The Art of the Ending

Mermaid (Pixiv:  がこ  ID: 3329406)

One of the goals that I set out to accomplish when I restarted this anime blog was to finish a bunch of the series that I’ve left “on-hold” for all these many years. Currently, my MAL list shows 61 series on-hold, and that’s after I’ve whittled down at least five series in the past two months. I don’t think I’ll ever get that number down to zero, to be honest, and I think for some of those shows I’ll just have to admit my defeat and leave the rest unwatched forever.

The three simulcast series that I watched through Crunchyroll are done. All three of them — Tari Tari, Moyashimon Returns, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous — had nice, pat endings. I really doubt they would announce a sequel for any of those series later; and even with Moyashimon‘s teaser, after this season’s cooler reception, I would be very surprised if they decide to make more.

Maybe it’s just the Tari Tari aftermath speaking, but I feel somewhat nostalgic talking about the endings of these series — was it really only thirteen weeks ago that I was suffering through one of the hottest summers in New York City history? Now, the air is cooler and I feel I would have to start wearing scarves soon… And I no longer have these shows which kept me going through the summer to look forward too. I will have new shows to replace them, of course, but it feels so odd even thinking that. Were they just summer flings that we would forget once the sunshine and warmth have faded away?

Okay, melodramatic, but I’m sure a seasoned anime fan would know exactly what I mean.

To paraphrase a fellow Crunchyroll viewer, “I like it when a series ends and you don’t have to ‘go read the manga’ for a proper ending.” I absolutely agree with this sentiment. A story shouldn’t float indefinitely in limbo. Don’t just pan out and leave the characters standing there. Give it an ending, even if it diverges from the source material. I shouldn’t have to be forced to seek out other media to get my closure.

Though I guess you could argue that there are such things as unconventional endings that are meant to fuck up your head anyway. There are stories that just end abruptly, and nobody knows what happens next, not even the storyteller. Does this mean the story that came before it is bad? Does this mean that the story shouldn’t have been told in the first place?

I was educated in a Western mindset where I expect stories to end “happily ever after” or if not, then it was probably a moral tale advising me against certain bad behaviors. I expect all loose ends to be tied, and for every small detail to be accounted for. In watching anime (and Japanese films) over so many years, I’ve noticed that the concept of the fully-accounted happy ending isn’t a common practice. Some anime end with the hero dying, some end without addressing the main conflict brought up in the first episode, some don’t show you if anybody survives in the end. In instances such as these, I think a wise anime fan would adapt to these circumstances. Is the ending always the goal, the measure of success? Not really. As the cliche goes, it’s the journey that matters.

Of the three, I liked Tari Tari’s finale the most. I knew that the events were leading up to their eventual parting, so I felt that I just had to enjoy their time together, with them, as much as possible. I knew that the urgency to form the club, to participate in the festival, and to perform for the festival came from their collective desire to be together, to make their last few months special — even if this wasn’t their conscious decision at the beginning. When the ending came along, like them, I felt I was ready and I was happy to see what the future had in store.

With Natsuyuki Rendezvous, I actually thought that the ending was great. I had more of a problem with the middle. I felt that Hazuki and Rokka were just getting to know one another, so it took a great leap of faith for me to believe that Rokka was already in love with Hazuki when she realized that Atsushi had taken over his body for all that time. For Hazuki, I could accept how his feelings have been stewing for her even before they met formally, but I really wished that we had more of a chance to hear what Rokka was thinking and feeling. This is an example of an anime where there were numerous points where I wasn’t satisfied with the journey, so I just wanted to get to the final boss and ending as quickly as possible.

With all types of fiction, for every satisfied watcher, there will be the one (or many) who wasn’t okay with how things turned out. As a student, I always found that one of the most interesting aspects of discussing literature — we all watched or read the same work, why are our reactions to it so different? Many times, our reactions come out of better stories than the original pieces themselves. And for me, that’s a great reason to keep blogging
and writing; out of these animated stories that we all watch, our own stories come out as a result, ad infinitum.

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7 thoughts on “The Art of the Ending

  1. I am also glad that Natsuyuki got a proper ending, but I can’t help but think that it could’ve been better if they had at least shown Rokka to be a stronger character in the end or if, like you said, we had some access to her internal monologue. Since they’d already ventured off into fantasy territory why couldn’t they magic a link to Rokka’s subconsious and actually tie it out that way with Hazuki returning to the real world and Rokka making a conscious decision to step out of the garden? I went on a bit about my disappointment over at SeaSlugs, and while years spent watching anime have tempered my expecations I just thought there was so much untouched potential when we finally got to the end of the story.

    I don’t have any complaints about Tari Tari though, that one ended happily even if it’s still open.

    And as for MAL maintenance… I stopped moving series to “on hold” when it wouldn’t keep my original start date after being moved to on hold and then back to “watching.” Maybe the behavior isn’t the same anymore, but that’s why my currently watching list is so unkempt….

    • I was actually just reading your post on SeaSlugs and I understood what you were saying about Rokka abdicating responsibility on her own life and sort of leaving it up to the men to make her decision for her.

      I don’t think they’ve fixed that flaw in MAL, to be honest. But I just look at the list and just see SHAME all over it. If I know I’m never going to watch a show again, I’d rather move it to dropped…and yet I find I still have all these shows that I want to continue eventually so what better time than now.

      • SHAME

        That seriously cracked me up. Though I do intend to eventually finish all of the shows in my watching list, I suppose that keeping them in watching doesn’t hold much purpose if some of them are about to celebrate 4 or even 5 year anniversaries….

  2. On the contrary, I am of the opinion that the ending is one of the most important parts of a narrative. Though not in the same way you describe the Western view (which to me is actually the American one). I don’t expect everything to be “neatly tied up” and I don’t view the happy ending as a standard you don’t change without a good reason. I merely expect an ending to have thematic resonance with the rest of the work. I don’t mind ambiguousness or whatchacallit “bad endings” as long as it serves to reinforce the message you see throughout. This probably stems from the fact that modern European storytelling tends to be more introspective and relativist than in America.

    As of the way anime handles endings, or rather the non-endings you talk about, most of the problems come from not knowing how to end your story. Sometimes it’s an attempt at a sequel hook, but even those take care of business before setting you up, so what’s up with that? Other times it’s plain bad writing. And that’s regrettable.

    • You’re right — I -did- mean American instead of Western. I was thinking that most non-American media don’t stress the need for a happy ending in their respective narratives, but I didn’t know how to bring that into the post, so thanks!

  3. I agree with you in part about the “don’t need to read the manga” bit, but sometimes the forced ending are just plain bad and I do think a more unfinished ending would be better. The Claymore anime ending is such an instance where the ending tied everything together, but it just didn’t quite fit with the story.

    I’m pretty particular about endings too. I mean, I don’t expect neatly tied up endings all the time. I’ve loved some very loose endings that don’t answer everything (Olimpus manga), but to me it always has to fit with how the story was set up and the goal/theme. For example, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle’s ending didn’t leave me satisfied because the manga introduced a bunch of things at the end that weren’t explained (and some which I hold didn’t quite make sense). I really dislike when a writer does that. The ending also felt disconnected from the rest of the series for reasons that are spoilers. Did it make me hate the series as a whole? No, but it did lessen my enjoyment. Another major pet peeve of mine is endings that make no sense. Saikano’s ending just drove me up the wall for this reason. I don’t think I expect too much from endings since I don’t recall being annoyed by too many endings. Like I loved Princess Tutu’s ending, even though it didn’t answer everything and was very bitter sweet. Loved Escaflowne’s ending even though we didn’t get a happily ever after. I guess I just want the endings to fit within the logic of the story, not to be so absurd they break my suspension of disbelief, or introduce seemingly important plot points that are never answered. Just my two cents~

    • I’m glad that you brought up how the ending may not have been a dealbreaker for you, but it did lessen the overall enjoyment of the work for you.

      I’ve noticed, with all of the anime series that have been ending this past few weeks, it seems that most of the posts that I’ve been reading focus merely on the last episode and using that as the yardstick to measure whether the anime is good or not. Then I would read back to a few weeks’ worth of posts, and sometimes the same writer is all over gushing about the series… and that’s what prompted me about to write this post.

      I agree with you and Stef both that endings don’t have to answer everything, but as long as it resonates with the rest of the series, it’s fine. Some series just are victims of poor writing and poor time management — like the creators didn’t realize they only had two more eps to wrap everything up so they just pack everything last minute just to have a semblance of a conclusion.

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