Ambition and Profit in Anime – What do We do About “Failed” Experiments?

When omo, writing for his site Omonomono, gave his final impression of Angel Beats, he talked about seeing it fall under its own weight, and likened it to what a “failed” attempt to make ef – a tale of memories might look like. It got me thinking about the concept of ambition in anime, and the role it plays in the creative process. I’ve spent much of my time online in the post-Angel Beats week defending my ultimately positive impression of the series. Several bloggers have come to the conclusion that Angel Beats is a poorly executed work (which I won’t disagree with) that needed more episodes (this I’m not so convinced about). In one of the rare instances, this is a case where I think, to oversimplify to the point of being insulting, it needed less stuff… ie, less substance. But, more important than anything else, it needed direction. (Above image found on moe.imouto, NSFW.)

Angel Beats was incredibly ambitious, which was ultimately its undoing. The list of different things it tried to be was just enormous: otherworldly action fantasy, random comedy, existential philosophy, character-driven melodrama, bittersweet romance, moe fanservice/parody, the list goes on. None of these things were executed particularly well, and the frequency with which Angel Beats bounced from one to the other meant that its pacing was hectic, arrhythmic and jarring. I’ve defended Angel Beats on the ground that it didn’t do any of these things with a detectable hint of cynicism (something I’ve criticized numerous other series for in recent times), and have likened it to a clumsy, but ultimately earnest child with a message to deliver who just gets lost and overwhelmed by a wide world filled with regulations and expectations. It is, as omo points out, an amateurish anime. But there’s something else that Angel Beats does admirably, arguably completely by accident, as a result of its blended identities: it’s a unique anime. There’s nothing else that Angel Beats, as a whole, resembles.

As reviewers, we’re in the business of evaluating anime. The question regarding how one approaches failed experiments like Angel Beats is an interesting one. There’s little controversy about ef – a tale of memories, a title which is both ambitious and well executed, and the acclaim that I’ve seen for is vastly positive. The spread of opinions for something like Angel Beats is much more diffuse, some ranking it among the worst anime they’ve seen, others saying it’s rather good (and a negligible amount of people saying it’s “great”… for people who haven’t visited this site before, that’s a word I revere and don’t like to use lightly). I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s a “divisive” anime the same way one might call Code Geass or Suzumiya Haruhi divisive… there’s no “love it or hate it” clear split in opinions with a dearth of fence-sitters in the middle… the spread of opinions for Angel Beats seems to be much more even.

I’m wondering at this point whether it’s possible to frame all these responses in terms of two things: ambition and execution. The arguments about both Code Geass‘ and Suzumiya Haruhi‘s execution are still controversial, so let’s ignore them momentarily for simplicity and say that both of them were the well-executed works their fans claim they are. Can the divisive response these anime garner be a response to their ambition? Both series are post-modern melting pots that borrow elements from existing works in order to create something unique of itself. Can negative reactions to the show be explained as a either a misunderstanding of the works and history from which these shows are derived or just an impulsive rejection of the mixtures that make them? Of course, many of the stronger reactions can be seen as a response to their popularity, but let’s ignore that for a moment. (I’m not trying to dismiss the criticisms of these shows, a lot of them have merit, I’m trying to see whether the context in which they exist can be simplified for the sake of understanding.)

I hope I can better illustrate my point by bringing up another example of a divisive anime which was both ambitious and well-executed (in that, it did what it intended to), but was met by overwhelming condemnation: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2. While Code Geass and Haruhi‘s first season can been seen as post-modern works, I see Haruhi S2 almost as a modernistic experiment, an attempt to deconstruct the most fundamental tenets of storytelling. I don’t think mainstream television anime can ever be truly modernistic, but Haruhi S2 is about as close as we’ll probably see, asking the question of whether viewers can stand eight episodes worth of repetition, or whether the overriding expectation that eight episodes of animation will result more or less in eight episodes worth of plot, story, character development, entertainment value, etc, etc can be broken down. It was seen by many as an act of cynicism, motivated by an attempt to maximize the reward-for-effort ratio (where reward is financial profit) by minimizing the denominator. It was an example where both fans and critics alike saw and understood a clear ambition, and most rejected it. Haruhi S2 was panned not because of poor execution, and not because of a perceived lack of ambition, but because anime fans didn’t like what it aspired to do.

It’s interesting that lot of highly acclaimed works excel at execution, but have only minimal ambition. Recent examples of that in anime include Cross Game and Kemono no Souja Erin, both of which place a premium on basic storytelling. Neither are the genre-smashers (or, more correctly, the genre-mixers) you expect from post-modern works, but both feature a main story (with maybe two or three side threads) that follow a reasonably linear path before tying up towards the end. Critics like to demand ambition in the anime they watch, and use it decry series they see as patently derivative (I know I do), but works like these ones show that ambition isn’t always that important, and the responses to these shows from their viewers suggest that, at least subconsciously, people recognize this.

So, it seems that reviewers and fans alike tend to respond positively to shows that are well executed and have a modicum of ambition, and respond strongly to titles that are well executed and have a lot of ambition… positively when they like what the shows are trying to do, and negatively when they don’t like it. When it comes to titles that are hugely ambitious, but aren’t so well executed, if Angel Beats or something like White Album are anything to go by, we don’t see such a strong divide, but, rather, a smearing of opinions from mild approval (and an acceptance of the show’s flaws) to strong disapproval. To me, this kinda suggests that people aren’t as certain how to respond to failed experiments. A high respect for ambition remains, and seemingly becomes more apparent when these cases arise, which results in the usual retrospective analyses (“the show would have worked if it did this instead of that“), but there’s almost a dissonance about these suggestions, because a lot of them involve tempering the very ambition that they’d like to see more of… except, well executed next time.

Often, an anime is made only with ambition or execution but not both, and given the fact that ambitious series often set themselves up for the fall, it’s not hard to come down on the side of pro-execution over pro-ambition, if a given anime is seemingly unable to do both. However, if we want to see more works that buck trends and push boundaries, maybe we ought to rethink this. There is, after all, value in a failed experiment.

21 Responses to “Ambition and Profit in Anime – What do We do About “Failed” Experiments?”

  1. Jun Maeda may have produced the best stories of Kanon, Air, Clannad, or anything VN related (you can even add One to the list, which was a pre-Key title), but Anime script writing is not one of them. Even though I haven’t finish the series, I have a pretty much good idea Angel Beats was heading. Unlike Sora no Woto, Angel Beats was far more inconsistent, like it was like a tsundere. There were parts that I liked and some, not some much. Although the execution of the anime wasn’t so good, I can say it’s far better than the disaster that Suzumiya Haruhi that KyoAni made.

    If you compare Angel Beats to KyoAni’s Visual Novel adaptations, you will see a big difference. The adaptations that KyoAni made is well executed and close to the original source material. Angel Beats wasn’t, but I can’t say it’s a complete failure. I think it pretty much stick to the intended goal even though it could have been better.

  2. Is there any value to gain from Angel Beats and it’s vaulting ambition? Honestly I think there’s rather little to be gained. As you said, there’s too much ‘stuff’ in there to properly gauge what it was that went wrong. There’s much more to be gained from an ambitious yet more focused project that didn’t quite work, like Sora no Woto. At least then it’s easier to actually figure out what went wrong.

    Take Geass and Haruhi. Geass has an extremely wide-ranging ambition over every part of fandom and was hugely successful. Yet there’s been no copycats I can think of since then. Haruhi is ambitious but far more focused. It’s spawned more than its fair share of copycats because the reasons it succeded are far clearer.

    There’s more to be gained from a focused ambitious work like Sora no Woto and Haruhi than there is from Angel Beats and Geass.

    (well, at least IMO)

  3. For me, I approach the ambition thing by trying to keep in mind what a story is trying to do with that ambition, along with the entertainment value of course. (Which obviously involves a bit of personal interpretation unless the creators themselves step in and say, “We wanted this to be an important work” or whatever.)

    On the negative side, I respond strongest to a work that tries to be ambitious in an important, life-changing, literary way but fails because the creators are clumsy idiots who have nothing important to say. Speed Grapher is a series like that for me. It’s just so completely graceless and trying to say big, important things about greed and the way it builds the world, and it’s just retarded.

    Angel Beats! is less egregious to me because it never comes off like it’s trying to be big and important in that way — but it was annoying because the only real identity the series has is driving everything Key to the hilt (the humor, the drama, etc.). It doesn’t work, and I didn’t really enjoy watching it that much in the end (although I agree with your basic assessment of the series), but it’s a level below a Speed Grapher because it wasn’t completely insufferable and was at least entertaining, if not always for the right reasons.

    Haruhi season two is more like a misguided experiment. I view that a bit differently, mostly because I believe the experiment shouldn’t have been done in the first place. I can’t think of any scenario where KyoAni could have released eight episodes of basically the same thing for two months and succeeded. It seems always destined to fail, I think.

  4. There is another specific area that causes many western viewers to pan it. It requires some understanding of eastern religious views such as reincarnation. As it never really bothers to explain too much on it (the anime is made for the japanese and a certain amount of understanding is assumed), it causes problems with both religiously dogmatic viewers and viewers who don’t understand the concept itself

  5. Didn’t really feel like watching Angel Beats at the time…although I might eventually get around to it. As such, right now I am largely indifferent to that part of the discussion.

    Still, I think it’s worth stressing that ambition and execution are hard to separate from expectations and preferences. All of these factors interact with each other.

    If the viewers don’t like what is going on or if it goes against their personal desires and hopes of where the show should go (some of them valid and others not), the amount of ambition becomes largely irrelevant and technical execution won’t always necessarily fill the void.

    Great execution might be enough to convince some of the skeptics but, by and large, much of the online anime fanbase can be extremely petty, memetic and whimsical about what is expected from almost any given show.

    Disappointing content is criticized almost as much as bad execution, even if some people tend to confuse the two as if they were one and the same (for instance: “I didn’t like that X event happened, ergo the series is poorly executed…but I liked that Y came to pass, thus it is well executed”).

    On a purely individual level though, I’m starting to find it preferable to try and separate myself from my own likes and dislikes (in other words, what I would or wouldn’t like to see) in order to focus on what a particular show and its staff were trying to do. While this does lead to a somewhat more critical approach, generally speaking, that doesn’t mean I live off execution and technical merits either.

    In fact, I think there can be a lot more to “failed” experiments when there are enough interesting elements left behind that might prove worthwhile during a second or third watch, when there are no surprises left and it is no longer a matter of seeking weekly entertainment or what have you. Instead, new interpretations and perspectives may open up.

    Case in point:

    I wasn’t initially thrilled by how Claymore ended. The premise was very ambitious and the TV series could hardly do justice to it when the manga continues to be ongoing. Lots of questions were left unanswered. In addition, the actual content of the ending wasn’t really what I wanted to see either. Lots of manga fans are also angry at this and I shared part of their disappointment.

    However…watching the show once more, a couple of years after the fact, I’m starting to appreciate the angle that the creative staff was trying to go for with some of the changes made near the end of the series. It made the plot’s progression and ultimate resolution more character-centric, for one thing.

    Sure, the big questions were not answered, the last couple of episodes could have been shorter, the final confrontation was a bit anti-climatic in the grand scheme of things and so on.

    Is that good form (or execution)? Probably not, but I think not all stories need to be wrapped up in a perfectly executed fashion in order to work out.

    Ironically, I could even argue that real life and events in the world at large aren’t exactly known for being consistently “well executed” (at least not without assuming an omniscient perspective none of us have, no matter how much we pretend to “know” about history/politics/etc. and why people act like they do).

    @Scamp:

    I don’t think your comparison is too accurate, at least not in this particular case, since the Haruhi Suzumiya TV series already had all the preexisting baggage of the original light novels behind it.

    In other words: there was already a critical mass that could only increase after the TV adaptation came to pass, giving additional value to the property and those who would seek to imitate it, as opposed to having to build up its popularity from scratch as an anime original.

    And speaking about ambition, I would say Haruhi is extremely ambitious when we look at it as an overarching franchise that still continues to move forward in both light novel and anime form. If anything though, it’s admittedly true that each specific project seems to be more or less focused when considered in isolation.

  6. @Anonymous – I’m not sure I agree that the religious implications were really that important. I mean, I’m sure some people were put off by it, as religious people often are with contradicting views of their faith, but considering this world is set up to only exist for this show, I doubt it can really be that heavy. You’re right that they don’t explain much of it. The idea of both a God that Yuri wants to rebel against and reincarnation in the same “afterlife” is interesting (btw, ever play the game Afterlife by LucasArts? Lots of fun! SimCity with Heaven and Hell, it’s awesome) as a combination of two rather conflicting belief structures. After a while, though, even Yuri starts to admit that maybe she’s not after “God” in particular, but just the “God” of this afterlife world she’s in. She even goes so far as to realize that she could become that God.

    But, anyway, I don’t think Westerners panned this just on religious views as the show creates it’s own religion. When you already have to go into a show with a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, having them set up an already easily tossed away as “fake” belief structure is rather simple.

  7. @Chikorita157
    I’ve never been one to think that swaying from source is always a bad idea, and I like to point to Kimikiss as an example of a series that took liberties and still ended up being a good anime. It is important that you point to Maeda, though. I posted a comment on omo’s post highlighting the same thing, and wondered if the Maeda/Kishi script-writer/director combination was a large reason for Angel Beats’ amateurish feel. For me, the big difference between Angel Beats and Haruhi S2 as failed experiments is that one felt genuine, while the other felt cynical. I took much more from the Angel Beats experience than I did from the Haruhi S2 experience, and former was much more rewarding to watch than the latter, even if the latter was much better executed and had a more pointed idea about what it was trying to achieve. (Also, is it just me, or is your name spelt wrong? :P)

    @Scamp
    Having thought about it, I can see what you’re saying. From an experimental point of view, “focused” shows like Haruhi and Sora no Woto have less variables, so it’s easier to look over the results of such experiments and draw clear conclusions (yes, let’s take the scientific analogy to it’s conclusion, because it’s useful to do so.) I kinda find it unfortunate to decry Code Geass in this context, though, and seeing as how, despite the huge waves it made while it aired, there hasn’t been a similar work since kinda makes me respect its ambition even more. One could look at this from the producers’ point of view and take this to its logical conclusion and decide that massively ambitious projects like Code Geass don’t justify the risk. A pity.

    @Shinmaru
    I liked Speed Grapher. I think the only place where it really obviously tripped up was the ending, but I liked the bleak world it created. Yeah, it’s not as sharp at deconstructing the darker sides of human nature as Kaiji, but I still thought it was a worthwhile and meaningful anime. As far as Haruhi S2 is concerned, doesn’t the success of the project depend on whose point of view you look at it from? I mean, people say that it damaged the Haruhi brand, but since then those same people have walked out of cinemas with gushing praise for the Haruhi movie. Haruhi is such a monstrous franchise. It is, in my opinion, the series that defines the beginning of the modern anime era. If there was any franchise that could withstand the potential knock that an Endless Eight would have, it was Haruhi. If Endless Eight can still move DVDs and Disappearance can still attract anime fans to the theaters, from the producers point of view, wouldn’t that make the experiment a success… or, at the very least, not a fatal failure?

    @Anonymous
    Yeah, that’s probably true. I guess reincarnation is as implicitly understood in Eastern culture as heaven is in Western culture. I do think that viewpoints of faith can transcend culture though. I loved the ending of the Kaiji anime, because I interpreted it as anti-faith. People with faith would probably have either a different interpretation or impression of it.

    @AH
    I was deliberately simplistic by trying to frame the issue in terms of just ambition (which I’m kinda using interchangeably with “intention”) and execution, because obviously there are way more factors at play here, and the way they interact is complex. It seems that it’s ambition that colours our impressions more than execution, but people (reviewers in particular) are more willing to consider execution as primarily important when high ambition clearly isn’t a priority. It’s kinda like reviewer’s first impressions at the end of a series are based on a show’s execution while the ambition makes for something akin to a first perturbation. Which is ironic, because generally, for pretty much every fan, the first impression at the beginning of a show is the other way around (hence genre bias, etc).

    @TIF
    I think this comes back to the idea of how much of it is implicitly understood and how much needs to be explained. Angel Beats afterlife was pretty unique, filled with things that take as much inspiration from modern technology and (interestingly enough) gaming as they do religious lore. I know you want to question Angel Beats storytelling, and I’m not all that inclined to disagree with you. It does exist in a certain culture, though… sure it doesn’t absolve the poor storytelling, but it might make it a little more understandable.

  8. I’m actually curious as to what Taniguchi Goro could have done with Angel Beats. The man did Infinite Ryvius which is probably the most layered and complex 26 episode anime ever and he also turned Code Geass from a Sunrise cluster**** into a coherent and compelling product. A deft hand from a great director probably could have smashed something out of what the show had going.

  9. The problem I have with Speed Grapher is that even for anime (which isn’t a medium known for subtlety) it is not at all subtle in any way, shape or form. It makes Death Note look like Monster. It just hammers the viewer repeatedly with every message it wants to get across, and I was just numbed to the whole thing by the end.

    My question with Endless Eight is where do you attribute whatever “success” the arc had? It may have sold well (I haven’t seen DVD numbers, but I trust you), but how much of that can we attribute that to Haruhi being a strong brand, and how much of it can we attribute to Endless Eight itself? Saying that it wasn’t enough to damage the Haruhi franchise isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of success, unless the aim of it was to see whether otaku would buy any shitpile as long as the Haruhi name was attached to it.

    I wouldn’t say Endless Eight was a fatal failure from the standpoint of sinking the franchise (which it didn’t, although I’m not touching season two DVDs because of it), but I stand by my statement that it was a misguided experiment. If the best one can say about the arc is that it did not completely kill interest in Haruhi, then how worthy an experiment could it have been?

  10. A very good defense. However, I’m going to abide by my view that it’s dangerous to give ambition too much credit.

    What we ultimately see as viewers is the final product, which is the original script or idea brought to life with some form of execution. This means that execution matters a lot, because it is through that lens that we see the story, be it the quality of the script, the coherence of the storyboard, the atmosphere of the background, etc. As you said, we highly rank well executed anime (and 32 episodes in, Kemono no Souja Erin is awesome :) ) and decry ones that aren’t, but that’s the fundamental foundation of anything within the storytelling mediums. Ambition is important, which is why we rank medium warping series like Haruhi S1 more highly than consistent but typical series, but putting more emphasis than execution means we begin judging on potential, which we can not gauge fully because we never saw the correct end result. And regardless of how much we liked it, from an objective standpoint those flaws are still glaringly obvious, which means we can’t just sweep them under the rug. It’s why I still feel like kicking Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, which should have been an easy 8/10 for me if episodes 8-10 hadn’t happened. It was one of my favorite series next to Eden of the East last year up until that :(. Another example would probably be the distinction between the two Gunslinger Girl anime, which worked with similar (if you don’t consider them the same) source material but differed vastly in execution.

    As for Angel Beats itself, its execution fails almost completely on its script and storyboard. What is ironic is that its ambition is also one of its problems because it tries to do everything at once. In Maeda’s previous works, he had a coherent overarching theme in his plots. There’s a distinct focus on characters without external plot, although that’s most likely a result of the nature of VNs. Kanon, Clannad, and Air are all honest with their ambitions, even if their ambition isn’t too far flung. Angel Beats, by contrast, feigns ambition by throwing three to five plots together. Even worse, it falls into the trap of using Maeda’s old tricks and other pitfalls of the current anime storytelling trend, further muddling the plot. If we divided it into 3-5 different series, Each would have been less ambitious but most likely more coherent. If we follow adaywithoutme’s suggestion and made enough episodes to cover all plots, it could have worked… provided the execution went up with it. Angel Beats as it currently stands is like a series where the director, in hopes of making the ultimate action movie, throws together all of the good action tropes, including the conflicting ones, and wonders why the whole is worse than the sum of its parts.

    @Scamp
    As I stated above, I’d argue it is because there is too much stuff that Angel Beats failed. As for Geass, I think it’s just flat out outrageous storytelling set up as an epic. No one has copied it because that absurd storytelling doesn’t always sell. We have had lots of epics though…

    @Shinmaru
    I have not seen Speed Grapher, but that sounds a bit like the cynicism Sorrow-kun has been bringing up a lot. Was it overly pretentious in its “Hey, we’re saying big things, listen to us” way and just couldn’t deliver?

    As for Haruhi S2, I’d agree with you given the commercial standpoint of the anime industry. I find it extremely fascinating from a weird scholarly point of view, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I watched the first three of the eight, gave up, and then jumped to the last one. That’s certainly workable in literature given its track record for experimental artsy works, but it doesn’t work art-wise piggying off the back of the Haruhi brand.

    @Anonymous
    Hardly, or else Haibane Renmei would have been panned.

    @AH
    Preferences do sway us, but I like to think (and hope) that reviewers try to push aside their biases to a certain extent. Not fully, because that just kills reviews, but enough so that they can acknowledge obvious flaws and honestly explain their biases, which Sorrow-kun has done with his Angel Beats review.

    I will disagree with a few things though. Content is a part of storyboarding, which I consider to be a part of execution. It’s the job of the director, producer, storyboard person and those they work with to know what to cut and what to add. Of course, we might hate some scenes because of personal reasons, which would be unfairly judging something as poor execution.

    As for endings though… I still don’t think there’s an excuse for badly done endings. Gunslinger Girl has a brilliant non-manga end. I’ve heard Fullmetal Alchemist does too. Haibane Renmei has an end that solves the main conflict without ever answering our questions about the world, and it doesn’t need to. Frankly, if an ending is done poorly, it’s done poorly, even if the creators took pangs to close it off well.

  11. In all honestly, Angel Beats left me confused but since my final sentiments for the show usually have the strongest lasting impression on me, I have more negative feelings towards it. I would’ve been more positive towards the show if it had ended on the same note as how it began, because even though I personally don’t like how things started out of nowhere, it was at least interesting enougn for me to be intrigued. “What kind of world is this? Why do people do what they do?” and other questions gave me the incentive to watch it in the first place.

    It’s just that the show nosedived from the middle of the show onwards, and I really don’t see why it has to be that way. From the onset, I knew that having such a big cast for a 13-episode show wouldn’t be a good idea so I wasn’t that surprised that this particular aspect crumbled under its own weight, but the storyline could’ve done a lot better. It included yet another needless character Ayato – a bad move by Maeda (I guess) – and it left a number of plot holes. Things might have better if there are more episodes but this direction was indeed intentional, then the plot is haphazard no matter the length of the show. The bigger question for me is, what was Maeda really thinking (in a non-sarcastic way)? Was he actually aware of his own story’s potential but just didn’t know how to fully realize it, or was it something else?

    Execution is the common criticism almost all Angel Beats detractors make, and that apparently includes me too. Shows like Erin (thumbs up, Elineas) did well because of immaculate execution but I think many would agree that Erin is hardly groundbreaking. Kaiba would be a good example of an experimental show that was a success. It had some execution flaws – the abrupt ending, portrayal of characters, etc. – but yet, (I believe) many people would think that that show was great nonetheless. It was a mystery and sci-fi put together and through this, the old adage of “too many cooks spoil the soup) really stands. Focus/appeal and scope are trade-offs of each other; it’s more acceptable if a show leans only on one end of the spectrum rather than to straddle in between.

    As for Haruhi Suzumiya, I’m one of those people who just don’t get the show. The Endless Eight was a disaster because, putting aside the writer’s true intentions for the arc, it really kills the reason for me to like the show in all ways. The fact that it may have been an experiment is not hard to swallow, but the more I think about the possibilities, the more disgusting I think it is if the writer did that only to see whether Suzumiya otakus would still be loyal to the franchise (like what Shimaru had explained). However, if they did the arc with the sincere intention of experimenting good storywriting, then it’s alright. But I’m with Sorrow-kun on this one: judging from the premises of Endless Arc, I also think it’s just cynicism at its best.

  12. @Elineas:

    Storyboarding is certainly a part of the process but, to be more specific, I believe content ultimately relies on writing and planning more than on visual or technical artistry.

    The director, for instance, is certainly in charge of overseeing a specific production and has a greater or lesser degree of creative input depending on the nature (and ownership) of the property…but he can’t quite replace the series screenwriter(s) or planner(s), particularly when a preexisting story or other source material is being adapted. Scripts can be always be altered on the spot, of course, but within certain limits and under obvious time constraints in the case of weekly anime broadcasts.

    Speaking of which, this reminds me of how little most people seem to know or care about writers and other staff members as opposed to directors (or, if we want to go in the most superficial yet also most popular direction, voice actors).

    All of them are part of the creative process and yet many usually seem to remember only the person actually or nominally in charge, without thinking about the other factors in the equation.

    To say nothing of the fact that movie directors are playing a completely different ballgame than their TV counterparts, but that’s probably something worth discussing at another time.

    Now, I wouldn’t say that all “poorly done” endings can be excused, not necessarily, but my reasoning was that an ending doesn’t need to be brilliantly executed in order to still make a point and serve an observable or identifiable purpose that makes sense in context.

    Going back to my previous example…I’ve come to think that the ending to the Claymore TV series did a good job in terms of wrapping up Clare’s character arc and her inner struggle to keep her humanity, regardless of how much it failed to live up to the specifics of the larger plot.

    In a way, it works as the ending of a chapter rather than the ending of an overarching story or fictional universe, which would be what most people (other than manga purists, who wanted a straight adaptation without the slightest change) expected instead.

  13. I definitely value ambition over execution. It’s far easier to copy writing/directing quirks and create a string of well-polished series all formulaic and xeroxed off each other. It’s much harder to copy ambition. If every show sucked but had decently displayed ambitions, at least there would be a multitude of suckiness in different variants and flavors. It would certainly be less boring.

    Anyway, Angel Beats… what is this? Despite its execution, every week I looked over its mistakes thinking it was all going to pull together and in return, every week I had the characters getting dumbed down further and further. Otonashi doesn’t know Tenshi’s a human like them? Yuri devolves into random psycholulz? It became apparent very early, that everything the SOS brigade did was under poorly thought out false pretenses of being at war with God, with nothing to back it up. (Maybe AB is commentary on the Middle East?)

    Yet, they never learn, fail over and over again, and make jokes and random times… the show hammers into our heads that the characters are stupid as hell, but then wait, last five minutes of the show — srs business. Classic example of blind leading the blind. Blind Otonashi follows blind SOS which follows blind Yuri who follows the blindest of them all, Jun Maeda. And Tenshi just doesn’t care.

  14. Ugh, double post sorry. I ranted on Angel Beats and forgot what I was talking about.

    We should be careful about accepting ambition too easily. Ambition – Execution = Pretension. While people are bound to fail at some point in life, let’s be honest; if you don’t have the skills to back up your “genius,” make something simpler. It’s dangerous to strongly enforce this, as it’s giving off a “don’t try at all” mentality, but I think people (like Maeda) already well-established in the creative business should have a good idea of what they can or can’t do.

    The #1 mistake novice writers make is believing they can make some all-encompassing work that does everything. It’s unacceptable to make so many mistakes when you have an original concept, know exactly how many episodes you’ll run for, have full control over the story and characters, etc.

  15. I know it seems like every time I talk about anime this season, I end up talking about Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei, but I think that was a fairly ambitious title that was well-executed. I can think of many more anime similar to Angel Beats than I can to Yojou-han. I think this is another example of the phenomenon you’re trying to describe. A lot of people dropped Yojou-han early on, but those who stayed on board really liked it. You can roughly tell by the episode ratings on MAL. The early episodes had (relatively, for MAL) mixed ratings whereas the later ones had overwhelmingly positive ratings. Of course, it could also mean people liked the later episodes better, but personally I think the quality was fairly consistent.

    The value in a failed experiment is in the fact that it was attempted in the first place. I think people understand this, and appreciate the effort. The thing about Angel Beats, though, is that I think it’s actually a lot more popular than you’re making it seem. It’s ranked #74 in ratings on MAL (by whatever formula they use) and #147 in popularity. I checked it against a bunch of other shows this season which I thought were the most popular (not very scientific, but whatever) and amongst those, it has the highest in ratings and the second highest (after K-ON!!) popularity ranking. Based on this, I’d say that a lot of people actually liked it, though maybe not for the reasons that you mentioned (’cause you know, KON!!, etc.). It might just be that a lot of bloggers were lukewarm about it. I don’t know how representative MAL is of Japan, but if it is at all, then it would mean that Angel Beats was probably fairly profitable, and we’ll probably be seeing more like it.

    Though, I sort of suspect the popularity derives from moe appeal…

  16. @Shadowmage
    It’s certainly hard not to say there’s a big gap between the directorial abilities of Taniguchi and Kishi based on what we’ve seen of their works.

    @Shinmaru
    IIRC, the Endless Eight DVDs didn’t do as well in Japan as others in the series (and were nowhere near as successful as the first season), but they still did very respectable. It pretty much goes against all my impulses to defend Endless Eight as a creative work, but it did prove a useful point (you know, what you said about otaku buying shitpiles). So I stand by what I said about there being value in failed experiments. It’s just, in this case, that value was mostly only beneficial to the producers.

    @Elineas
    The Gunslinger Girl example is a great example of the value of execution because it shows so starkly what a difference good execution can make to an anime.

    @AC
    Ayato was a terrible character and the entire arc involving the rogue shadow NPCs was a pointless, meaningless distraction. Both were little more than plot devices. One of the details that hasn’t been brought up in this discussion (maybe people are just being polite because it undermines my entire argument about Angel Beats not being cynical) is the fact that Maeda’s work is cross-media (which, technically, doesn’t make it purely anime original… hmm, this debate rings a bell). There’s been a lot of speculation about whether a lot of the details have been deliberately left out of the anime, so that if people want to fill in the holes, they have to buy the manga, the light novel and/or the upcoming visual novel.

    @AH
    There’s a lot of ignorance about the whole anime creative process, which isn’t helped by the fact that so much of it is kept behind closed doors. I’ll admit that I only have a very tentative understanding of how anime are made. People blame the director for poorly executed anime because, well, it’s the easiest thing to do. The perception is that the director has the most creative control over a project, and the assumption is that this extends to every facet of the process. The reality is obviously much more complex, but as fans on the outside looking in, we’re just not privy to the (important) details.

    @AuroraFlame

    but I think people (like Maeda) already well-established in the creative business should have a good idea of what they can or can’t do.

    That might be true of Maeda, but what about more inexperienced writers? The expectations that we have of anime makers are interesting, because if you take them to their logical conclusions, they kinda preclude creators from walking into the top job of a project with no experience. This isn’t true of other mediums… first time filmmakers often come from nowhere and are seen as a breath of fresh air when they manage to create an inspired movie free of the typical Hollywood stigmas. Occasionally we see directors who walk into anime with little experience with the medium. Perhaps there’s a train of thought from producers that you can’t just put unknowns in charge of your project, because for every Shinkai Makoto or Yoshiura Yasuhiro (two anime-makers who, IIRC, bankrolled their first projects themselves), you’d probably get ten Miyazaki Goros. Oh yeah, and that’s a good definition for “pretentious”. It’s interesting that it took until you and Elineas to bring up the word in this discussion. I wanted to bring it up in the original post, but I couldn’t find a good opportunity to do so.

    @DrIdiot

    The early episodes had (relatively, for MAL) mixed ratings whereas the later ones had overwhelmingly positive ratings.

    This isn’t just true of Tatami Galaxy, this is true of pretty much every anime until they reach a certain popularity. Most fans are more inclined to drop shows than bloggers, and it’s only in the case where something is wildly popular do people who blatantly dislike a show stick around, mostly for the sake of not being left out of the discussion. (Excuse the blatant generalizations.)

  17. @AH
    Indeed, I know that. Which is why I specifically pointed at the three roles I felt held the most weight: the director, the producer, and the scriptwriter/storyboarder. Of course, the reality could be vastly different from my perception, as was the case when my friend gave me a primer on what goes behind moviemaking a while ago, but I think it’s safe to place a hefty amount of responsibility on those roles. In fact, as a person who probably places most emphasis on storyline when judging anything in the storytelling mediums, I probably place more blame on scriptwriters than directors.

    I believe the biggest misunderstanding between us is the definition of execution, which for you seems to only cover technicals. For me, certain parts of the script fall under execution too: the length of the scenes, the choices of what to add and remove, etc. The script can be manipulated and changed to heighten our perception of the story, so it falls pretty squarely in execution. Perhaps the only thing that can’t be considered execution is the nature of the content itself.

    @Aurora Flame
    That’s assuming there is a formula to good execution. If such a formula existed, every story would have perfect execution. Luckily, there isn’t; good execution is just as taxing and varied as high ambitions, which is why we can still be wowed by low ambition works with fantastic execution.

    Likewise, the problem with telling novices to back off is that some don’t know their limits until they try. If they fail, they’ve learned a lesson, and next time they’ll go for simpler works. Of course, there are times when I feel the anime industry doesn’t learn from its mistakes because failed experiments still sell, but that’s beside the point. Maeda does know his limits, but his works have all been quite static and similar. I think this was his attempt to stray from the norm, and as such he at least deserves some applause for trying. But regardless of that, Angel Beats still fell flat.

  18. Failed experiments are okay as long as the people doing it again next time learn from it. The audience don’t have much of a role in this. I think Angel Beats doesn’t qualify as a failed experiment. By most metrics, it just didn’t fail!

    If I were to study failed experiments, I would look at Senkou no Night Raid…

  19. Failed experiments don’t exist. To take a note from the philosophy of science, Aristarchus discovered that the earth rotated around the sun almost 2000 years before Copernicus ever presented his heliocentric model of the galaxy. Inaccurate scientific evidence in the time of the Greeks essentially led to Aristarchus’s peers rejecting such a claim, and, well, we all know what happened from there on.

    Perhaps “failed” isn’t the right word. After all, I see few similarities between Ef and AngelBeats!, and I don’t particularly find a need to compare the two necessarily. As bloggers have said before, AB! is a relatively messy construction of comedy and drama sliced together, different from previous adaptions of Key works. Visual novels allow for a balance of comedy and fan service in a fundamentally different way; with a prologue and multiple endings, it’s possible to contain the comedy into the more general areas of the game before branching off into the individual story lines, which contain all the drama. Most importantly, this provides a sort of inherent separation between the two aspects that perhaps people often fail to see. For example, the same locations with the same character sprites being, but with the drama of the story varying, you can essentially manipulate the amount of drama and comedy without modifying anything. Just one choice in the game provides us with either comedy or drama, depending on which way the story bounces.

    Perhaps the ambitions of this project lie not in an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it as well, but something more akin to presenting a fundamentally different from of story telling that, simply said, is difficult to digest considering its strangeness. That being said, taking a note from the influences light novels and visual novels present to the genre recently, it may be fitting that Maeda Jun is involved with a product like this. Oh, and I always thought the reception for AngelBeats! was quite good. Admittedly, it’s somewhat harder to dissect from an analytic view, but it never seemed to deserve the title of “failed”.

  20. I felt like the splits for Yojou-han were especially lopsided though.

    Format: rated 5/rated 4/etc., all numbers truncated

    Yojou-han:
    Final: 90/7/1/0/0
    Penultimate: 90/9/0/0/0
    Second: 67/22/5/4/0
    First: 55/24/8/6/4

    Angel Beats:
    Final: 65/15/10/5/3
    Penultimate: 62/20/7/5/3
    Second: 67/20/8/2/1
    First: 45/25/19/5/3

    Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou:
    Final: 40/27/19/9/4
    Penultimate: 46/29/14/4/4
    Second: 47/30/18/3/0
    First: 58/25/11/4

    Arakawa Under The Bridge:
    Final: 54/28/12/4/0
    Penultimate: 66/21/8/2/1
    Second: 64/24/9/1/0
    First: 59/24/10/3/1

    Haruhi:
    Final 74/18/2/0/3
    Penultimate 52/41/2/2/0
    Second: 54/37/5/0/2
    First: 42/30/14/6/6

    Bakemonogatari:
    Final (12th) 90/4/2/0/1
    Penultimate 58/31/6/1/2
    Second: 75/17/5/1/1
    First: 57/27/11/1/1

    I know this is horribly unscientific (sample size, using MAL as a metric for… anything, not taking into account any other contributing factors like quality… though I don’t know how you’d quantify that, only looking at four episodes, etc.), so I’m reluctant to draw any real conclusions. Also, I forgot what my original point was, so I don’t even know if this data backs it up or contradicts it. Just putting it out there. I’m sort of a data nerd.

  21. @Sorrow-kun : I was posting the comment on my iPad in Portrait mode in bed… It was so easy to make a typo since the keys are smaller than the landscape keyboard.

    Even though Jun Maeda don’t have the experience in Anime Script writing, he will surely improve down the road if he decides to do something like Angel Beats again. Like with science experiments, there are always things that they can learn from it, except for Endless Eight… Kadokawa are just sadists, thats all. 😉

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