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.
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.
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.
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.
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?