What poison will make you die faster, anime fans?
After having watched anime for so long and getting familiar with practically every big title out there – except for the many Gundam iterations because fuck you – I’m starting to see a recurring pattern in the types of bad stories the medium, and pretty much every other storytelling medium really, dishes out at me. Assuming that the premise appeals to you, there are three distinct ways a story can fuck up and they are as follows:
- Starting out with a purpose or plot and losing your way up until the very end.
- No direction up until the end which throws in a twist or payoff that justifies everything that happened prior.
- Staying on course and then dropping a twist that ruins the entire story, making it feel like a waste of time.
Number 1 is a no-brainer, as you people who initially liked Yatterman Night, Inuyasha, Angel Beats, Wolf’s Rain and some others can attest to. The experience of watching a show that starts off with an engaging hook, but proceeds to fall apart due to the show’s inability to sustain its energy for more than a few episodes, change in staff somewhere in-between, or just bad storytelling decisions in general? We’ve all experienced that plenty of times, so I don’t see the need to clarify it any further.
Number 2 is very familiar for people who play visual novels, watch Mad Men, and actually care about Desmond’s plotline in the Assassin’s Creed series. It’s basically when a show just dicks around or does some sort of setup without any real context or narrative thrust up until the very end when it remembers that it’s supposed to be telling a story. I’ve also seen it labeled as the bait-and-switch style of storytelling, although honestly I think that label is more appropriate for Number 3.
Speaking of which, Number 3…I’m sure that Mass Effect 3 is pretty much the first thing everyone thinks of when this type of storytelling is introduced and older anime fans will remember Gainax’s trollish ways and After Story. It’s when a show that’s doing so well suddenly jumps the shark with the dumbest of plot turns that ruins all the build up the show/movie/whatever spent on them and we end up acting like a bunch of ninnies because we don’t like getting trolled and I don’t see why any anime studio would want to troll their audience. How exactly does doing that make us give them our money?
So with all that said, here’s a poll where you choose which of these bad storytelling methods is the worst. If you need a reminder of what the numbers represent, read above.
I recommend you complete this poll first before reading the rest of the article, as I’ll be elaborating on my personal views regarding each bad storytelling method and I’d rather get honest first-glance answers rather than something that was influenced by my own opinions.
Did you answer? Good. Now read on for my personal takes.
I think Number 3 is the one that causes the most frustration/rage-inducing amongst folks, as anybody who watched the entirety of Anohana can tell you. Anyone who glances at my favorite anime knows that I can tolerate a few letdown endings (Kaiba, Aku no Hana, Paprika). However, when the ending is something that utterly changes/wrecks the goddamn point of the entire story prior, that’s just one letdown I can’t overlook.
Now personally, whilst it irritates me that an anime can’t enter my favorites despite having enough qualifications to do so because of shit like this, I’ve never actually hated an anime for backing down at the last minute (despite everything I said about it, I really can’t summon up much hatred or even energy for Maria the Virgin Witch, even with all its numerous faults) or going on a bit too long. It’s definitely the most disappointing of the bad storytelling methods, so I can’t fault anyone for thinking it’s the worst. But for me, I’m so used to Number 3 by now that I’ve come to anticipate it with every anime I watch, and the only way it can give me a hernia is when it’s used as the clincher rather than the cause. Keep in mind, I didn’t even like what I’ve experienced of Mass Effect’s story/gameplay prior to its shitty ending.
Number 1 is pretty much synonymous with wasted potential and honestly, how I feel about it depends on the individual product along with my current mood at the time. That’s the same for a lot of people too I assume, given how many Code Geass lovers are out there, along with the small number of folks I talk with who say that Eureka Seven Ao was okay whilst trashing Yatterman Night. Obviously the severity of the fall from grace mostly depends on the noticeability and scale of how much it wastes. For example, I thought that new Fantastic Four movie was doing fine up until the last act when it just lost all sense of direction, but the stuff I liked about the film still exists and made it somewhat worth seeing. Yatterman Night’s fall is just indefensible though, for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on since everyone else already has. Still, because the degree of flak I give for stories that fall into this category is incredibly flexible even though said category is an inherently bad thing, I can’t say I have too much of an opinion on it. Make of that what you will.
At the very least, it – and Number 3 for that matter – are better alternatives than Number Fucking 2. As anyone who’s paid attention to my ask.fm amongst other platforms I use can attest to, I absolutely hate Number 2 with no flexibility whatsoever. I’m not even a big fan of when you put the twist in halfway, as I’ve said before regarding Steins;Gate and Punch Line, so why would I like it when you put it in the final act? It is without a doubt the worst way to tell a story ever, and David Cage just can’t seem to get that through his thick skull – not that the critical acclaim his games get helps with the head swelling, but still.
Nothing annoys me more than events dedicated entirely to setting things up without actually going in any real direction whatsoever; or to put it more bluntly, I hate cheap stories with cliffhangers/twist endings/final reveals. You know, like a certain anime made by a well-respected studio and talented director that sold over ten-thousand blu-rays/DVDs upon the release of its first volume and became critically acclaimed by a good chunk of anime writers, even though it had poor characterization, terrible pacing, uninspired writing, and shallow satire (not linking the name because it should be obvious what I’m referring to). And from the look of things, by the time they air that final episode, it’ll already be available for purchase. Yeah, that’s a good way to market products to your audience.
PS: Yes, I know that Beyond: Two Souls had a more mixed reception, but I don’t see how it wasn’t a full-on bomb given its atrocity.