Being dark and edgy can work, just not all the time.
When DC unveiled Titans, the fan reaction was swift, condemning, and fierce. But to anyone familiar with “dark and edgy” tropes, none of this was a surprise.
For those unaware, to say something is “dark and edgy” generally means that something is trying to be more mature than it probably should. In the case of Titans, Robin’s infamous “**** Batman” line felt like a teenager’s attempt to sound cool and adult. Now, admittedly, that might have been the point all along. And according to reviews, Titans might be a little better than skeptics were led to believe. Still, the damage was done: Titans was branded dark and edgy by fans, and it’d take a lot of work to win back those who were turned off by this first impression.
But the real question is this: why do fans hate franchises going dark and edgy so much, and why do dark and edgy titles keep getting made? Let’s stare right into the void of edgy content and find the answers for ourselves.
What drives creators to make dark and edgy content?
A simple answer here: it gets attention.
Whether you like TV shows, movies, video games, or comic books, it can be hard to tell what’s worth your attention. Anyone creating media knows this, so they’ll often rely on gimmicks to stand out. This can involve plenty of different innovations in story and visuals, but let’s say you don’t have the production values to make these ideas a reality. That’s when you turn to plan B: controversy.
Case in point, the Fall 2018 anime season featured the premiere of over 50 different shows. Yet one of the most discussed titles this season is the one fielding the most accusations of being dark and edgy (I can’t link it in good conscience on a family friendly platform, but anime fans know what I’m talking about). It’s to a point where even people unfamiliar with anime are asking why the heck so many people are upset over it. All of this generates buzz, as even people advising not to watch it are just piquing the curiosity of those who haven’t seen it yet.
As it is, we see so many reboots and remakes these days because media is expensive to create. Relying on established franchises guarantees an interested audience, which is why the majority of anime is based on preexisting manga. So really, dark and edgy reboots are predominately a product of marketing. It’s a combination of two ideas that reliably generate buzz, regardless of how good the finished product is. This isn’t always the case, but we’ll get to that later.
Why do fans use “dark and edgy” as an insult?
The term “dark and edgy” can technically be used to describe any piece of media with disturbing or mature themes. However, the term is most often reserved for describing titles that gain little to nothing from being disturbing or mature to begin with.
A great example of this is Shadow the Hedgehog. This Sonic spinoff has become practically synonymous with the term dark and edgy, and it’s easy to see why. Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a series grounded in fantasy, as most mascot-based video games tend to be. While the series become more story driven after Sonic Adventure, Shadow the Hedgehog‘s angst felt out of left field. In a world where a hedgehog is the fastest thing alive and can explode robots by jumping on them, why do we have our protagonist using guns and driving cars? The game gains virtually no benefit from its darker elements, so fans can’t help but label them as unnecessary.
This is the problem almost any dark and edgy reboot faces. When you try to “age up” a preexisting franchise, it’s difficult to stay faithful to what fans liked about it to begin with. In a worst case scenario, fans can detect that the darker elements in a title are just cynical ways to drive controversy. This is ultimately why dark and edgy is used as an insult. When you start to cringe hearing badly written lines trying desperately to get a reaction out of you, you know you’re entering dark and edgy territory.
Can a franchise benefit from becoming dark and edgy?
Another simple answer: absolutely!
Many of our beloved franchises have become “darker and edgier” over time. The Dark Knight trilogy is the dark and edgy version of Batman. Kingdom Hearts II is darker and edgier than the original Kingdom Hearts. Madoka Magica is a dark and edgy Magical Girl anime (which, to be fair, was already dark and edgy at times). All of these examples are successful because they are faithful to the titles that came before them. The darker elements that we see introduced augment the narrative to introduce new and interesting ideas to the audience. And when you can see how a story benefits from being darker, it’s hard to feel as cynical about it.
Let’s face it: the franchises we enjoyed as kids can’t stay as they are forever. We all grow up sooner than later, which means the things we like have to grow up a little to keep our interest. Even if we dread changing the things we love, sometimes a lot of good can come from it. The ideas that resonate with us evolve over time, and media is the most successful when it can adapt to our malleable tastes. Even if some dark stories don’t exactly resonate, they can indirectly lead to better things in the end.
So while dark and edgy reboots can often fill us with dread, that doesn’t mean they have to be bad. As long as a franchise remains true to itself while exploring new narrative territory, fans may find themselves happily surprised by the end result. Dark and edgy may predominately be used as an insult, but with enough love and care, it’s a term that can be used as a compliment.
Having said that, I still don’t know if Robin’s potty mouth was necessary.