Panel Video: Weaving a Story: Narrative Traps, Collapse, and Substitution in Anime at Anime Boston 2017


A panel I gave at Anime Boston 2017, talking about narrative structure in anime.
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The first three chapters of Animated Discussions cover the same topics in greater depth. Buy it any of the sites listed at that link!

Favorite vs. Best

Since there’s no new episode of Friendship Is Magic today, have a short post instead.

Do you distinguish between your favorite examples of a genre or form and the best examples? I was musing the other day about the fact that my five favorite anime and the five anime I consider the best of what I’ve seen are the same five anime, but if I were to create actual top five lists, they’d be different.

In fact, here are those lists, plus an explanation of why the anime is where it is.

Favorites:

  •  Princess Tutu: The most badass anime about a ballet-dancing duck ever. Also, super-secret ultra-hidden direct Neverending Story reference.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: It makes me laugh, it makes me punch the air and cheer, and certain episodes make me cry no matter how many times I watch them. Also it just looks great.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Total brainsink. I can just watch and think about it for hours. Also, it’s absolutely visually stunning.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Compelling, emotional, intriguing, great fight scenes, and an utterly kick-ass soundtrack.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Explosions, giant plot twists from nowhere, and an emotional continuity that more than makes up for the plot spending most of the middle part of the series meandering aimlessly, and then, just as it’s finding its feet again, collapses into total incoherence.

Best:

  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: The most semiotically dense thing I have ever watched, easily surpassing any other TV show or film.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Packs more thematic complexity, character growth, and intriguing ideas into 12 episodes than most series manage in 50.
  • Princess Tutu: Masterfully constructed as a pastiche of dozens of classical ballets and folktales, and yet despite the fact that in each episode the characters are playing out the roles of characters in a given source story, there is also a strong character arc for each of them across the series as a whole.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: The last two episodes are a staggering work of absolute genius and the best-executed narrative collapse in all of anime.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A masterclass in creating a sprawling, complex plot with a massive cast (by the Promised Day arc, there are fifteen separate groups of characters being independently followed by the narrative) and still making sure that everything is driven by the choices of the characters, and every character’s choices are consistent with their distinct and idiosyncratic personality.

How about you? Do you distinguish between “favorite” and “best,” and if so, what are some examples?

I think Princess Tutu just became my favorite anime ever…

It was definitely top five before I learned this, but now? Wow.

Okay, so I’ve been reading the old Mark Watches threads on Princess Tutu, because that predates my involvement with the site. On the thread for Season 2, Episode 4 (episodes 7 and 8 if you’re using the TV numbering), “Crime and Punishment,” a user named Manuscriptgeek Googled the visible fragments of German text in the book Fakir is reading (the one that’s had pages torn out).

It turns out the text is the description of The Neverending Story from the Amazon.de page, which is taken from The Book of 1000 Books, a collection of descriptions of important German texts.

Yeah, Fakir’s desperate research? Is about metatextuality in literature, and he finds the story of a boy who enters a story and alters it with his powers of storytelling. And Autor is stalking him while he’s doing this.

I believe my response can best be summed up as “holy flurking schnit.”