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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Top 110 Anime: Endings

The biggest problem with anime is that most shows never reach a proper ending. They never fully transcribe their source material or their source material never seems to reach an ending itself. One of the biggest advantages of anime is that it is low cost: A high definition, good looking anime series, thirteen episodes in length, only costs $2-4 million. This means you can make massively long series that have tons of characters and enormous plot arcs without straining your budget. In Hollywood, each minute of film costs around $1 million, but in Japan, that could buy you at minimum three episodes and at maximum 10 episodes of anime, each 24 minutes long. That's from 72 to 240 times as good as live action, which has opened up the possibility of such beautiful story lines as One Piece or Pretty Cure.

Anime's greatest weakness and its greatest strength are closely related. Like medicine and poison derived from the same plant, a lack of resolution and a long storyline are two sides of the same coin.

The best stories tend to be those that, though long, still managed to reach a satisfactory ending. The easiest way to increase the quality of a good story is to continue it all the way to its proper ending. Currently there is a sort of equilibrium between short series and long ones -- the long ones don't have endings, but the short ones weren't long enough to fully engage the audience with their characters, plot, and setting. Does this mean mid-sized series have the advantage? No. Long series with endings have the advantage. It's just that we have very few samples of such a thing, which has allowed all these inferior works to sprout up in the rankings like weeds. Eventually, perhaps 100 years from now, there will be enough epic length anime to completely dominate. The fact that short and mid-sized series perform so well now is just an artifact of anime's infancy. Barely any good anime was made before the year 2000, and the best of those are still ongoing. We are already seeing the shortest anime franchises, stand-alone movies or oav's, getting driven out of the rankings entirely by their longer peers. We can expect the same evolution for short, 13 episode series, and then even longer, 26 episode series. But for that to happen, the genuinely long series will have to satisfactorily resolve all the loose ends to the enormous worlds and multitudes of characters they spent so long creating.

In any space journey, you can only accelerate half the length of the journey. The other half of the time you must turn the engines around and decelerate the entire length of time, with the same intensity of energy you just spent accelerating, or else you'll crash into your destination instead of gently land.

Anime is the same. If a long story has just spent fifty episodes introducing characters with troubled pasts and powerful foes who haunt their dreams, it's going to take fifty episodes to satisfactorily resolve all these issues. Anything less is a disservice to the gravity of the problems heretofore expanded upon. Suppose you spend thirty episodes explaining how impossibly strong a foe is. Then you meet him on the last episode and in a single punch he goes down with a glass jaw. You give a victory cheer and credits role. The entire audience would vomit in disgust.

Therefore, if you look at any ongoing epic anime series, if it feels like problems are just increasing and the situation worsening or getting even more complicated every episode, you aren't even at the halfway point. If you start to see loose ends getting tied up and problems getting narrowed down to just 'one more conflict we need to win before we can rest,' you know you're in the decelerating half of your journey, and a happy ending is approaching.

How many anime series have just abruptly ended in a single episode when the previous twelve seemed to do nothing but introduce more problems and more concerns than ever before?

Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai did just that a few days ago. There were all sorts of problems. Hina couldn't get over the death of her parents, Sora's grades were failing, Miu was too tired to stay awake at school and was sick from fatigue and depression, and the Uncle trying to take care of them all couldn't even make enough money to afford rent. Then BAM, last episode, everything's resolved in a flash and roll credits.

It was a complete betrayal, a complete letdown from what had been a gripping story about people we really cared about. And of course, it didn't really happen this way in the real story. In the light novels, where the anime ends is just the beginning, and tons more happens before 'happily ever after' can be said. But we don't get that ending. We just get the phony, fast ending of an under-budget work that doesn't have enough confidence to go on. It's such a waste. We can only hope that popular outcry makes them start up a season 2 momentarily. But even if they started working on one now, it would be a year before we saw anything. The bitter resentment of having a series artificially cut short on me won't be salved if, two or ten years from now, a new season is announced and they finally continue. That pain has already happened. It cannot be undone.

A genuinely good anime production would just continue from start to end without any breaks. Mirai Nikki is anime done right. But that only happens once in a blue moon. Budget constraints plus source material constraints (what's popular is what's current, but what's current isn't done yet) generally render this model impossible.

A system of guarantees would be an acceptable alternative. Unfinished anime series should go like this: We guarantee to make the next season if, say, we make a 10% profit on the previous one, all the way to the source material's end. If the source material isn't ready yet, we'll start the next season when there's enough material to do so. That ironclad promise would allow anime fans to rest easy that their favorite stories aren't just vanishing into the mists (like Fullmetal Panic! did, without any resolution whatsoever), even if they go away for a while. The cloak and daggers world of confidentiality surrounding anime studios and production committees, however, makes it harder to get a promise out of them than, say, an unscrupulous politician. The culture of secrecy that treats fans like enemies who you have to ambush in the night instead of treat with over dinner is a real curse. It's not just anime studios, it's the same with Toyota cars or Sony playstations or Fukushima nuclear reactors -- Japan simply refuses to come clean on any subject at any time.

With all that in mind, let's have a look at our top 110 list. How many of these series have proper endings? Those that don't will receive a '*' next to them.

1. Clannad (2007-2009)
2. Pretty Cure (2004-2012+) *
3. One Piece (1999-2012+) *
4. Code Geass (2006-2009+)
5. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha (2004-2010+) *
6. Seikai no Monshou/Senki/Danshou (1999-2005) *
7. Fairy Tail (2009-2012+) *
8. Naruto (2002-2012+) *
9. Dragonball (1986-2011)
10. K-On! (2009-2011) *
11. Kanon (2002-2007)
12. Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (2006-2012)
13. Haruhi Suzumiya (2006-2010) *
14. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007-2009)
15. To Aru Majutsu no Index/Kagaku no Railgun (2008-2011+) *
16. Angel Beats (2010) *
17. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011+)
18. Da Capo (2003-2011)
19. Katanagatari (2010)
20. The Idolm@ster (2011)
21. Full Metal Panic! (2002-2006) *
22. Bakuman (2010-2012+) *
23. Kobato (2009-2012)
24. Working! (2010-2012+) *
25. Record of Lodoss War (1990-1998)
26. The World God Only Knows (2010-2011) *
27. Hayate no Gotoku (2007-2012+) *
28. Vandread (2000-2001)
29. Sora no Woto (2010)
30. Toradora! (2008-2011)
31. Evangelion (1995-2009+) *
32. Basilisk (2005)
33. Galaxy Angel (2001-2006) *
34. Saki (2009-2012+) *
35. Major (2004-2012) *
36. Prince of Tennis (2001-2012) *
37. Inuyasha (2000-2010)
38. Ranma 1/2 (1989-1996) *
39. Sailor Moon (1992-1997)
40. Air (2005)
41. Hanasaku Iroha (2011+) *
42. Usagi Drop (2011-2012)
43. Angelic Layer (2001)
44. Rurouni Kenshin (1996-2011+) *
45. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
46. Ef (2007-2008)
47. Ore no Immouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (2010-2011) *
48. Uuchuu no Stellvia (2003)
49. Utawarerumono (2006-2010)
50. Summer Wars (2009)
51. Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu (2010-2011) *
52. Cowboy Bebop (1998-2001)
53. Samurai Champloo (2004-2005)
54. Battle Athletes (1997-1998)
55. Bleach (2004-2012) *
56. Bake-(etc)-monogatari (2009-2012+) *
57. Amagami SS (2010-2012)
58. Macross (1982-2011)
59. 12 Kingdoms (2002-2003) *
60. Mononoke Hime (1997)
61. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (2011)
62. Berserk (1997-2012+) *
63. Claymore (2007) *
64. Valkyria Chronicles (2009-2011) *
65. Negima! Magister Magi Negi (2004-2012) *
66. Sora no Otoshimono (2009-2012+) *
67. Strike Witches (2007-2012) *
68. Nichijou (2011-2012+) *
69. Hunter x Hunter (1999-2012+) *
70. Fate/Stay/Etc (2006-2012+) *
71. Card Captor Sakura (1998-2000)
72. Gundam (1979-2012+) *
73. Shakugan no Shana (2005-2012)
74. Martian Successor Nadesico (1996-1998)
75. Read or Die (2001-2004)
76. Break Blade (2010-2011) *
77. Kimi ni Todoke (2009-2011) *
78. Spice and Wolf (2008-2009) *
79. To Heart (1999-2012+) *
80. Bastard! (1992) *
81. Mahoromatic (2001-2009)
82. Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka (2008-2009) *
83. Fatal Fury (1992-1994) *
84. Lucky Star (2007-2008) *
85. Azumanga Daioh (2002)
86. Alien Nine (2001-2002) *
87. Iria: Zeiram the Animation (1994)
88. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) *
89. Guyver (1986-2006) *
90. Spirited Away (2001)
91. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
92. Scrapped Princess (2003)
93. Steins;Gate (2011-2012+)
94. Gunbuster (1988-2012)
95. Shamanic Princess (1996-1998)
96. Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukunai (2011) *
97. Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai (2012) *
98. Akira (1988)
99. Moshidora (2011)
100. High School of the Dead (2010-2011) *
101. Flame of Recca (1997-1998) *
102. Hikaru no Go (2001-2004) *
103. Shinryaku! Ika Musume (2010-2011+) *
104. Ghost in the Shell (1995-2011)
105. Tamayura (2010-2011+) *
106. Zero no Tsukaima (2006-2012)
107. Soul Eater (2008-2009) *
108. Sora no Manimani (2009) *
109. Kanokon (2008-2009) *
110. Gosick (2011)

59 of the top 110, by my count, don't have satisfactory endings. They were either rushed, arbitrary, false, or simply trailed off in the middle of something, clearly not the ending at all. A proper resolution is when you know the eternal fate of all the characters introduced, as well as the world as a whole that they live in, and the characters own decisions have to have led to this fate. Anything short of that is stupid and utterly unsatisfactory. Higurashi is a perfect example of a perfect resolution -- the story was stuck in a time loop of eternal suffering until the characters finally made all the right decisions and received a happy ending. Now that is the Platonic ideal of a resolution. That's what I'm looking for -- and for whatever reason, that's not what I'm getting out of the anime industry.

If these series, which are so good even with this drawback, would finally remove this one final obstacle to their grandeur, the artistic value of the entire industry would soar.

Hilariously, go figure, some series with proper resolutions are still getting additional content, like Madoka and Steins;Gate. While Japan is flogging dead horses for cash, great series are mouldering in the ash pile of neglect. The insanity of capitalism never ends.

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