Stories that Try to Commit but Fail in Some of their Attempts: Avenger, Code Geass, Fullmetal Alchemist, Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta

Some stories are inspired by a clear message that is known to the author.

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Barefoot Gen was inspired by the creator’s experience of surviving atomic bombs. He knew what he wanted to write about – the story was very clear to him.

In many cases, however, creators know that they need to create a story, but they don’t really know what the plot will be like, who the characters will be, how the characters will develop, etc. A very common experience is for a writer to start out with one idea and say that the characters took control of the plot and ran away with it.

Avenger
Just like you’re always giving suggestions to your subconscious mind, an artwork is always preaching a message.

If the artwork is committed to a message, it has a chance of being good art.

If the artwork fails to commit to a message, it will always fall short of its potential.

Most anime stories involve highly complex teamwork between many stakeholders – musicians, original character designers, animators, directors, producers, voice actors, etc. In some unfortunate cases, severe failures from a minority of stakeholders can ruin the efforts of all.

The anime Avenger opens with music from Ali Project. Unless the listener resolutely hates all Ali Project music, the listener must be awestruck by both the opening and ending music. The animations that accompany this music, unfortunately, scrape the bottom of the design barrel. The ending, in particular, hints that the female protagonist might have some kind of sexual interest in her gynoid “doll,” but nothing in the story manages to develop this attachment, and so after a few episodes have gone by, the sexual overtones of the ending seem dissonant with the rest of the story.

The main storyline presents a plucky male sidekick who is supposed to be a romantic interest for the heroine. They have no chemistry whatsoever, and the sidekick takes up screentime for no good reason. Meanwhile, the heroine is vaguely interested in her gynoid “doll,” but they have less meaningful dialogue than Kino had with her entirely inhuman motor-rad.

Although the overall run is short at 13 episodes, most of the episodes are filler. Shortly before the end, the writers try to dump a “Department of Backstory” on the audience – and it’s an interesting episode, but one wishes that the writers had been clever enough to introduce all these ideas during the relatively action-packed filler episodes.

The writers and director failed to organize the events of the plot, probably because they were not particularly committed to any of the various ideas of the story. Apparently the anime was approved on the basis of a few disjointed story ideas, or perhaps the producers vetoed a complete script and the writers suffered nervous breakdowns while trying to salvage something.

I am inclined to think that the entire anime was launched by a committee whose members outwardly pretended to achieve consensus but actually hated each other and hoped to sabotage each others’ efforts.

Code Geass was a considerably more successful story. It started in a respectable early-evening time slot and got a second season in a late-night time slot that allowed more sex. It did not seem to have a great deal of substance, but it had two or three serious themes (e.g. the nature of mind control versus free will, the duty of a king to his people) to which it was committed, and it had four or five silly themes (e.g. fan service, Pizza Hut product placement) with which it papered over the cracks. If it had received more resources, it probably would have been a hundred times better, but despite all its flaws, it turned out remarkably well. Nonetheless, it gave the impression that it was written by a committee consisting of one creator, one merchandise salesman, and one Pizza Hut representative with veto power.

The original version of Fullmetal Alchemist was not as good as its reboot, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The first version was slow and angsty and clunky. The author recognized these flaws and fixed them in the vastly more watchable reboot. I don’t know how much creative control the author exercised over the production committee, but the rebooted version seems remarkably polished, unified, and coherent, as if the committee had sworn fanatical allegiance to the author and executed her every whim with absolute obedience.

We can watch a lot of anime very easily. If we work hard, we can even put in the necessary time to become writers or mangaka. But even if we become creators, there’s no guarantee that we’ll learn how to commit our artwork to its message.

So the moral of the story is – practice commitment to your ideas first and foremost, even if you’re not an artist, even if you never create a single work of fine art. If you commit your actions to your message, your life will be a work of art.

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