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Revelations – Arguing the Absurd, Part 2

May 15, 2010

Many series work towards a major revelation. Facts are obscured not for the sake of letting is piece together the bigger picture. We’re denied information as a means to keep us tuned in. The creators expect us to keep watching so we eventually have that information revealed to us in an episode further down the line.

I don’t like this, since I find that said revelations usually reduce a fascinatingly ambiguous situation to something far more concrete and boring.

Umineko did just this, and the latest episode of Angel Beats (episode 7) is dangling on this edge as well.

Umineko’s another series that I’ve talked about a lot. Early on it reminded me of Dario Argento’s dream logic horror movies. It seemed to follow its own sense of “logic.” It was likely born out of a shoddy adaptation of the visual novel’s storyline, but that shoddiness actually led to something I found pretty awesome. It didn’t make sense by any conventional means, but it was consistent in its actions. Taken on its own terms, it made some sort of perverted sense.

The problem with Umineko is that after the third story arc, which concluded with an awesome bit where Beatrice “turns the board” on Battler after seemingly siding with him, they introduced one of the worst anime characters in history: Ange. What makes Ange suck is the fact that she starts to explain how things work. She finds a book that has spells and the like in it. We see her dealing with this stuff in the world outside of the island, using her magic and being picked on for being weird. At the same time she’ trying to find out what took place on the island that resulted in her entire family being murdered.

Everything that Ange does grounds the preceeding events in reality. Until then, the series had existed in its own little cosmos. It played by its own rules and had no connection to an equivalent of “reality.” Then Ange literally bursts out of nowhere and begins to give meaning to the proceedings. She gives Battler motivation beyond his absurd stubbornness. She explains how someone can become a witch, whereas before the world of witches was a strange and foreign prospect.

Ange gives the storyline rules that make sense in a conventional manner, and she single-handedly ruins much of what came before. Beatrice and the other witches no longer have the same mystique. Battler is no longer a man with bizarre motivations. Much has been explained, but in doing so much of the meaning and fascination behind the story has been stripped.

Ange made Umineko suck by robbing the storyline of its absurdity.

Angel Beats isn’t over yet, so there’s still time for it to right itself as far as this angle goes, but the latest episode pulled the same trick.

Until this episode, Otonashi has been an enigma. In a world where everyone is motivated by their apparently tragic/sudden/too-early demise, he has no idea how he died. He’s essentially a blank slate that’s forming his own meaning in the world. Rather than being angry at God for dying early and rebelling, he’s finding meaning in this strange world by forging his own path. He’s looking at the absurd rules of this world and accepts them as his new reality. He isn’t concerned about coping with his past and raging against the machine because of said past, he’s looking to the future and the friendships he’s forged.

Otonashi isn’t incomplete because of his lost memories. If anything, its something of a liberating trait, since he isn’t bogged down by preconceived notions. The problem is that the latest episode goes out of its way to unlock Otonashi’s past.

It’s bad enough that we get another “tragic” past spelled out to us in needless detail. By this point all of these sad stories are starting to lose their strength. It was pretty cool with the band leader told us her story and everything resolved for her. It was amusing when we saw the baseball dude give us his spiel and come close to “erasing,” only to have the candy-goth girl submission hold him back into “reality.” But other that, each revelation hasn’t really added to the storyline.

We didn’t need to see Yuri’s past. Does it really explain anything to us that her existential battle against god has a concrete reason? Isn’t that defeating the purpose of such an endeavor? Wouldn’t her hopeless struggle work better if there was no absolute motivation behind it? By giving her actions meaning, you’re taking away from the seemingly meaningless nature of her impotent fight.

The same goes with Otonashi. The whole point of his character was that he was a blank slate creating his own meaning in a world that doesn’t make any fucking sense. He was showing that you don’t need to be grounded in the live that came before in order to find meaning in this “afterlife.” It was because of his lack of angst and preconceived notions that their group was able to forge friendships with their former enemies in the student council. He was a character defined by his lack of memories, and the latest episode robbed him of his defining character trait.

He was robbed of his absurd nature and brought back down to the level of every other character in the series, and the only thing accomplished by this is making his character far less interesting.

But Angel Beats did make up for this (somewhat) with the awesomely ridiculous fishing scene. Angel and Nino need to face off on Bassmasters or something like that.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. A guy from /m/ permalink
    May 16, 2010 8:23 AM

    Angel Beats is starting to bore me with all the melodrama. It’s too manipulative for my taste, especially when it feels like a transparent endeavor to envoke the audience’s emotions. I’m not going to buy it when it’s done to the point of redundancy.

    Not to mention it leaves less room for plot progression, which is something I would like to see now that we got more familiar with a good deal of the cast.

  2. Landon permalink
    May 16, 2010 5:45 PM

    I’m still up in the air as to whether we’re supposed to be taking a lot of these tragic stories seriously, since they seem to be deliberately hitting certain buttons and doing so with the melodrama ramped up to camp-levels, but the repetition is getting pretty annoying. Whether it’s deliberately melodramatic or simply trying too hard to turn us into weepy Lifetime movie watchers, it’s getting a little old.

    Still, there’s been enough good stuff outside of that to keep me interested.

  3. May 17, 2010 10:34 AM

    I think the true revelation was the other Tenshi. I expected Otonashi’s backstory to be resolved somewhere along the way to climax, I just didn’t expect they’d have so little buildup into it — a scene that attempts to be melodramatic kinda lost its impact because it came at us so suddenly and casually.

  4. May 17, 2010 11:52 PM

    I was disappointed that the new student council prez joined the SSS. Otonashi’s story was not extremely impressive. There was even something contrived about bad Tenshi: did she really have to climb up on a roof and look down on them?

    I agree, the fishing expedition was the best part. I know just what you mean about being “robbed of the absurd”. I think this show is at its best when it is wacky and not making much sense.

  5. Landon permalink
    May 18, 2010 10:33 PM

    I have a theory about Nega-Tenshi. Won’t say anything JUST yet. Might do a post about it before the next episode airs. I’ll just say that I don’t think her appearance is as sudden and out of place as we might think.

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