I think that one of the biggest things that separates me from most anime fans is that I see storytelling very differently than they do. In general, I really don’t give a damn about the actual ‘plot’ of a show. To me, everything is staked on the presentation. What are the characters saying, who are they, what does the show look like, how is it paced, how is it directed, how does it sound, and most importantly, how do I react to it? This core of my perception of a show pretty much explains my favorites list and my ability to love so many shows that make other people cock an odd eye at me.
In essence, this is how I am capable of not really caring for a show like 12 Kingdoms that has a deep, intricate, and riveting plot for sure, but comes off as boring to me because it is presented in a way that puts it’s story first. However, I may love a show like Hidamari Sketch that has no story at all, but has fun characters and dialog, an interesting visual style, great voice acting and music, and makes me feel a certain way towards it.
The reason I feel this way is quite simply that there is nothing left for me to really enjoy in a plot. I’ve simply seen it all before. No matter how deep and intricate your fantasy story is, none of it is something I’ve never seen before, and even if it’s presented well enough to be above it’s peers, it still may not be presented as well as a plotless story that I can fully enjoy. This is why anime itself is such an amazing medium for me – the possibilities for presentation are so vast. Unlike a novel wherein storytelling variations may only go as far as the author’s chosen style (which can of course be enough itself, but means that an author must have superb control to make something great) in anime, you can literally make anything happen on the screen (unlike live-action where you are limited by human capability) and you can animate it in any number of ways, with whatever music, voices, character designs, style, and dialog you desire.
Which leads me into a little something called ‘creator intent.’ For me personally, I hold creator’s intent as the most important way of understanding a story (perhaps springing from my own desire to have people understand exactly what I mean.) A lot of people have told me that the reason they love novels is that they can use their own imagination to determine how everything looks, sounds, and is. I, on the other hand, would much rather see exactly what the creators want me to see. I want to see the world they envision, the characters they envision, and the sounds they hear in their world.
Now, many people have pointed out that ‘creator’s intent’ can be a very hard thing to pinpoint in anime, because there are so many ‘creators’ involved. But I’m okay with that – I see it as a ‘collective vision’. What you receive is the combined vision of all those who worked on the piece, and thus you receive a whole of their thoughts and ideas to experience. I also have put a lot of time and effort into ‘deciphering’ intent myself. For instance, if I discover a director I think I might like, I will watch every show that the director has created, and I can use the commonalities between all of the shows to decipher what kind of thing the director wants to create. That way, when I look at a show, I can tell you exactly what parts of it were the creative decisions of the director, what parts were the work of the art director or the key animator, etc. etc.
This all, of course, leads into my thoughts on endings. I hear a LOT of people bitch and whine about anime endings. I daresay there ain’t a goddamn anime out there for whom the whole fanbase is okay with the ending. I, however, can probably count the endings that I really disliked on my hands (Escaflowne, which is because they rushed 26 episodes into 13, Uta Kata but that show was fucking horrible anyway, but it did have the worst ending I’ve ever seen… and Kare Kano, but that was another production hiccup) reason being once again that aforementioned creator’s intent.
As far as I’m concerned, there really is no ‘wrong’ way to end a series. I see endings as the natural progression of what was happening in the show, whether the audience appreciates that or not. Maybe it’s because I see series as being a defined whole wherein no part of it exists without the others. In other words ‘you can’t have the beginning without the ending’ so whatever happens through the story, that’s what the story is.
I also don’t go into endings with any kind of weird expectations like many people seem to do. I don’t expect the story to end in a certain way, because I know it will end in the way it was meant to end. When I see people complain that an ending should have happened differently, I want to ask them ‘was this your story? No. This was the story someone else wanted to tell, and their story had this ending.’
Even I will admit that I raised an eyebrow during the ending of Mai-HiME (*SPOILERS*) when everyone started coming back to life (*END*) but then I had to ask myself, is there anything wrong with that? Does the fact that they are back change the way I felt when they were gone? No. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t tear up at those moments, and it doesn’t mean that I won’t tear up when I watch them again. What made me tear up those times was not the facts of the events but the presentation and drama that resonated with me in such a way as to elicit a reaction. Had the series ended with them still gone, I’d have appreciated that ending, and I can still appreciate the ending in which they return, because it is just another part of the continuing story. (Also, rewatching the series, you can actually see the foreshadowing that this will happen. In episode 13, Mai is told a legend about 12 women who each would meet terrible fates and then later would all return to conquer their foes. So yeah.)
Some of the endings that many hate are my favorites. Neon Genesis Evangelion had one of my favorite endings ever, and the movie is my single favorite. I don’t really know what kind of Evangelion is supposed to exist without the ending it had. I have never had a vision of that other ending for the series – the ending has always been the definition of the series for me, as is any ending, and thusly I appreciate them all.