I haven’t been an avid fan of anime for a very long time in comparison to the community I joined at the time of first getting into this medium. The very first anime I watched as it aired was Date A Live, falling in love with the medium through shows like Death Note, Clannad, and Soul Eater. In this time of getting used to watching anime as it aired and developing the preferences I have now, even adopting habits like legal streaming and supporting fan artists, a certain studio released the (then) so-called “savoir of anime”, Kill la Kill. The show, at least from my perspective at the time, was incredibly divisive with those who loved it seeing it as a fun show to turn your brain off for and those who hated it pointing out the same positive as a flaw — you had to turn off your brain to have fun with Kill la Kill.
So, having not seen it when it aired and only observing the fighting matches between the people I followed and having no experience with the studio behind it, I watched the show a handful of months after it aired to see what camp I’d fall into. While watching it, I tried my absolute best to find something I’d like about it, pointing out the positives to myself whenever I could, but in the end I heavily disliked Kill la Kill. As time passed and as I grew apart from the community I first started watching anime with, I watched other things the studio produced such as Sex & Violence with Machspeed and Inferno Cop and without noticing, began to see Trigger in the same light I saw studios like Gonzo when I first started watching anime.
While I’ve also loved shows from Trigger — Little Witch Academia being a huge highlight from them in my book — when looking at everything else they’ve produced, I can pretty safely say that they’re one of my least favourite studios. However, that dislike isn’t as black and white as me just thinking Trigger is a bad studio that’s made a grand total of one phenomenal show in the six years they’ve been around, since every time I see a still from one of their shows or a clip of particularly outstanding animation from something they’ve made I get roped in again. Instead, I see Trigger as an absolutely amazing studio that just so happens to make really, really bad shows.
Since Trigger formed back in 2011, they’ve produced fourteen shows including the now airing DARLING in the FRANXX in collaboration with A-1 Pictures. Across all fourteen of those shows, they’ve managed to make each and every one as visually appealing as possible within the constraints of visual consistency. I’d go as far as saying they have some of the best animators and visual talent working for them second only to ufotable. It’s that extremely talented staff of character designers, key animators, animation directors, and colour directors that actually get me to watch their shows in the first place despite knowing there’s an overwhelming chance that I’m going to dislike them.
If all of Trigger’s shows were nothing but visual masterpieces sans all story or plot whatsoever, I’d probably even like them. Even in disliking Kill la Kill, I can’t deny that when the characters stopped talking and the plot stopped being the reasons things were happening, the show was stunning to watch. Despite the only exception to this statement being the aforementioned Inferno Cop, the unfortunate truth is their shows do have plots and their shows do have characters that talk, and for some reason this studio cannot write an engaging story to save their lives.
This isn’t to say that anime must have a plot to be good, and in some cases a horribly un-engaging story doesn’t even subtract from a show enough for it to become horrible. Trigger just manages to somehow take all of the higher ups that worked on one of Gainax’s most loved productions, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and get them to create some of the worst plots in anime I’ve seen. While the most common complaint towards Kill la Kill was that it pushed your suspension of disbelief to such a limit that you had to ignore story flaws to enjoy it, the biggest problem I saw with it was that it didn’t know what it wanted to be.
Rather than being a story that was engaging, or at least coherent, that was made much more interesting through what Trigger is best at, Kill la Kill and by extension what most Trigger shows feel like were instead a canvas to put everything Trigger was best at onto. The problem comes when the show in question keeps pushing it’s narrative as important and something the audience should care about. While they aren’t wrong, as the shows might be even more confusing if explanations as to why a specific really eye catching animation sequence was happening weren’t there, putting their least attractive feature in a spotlight makes it tremendously difficult to enjoy what they make.
Even in Space Patrol Luluco, the plot behind the absurdity was incredibly unappealing by putting too much explanation behind the sheer insanity it was presenting — the show’s best episodes were parodies of Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia, and Sex & Violence with Machspeed. Luluco shows that Trigger knows how to make absurdity amusing by taking any excuse to make fun of themselves, so why they put too much reason behind the absurdity is beyond me. Trigger feels like a kid who tells fake stories constantly, and begins each story in a fairly believable and interesting way but then takes the lead they earned and runs with it instead of delicately making sure that lead remains in that safe spot of fairly believable.
“A girl searches for her father’s murderer — wielding the other half of the weapon the murderer used, she enrolls in a highly prestigious school as the only lead she has for her search” is one of those fairly believable and interesting introductions. It’s an introduction that isn’t too original, but an interesting play of a cliché. As the story goes on, this interesting introduction slowly becomes hazier and as more is revealed about the world and the more out of proportion the story gets, the more that interest fades and the more confusing the plots get. In that same story, the school said girl enrolls in has a student army that fights against other schools, clothes are evil, there’s a secret resistance of nudists, the aforementioned murderer shows up halfway through the story, the main character both joins the side of the main antagonist then betrays them less than three episodes later, and the production changes main antagonists at least three times within the span of twenty-four episodes.
What starts off as an interesting pitch I’d be genuinely interested in given any other situation turns into a horribly convoluted mess that becomes more confusing the harder it tries to get the audience to connect the dots. That kid telling the fake story keeps urging “No, listen guys, it makes sense just wait” and at the end you have an overwhelming number of questions in comparison to the ones the initial pitch handed you. This isn’t exclusive to Kill la Kill either, as most of the other shows I’ve seen from Trigger also have this horrible fault. I refuse to ignore my suspension of disbelief for Trigger’s shows, even if that would make the show enjoyable, because Trigger’s shows haven’t earned that. Each show puts an overabundance of reason behind why X plot point is happening but then tells me to not think about it.
Then along comes Little Witch Academia. The reason behind our world is magic and most of the shenanigans takes place in a world where the existence of said magic is widely accepted, so no need to develop a new suspension of disbelief — my dumb brain already understands what magic is and is perfectly okay with it working in this world. As the plot goes on and the shows says “Hey look at this wacky thing” but then follows that up with “Because magic”, the entire time it’s believable. The show doesn’t focus too much on everything making sense because the presumed notion that everyone understands magic prevents it from doing so. Even when the modern magic professor gets introduced it isn’t a problem because “magic” is tacked on to the end and it works fine.
Add this absence of testing the audience’s suspension of disbelief to a plot that never gets convoluted and instead remains lighthearted fun, and you get the best thing Trigger has ever made if not the only good thing Trigger has ever made. This was a Trigger show that earned me shrugging off a random mech battle because everything up until that point made sense, it gave me a perfect window into the world it was creating, and it stuck to the initial conflict and most basic rules it set out for itself until the very end.
While it may be a little harsh to put Trigger as low as one of my least favourite studios, every time they completely blow up an interesting premise to the point where it’s no longer controllable, they create an instance of something interesting that they handled correctly. I want Trigger to be better because when they’re good they’re so much more than just good. I’m not saying I want every show they make to be a PG motivational fantasy anime, I just want them to handle the premise they introduce their shows with in a way that consistently reflects what they’re capable of. Trigger is as low as it is in my book because they have the collective talent to be one of my favourites. They just have to earn it.
Thank you so much for reading this week’s editorial! I’m honestly surprised I haven’t talked about this before, since this is one of my more unpopular opinions I find pretty easy to rant about, so it wouldn’t take much effort to put those rants into a readable format. If you have any thoughts on this topic, feel free to leave them as a comment below, I love reading everything people have to say on these posts. Additionally, if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter. I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by Inoue Kishiro and is promotional material for Studio Trigger