Editorials · Stray Thoughts

Riding the Tailwinds: Expectations and Anime Sequels

Obligatory Kei fan art. Couldn't find the original source, unfortunately.

At first, I was planning to do a review on Moyashimon: Returns, a sequel which garnered some rather polarizing opinions across the web for the stark difference in quality from the original, but I decided that would be much too boring to write about or even peruse. While I could outline how the show managed to struggle a bit in the first quarter and managed to pull off a miraculous, triumphant return, I decided that I couldn’t fill the void with enough interesting garble to call it a decent review. Though I could also perhaps scrap together the remains of my aborted blog scraplings on Moyashimon: Returns and tell you how I liked it but didn’t love it nearly as much as the first incarnation, that just wouldn’t be worth anyone’s time, whether it be mine or yours.

But luckily, in that short, failed stint at reviewing the admittedly lesser sequel to a much beloved series of mine, a far more interesting topic bubbled in my head. With the recent onslaught of additions to already established series, it’s become hard not to question what makes a good sequel to an anime. Seeing that the current Summer 2012 and the upcoming Fall season are littered with a whopping total of fifteen direct sequels, spin-offs, rebuilds, and soul successors between the two and after reading a fairly large amount of articles on Moyashimon’s and Eureka Seven’s continuations scattered over the blogosphere, I decided that I would rather use the opportunity as a springboard for a topic far more interesting to me: the roles and obligations that a sequel plays in a franchise’s continuity and what I look for when going into a sequel.

Damn sloth.

To be fairly blunt, I really couldn’t care less if the sequel to an anime lacks the same cast members, central focus, or even mood of the story’s predecessor. Although it’s blatantly clear that the continuation of a franchise needs at least some connection or link to tie the successor to the previously established franchise, I don’t see continuing a story which has already been given a clear ending as a necessity to making a good sequel, or much less, a soul successor. If a solid, definite ending has already been achieved and not let open, then I can hardly see the point in introducing more and more conflict, especially when the characters have already reached their highest level of development. Obeying the laws of the already provided universe and having a continued mythology to run off of are far more dire things than fumbling around with an already satisfying finished product. The most important factor is that a sequel – whether dependent on the origin or not – must be able to stand.

Right from the get-go, it’s obvious that a sequel, whether a spin-off or not, needs to pay at least some semblance of homage to the original product. While this is far easier to do in planned continuations or split-cours such as Fate/Zero and Mobile Suit Gundam 00 S2, the odd spin-off or soul successor type of anime such as Muv-Luv: Total Eclipse and Eureka Seven: AO has much more liberty when referencing the source material. However, while the two do remain loosely associated to the source material, as series which share a common namesake, they are at the required to share the same universe or mythos established in the prior installments. Though a continuation of the franchise does not necessarily need to be given  governed by the original, a connection to the world has to be established despite the cosmetic differences. If a sequel is to adapt the name of first model, then it has to at the very least prove that it has the right to take that title.

Despite this, an addition to an established anime franchise does not need to continue the legacy of the first set of main characters or the initial base conflict. Although I welcome this with open in arms in an anime like Moyashimon, which had its first season end on a fairly open note, if Eureka Seven: AO had been direct continuation of Renton’s and Eureka’s journey, I probably wouldn’t watch it. While I’m not nearly as enthusiastic towards the original Eureka Seven as some are (an opinion which is quickly changing thanks to [Adult Swim]’s decision to re-air the show), there would be nothing more of value to add-on. Everything which could have been said about the main characters has already been said and the Gekkostate’s journey was already completed. A senseless addition to an already completed story is often put into an odd position: when a sequel is added onto the continuity and says absolutely nothing of importance about the franchise, it flies outside of original’s wingspan and risks becoming, as much as I despise the term, a shameless example of franchise milking.

Regardless of a sequel’s ability to prove its connection to the series, it should at the very least contribute something to the franchise. Now this is where most sequels begin to fall apart, anime or otherwise, due to the lack of purposeful content being contributed. A direct continuation can give life to a new journey for the characters, a spin-off can further develop the anime’s universe, and a revision can breath life into the dated artwork of a classic while revamping the story’s structure. The primary purpose of an addition is not to extend, but to add. When a series completely fails to draw any purpose out from its claimed heritage, it starts to fail as a sequel.

Sequels can be allowed plenty of freedom when it comes to the story, but for fuck’s sake, they need to at least something, anything, to gratify the name of the world that’s been created. My biggest problem with Eureka Seven’s latest installment (and my biggest fear when approaching other sequels) is that it neither adds anything of value to the world at large nor gives the viewer a reason to care about what’s happening on the screen. While I do consider some of the series to be somewhat decent, the script lacks anything meaningful to contribute to the Eureka Seven title. Natsume Yuujichou, despite sometimes falling into the pitfall of repetition, always give more perspective and insight towards Natsume’s perception of humans and youkai while managing to tell a constant stream of entertaining stories. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood retold (unless you’re using the manga as the FMA series’ first reference point) a completely different story from the first animation that took on a far lighter mood complete with slightly different themes. And of course, Honey and Clover II, sporting a new, noticeably loomier change in atmosphere, brought the entire series full circle by completing each character’s journey towards their own lost loves, uncertainties, and fleeting feelings of helplessness. Whether a sequel chooses to deviate from the original’s winning formula or not is beyond my care, but there always has to be an addition of some at least some significance or worth to satisfy the namesake.

Perhaps one of the greatest displays of our time, Honey and Clover II stands at the forefront of all sequels.

Regardless of everything I’ve said before, a sequel should at the very least award the viewer’s loyalty to franchise by being a genuinely good series, whether dependent on the original or not. While one of the greatest strengths of being a sequel is that it comes from an already established name and reputation, I do not expect that it sticks to the classic formula of its predecessor at all times, like white on rice or gum stuck the bottom of my boot. Distancing an anime from its roots is not necessarily a bad thing since it calls for both innovation and, as the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya managed to achieve with flying colors, a great opportunity to view the whole story in an entirely different light.  Distance isn’t a detriment to an anime’s quality, and cetainly faithfulness and cameos aren’t a measure of caliber. Changing around the formula to a franchise is a bold opportunity, a flippant gamble, to turn a series completely on its head, for better or for worse.

What I do expect, however, is that the new incarnation takes advantage of the franchise’s name and manages to stand out as a title through good storytelling, comedy, fanservice or whatever the hell it wants to accomplish. As simplistic as this may sound, the greatest way to pay homage to the collective is to, well, be a pretty decent watch. If a show is to be apart of a well-received, reputable franchise, prove it through the quality of the show. Though living up to the expectations of a well-known predecessor is a daunting, completely unfair task to ask of a show, it’s something that must at least be acknowledged. The reputation of an anime’s heritage is important. A good follow-up can never take away from the franchise and contrapositively, something poorly made always will. If the sequel only brings nothing of importance or of notable worth to the franchise, then one thing is for certain: it’ll be counted among the countless and gloriously ignored “skip it’s” for years to come, pulled forth occasionally only by the rushing tailwind of its predecessor’s legacy.

Oh, and To-Love-Ru: Darkness actually got animated? Haha, fuck that shit!

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