Anime critics have a tendency to throw around phrases like “rushed” and “bad pacing,” without stopping to analyze what those terms actually refer to. There’s a tendency to equate pacing issues with the amount of things that happen in an episode’s story; even though other factors, such as the timing and editing of visuals and music, contribute heavily to the way that an episode feels. In cases such as the first two episodes of this season’s Kekkai Sensen, many have accused the series of feeling rushed because of the amount of story elements put into each episode, even though other shows like Tatami Galaxy and Shirobako pack every episode full of story content without feeling rushed. Likewise, one may accuse the first two episodes of this season’s Kyoukai no Rinne of feeling too slow for lack of anything significant happening, even though other currently-running shounen comedy adaptations like Shokugeki no Souma and Yamada-kun to Nananin no Majo are debatably more engaging while getting just as little done.
Getting to the bottom of why these shows feel awkwardly paced, I’m going to analyze the second episodes of each; sidestepping the issue of what actually happens in the the stories, and instead looking at what’s going on in the cinematography.
Almost every shot of Kekkai Sensen is visually impressive on its own, with tons of experimental and unique shots that you wouldn’t find in any other series. Particularly memorable from the second episode is this montage of Zapp Renfro stealing pizzas from Leonardo, as seen through the lenses of security cameras around the city; as well as these incredible low-angle shots wherein different elements are moving in different depths of the frame. Did you see that streetlight change color in the background? We actually see one turn red when the bad guy starts talking, and another turn green when he stops, signaling the pause and play in the action of the scene. Pretty neat, right?
Unfortunately, where Kekkai Sensen turns into a clusterfuck is in the lack of cohesion and apparent meaning between each of its shots. For instance, when Leonardo is tied up in the back of a van, we get several shots of the van’s interior as reflected in this blue orb thing. When I first watched the episode, I assumed it was some kind of enclosed security camera watching Leo, especially when he looks directly into it–but eventually I realized that it’s probably supposed to be one of the light bulbs, even though they appear to be shining brightly in all of the other shots. The bulb is irrelevant to anything else going on in the scene, leading me to believe that it was only included as a way to change up the visuals. While I agree that it would’ve gotten boring to watch Leo sitting there for upwards of three minutes, these shots only ended up distracting and misdirecting me, since I kept wondering what the deal was with the blue bulb instead of concentrating on what was happening.
Kekkai Sensen uses these kinds of pointlessly stylized shots constantly, as if it’s terrified of showcasing a normal image–and a lot of it is just distracting. Stuff like putting the character names on-screen in big flashy letters, or showing a brief recap of the previous episode in the screen of a tablet sitting on the desk melts decently into the pacing of the scene; but then there’s this shot of Leonardo that looks like it’s from the perspective of a TV monitor, when he’s actually looking at a map. It does seem like the map is some kind of holographic projection, but the surface of it is perfectly flat, so what’s up with the fisheye lens?
This shot wherein Leo and Zapp traverse a hallway lined with mannequins, and then run into a real girl at the end of it is pretty cleverly done, and this cutaway gag to a youtube video which Zapp just described is not so bad; but these shots wherein Leonardo seems to be hacking the eyeballs of all the monsters in the truck don’t make any sense at all, especially since it’s never established exactly what he’s doing. I’m also not sure what the idea was behind this shot wherein the car gets all close to the screen and blurry, and it’s hard to tell what’s going on.
It looks pretty cool when Sumeragi following Zapp’s blood trail is represented by lines moving across a city map, but this makes the interwoven shots of the others in a car taking a totally different, vaguely unexplained route all the more confusing. Once the action starts, the camera is all over the place, and the spacial relationships between actors is impossible to keep track of, leaving it all a weird, unsatisfying mess.
By constantly throwing all of these experimental, jarring, and pointless shots at the viewer, Kekkai Sensen causes them to lag behind on comprehending the situation. When it takes a second to figure out exactly what the hell you just saw, you have to mentally play catch-up to process the following shots–and this show leaves little breathing time to think about what’s going on. In terms of what actually occurs in the episode, there isn’t much happening, yet thanks to the constant changes in location and perspective, and the weird, asinine cuts that have nothing to do with anything, the episode feels like it’s going by too fast and trying to do too much.
Kyoukai no Rinne suffers from the exact opposite problem. Most of the shots are very flat and boring, and linger for just a little bit too long. There’s a tendency for each shot to keep going for a few seconds after a character stops talking, even though it seems like there should be an immediate follow-up to the last thing that they said, which causes the viewer’s brain to become disengaged from what’s going on. While watching this episode, I constantly felt like I was suddenly waking up when a character spoke, because I’d start to lose concentration during all of the awkward down-time during shot transitions. As a result, even though I found most of the individual jokes in the episode pretty funny, the amount of space in-between them left the entire thing feeling kind of slow and boring.
Looking through the chapters of the manga which correspond to this episode, it’s obvious that a lot of stuff was added in to pad out the length of the story, and that all of these shots linger for so long because there wasn’t enough content to fill the entire episode. It’s also apparent that the flatness of most of the shots is the result of taking a pretty flatly drawn manga which is very sparse on background art, and drawing it exactly the way that it is in the manga while filling in a background behind it.
Again, while it would be easy to write off the problems with the anime adaptation as the result of trying to stretch out the manga chapters, it doesn’t take much looking to see how an adaptation can do this without breaking engagement. Shokugeki no Soma stretches out the manga’s chapters to a ridiculous degree, but uses over the top visuals and music to keep the energy and investment up. Kyoukai no Rinne has the laziest, most boring soundtrack of anything I watched this season, and uses so many flat chest-up shots that you might spend parts of the episode thinking it’s a show about talking busts.
When people blame the pacing issues of shows like Kekkai Sensen or Kyoukai no Rinne on the number of manga chapters being crammed into or stretched across each episode, they ignore the fact that other shows are packing in or stretching out chapters without any problems. Not to say that it’s impossible for some shows to legitimately have too much or too little going on, but in a lot of cases, it’s the awkward timing and editing of a show’s cinematography which causes the end result to come off jarring or boring.
In spite of how I feel about the pacing in each, I think that Kekkai Sensen and Kyoukai no Rinne are both shows that have a lot going for them, which is why it kind of hurts to see them missing their full cinematic potential. If you’ve watched either of these episodes, then let me know what you thought of them in the comments below, and subscribe to my channel to see more content like this in the future. If you enjoyed this video, consider supporting me via patreon or paypal, or just by sharing the video around. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!
http://mageinabarrel.com/2015/04/13/blood-blockade-battlefront-episode-2/ You might wanna check out this post on Kekkai Sensen’s visual language; it may or may not change your opinion, but it’s an interesting read. I understand where you’re coming from though; that, many times, shows just throw in cool visuals just to be cool and people praise them without stepping back and asking “why?” Sure, cool visuals usually make a show more interesting, but, like you said, they can be distracting.
I can’t say I agree with Kekkai Sensen, since I find Rie Matsumoto’s style so engaging that I don’t notice/care about an pacing awkwardness, it’s just so easy to fall in with it’s style, but I do agree with the general sentiment here.
“Pacing” is one of those usually nebulous terms that anime fans love to throw around without understanding it, or being able to explain their reasoning. Kind of annoying.
>Unfortunately, where Kekkai Sensen turns into a clusterfuck is in the lack of cohesion and apparent meaning between each of its shots
Um, it’s all about eyes. How could anyone miss that? It’s about the kinds of viewpoints that couldn’t possibly be seen by anyone except Leo with his God Eyes, except we’re the viewers, and so we’re shown views that even he couldn’t possible see. Overkill? Maybe, but if the alternative is rote boredom like Fate/Stay Night, then I’ll take this. Maybe once the dub comes out, you won’t have to focus on too much at once with the subtitles and the pacing will feel more natural to you?