I have over the years spent a lot of time taking in science fiction content. More often than not whatever science fiction element is in the story is sort of vital to the plot. Things like time travel and aliens generally matter, a lot, but not always. Sometimes a story will have a sci-fi setting just because it’s cool.
My favorite anime is Cowboy Bebop, a series that is set both in the distant future and in space. Neither of these things are super important to the overall story though. Cowboy Bebop is primarily a story about some down on their luck bounty hunters. They just happen to also live in a world with interplanetary travel. I have openly admitted before that I am a big fan of stories that I can find anywhere else, but this time they’re in space. The best example of this I have is Waypoint Kangaroo, a spy thriller set on a cruise ship to Mars.
The fact that Waypoint Kangaroo is on a space cruise ship is actually vital to the plot. I would argue that removing the spaceships from Cowboy Bebop wouldn’t affect the plot all that much. There are things that would have to change. The overall story of a ragtag group of bounty hunters struggling to get by wouldn’t go through all that many changes. The main character of the series, Spike, has a backstory that wouldn’t change at all if you took out the sci-fi elements.
The thing is, I don’t think Cowboy Bebop would be nearly as much fun to watch if it wasn’t sci-fi. The sci-fi elements in Cowboy Bebop might not be all that important to the plot of the series overall, but they still make the series fun. It creates a world that’s interesting to explore. Even if interplanetary travel is often played off as something as mundane as driving down the highway, it’s still cool to watch. It’s fun to watch these characters navigate a world in which these things are normal.
There’s something really fascinating to me about watching or reading a series where the characters are living lives that aren’t all that far off from the kind of lives we live, but with fantasy elements. Not everyone is the chosen one and not everything is a government conspiracy. So, it can be a lot of fun to see a series where people are just going through the motions, but the motions happen to be wild.
It doesn’t matter if the sci-fi elements are “important” to the plot. It can be great even if they’re just there to look cool because spaceships are always cool, and I will always appreciate them.