*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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?