Incidentally, I’m surprised live-action dramas can go on for as long as they generally do whilst keeping up their high quality.
It’s no new observation that the reason the majority of anime sucks is because they’re trapped by the limits of Japan’s broadcast system. “Anime only being able to be one or two cours long (don’t even get me started on the longer ones) with no in-between” has been a common complaint for over a decade, and it really astonishes me that people still cling on to that “it needed more episodes” garbage or the even more awful “it’s two-cour, so it can afford to waste more time” crap when things don’t go their way in terms of series. Sure lack of time has happened in the past, but those cases are a minority compared to the huge amounts of shows that outstay their welcome because they ordered too big a plate to fill. Looking at you Twin Star Exorcists. Looking at you with the eyes of a hawk that just spotted a stray mouse.
Doesn’t exactly help that a lot of anime are just glorified commercials for the source material. That’s not an inherently bad thing (I’ve been informed that Planetarian was a passion project for the Jojo team, but at the end of the day, it is still a commercial for the game), but most of the time “glorified commercial” translates to “please the fans first, throw in a pre-fabricated plot anytime after that whenever you feel like it”. Basically, the kind of thinking that gave us that awful live-action Flintstones film from the 90s. And that’s not even counting the fact that most of the source material they’re promoting are interactive mediums (even manga is a little interactive despite not being officially regarded as such), where what seemed cute and important in its original form can look like filler in another form. When you factor that all in with the only format that Japan will allow for serialized cartoons, you don’t even need to consider the fucked-up nature of the industry’s working conditions and all that to realize how hard it is to make good cartoons.
A lot of anime try to make up for their extra time by trying to inject them with energy. Re:Zero has those anime jokes, 91 Days has its convoluted betrayals and sleight-of-hands, Jojo has its crazy villains, and Rewrite has its sexual harassment. Most anime fans (and fanboys in general for that matter) don’t seem to mind the story not going anywhere or if it’s even weak as long as the characters entertain them. There are literally people on Suicide Squad forums going “sure the story was weak and the villain was dull, but the characters were fun and the tone was an energetic good time”. And yeah, I can sort of sympathize because I used to be like that, but there are only so many times anime guys can play that card before it stops working on you and suddenly you realize that the cartoons you used to like don’t hold up. I mean look at the recent superhero fatigue that’s been going on as of late. Over twenty movies in the MCU and Thanos has done jack. And it’s too late to convince me at this point that his eventual entry into the canon will be worth it. What’s he going to do? Blow up a city?
Even taking into account that Planetarian’s original source is a very short game with only two characters (minus the flashback soldier who hilariously blew himself up) so it doesn’t have the same compromises KyoAni tried to do with their adaptations of Kanon and Clannad, the majority of the reason it works is because of the freedom given to the creators with their whole net-episode format, free of broadcast restrictions and the “twenty-two minutes a week limit”. It had five episodes, each with a clear structure (introduction, setting up the projector, displaying the projector as a means of escapism, going out in the real world where escapism is impossible, and conclusion), only two episodes were normal length and the rest were shortened so that we wouldn’t have to wait eight episodes for the projector to get fixed. And of course, even when it was setting things up, it made sure to keep a constant momentum by having all its dialogue, characterization, and whatnot centered on a central theme of finding hope in a world where it doesn’t exist. In other words, the creators looked at the game and chose the method most natural to get it into a non-interactive medium, and the most common way to convey naturalness is the same way you tell a joke: deliver the thing, then end it on its highest point.
As I’ve stated multiple times, anime is a completely non-interactive medium and we can’t control the pacing of it bar adjusting our video settings, which has never improved anything that was actually worth a damn. Anime has to keep the story flowing the entire way through or else I’m going to get bored. And of course, it has to do this through the animation – the one thing unique to this medium that other non-interactive mediums can’t accomplish. That’s another problem when you order too big a plate by the way. Considering how hard animation is for just one episode along with how many shows get released a season, most anime end up looking like absolute ass from the start, and the ones that don’t end up going through some particularly noticeable outsourcing by the midpoint (did you guys see the latest Re:Zero and Orange episodes? Man those visuals were disappointing). I don’t know what Planetarian’s scheduling was like, but five episodes means it can’t have suffered too many production issues. Whilst the animation wasn’t too special for the most part, it was mostly consistent from what I remember, along with some great visual highlights in the important scenes.
But most of all, the animation was always used to drive the story. Usually, even when they do get things working decently on the visual, most anime don’t seem to understand that animation isn’t just a style. It’s also a form of expression, and I have no idea what’s being expressed with Libra not being funny in Blood Blockade Battlefront other than Libra not being funny. From the ruined city to Yumemi’s innocent face contrasting with the junker’s downtrodden one to the clouded sky shots that symbolize just how shit this world is compared to the majestic illusion that is the planetarium, Planetarian may not be a Miyazaki wonder or even a great product in general, but it understood the basics of what it means to be anime: to constantly express something visually. Only when you accomplish that, then you can make your female lead moe and your male character snarky. Forcing the coolness just makes you seem desperate and your visuals to ring false. And if I can’t trust your visuals, then why the fuck are you even an anime to begin with?
Obviously, if Planetarian’s story doesn’t appeal to you, then it doesn’t really matter how well it’s executed. But then that just brings the question: why aren’t stories that do appeal to you getting the same treatment as this? Especially since we’re living in an age where less and less people are actually watching TV and doing all their media shit online, where broadcast restrictions are practically non-existent? This isn’t the right place to discuss anime getting more into the net format over time, but I sincerely hope it aims towards that in the next few years. Maybe then, it can hang around with today’s serialized live-action TV as the latter continues to celebrate its golden age. Maybe then, more people will finally start to take this medium seriously. Maybe then, Netflix’s “original series” label on the anime it purchases for legal streaming won’t be a goddamn lie. Maybe then, I could give up looking at trashy light novel shows and just watch anime for the fun of it.
But of course, I have no faith in that happening. At least not while A-1 Pictures is still alive.
- You can also contrast the constant momentum in Danganronpa 3 – Future Arc with the “mostly character fanservice as substance” approach in Danganronpa 3 – Despair Arc for a good example of where fans’ loyalties ultimately lie.
- How exactly can Suicide Squad’s tone be fun when it’s changing so constantly, fanboys?
- The salt when it was announced that A-1 would be adapting the new semicolon anime. It’s so tasty.