A recurring theme I’ve noticed when reviewing series is that shows try to do “too much”. One of the most common pitfall, especially in shorter series, is that they introduce a bevy of elements and different plot points that they simply don’t have time to properly develop or resolve. As such, they inevitably create plot holes and unsatisfying conclusions. We end up having to rush through events or reduce certain characters to bare bones while giving time to elements that weren’t really required at all.
I have been watching this unfold in real time throughout Grancrest. The foundation of the story is decent but the constant need to introduce new characters and new conflicts has made everything feel shallow and inconsequential. How can I form any sort of attachment to a character when they happen to be one of the dozens introduced each week? Why should one battle matter more than the 50 other ones, especially as they are all epic and grand scale.
I’m much more tolerant when it comes to themes, after all Lain and Humanity has Declined are both favorites of mine and both tackle an impressive range of social and philosophical commentary but even I have to agree that you need to pick at least one central theme if you want to have any chance at getting below the surface in 12 episodes.
Recently I watched Alice and Zoroku, an anime that was delightful in many ways and that tried to explore familial bonds, coming of age from the perspective of a much younger character as well as concepts of alienation, identity, basics rights and responsibilities of sentience and ethics in scientific research. The ideas were interesting but because of the scope, the show could only successfully realize the exploration of nontraditional families and was by far at its strongest when following Sayaka and Zoruku interacting with each other. I mentioned in my review that the show would have been much stronger if the action and supernatural elements had been given more room to grow and get established and in turn the calmer exploration how we form relationships could have been lovingly and leisurely rolled out in a way that would have allowed us to savor everything properly.
After writing variations of “this show bites off more than it can chew” over and over again, I thought I was ok with an anime that doesn’t have anything in particular to say and where nothing really happens. When in doubt, err on the side of modest. But then…I was exposed to certain different genres…
One of the few animes I’ve seen in recent years that I actually dislike is Hinako Note. And one of the major reasons is that it doesn’t try to do anything really. It just exists. Ok it’s an ecchi show so it does try to do something, but there no commentary, no topics explored, the storyline is just a completely pro forma string of events that happen between sexually suggestive scenes but there’s also no actual sex.
As far as the practical art of anime goes, it’s not a bad show. It’s very well illustrated and decently animated. The voice acting, and sound design were all well done. No complaints at all. However, none of it was interesting or unusual enough to sustain my attention beyond a single episode on technical merits alone. And everything else was, as far as I’m concerned, completely hollow.
So I’ve been wondering, what’s the perfect balance, how much can a plot handle before it crumbles under its own wealth. It’s hard to tell. Let’s face it, some anime are just better written and can develop more plot points without feeling burdened. But as a rule of thumb, I like it when an anime has something to say. It doesn’t have to be many things or an important thing but at least one point to make that I can discuss with Buddy on my walks.
I realize that the answer is subjective. Sometimes you want deep provoking, borderline confusing plots to give you food for though and you don’t mind risking mental indigestion. Other time, you prefer to watch a show with your brain almost completely off. How about you, do you prefer heavy intricate plots or do you like light entertainment that’s not too demanding. Maybe like most people it depends on your mood?
37 thoughts on “In Anime Less is More Except When It’s Less”
Encouragement of Climb has short episodes. The main plot is Aoi leaving her comfort zones by mountain hiking but there are a number of sub-plots that each end up wrapping in one or two episodes. Yet each episode has some kind of a lesson to be learned. They were doing OK with only 3 minute eps but now they are around ten and can handle more complex issues. You can do a lot with a little if you don’t make anything too complex by itself.
Oh true. Time of Eve is tremendous and packed with so much exploration of rather tricky moral issues yet the entire series is 6 short episodes
It depends on how the plot develops. For example in anime like B the Beginning, I understood nothing, towards the end I was able to grasp something but overall I have no idea what the story is about because they kept covering so much on top of what was already poorly elaborated. But in gradual, steady plot developments that allow for digestion, I will gladly welcome more characters, backstories and the sort. This in turn keeps me more interested in the anime I’m watching.
I’m with you on that. Too bad about B, the cover looked intriguing
I’m a big fan of less is more, since the medium of animation means you can literally show exposition in the most subtle and abstract of ways. My favorite way of exposition is always when it’s incredibly vague, but becomes ultimately clear after one character says one damning sentence. It’s so cool for hints to be dropped and for all of them to suddenly make sense by the end of it all without the need of expositioning the shit out of you.
That said, I don’t mind exposition through dialogue if it’s natural.
True, organic plot establishment rules!
I love the way they do it in Clannad, for example!
The girl and the robot were so weird but interesting and I had no idea why they had dedicated runtime until the tail-end of the final episode of After Story. It was an organic reveal of the supernatural elements of the series.
I just watched a show called Planetarian… on a complete whim because I like stars and space and the title suggested it and the cover art was cool and had stars. Simple.
Some episodes were really short and all in all it was like an hour or so watch, only 5 episodes of varying length.
It was SO focused, SO narrow, SO simple, and yet exceeded my expectations(fantastic sound effects) and was a pretty neat little experience that got wrapped up with a bow.
Definitely refreshing compared to these shows with a lot going on but no sustenance. Half baked arcs and rushing…
Sometimes a simple idea, decent production values, and a single focused vision, even if not perfectly executed, can be a treat.
I really have to watch that show. I enjoyed the game a lot
Anime adaptions that are designed for TV (which is most of what’s come out) tends to have a systematic problems: they have to balance doing justice to the source material and make do with whatever timeslots they can get. So there are basically two approaches: either stop at an opportune moment and do what’s there, or try to get it all done in 1 – 2 cours. If the source is ongoing they can’t do it all. That almost always means streching or cutting and sometimes both. Because of this, I’ve become exceptionally forgiving with any kind of flaws that concern pacing. I was totally fine with Alice to Zoroku, even though I ended up with lots of questions, for example.
What I want from anime? I don’t think about that much. I just check out shows that are either interesting or pretty and then I’ll see which of those appeal more and which less.
For what it’s worth, I think this season’s Planet With is great at plot; there’s a lot going on but it never feels rushed, and I always got the answers I needed (and they usually came with new questions).
I am hearing some great things about Planet With.
I stand by my Alice and Zoroku assessment. It would have benefitted from some room to breath.
I do see what you mean about the constraints of TV though
I think it is all about execution. Deep and dense stories can work well when handled with finesse but stories that are mostly fluff with just a central idea can be pretty compelling when thought is put into how to make it interesting. The viewers mood and preferences also plays into it. Ultimately though, the question comes down to how well are the ideas integrated into the narrative and how does the narrative flow. If it feels devoid of content that is a problem, but it is also a problem when so much is packed in that it loses focus and can’t handle all that it is trying to cover.
I suppose what you’re also saying here is that you need a plot in your anime, and don’t care for just slice-of-life shows. With all the shows which begin with an interesting premise, introduce the characters, then their plot is utter garbage; you get disappointed a lot? I often think the plots develop badly because the author is forced to do SOMETHING just because the editor said they would be cancelled if they don’t, but a bad plot also gets them cancelled. Rideback started as a sport anime, then they suddenly make it about terrorists? WTF? Why? It was a decent sports anime for three episodes and could have continued that way for the full run. Instead they ruined it, and the show ended with ep 12 or 13, with only a momentary reminder that the heroine was a ballet dancer at the end. A shame because it was pretty and could have been good. Robotics;Notes was likewise a good start and interesting setting if you remove all the solar-evil crap and the conspiracy theories and just focus on Augmented Reality through a small tablet computer/phone interface, and its use for programming drones for competitive robot wars at the high school level. Instead it turned into a horror show. This is a shame because it had potential as both a romance and a sports anime. It could have been good. These are both only a very small sampling of anime which had potential and went to crap because they rushed the plot for a short run rather than let it grow properly, as we saw in longer format shows from other studios. Sakura Project was great for its overarching plot and the various struggles along the way. It wasn’t rushed. There were no robot attacks or raping alien tentacles. It was adult women coming to terms with their jobs in the countryside, trying to promote a dying town’s businesses. A tough job, with a budget. Its also a brilliant story if you’re patient enough to let it unfold.
Not plot substance. And actually i was trying to put together a list of bad anime and found less than 5 i actually disliked. I should probably try to be disappointed a bit more often…Im sorry you were disappointed in the Mecha anime but Im glad you liked Sakura project
I’m a fan of the anime that take place outside of Tokyo. And I like the slice of life anime because they show more of real Japan rather than the fake rat race of Tokyo. I’ve been pretty happy with the two sports anime and the history anime I’m watching this season, and I also like Chio’s School Road, which is hard to describe. Its absurd like Looney Toons, but is still very Japanese as well. Kinda reminds me of that one about the tiny genius scientist with the schoolgirl android with the big windup key in her back. Don’t recall the name, but its a similar kind of weird. And Yet The Town Moves is also a similar weird, with some of the same voice actresses as Chio. There’s no plot in any of these, but they are still very enjoyable to watch.
I do favor series that have alot of politics and themes myself along with good characters with a side of space and mechs, but i will like a series that accomplishes what it’s trying to do and has it’s own identity.
Lately I’ve been liking Yokai…
Honestly with anime it’s pretty much the same for me as it is with movies: I like them both. I can enjoy a good and plotheavy anime, just as much as I can enjoy a simple yet very engaging one. For me the most important thing is the enjoyment factor. For instance I really loved Orange and Yuri on Ice. Orange especially was a series that was very slow moving, but at the same time I really connected with it’s characters and the narative. And then I also enjoyed Blood-C. A totally different (blood and guts ) anime, but it entertained me as well. So for me, plot isn’t always important. Overall though, I do think I like it more when a series actually has something meaningful to say though😊😊
I think stories can be slow moving yet packed with plot elements
Yeah, I agree, that is certainly something that happens! And quite honestly, those usually make for the best shows 😊😊
Some series just aren’t good at doing anything… I don’t exactly think that cutting the excess would make them any more focused.
Hi Sunshine! Hey cutting something out would make them better since they would be shorter?…
And I thought I was being harsh! I was just saying that it’s tough to make a focused story! The benefit of swinging blindly is that a show might accidentally stumble into being actually enjoyable, rather than just fail like it was already going to with its low level of confidence in telling a basic story.
True. Like I said some of my favorite shows tackle…everything and nothing…
If I was pushed to come up with whether I prefer a series that is more complicated or not, I would probably prefer the more complicated one. I have an active imagination, so ridiculously convoluted stories like Umineko fuel my fantasies…
But there has to be something unifying the whole thing, I feel. If it all has a worthwhile point, then it’s all good! But stuff is complicated, and both of them can be somewhat subjective… so I pity the people who have careers dependent on their ability to create stories.
There is something to be said about glorious messes. I do enjoy an anime that tries even if it fails
I’m okay without a plot for comedies. They can still entertain me without a plot. For stuff like horror, mystery, drama, etc., I need some sort of plot to anchor the story. I need for the show to come back to a purpose when it strays to other things. Otherwise, I feel like I’m watching for no reason.
That makes sense. I can definetly see that
This can be a tricky one. Oftentimes the anime that are most guilty of the things you describe here are adaptations from another medium where there aren’t quite so many constraints on the creators — in other words, where they don’t have the pressure on them to run a full, satisfying story arc over the course of 12 20-minute episodes.
While serial manga published as part of a larger publication can be constrained according to the amount of space it has available, it can still draw things out over a much longer period than anime can, as well as exploring individual characters in more depth or spinning off into side stories. Visual novels have even more freedom, since they literally have no constraints whatsoever — they can be as long as the author wants, and either tell a linear story or a branching non-linear affair that one really needs to see every path through in order to have a full understanding of what’s going on.
Anime that struggles with “trying to do too much” is typically struggling to prioritise what is truly important… often because it’s difficult to determine what actually IS truly important! If you cut out a character or story arc that had a passionate following in the manga format, will you be subjecting yourself to backlash? If you try and squeeze everything in but don’t have time to do anything justice, is it worth bothering? There aren’t easy answers, unfortunately.
Anime that is an original work, not based on anything else, though? That doesn’t really have an excuse. You know your medium, write for it!
To your other point, I’m actually a big fan of anime where nothing happens. It’s why I like Yuru Yuri so much. I haven’t watched Hinako Note as yet so I can’t comment on that, but I know a fair few people who had enjoyed it a bunch precisely because it was shallow, no-commitment fun with no real point. The one-night stand of ecchi anime.
So much happens in Yuru Yuri. I learned of the importance of Tomato onsie’s because of that show!
I feel like the biggest dividing pint here isn’t what you’re doing, but whether or not you know what you’re doing. If you know what your themes and end goal are, you’re more likely to keep things focused throughout. Otherwise, you have a show like Darling in the Franxx or Guilty Crown, where you’re trying so hard to rip off other successful anime that you never stop to think about what it was that made those anime work, and as a result, your own show just becomes a trainwreck of half-baked ideas and pretentious morals.
I really need to see Darling and the Franxx or else I’m never going to get all these references…
Yes you do. It’s terrible, but in a sort of beautiful, awe-inspiring train wreck sort of way.
I’m not a huge plot person, so I generally prefer the actual plot be kept relatively simple. The more convoluted the plot is, the more difficult it becomes for what is most interesting to me – the story – to really shine. A lot of my favorite anime have incredibly straightforward plots and one central theme among a bevy of less significant ones that are just nice to have in the background. Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru, for example, is incredibly straightforward, when you really get down to it. But its execution allows the story to really come through and you see all the characters develop along with the realization of a few really compelling themes.
Great read! ^^
That is a great point. Plot getting in the way of story and narrative flow.