I sometimes wonder if people realize that criticizing the premise of most fiction is a useless exercise. As I’ll demonstrate later on, if you approach any work of fiction in the right way, you can make the premise sound stupid. An attitude that seeks to find a reason to dislike a premise will always find one.
But what defines a story as good or bad isn’t the premise itself; that’s simply the foundation. What’s important is how well that premise is executed. Can they make you suspend your disbelief well enough to make you accept that there’s a kid who just won’t get in the freaking robot? Can they make you accept that there’s a kid whose face is naturally attractive to beautiful alien girls and beautiful alien boys who look like girls?
I’m not saying you can’t make a personal judgement call on whether or not a particular premise appeals to you, but at the end of the day it’s just that: personal. Saying “that’s a stupid premise” is really only valid in relation to you and your own tastes and interests. And as I’ve already said, your mindset going into anything will play a huge role. If you go in expecting to dislike a show, chances are high you’ll find something to criticize. If you go into a show expecting to like a show, you can much more easily bypass and ignore the inconsistencies that might otherwise interfere with your enjoyment. Premises are kind of a short cut in making judgements: if you dismiss the premise, you dismiss the show. If you accept the premise, you can either accept the show or dismiss the show on grounds of execution.
After all, this is the realm of fiction aka the realm of made-up stories, many of which could never happen in real life. That’s why it’s called fiction, and not real-life-transposed-into-literature.
So, with that said, allow me to demonstrate how easy it is to dismiss the premises of shows by using some well-regarded shows as examples (Note: It helps if you read these in a really sarcastic tone):
Blast of Tempest
The story of two really attractive, hyper-logical high school guys, one of whom is a siscon, as they seek to avenge a girl in a world ruled by two giant trees.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
A bunch of cute girls have a hard time as mahou shoujou while a red-eyed rabbit tries to seduce one of them into accepting magical powers.
Spice & Wolf
A fully naked woman appears in a young trader’s cart and the wander around flirting with lots of sexual tension.
An idiot kid loses his brother’s body, as well as his own arm and leg, by casting forbidden science-magic stuff. Then they try to get them back.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
A kid is so scared of his dad that he refuses to fight aliens, even though he has a personalized giant robot.
Hunter x Hunter
A kid goes looking for his dad and has adventures in which he meets a guy who looks like a girl, a horny clown, a fighting doctor and an albino assassin.
Some kids play an outdated card game where you slap at memorized poems.
The Eccentric Family
Shapeshifting raccoons fight each other as humans while unraveling the mystery of their father’s death, even though they already know he got eaten.
Nagi no Asukara
Water-breathing kids and regular air-breathing kids get caught up in a ridiculous love polygon because the sea god is screwing with everybody and no one talks about their feelings.
Immortal people fight on a train called the Flying Pussyfoot.
King Arthur is a girl in a show about seven mages with seven historical figures fighting over the holy grail to make their dearest wishes come true. Spoiler: None of them win.
AND I COULD GO ON.
The fine people over at Crunchyroll ran this piece as a feature on August 31, 2014.