve been reading detailed plot synopses, you usually know what happens but not how or why, so there’s some remaining narrative tension.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post. Spoilers don’t bother me if it’s something I don’t really care about or something I’m not going to watch. I do my best not to spoil anything if it’s something I do like, but sometimes it gets really hard especially if it’s a sequel, prequel, or side-story where critical information is needed to understand something.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s sound logic there. I’m the same way to try to not be spoiled. When it comes to books, movies, and anime, I do my best to go into it blind so my opinion becomes untainted. There are times where it causes me to like something more and be pleasantly surprised.

        Liked by 1 person

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