Steven Den Beste recently wrote about a new order he’d placed with the Anime Corner Store. The only series on his list I was familiar with was Petite Princess Yucie, which, like three of the five other series he was ordering, was from Gainax Studios.
I’ve seen four series produced by Gainax: Neon Genesis Evangelion, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, Mahoromatic, and Petite Princess Yucie.
So if you’ve made your way around the anime world, even slightly like I have, you’ve probably heard of Gainax. And if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of their contribution to terminology, specifically, the “Gainax Ending.” As near as I’ve been able to determine—having seen a grand total of four Gainax series, yes, thank you—it comes in two varieties. 1: What the Hell was that? 2: What the Hell was that?
The first ending happens when, close to the last minute, the stakes suddenly jump up in importance—not only are our heroes close to the goal, but instantly, the world might end if they don’t get it right. The goal is still the same, though. Yucie and This Ugly fall into this category.
In the second type, the ending comes out of nowhere. Everything that the series has built up gets thrown away and something totally new is put into place. (Imagine you were watching a show about how the Last Supper was painted, but the last episode, where you expect things to be woven into an explanatory web, turns out to be a musical tribute to hot dogs.) It’s a sudden and complete left-turn that answers none of the questions building up, but goes off in a direction no one cared about. At all. Evangelion and Mahoromatic are the culprits here.
How do the endings “work” in each case? Here are the ones I’ve seen, translated into baseball metaphors.
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion. Strike out with the based loaded. (Loss of big potential.)
2. This Ugly Yet Beautiful World. Bunt to first base. (Did what they set out to do, but had to scramble things to get there.)
3. Mahoromatic. Wild foul tip that shot into the stands and killed the Mayor. (Words fail me.)
4. Petite Princess Yucie. Nice hit to first base. (Did what they set out to do, while making it seem more important.)
As you can see, Ending Type One at least leaves a positive impression, even if it’s not much of one. Ending Type Two, though, undoes almost all the progress the series has made on its way to get there. When I think of Evangelion, I still think of the incredible concepts and creativity that went into its production; similarly, with Mahoromatic I think of the really terrific characters the makers gathered together. But I never want to see either one of them again, because of their endings.
As an aside, it’s funny to note that there are a number of other elements common to Gainax productions…kind of. Each (except This Ugly) has a really horrible, obnoxious character; each (except Yucie) has a drunken slut (though that’s unkind to Misato); each (except Evangelion) has a personable, non-human robot who comments wryly. There are varying degrees of fan service for each, from “None” (Yucie) up to “Lots” (Mahoromatic). It’s almost as if they have a menu of elements and decide to take all but one or two of them each time they set out to make a show, “that way no one can spot our pattern!”
The thing I wonder about, is why are the endings generally handled so badly? With This Ugly and Yucie, it’s not like they didn’t have time to work up to the big uber-threat (though at twelve episodes, This Ugly did need to budget the running time). Yucie, at twenty-six episodes, wandered around quite a bit before heading toward possible world-annihilation. A lot of Evangelion, to me at least, seemed like it could have been trimmed to make a more effective telling. (Shinji sure road the train a lot, didn’t he?) Mahoromatic also had a leisurely stroll during its run, but I’m actually grateful for that—if you skip the last DVD entirely, you can enjoy the show as an excellent character-based comedy.
With the Ending Type One shows, it looks like they were having fun with the characters until someone said, “Oh my gosh, we forgot about the end of the world!” That makes a certain amount of sense, though it speaks of poor planning. But the Ending Type Two shows? What the Hell was that?
Evangelion looks also like it ran out of time—I can imagine the following conversation:
Director: “Wow, this series is working great! Good thing we have forty episodes!”
Assistant: “Um, we only have twenty-six…”
Director: “We do? Oh no! I can’t tie up everything in two episodes! I’m not even going to try! Call the writers, and get me two cases of beer, and we’ll work out something!”
Later that evening: “Congratulations! Congratulations! Hic!”
But Mahoromatic is the real puzzle. It really was going great—and unlike Evangelion, it had likeable characters! I hate the sort of psychological speculation I’m about to indulge in, but really, it looked to me like someone very high up in the production staff had a really nasty divorce before the last few episodes were made. I can’t think of any other reason for the horrible slap-in-the-face ending they gave us.
All of that has made me leery of anything from the studio. I’ve said this elsewhere, but I’ll repeat it here anyway. For some, the big sticker proclaiming “From Studio Gainax!” may be a siren call to a series to buy, but for me, it’s basically the big red label, “Warning: Larks’ vomit.”