Letting Go of my Need for Closure With Anime

A lot of us have this basic layout for what stories should have. Namely a beginning, a middle and an end. Not necessarily in that order and not necessarily in any sort of definitive way but just a general market for one’s brain to go ok the narrative starts here and now it’s over.

It’s not limited to stories either. There has been a lot of research showing that our brains seek out a sense of closure in just about everything we do. A clear stopping point before moving on to the next thing. And when we do get it, we feel a little uneasy. Like something’s off.

anim doubt

even if I don’t let it show

This may be why a lot of people assign disproportionate value to the conclusions of a series. A weak end episode can go a long way to undoing then 6 or even 11 that came before. A great one can redeem the entire show for some.

But what about when there’s no ending at all?

You may think that this would hit someone like me particularly hard. After all, I am a self-admitted completionist with an unhealthy love of discernible patterns. I should by all rights be rather cross at an unfinished series, or at the very least annoyed by it. But to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me at all. And that’s really weird.

When you watch anime like I do (i.e. in a haphazard happy to lucky way where you almost randomly pick shows to watch) you soon realize that neat, logical conclusions to stories are the exception, not the rule. Not a super rare exception mind you but still not present in the majority of cases.

hyouka

they’re searching…it worked in my head

It use to drive me nuts. I would get angry when I show I was starting to enjoy would cut off just as it was getting good with zero indication of a new season to come. I would feel this restless unsatisfied feeling in my bones when a series I loved got down to the last episode with half the character arcs unresolved and a whole bunch of plot threads hanging loose. I even started seeking out reviews to avoid watching titles that were unfinished all together.

At some point, that changed. Obviously when watching seasonal anime, one has no idea which shows will end up never getting renewed so one has to take some risks. But I don’t think it’s just that. It’s like without realizing it, my need for closure just filled along the way.

I remember recommending something to a friend. The Promised Neverland I think? And she came back to me with “OMG” what happens next? When I said I wasn’t sure when (or even if) a new season would be out, she looked at me like a was a particularly dumb alien.

“How could anyone just leave it there. The most important part is about to start”(paraphrasing to avoid spoilers)”if it doesn’t continue this will be the worst. I can’t believe you made me waste my time on this”. Ok, I’m exaggerating to prove a point. But she was definitely a little peeved at the fact that the story was still in the thick of things and that I had not warned her about that. But I hadn’t even realized it. This is where I am at. I don’t really even notice anymore.

anime oblivious

yup…seems like me

Not only is it so commonplace that series I live get cancelled without warning but even the manga they are based on can go on hiatus without any indication if they are ever going to come back. It’s a very indefinite sort of experience and there’s nothing I can do about it.

So in time, without really even realizing it, I got accustomed to not getting any real closure. And that has its own rewards.

Considering a narrative without accounting for an ultimate payoff is a different experience.  Every moment begins to count more because you simply can’t bet that it’s leading to something else. If you’re not enjoying it now then there’s no point and the future doesn’t affect the past as much. At least that’s how It’s been for me.

Now, when I find myself digging a show, my mind immediately goes to “I hope it gets a second season someday…” It’s as if a clear ending isn’t even a real option anymore. And when I do stumble upon self-contained complete narratives it’s a special treat.

anime pasteries

anime food always looks so yummy

For me, the shift in perception clearly comes from watching anime. I once wrote a top 5 shows that need another season. These are all series I love and recommend, yet they are clearly not finished. That hasn’t affected what I was able to get from them though. Even if I do grumble about wanting the story to continue. It’s simply a reality of the medium that I have come to accept. Heck, even the manga they are based on go on unexpected and prolonged hiatuses (hiatusi?) all the time.

For me, loving anime has drilled it into me to enjoy the trip for the journey and not the destination. And it may have taught me to be a bit of patience. It certainly did make me look a narrative constructs differently. I have a much greater appreciation for pacing. A nicely sustained storyline with regular revelations and development is a thing of beauty. When one can’t simply watch a story to find out what happens at the end, since there is a chance they never will, they have to focus on something else.

And then, of course, there are series like one piece that just will never end…

How do you feel about unfinished anime? Do you still find it frustrating or have you gotten used to it? Maybe it never bothered you to begin with?

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Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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50 Responses

  1. foovay says:

    I think a lot of the anime I like is episodic, and so the over arching story arc – if there is one – is not as important or in need of resolution. That said, yes, at first the lack of endings to many of my favorites (Darker Than Black anyone?) kind of freaked me out. Over time though I’ve seen sometimes things come back years later. So there’s a little hope to cling to. And I’ve gotten more prone to playing with story lines in my brain. Looking for my own solution to puzzles. Maybe this is going to happen. Maybe that. Maybe someday they’ll come back and tell me. Maybe I’ll just go read some fanfic. Maybe I should write my own ending. So…yeah, I’ve grown to accept it just as it is. I’m less anal than some though… j/k with love.

  2. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    The Japanese tendency towards ambiguous endings has long frustrated me. . .

  3. Martin Dick says:

    I think that the failure to provide some resolution is a sign of poor storytelling. You don’t have to reach closure or get to the end of the manga/light novels, but you need a resolution. Promised Neverland doesn’t reach closure, the manga is still going and does seem to be reaching the end, but the final episode is fine, it’s a natural resolution to the first arc of the manga and if future seasons never happen, then I’m okay with that.

    On the other hand, we have Stars Align, where we basically end the series mid-story on a cliff-hanger and apparently without much chance of a sequel. Immensely frustrating. Now apparently, they were told too late in the process that instead of having 24 episodes, they had 12, so they didn’t change their story, so maybe not their fault, but at the end of the day, we end up with poor story-telling 🙁

  4. I appreciate your efforts on making consistent content. Excellent work

  5. Krystallina says:

    I want some sort of resolution with my anime at least in a way it gives some sort of temporary or partial closure. If it’s all just “read the manga/light novel to continue since we didn’t tackle anything in the anime!”, then I might as well skip the anime and go straight to the source material.

  6. The anime that drive me nuts are really good anime that are clearly building up an arc and die in the middle. Like in “Beautiful Bones”, the nemesis wasn’t even clear until the last episode.

  7. Karandi says:

    I’m very much in the camp of needing a resolution. While there are plenty of anime I enjoy that are open in their endings, or slice of life stories that don’t really have a destination, I still need a sens at the end of a season that for now at least things have either resolved or have reached some kind of new status quo. I almost never buy unfinished anime on DVD and they are far less likely to be rewatched by me because I just don’t get a feeling of satisfaction from an unfinished story.
    Still, if we look at something like Yuri on Ice there’s plenty more story that could be told. Yet the season ends with the Grand Prix complete, the characters having achieved something and they’ve all set themselves goals for the future. The relationships between the characters are also kind of at a good place even if there’s more to those stories as well. For me that felt complete enough even if later a another season did come along.

    • Irina says:

      Well Natsume is currently very much unresolved. So many questions raised in the last season…

      • Karandi says:

        I know. I find each season of Natsume overall seems to address one idea but there are always ongoing themes. One of the reasons I absolutely love it and also why we must have a season seven.

        • Irina says:

          Clearly. I do think s6 was the most open ended though. I actually openly nentioned his grandfather which is a core question in the series and recast Natori in a much more suspicious role then…we need more

  8. Scott says:

    Yeah, this false ending and just anime stopping thing is something all us anime fans should live with at this point or should have at the start. I mean, most of the time anime is commercial for the source material anyway so when the anime ends, where else do you turn to? Or that filler stuff until the anime ends before the manga. Or what about when original products don’t work out? There is always this sense of failure and everything, gah.

  9. Pinkie says:

    I don’t really mind open endings.in anime. However what I do mind is stuff that ended the way like No-Game-No-Life ended. The “Get-Hyped-Now-Buy-The-Manga” endings.
    Those kill of a show for me hard.

    Re:Zero left the show off in a good place, you have the option to buy the manga or keep the story as is. School Live had a similar type of ending. While it can’t work for every anime I do think that each season should get such an ending. Even if its not in the manga and it ends open ended, give us at least an ending. It could be as simple as the characters getting ready for their next battle.. telling they have no idea what comes next.
    Have them flash back on the season and conclude on a lesson they learned in the season..but at least give us somehting instead of.. to be continued in the manga.

    I don’t have a lot of manga available to me and it’s not something I really enjoy reading behind a comptuer screen. I want to curl up in bed with a manga or a book. I do think if we could at least stop the manga promo endings the complaints would drop of signigicantly. Treat an anime just tiny bit like an actual tv show and make a season ending an actual ending and I would be one content pink devotee.

  10. Anonymous says:

    In the cases of manga/anime being halted and it was left unresolved at present i can understand the frustration. X/1999 is currently on hold due to the fact at the time the publisher found it to be too violent and edgy. In fact often some of CLAMPS projects like Legal Drug or Gate7.
    Trinity Blood has 24 episodes but the ending felt pretty complete as the main antagonist is still alive and the threat of Rozencruz is still there. Bur ironically the manga and lightnovels itself are finished.
    Afro Samurai Resurrection covered the later parts of the manga but not final parts either and that manga is also finished too.
    And it really is annoying when the publisher or production committee puts the show on indefinite hiatus without any indication of its return. Black Lagoon has had a history of hiatuses like Hunter X Hunter.
    In the case of the mangaka itself it can be either due to circumstances beyond control such as death or serious illness. Ai Yazawa’s projects have been smaller scaled in comparison to her books such as NANA and she is slowly but surely recovering thankfully and has updated and added new chapters of Paradise Kiss and a updated redrawn version of I am not a angel.
    An ambiguous or tragic ending can work so long as any story plots are resolved and the character development and journey has been engaging from start to finish. Looking at Cowboy Bebop for example.
    Its overall a story to better to be short but engaging and complete rather than to be long winded,filler and padded riddled with repetitive and boring plotlines.
    -K(Rogueotakugamer)

    • Inskidee says:

      I too feel affected when anime have an open ending. Although I haven’t really adapted to it and numbed my mind, I try to solve it by immediately binging other series afterwards so I don’t feel as empty after a particularly open and inconclusive end. I guess it’s like drowning out the screams of the previous series with new ones. It lessens the pain of knowing another season never gonna come / far away. Maybe one day I’ll learn to be apathetic towards these open ends.

    • Irina says:

      We often get movies to wrap up plot points but due to our frustrating distribution laws i usually can’t get them in my neck of the woods or have to wait a really long time.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is a good point sometimes there is a really long wait for a certain anime movie to be released. And depending on where you live some places can have it later or earlier than others.
      Theres a lot of Nintendo ip’s in super smash bros that haven’t been used in ages either as well too and serve as either easter eggs like trophies or as playable characters. (Looking at you Custom Robo)

  11. alsmangablog says:

    I think I’ve also become used to anime often having somewhat nebulous endings. It’s definitely something that used to bother me a lot more. I do appreciate a good, conclusive ending when we get one though. I think part of the reason that I’m more chill about it now is that I learned that I can usually go to the manga, a.k.a. the source material, for a more satisfying ending. Of course, that doesn’t always work if the manga in question gets canceled or put on extended hiatus 😉 There are a few CLAMP series that I desperately want the mangaka to return to and finish some day… Well, hopefully someday.

  12. Tiger says:

    I’ve definitely adapted in regards to my needs for closure, but I can’t seem to part with it entirely. My innate and unyielding need for closure is still ever present, so I deal with it in my own way, and that’s by binge watching. I’ve definitely grown more numb to the idea of not having second seasons, but I definitely can’t stand leaving a series open ended, and so I always tend to binge watch them all even if it means being a whole season behind.

  13. I am the biggest fan of Hunter x Hunter and not knowing how it might end or if it will ever be finished or left where it is, it frustrates and saddens me beyond words.

    Just thinking about it makes me want to cry because I have the ultimate love for HxH, it helped me through rough times.

  14. BlerdyOtaku says:

    I don’t know it’s hit or miss with me? I sometimes love unfinished anime because that means the story hasn’t ended yet and I really enjoy when stories continue on. I get so sad when I finish some anime. Sometimes I’ll even prolong watching episodes if I know I’m getting to the finish line. Other times, it can be frustrating if there is a hiatus *cries in HxH* or if the first season has finished for something and we never get any sort of indication the anime will continue airing *screams in where is the second season of deadman wonderland* cliffhangers are absolutely maddening to me. I usually read manga adaptions of the same title as well, which sorta helps but then you’re stuck waiting for the anime adaption if they’re behind. It’s probably because I have a weird way of writing stories but if I had a choice, I’d probably never have actual endings, but then my short stories wouldn’t be so short haha. So I guess I just prefer the same when it comes to anime. Like Naruto for example, as much as Boruto gets on my nerves, I’m really glad we still get to continue on with this saga but through his son. And sure there are quite some things I don’t like, I’m still immensely happy it’s not just over forever.

  15. Mari says:

    “Not only is it so commonplace that series I live get cancelled without warning but even the manga they are based on can go on hiatus without any indication if they are ever going to come back. It’s a very indefinite sort of experience and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

    *cries in Hunter x Hunter*

    • BlerdyOtaku says:

      Wow I literally said the same thing! I read somewhere Togashi Sensei’s been having health problems too. So I wish people would be nicer about the fact that there has been such a long hiatus. I’m still holding out hope tho haha.

      • Mari says:

        I agree and I totally sympathize with Togashi here. Drawing and writing manga is a demanding job, mentally and physically. Especially when you have to write a new chapter every week like in Shonen Jump’s schedule! But it’s still a bummer that the anime ended somewhat inconclusively and that the Dark Continent Arc will probably never be adapted 😭

        • BlerdyOtaku says:

          Right it’s a process I don’t think a lot of anime watchers really understand and I’ve seen some pretty vicious comments regarding the hiatus

        • Irina says:

          You never know. Steins Gate zero got its adaptation a decade down the line

      • Irina says:

        Oh the poor man definetly desrves all the breaks he can get

    • Irina says:

      Exactly the manga I was thinking of

  16. Yes, I have a problem with anime that don’t have a satisfactory ending. I realize that may be how the industry can work at times, but to me it stinks of bad writing. Give us something at the end of a season whether you plan to come back or not! And for me the “end” of Promised Neverland”s season worked.

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