What Matters in Storytelling

What Matters in Storytelling: Plot Holes and Other Nonsense

I thought this issue would be something I could make fun of on Twitter and then forget about, but it continues to show up online and offline. At this point, I just want some selfish catharsis. More than ever, I see people focus their criticism on parts of stories (read: anime and movies) that simply do not matter or, at least, matter so little as to be inconsequential. This has always been an issue and probably always will, but I say “more than ever” because I think the kinds of anime and movies that are getting the most attention lately have set themselves up for these kinds of vapid criticisms.

I divided these criticisms that “don’t matter” into two types for the sake of organizational ease. They could (and should) be broken down even further, but since I’m not trying to wage intellectual war or anything, I left them as broad categories. I will be mentioning certain creators by name in this post, but that’s mostly for the sake of example. I’m more concerned with the arguments than the people making them.

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I’m not sure who I am in this picture anymore

I’m presenting the following list of “what doesn’t matter” as factual because I believe it is factual. That doesn’t mean that people are “wrong” for pointing out things that fall under these categories, but that–however true what they’re saying is–it ultimately doesn’t matter for the function of a story. If you want to deny what I’m presenting as fact, that’s fine too. I’m just expressing the rules I follow, not decreeing law. Although it would be cool if I could make it law…

Anyway, here’s the list.Read More »

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Freedom in Nisemonogatari (Karen Bee)

Freedom in Nisemonogatari (Karen Bee)

Karen Bee is Nadeko Snake’s longer and more bearable cousin. The arc is of an overall higher quality than Nadeko Snake, but that quality is stretched across an absurdly indulgent seven episodes. By the time the arc finishes, you’ll have trouble remembering which moments were part of it and–more importantly–which even mattered. Most of the arc is a collection of decent (or even great) standalone scenes mashed together with a bit too much narrative freedom.

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Although there’s no way to prove a claim like this, and though proving it would accomplish nothing, I feel that Nisio Isin wrote many of Karen Bee’s scenes without any intention of ever making a single story out of them. The narrative structure of the arc reflects this with its unmotivated flashbacks and checklist of fanservice cameos. The arc opens on a scene of a bound Araragi, rolls the opening theme, then flashes back to the day before without any trigger. Nonlinear storytelling is useful as a narrative hook–we do wind up wondering how/why Araragi was captured by Senjougahara–but feels cheap when most of what we see in the flashback is irrelevant to the story.Read More »

The Explosions of Anime Melodrama

The Explosions of Anime Melodrama

Spoilers for Your Name, Toradora!, Kuzu no Honkai, Mashiroiro Symphony.

International record-breaker Your Name features plenty of destruction, including the exploding of an electric substation towards the end of the film. This moment stands out not only for the fact that it is the first instance of heightened action in the movie, but also for how it represents the communicative struggles of the movie’s characters. The scenes that involve Mitsuha’s father and bookend the comet sequence provide an interesting glimpse into a major motif of the melodramatic mode.

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Before the comet strikes, Taki–through the life of Mitsuha–attempts to explain Itomori’s peril to Mitsuha’s father. Of course, he doesn’t believe Taki and says all this “nonsense” about the comet is just “madness” his daughter inherited from the Miyamizu family. There’s a lot packed into this scene, but the key point is that what Taki tries to express to Mitsuha’s father is rejected. He is unable to communicate his fears, desires, and knowledge to the mayor. As a result of this, he, Tessie, and Sayaka have no choice but to proceed with their plan to blow up the substation. Because verbal communication is not an option, an explosive physical expression seems like the only way to save the town.Read More »

2017 Retrospective

2017 Retrospective

There are spoilers ahead. If you see a show title you haven’t watched yet, you might want to skip it until you have.

Another year has come and gone, which means it’s time for another retrospective list. As always, this list contains the five anime (in no particular order) that I believe I’ll remember as being most representative of my year. For better or worse, these five shows will define the year 2017 for me–as far as anime goes. The same rules apply as always: no films and no shows that had cours or prior seasons before 2017. Since it affects a few shows this year, I excluded remakes or reboots when thinking up the list as well.

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I’m a bit late posting this because the death of Animestrike convinced me to check out a few shows I wasn’t going to bother with. However, one of those shows wound up making this list, so I suppose it was worth the delay. Anyway, let’s get right into it.
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5 Good Christmas Specials

5 Good Christmas Specials

The winter holidays are a wonderful occasion to spend time with friends and family, and then binge watch anime once you’ve exhausted yourself answering questions about where you’re working or going to school. Obviously the only way to replenish your energy during the holidays is by watching the adventures of a bunch of characters that can’t ask you questions (because they don’t exist). So, as we navigate the dissonant desire to isolate ourselves from social interaction by seeking companionship in fiction, let’s take a look at five good anime Christmas specials to spread holiday cheer.

Note: these are just my five personal picks that I find most enjoyable or likely to put me in a festive mood. If a description contains spoilers, I’ll indicate so next to the title of the show.

Yuru Yuri – Season 1, Episode 7 (No Spoilers)

Probably my favorite slice-of-life show and one of my favorite comedies in general, Yuru Yuri relieves the stress of holiday shopping, preparation, and deadlines like none other. It’s the kind of show perfect for reminding you to take a moment to appreciate how beautiful your tree looks or how comforting it was to have the company of old friends and family. As a slice-of-life comedy should, it settles down your negative emotions and refocuses your attention on the quiet, pleasant emotions waiting beyond.

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Although Christmas pops up a couple of times during the series, I have to go with Season 1’s Episode 7 for this list. For a show that thrives off its characters’ absurd relationships and quirks, the episode’s main premise about pairing off for Christmas “dates” is perfectly to-the-point. All of the main and secondary cast draw lots to see who their faux date partner will be, and from there the episode reaches punchline after ridiculous punchline. The show’s editing sequences the pairs (by cutting from one date to another) for added effect, letting the dysfunction of one pairing contrast with the awkwardness of another.Read More »

A Halloween Anime Worth Its Salt

A Halloween Anime Worth Its Salt

Moderate spoilers for the beginning Black Butler’s first season.

While easily dismissible as an edgy or pandering manga adaptation at first glance, Black Butler is surprisingly polished and well-realized. The show’s most striking feature is perhaps its atmosphere. Upon a sturdy Victorian gothic foundation, Black Butler builds upwards to great heights of conspiratory urban fantasy with embellishments of black comedy, Western witchcraft, German horror, and more. Although some of these macabre elements are more derivative than they are inventive, the show manages to piece together its own unique brand of horror. It’s a show I have to recommend for Halloween.

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As that opening description suggests, Black Butler plays off the horrific elements of much of Western art and history—a fitting catalog for a story set in London. The first episode of the series takes the grim (and often redacted) moments of classic fairytales and pre-Renaissance folklore and sets them in the Phantomhive Manor. A haunted house, essentially. A hive for phantoms.Read More »

What Gets Lost (Your Name Analysis)

What Gets Lost (Your Name Analysis)

In Gigguk’s recent video on Your Name, he expresses a viewpoint I’ve heard too often to continue sitting on my heels about it. To quote the video: “…even though Your Name has a natural disaster in it, I don’t feel like it’s a film about disasters.” He goes on to suggest the comet strike’s “real purpose” is to provide “spectacle” and explosive set pieces. I don’t mean to call Gigguk out here, as he explicitly states his video is just an explanation of why he enjoys the film, and his video style isn’t suited for the kind of discussion I want to have anyway. His video just works as a solid starting point, as it represents a disappointing lack of discussion on two large concerns of the film: the conservation of culture and the preservation of human connections.

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The film consists of three natural disasters, two of which we do not witness directly, but all of which we see the effects of. The first of these is the first comet impact 1,200 years ago that shaped the landscape of Itomori. Both the great lake at the edge of town and possibly the crater surrounding the shrine god’s body (this might be a caldera, which could imply a fourth disaster) are results of the first comet impact and have a profound effect on the town’s development moving forward—more on this later. Although we can’t be sure if a large written/architectural/artistic history was destroyed by that impact, we can trace the cultural development of Itomori following the disaster.Read More »