Which Type Of Bad Story Is The Worst?

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:

  1. Starting out with a purpose or plot and losing your way up until the very end.
  2. No direction up until the end which throws in a twist or payoff that justifies everything that happened prior.
  3. 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.

27 responses to “Which Type Of Bad Story Is The Worst?

  1. Well, as I finished watching Kaze no Stigma (Yes, I watched that dud in entirety) and I realized that indifference is worse than hatred. That one falls to number 1, I fell asleep numerous times when I watched it but I don’t drop animes (I am a sort of masochist) so it felt meh even with the OP MC and I don’t want to touch that thing again. For me, this is the worst bad story that could make me despise animes because it does not invoke anything.

    As regards to number 2, I felt Sword Art Online falls in this one. As much as I like that show as my guilty pleasure, this only knows how to end properly (Ep. 14, Ep. 25 and the end of Rosario’s Arc). Don’t ask anything in between. It comes as meh and disgusting.

    For me, the third one brings me disappointment and a bitter taste but this is the most excusable offense among the three. This one is the most potent when it comes with leaving a very bad impression but I hardly call it worst. I can remember Terror in Resonance with this one because on how episodes 9, 10 and 11 were handled but I still liked it despite its grave mistake. No. 6 falls in this one and darn, it affected the show so negatively. I didn’t mind After Story that much but I agree with you that it felt like trolling its audience. I bawled a lot then I got this… it’s only a freakin’ alternate universe. Ugh. Yet as I said, this is not the worst. I can even say that this is the most enjoyable among the three.

    Now, where does Guilty Crown or other shitty LNs fall?

    • I stated in the beginning that the premise has to appeal to you, so shitty LNs would either not qualify and usually fall under Number 1 or 2 when it does. Guilty Crown, if you don’t think it’s funny, will probably fall under Number 1.

      Yeah, Kaze is either Number 1 or “doesn’t appeal” depending on how you see its direction.

      SAO I is more Number 1 really. SAO II is more Number 2. Funny how that turned out.

      • Err.. My apologies then.

        I see your point with SAO Season 1 but the ending, you know, is kinda good. I don’t know but that’s maybe the result of me being reacquainted with anime that time.

        Just to add another point, I also have an experience where an anime starts strong for the first half, gets lost in the next quarter but finishes great (Blast of Tempest) and an anime which has all the guns but fizzles at the last episode (no, not the twist but the ending is just a let down and Kyousogiga falls with this one). These are two very good animes whose quality was diminished by those flaws.

        I also wonder with those titles which pacing too slow before anything happens. Ugh.

  2. I feel like there is an option even worse than 1: starting with an engaging hook or concept and then losing its way INCLUDING THE ENDING. They way you write it suggests that at least at the end someone remembers what the story was supposed to be about, which is more than can be said for most bad stories. Personally I’d say SAO is my huge disappointment in this area (I do not acknowledge even its clearly randomly cobbled together endings as making justice to the original theme) together with a few crap shows I can’t even be bothered to recall right now.

    Funnily enough, this kind of criticism actually applies also to a lot of anime that we tend to consider good, Evangelion first (which comes eerily close to being a Type 2). Steins;Gate also is a Type 2, if you replace “at the end” with “mid series”. It’s just that perhaps we got rather used to the fact that anime isn’t on average that good at this “plot” thing. It tends to be always more about the “how” than about the “what”, really.

    • I feel like there is an option even worse than 1: starting with an engaging hook or concept and then losing its way INCLUDING THE ENDING.

      That actually is Number 1. When I say to the very end, I mean “till the very end, it couldn’t find its way”. If you do find your way at the ending, it’s basically an amalgamation of Number 1 and Number 2, which can be okay to decent depending on how long it took to get back on track (ex. Rage of Bahamut)

      Steins;Gate also is a Type 2, if you replace “at the end” with “mid series”.

      It’s close, but I stated in my second-to-last paragraph that it doesn’t quite count because the reveal was mid-way. I’m only referring to stories that do that at the very end (or final act to be more specific). If you do it midway, I’d say you’re okay at best.

      • Ok, got that wrong, but I basically read it as bunching up everything like that so I guess it’s fine in the end. Then SAO is squarely a Type 1 (at least season 1, haven’t watched any more of that turd).

      • I’d argue that Shinsekai Yori comes ominously close to #2 as well. The whole show was kind of a set-up for the big reveal at the end, which it then relied on to propel the story until the end. For Shinsekai Yori it worked but I’d still call it a risky move.

    • I’d say Season 2 is Number 2 since it doesn’t even introduce an interesting hook up until its final arc. Then it becomes Number 1, and a VERY BAD case of Number 1 as well.

  3. Feels like number 1/2 is the kind of style often employed where the plot is established and then forgotten about so that we can do plot-a-week/comedy/fan-service shenangians. A better incarnation is when the plot-a-week style is underlined by constant development and an overall goal (Amaburi somewhat succeeded in this) or when we just accept at the end that the overarching plot wasn’t that vital if we were avoiding it for so long.

    I think number 3 is very divisive, though. Often a twist’s effect will depend on what you’ve invested in throughout the show – what characters you’re ‘into’, what questions you’re trying to answer, etc. I loved the whole of Anohana probably because all the turns that the plot took worked in tandem with what I was engaged with. Likewise, the big twist in Mirai Nikki regarding Yuno had little to no impact on me whatsoever, as I don’t think the show did a good job of letting me into any of the characters’ heads.

    For me, the worst stories are the ones that don’t make you want to experience more. There’s no set structure or techniques for doing that, but it can happen, and it can be a real downer on not just the story in question, but your ability to enjoy others too.

    • Number 2 is when it doesn’t establish the plot at all though. That’s why I really hate it. Also, your view of Mirai Nikki definitely falls under Number 2, as 3 assumes you’re engaged with what happened previously and that you hate the twist.

      For me, the worst stories are the ones that don’t make you want to experience more.

      I did say the premise had to appeal to you, and if the story falls under that category despite that, it’s usually a result of Number 1 or Number 2.

      • What I meant there was a story that makes you feel that after you’re seen it all. I remember finishing a few shows and feeling empty (PlaMemo, Outbreak Company, for example), so empty that I didn’t feel like watching another show for a short while (and I usually watch a lot of shows).

        Sometimes it’s a result of one of the story issues you’ve mentioned, sometimes it’s something completely different. Either way, the one thing I can’t stand is an anime that doesn’t make me want to watch more anime.

    • the one thing I can’t stand is an anime that doesn’t make me want to watch more anime.

      The only way that’ll happen to me is if the medium just flat-out repeats Winter 2013 for an entire year or so. I never burn out after watching one bad anime no matter how awful, because there’s always something else I can watch to compensate. Plus, if I give up on the medium eventually, my favorite anime aren’t going anywhere.

  4. Number 1 (Wolf’s Rain, Darker than Black, Bakemono, Shana, Angel Beats) isn’t very appealing for me, but I’m not really angry with any of those shows. Some shows like Texhnolyze or Tatami Galaxy have pretty good payoffs despite seemingly no direction to begin with.

    Number 3 can be very annoying in some cases, such as the disappointing endings of Clannad (both seasons), Monster, and Penguindrum.

    OTOH, troll endings can be pretty funny and entertaining. Oh, Edo Rocket! had my favorite hilarious troll ending, while Katanagatari, Gurren Lagann, Panty and Stocking, and Soul Eater all ended with some enjoyable trolling. If a given show is funny, I’m probably not bothered by the ending twist.

    From what I remember, Paprika’s ending was awesome, and Kaiba’s was pretty good.

    I didn’t like Anohana to begin with, so I couldn’t care enough to be mad or disappointed. Same with Now and Then, Here and There, etc.

    • Texhnolyze or Tatami Galaxy have pretty good payoffs despite seemingly no direction to begin with.

      None of those show started off with no direction though (at least, not by their second episodes). They may not have spelled things out for you in their premieres, but you can get what they were going for solely through the visual metaphors.

  5. Number 3 is the worst one. It actually wastes your time as Mirai Nikki did with mine. Number 2 is more acceptable nowadays, since now most TV shows use it for the sake of shock value. Take GOT for instance, this is a series that highly benefits from this method. As for anime goes, I enjoy number 2 kinda. Stein;Gate kept me entertained all the way.

    • I seem to recall the first season of Game of Thrones keeping a steady progression in terms of character and story the entire way through, so I have no idea how it falls under Number 2.

      Number 3 is the worst one. It actually wastes your time as Mirai Nikki did with mine.

      All three story methods I have on this post waste your time. I don’t see how Number 3 wastes any more time than the others.

      As for anime goes, I enjoy number 2 kinda. Stein;Gate kept me entertained all the way.

      Apparently, Durarara is doing the same for most people.

      Seriously, I don’t know how people can enjoy shows whose only form of substance are character dynamics. As much as I like Ezio from Assassin’s Creed 2, I never thought to myself that I’d want to watch a show about what he was doing in-between important plot points or whatever is in those extra games.

      • ”I seem to recall the first season of Game of Thrones keeping a steady progression in terms of character and story the entire way through, so I have no idea how it falls under Number 2.”

        You’re right in this one.

        ”All three story methods I have on this post waste your time. I don’t see how Number 3 wastes any more time than the others.”

        I fail to see how number 2 does this, since at the end you can at least understand whatever was going on in x TV show or anime. If you’re bothered with a show that has no direction or whatsoever at the beginning, the smartest thing to do would be not watching it. Hence, no time wasted. Same thing with number one, it may change its original purpose to a more appealing one as well as it could come up with a dull one. It’s obviously worst when you’re engaged in a series that would later get ruined over some nonsense the creators threw in the middle of said show. Notice that you were very clear when you wrote number 3. ”Making it feel like a waste of time”

        ”Apparently, Durarara is doing the same for most people.

        Seriously, I don’t know how people can enjoy shows whose only form of substance are character dynamics. As much as I like Ezio from Assassin’s Creed 2, I never thought to myself that I’d want to watch a show about what he was doing in-between important plot points or whatever is in those extra games.”

        I don’t get the appeal on Durarara, couldn’t make it further than its third episode. Stein;Gates, however, has very different characters that were both hilarious and interesting. And because they all had very different personalities, it was entertaining seeing the interaction between them. For me, at least.

    • Notice that you were very clear when you wrote number 3. ”Making it feel like a waste of time”

      I had to clarify that because I didn’t want people thinking that I was referring to anime with just “meh” endings like, say, Kaiba. Of course it’s a terrible method of storytelling and I even said it’s the most disappointing. That doesn’t exactly translate to it being the worst IMO.

      I fail to see how number 2 does this, since at the end you can at least understand whatever was going on in x TV show or anime.

      More likely I’d say, “you couldn’t have gotten to this point a lot faster? Why did you spend so much time on (insert overly long arc) when it barely adds to anything?”

      If you’re bothered with a show that has no direction or whatsoever at the beginning, the smartest thing to do would be not watching it. Hence, no time wasted.

      I guess it’s true that Number 2 isn’t as time-wasting if you don’t watch anime the way I do, but it doesn’t look good on a show if you give up on it very early on, because that would mean it failed to hook/entertain you on the most basic level.

      Stein;Gates, however, has very different characters that were both hilarious and interesting. And because they all had very different personalities, it was entertaining seeing the interaction between them. For me, at least.

      I’m fine when that sort of stuff is in-between important events (the Persona games for example) as a sort of break. Not when it goes on for an entire first half where nothing has happened progression-wise beforehand.

      • ”I guess it’s true that Number 2 isn’t as time-wasting if you don’t watch anime the way I do, but it doesn’t look good on a show if you give up on it very early on, because that would mean it failed to hook/entertain you on the most basic level.”

        My thoughts exactly. Thing is I never felt the need to drop Stein;Gates, and that’s my point. If you put yourself through all that time wasting watching a terrible show, is probably because you’ll make that up by laying out your thoughts about it here. It’s clear that bashing on anime you dislike was how this blog came up in the first place, Mr. Flawfinder. So basically you aren’t wasting time either, you’re investing it. If it’s a series you can’t get an opinion on, then that’s an abomination(because most of your opinions are based on how bad said show is or how flawed it was) and ultimately a waste of your time.

    • It’s clear that bashing on anime you dislike was how this blog came up in the first place, Mr. Flawfinder.

      It wasn’t the main intention, but it was a significant goal that I wanted to bring a sense of criticism into the anisphere that I thought it lacked. Years later, giving attention to bad anime just became the modus operandi for the blog.

      So basically you aren’t wasting time either, you’re investing it.

      True, but I also have a bunch of other things I’d rather be doing as well. Like play video games. Or marathon The Wire.

  6. While I dislike #2 the most I feel like there should also be a #4: False Progression. False character and story progression seems pretty rampant in anime as a whole, though it’s a bit harder for me to point out because most of the shows that suffer from it end up being unmemorable. Darker than Black suffered from a slow and stuttering story, so did Zero no Tsukaima, He Is My Master had no progression whatsoever (I don’t know what I expected), and more recently ‘Another ‘ spun its tires for an entire 12 episodes.

    I wish I could name some more recent titles but I’ve only been following the new seasons loosely for the last year and a half because I’ve largely been disappointed by the more recent stuff. (Well, that and I’ve become more absorbed in improving my writing).

      • I suppose if I look at #1 more as ‘wasted potential’ then I can see that a lot better, in which case I might need to change my answer. I may have just had the wrong idea about what you meant.

        As for #2 though I don’t really get how that covers the idea false progression. Most shows I can think of to typify #2 are just more of an increasingly tangled mess. Code Geass comes to mind, as does Death Note, and Naruto as well. Unless you mean that #2 shows have a tendency to rewrite their own history, essentially writing off part of their own set-ups.

        What are some of your other #2 examples? The only one I recognized was Steins;Gate and that one you admitted didn’t qualify to the full extent.

    • What are some of your other #2 examples?

      K, Durarara, Reconguista in G, Uchouten Kazoku, Nisemonogatari, Robotics;Notes, Classroom Crisis, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Star Driver…that’s all I can think of for now.

  7. Is that a Moshidora screenshot? Don’t know many people who watched that show. A very odd series. But endearing in its own way.

    As for the worst kind of bad story, it’s gotta be a patchy show in my opinion. A show which I really want to like and has moments that completely fulfill (and maybe exceed) my expectations, but I have to wade through hours and hours of shit to get to these moments as they’re so few and far between.

    OK, maybe this is not the *worst* kind of story, but its undoubtedly the one that annoys me the most. One Piece is a shining example of this. For every arc I like, there are three to four arcs that make me wonder why I waste my time watching chinese cartoons.