The Gainax Ending

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.”

10 thoughts on “The Gainax Ending

  1. What happened with Mahoromatic is that they outran the manga. The second series starts to go wrong just about the point where the directors started writing their own story instead of relying on the mangaka.

    The Manga has been translated into English now, and I’m probably going to pick it up at some point. But I’ve been told how it ends, and it’s entirely different, and a lot better.

  2. If I hadn’t been pre-warned by Steven, I’d probably have ripped my eyes from my face rather than risk ever seeing the last two episodes of Evangelion again. I’ve had little desire to pick up the OVA’s with the re-written ending, and I’m indifferent to the new movies. Yes, it was _that_ bad.

  3. I have to admit, I do wonder what goes through the minds of those developers/writers. I mean, you have a story that’s moving along, then you put that ending on it? I mean, WTF. Did they *really* think people would like it?

  4. Oh, and I’ve read the ending of the Mahoromatic manga, and it’s still crap. Better than the anime ending, yes. But then, a root canal’s better than the Gainax ending too.

  5. Steven can probably see this coming, but I’d recommend EoE to those who haven’t seen it (rent, don’t buy, and skip the dub) yet. Trust me, despite being *somewhat* in common with 25/26 (it’s basically implied that they take place during Instrumentality, which is only shown in a “2001” sense for a few minutes during EoE, and they do make parts of EoE make (a little) more sense.

    But then, EoE also has the best fight scenes in the whole series, if you can stomach them.

    Don’t bother with D&R unless you’re a completist; it just recaps the series with a few additional hints and then plunges into the first part of EoE.

    Oddly, I notice that nobody has really mentioned FLCL… but perhaps, it was a Gainax Ending from the first ep onwards, so nobody took it seriously enough to get blindsided.

  6. hello. found this from wikipedia, felt inclined to comment.

    the eniding of evangelion (TV version) really wasn’t out of nowhere. it speaks to the spilling-over goodness of the series that you cared about all the giant robot stuff and political intrigue, but the stuff they go into (and yes, *tie up*) at the end is really what the entire series was about anyway. furthermore, it’s structurally inevitable; the beginning of the series is, more or less, a traditional narrative for giant robot shows (though there’s foreshadowing, such as the beginning of ep2 when the battle is about to start, shinji blinks, and suddenly we’re not seeing what we expected). as the series progresses, the narrative structure–like the relationships and psychologies of its characters, and ultimately the world itself–breaks down.

    if end of evangelion–which is excellent, and is also more or less the scripfted TV ending that gainax hadn’t money to make–were the TV ending, the structural whole of the series would not make as much sense, and in my opinion the entire series would have suffered for it.

    also, if you don’t care whether or not shinji (or other characters) learnes/chooses to accept other people and the pain/joy that brings or to reject people and live in his own pathetic world, i really don’t understand why you’d care about the series in the first place. i just don’t get what people who are dissatisfied with the ending wanted to happen…

    as for mahoromatic, you’re spot on, that ending sucked. it could have been interesting if it were 12 episodes longer or so, or it could have been 12 episodes of more suck. loved the series building up to it though.

  7. oh, as a follow up, i’m of course not criticizing you for *disliking* eps 25 and 26 of eva. i’m confused as to why anyone would like 1-24 but not 25-26, but at the same time i fully see why people would be put off by the ubiquitous damaged psychologies and the melodrama. that and just sometimes you don’t like a series for whatever reason. i’d never have any objection to that. i’m simply explaining why i think eva’s ending was neither a mistake, nor a drunken “eh screw it” brainstorm.

  8. Evan, thanks for your comments…I guess my main problem with Evangelion’s ending is that I really, really started to dislike Shinji after some of the choices he made, and found it very difficult to care about him. So in a sense, the series ended as a character story long before it got to the last two episodes.

    While I admire many of the concepts and ideas behind Evangelion, and I think it’s cetainly an important story that any serious anime fan should see, nonetheless I found it disappointing. I understand its appeal, though, and the wide-ranging impact of its ideas, and I’m happy that you got a lot more out of the show than I did. Thanks again for your comment.

  9. The ending to Evangelion bad? Odd, yeah. Confusing, yeah. But bad? Hell no. I still laugh when I think about it. Congratulations! Awesome ending.

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