Drink #032: Happy Ending,
Atropos and Anime Endings
All things must come to an end. Even anime. Although Sazae-san and Golgo 13 might easily make you think otherwise. Despite that, this month we tackle one of the oldest ideas in the anime fandom: if there is one thing anime cannot do, it is stick a landing. The question is why does anime have such a bad reputation for horrible endings? How much of it is legitimately founded and how much of it is cynical whining? What makes a good ending, what makes a bad ending, and are those elements mutually exclusive?
But we also talk about some of the best and strangest anime endings we have seen. Chime in with your favorite and most hated anime endings of all time.
As a warning, the first part is spoiler free. It is all theory so anyone can listen. But after the break we drive the bus into Spoiler Country USA so if you have not seen the following shows you might want to be careful: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Mahoromatic, Kare Kano, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, The King of Braves GaoGaiGar, Gunbuster, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Hellsing, Last Exile, Kaleido Star, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, Cowboy Bebop, Macross Frontier, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Le Chevalier d’Eon, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Turn A Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Redline, Maison Ikkoku, Voices of a Distant Star, Higurashi: When They Cry, Umineko: When They Cry, Battle Athletes Victory, Berserk, Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer, The Vision of Escaflowne, Macross 7.
And now your helpful bartenders at The Speakeasy present your drink:
- 2 oz Absolut Mandrin vodka
- 4 oz club soda
- 2 splashes cranberry juice
- cocktail glass
5 thoughts on “The Speakeasy #032: Happy Ending, Atropos and Anime Endings”
This wasn’t meant to be this long originally, but…
On the food for thought: I can’t think of any bad ending that has COMPLETELY ruined a show. But they can definitely make the whole experience less enjoyable, especially if stories and conflicts I’m invested in are made a hash of. But the bad endings that are worst than that are the ones that make apparent flaws that a show had that I failed to notice or ignored before then, which makes me go back and reevaluate what I thought of the show up to that point. If I enjoyed the ride until the ending came along, I’ll still usually remember the experience fondly, but a bad ending will definitely make a show less memorable and pretty much kill any chance that I would go back and revisit it.
And about anime making their own endings for manga-based shows: yeah, a lot of them are quite bad which makes them have a bad reputation. The Claymore ending was a big ol’ damp squib. But like Hisui said, a lot of that hate is also people just being pissy that every detail isn’t exactly the same as in the manga. I think a good example of the latter is the first Fullmetal Alchemist; it was a perfectly fine explanation that fit with the themes and characters, and the production team even sewed elements of it into the beginning so that it fit when it was time for the original material to come into play. And people really liked the show… until they found out it wasn’t the same as the manga, and then suddenly it retroactively became garbage. Personally, sometimes I want anime to stray from the manga, if only because making exact carbon copies seems like a waste of time.
I didn’t hate the Kare Kano ending. I can completely understand why people wouldn’t like it, but I enjoyed it. But the popsicle stick gag in that one episode got old after about 5 minutes.
Char’s Counterattack should have just ended with a five minute montage of Quess screaming and dying (HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE THAT B*^#H). I would have given that ending a standing ovation.
And anyone who doesn’t like the Penguindrum ending is wrong and is a bad person.
The easiest way to find out where non-anime people stand on this matter is to ask them “what did you think of the ending to Lost? Would you recommend that series to other people knowing that is the ending?”
One of the main ways to build and maintain viewer interest in a serialized story is to show something either unexplained or under-explained and include an implicit promise that if the viewer keeps watching that a further explanation will be provided such that the previously witnessed thing can now be understood. As you guys are into mysteries and detective stories, this is no surprise to you. If the series ends with no explanations provided, or if the explanations provided fail to hold up to cursory scrutiny, then the promise has effectively been broken and you have what is generally considered a “bad ending.”
The art of implying “this will happen and you will find out about this” to an audience and the art of internally planning out “this is what happens and why” when writing a story are two distinct skill sets. The reason that anime has its reputation of ending badly is that several studios and creators are relatively adept at the former and habitually inept at the latter. People see that some of anime’s biggest hits of all time were mostly made up on the fly and conclude the results from such an approach are the norm rather than anomaly.
Me, I’m done wasting my time. With rare exception, I want guarantees that a show ends well before I even commit to watching the first episode. Years ago when I started podcasting, reviewing a series in its entirety was uncommon. People would give high marks to things that started off with immense promise, only for those promises to be broken time after time after time. Nowadays, reviewing complete series is the norm. A large reason for that is because of bad endings (another big reason is how titles are sold). People who don’t have free time to watch every episode of every show as it airs in Japan [read: non-students] want assurances that their limited recreational time will be wisely spent.
To most people, it turns out that a story that masterfully keeps you awaiting the next installment for weeks/months/years only to ultimately amount to nothing is simply the worst kind of betrayal there is. Anime has tons of those. It’s just easy to forget that because once the series has ended poorly all anybody remembers is “that show was never any good.”
Given the importance Japanese literature tends to place on character development over plot, I think this explains why so many series have unsatisfactory endings. The writers are more worried about the character maturing than tying up all the plot points they created to make this happen. This doesn’t excuse bad writing.
The ending of the Berserk TV series ruined the entire franchise for me. I found it so vile and replusive that I refuse to look at the manga or anything else associated with it. It’s one of the few times that watching something almost make me literally puke. So yes, an ending can ruin a series for me.
On the topic of Evangelion’s ending (surprise, me talking about Evangelion) Narutaki mentioned that she felt the TV series was a overall positive ending and the movies (D&RB/EoE) were more depressing. While I don’t disagree in their overall tone/presentation, I think it’s worth noting that essentially the same thing happens in both endings- in a very broad sense that is.
In both endings Shinji ultimately rejects instrumentality (the merging of all humanity into a single entity). He decides that despite all the perils which are involved with their being individuals, he still wants there to be those unique individuals in his life, as they enrich his life, in both good and bad ways, and that this is overall, better than all people becoming merged into a single being without there being any kind of separation between the individual and the many.
I think the big difference is that the TV series shows everything internally from only Shinji’s perspective. It’s all internalized into his own “wrestling” with the pros and cons and coming to terms with which reality he would prefer. EoE, while still primarily focused on Shinji (he is after all the one who ultimately decides the fate of humanity) we still see some glimpses of other character’s perspective/interpretation of what’s going on.
Now, how the two ultimately portray that decision of course are about as opposite as you could get. The TV series ends with all those individuals in Shinji’s life affirming his choice, congratulating him on deciding to take, what may actually be the more difficult path. Now, we can go on for ages about WHY it’s shown that way, but it basically boils down to Shinji’s desire for recognition of himself existing in other’s lives.
EoE goes almost the total opposite direction in portraying this. He wakes up in a thoroughly wrecked world, the events leading up to the point of him rejecting instrumentality all still happened. We don’t know if he created a world devoid of everyone except he and Asuka, but the fact that there is ANYONE there other than just him shows that he ultimately rejected the concept of instrumentality on some level and decided he wanted there the be “others” in his life. Again, we can go on for a long time about what happens after that realization (choking Asuka, her reaching up and touching him (or trying to choke him back, who knows) and then Shinji breaking down as always and Asuka saying something along the lines of she feels sick/this is sickening/etc.), but ultimately it’s the same ending. Just presented very, very differently.
My prediction for the new movies: I think we’ll again see ultimately the same choice being made by Shinji. Rejecting instrumentality, returning individual existences to the world. I think this will be presented in a slightly (it is still Evangelion after all) less ambiguous form, but overall in a positive tone, if not maybe a little bitter sweet.
So Narutaki doesn’t consider Azumanga Daioh to be slice of life? It’s basically a sitcom. It’s not “going anywhere” especially in comparison to a drama.