One of the absolute cornerstones in all mediums of entertainment is the ability to manipulate how your audience feels emotionally. Action films that fill you with excitement, video games that reduce you to a being of complete fear, books that bring you to tears, paintings that put you in awe, easily one of the most important and interesting things about entertainment is this emotional control. It of course goes without saying that anime is no exception to this emotional control. However, from my experience this emotional control is at its most powerful with a specific emotion. While this powerful aspect isn’t unique to anime, several anime have made their way into popularity because of their appeal to this emotion.
The visual novel studio Key is a rather well known studio in the west. All of their projects to date, sans for their most recent endeavour and their upcoming novel planned for a 2018 release, have received anime adaptations and one of their founders worked on the 2015 anime, Charlotte. Key has received a reputation amidst their popularity of creating heart-wrenching stories and getting their audience to cry in all of their production — this easily carrying on into the anime adaptations of their works with few exceptions.
With this said, I noticed the trend I want to discuss today first in an adaptation of a Key production, Little Busters!. In 2013 the second season of the series, Little Busters!: Refrain, aired. While I liked the first Little Busters! anime a good bit, the second season was a bit lacking up until a specific sequence near the end that was extremely sad to me. Add this with them playing the first opening song as the ending theme to the last episode and I was left with an overall impression that the production was a lot better than it actually was.
Had I not caught what exactly changed my opinion so drastically at the end, I may even have a higher opinion of Little Busters!: Refrain today. In playing to my emotions, making me emotionally react to a scene by using characters I’ve grown invested in the well-being of, it temporarily seemed like an infinitely better production than it actually was for a moment. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Key’s works, as this is generally their shtick, but it’s most apparent when they miss their mark entirely.
Along with Little Busters!: Refrain, I wasn’t the largest fan of the anime adaptations of their productions Air and Rewrite. It was clear to me when it was trying tug on my heart and had they succeeded I’m sure I’d like those shows as much as everyone else with a positive opinion of them. While this is by no means a bad thing, these sad moments make a production seem better not because it was actually better, but because it was memorable.
I had recently finished Violet Evergarden both to finally see what seemed like a very interesting idea and to review it for this blog, and there was an episode towards the end that absolutely killed me. Without spoiling anything, by the time I had finished the episode I had to pause it twice to cry since it was getting too difficult to read subtitles and pay attention while I was pouring tears onto my pillow. The minute I woke up the next day I instantly thought of this episode. When I see screenshots from the sadder moments of that episode my heart stops for a split second. When I think about Violet Evergarden my first thought isn’t the more important scenes filled with plot progression and character development; instead it’s the episode that stuck in my head the most.
Now this is by no means saying that Violet Evergarden is bad or good, but it is to say that I remember that episode of Violet Evergarden before I remember anything else about the show. By this incredibly sad episode being the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Violet Evergarden I’m already paying the most attention to it, but in remembering how it moved me emotionally, that only adds bonus points to my immediate recalling of the quality of the production. After all, is something was capable of making me cry all night long then it has to be at least a little good, right?
This playing to your emotions for a singular moment of redemption isn’t unique to highly sad scenes, either. The old “first opening song as the last ending song” trick (or similar instances, such as using the second half of the song as an insert song in the last episode) used countless times throughout anime is another thing aimed at creating a sort of positive reinforcement behind your opinion of the production. If this well composed track carefully placed in this climactic scene gets you excited and makes you remember the very beginning of every episode not too long ago, it can get you to think the entire production was exciting.
This, of course, isn’t to say that productions that partake in these tricks are good or bad by default. Some of my favourite shows, such as Little Witch Academia doing the latter and AnoHana doing the former, try their hand at them and without those elements I do genuinely feel like the productions are still fairly respectable in their execution. What this is trying to do is point a spotlight on one of the most interesting aspects of not only anime, but entertainment. While I’m very doubtful that the absence of these tricks would negatively impact entertainment as a whole, I do feel like entertainment as a whole would at the very least be impacted in some way.
The reason entertainment as a whole resonates with anyone and is deeply important to anyone is because of things like these tricks. Every time You Say Run played in Boku no Hero Academia it was done to play to this emotional response. The inflection in characters’ voices in a movie, the choice of vocabulary in a novel, the mediums used in visual art, tempos and keys in music, every last decision in a production for entertainment is chosen with the objective to illicit a specific emotional response, large or not.
If that’s the case, if some of the moments entertainment as a whole are at their strongest is when they’re shooting for these emotional responses, then why doesn’t that one incredibly sad scene in Little Busters!: Refrain save it? By all means, the production is just doing what it’s supposed to do, and if by the end it successfully played all of the right cards to get an immediate positive reaction then what’s to say the production doesn’t deserve that positive memory? While it isn’t necessarily to say that Little Busters!: Refrain doesn’t deserve a positive memory, doing what you were supposed to do once or twice in a very spectacular or well placed way doesn’t mean that overall you did well.
Imagine a match in a game where both teams were neck and neck but only because one player was messing up drastically. It’s close to the end of the match and the teams are tied and right as the match ends, the player that was messing up the entire time scores and wins the match. While it’s great that this player did what they were supposed to do, especially when it mattered most, the fact that they messed up frequently enough to get their team into that position remains a fact.
This is the way I see the single expertly placed moment at the end of the production that Little Busters!: Refrain and several other shows have handed to me. This isn’t a bad thing, and in that moment of experience without looking back at everything else that had happened up until this point the production seems to have massively shaped up, but when you stop and actually look back at everything else to ask if the production was doing what it was supposed to, sometimes the answer is no. Playing to your emotions is a powerful tool, and sometimes a production does it so well that it changes your overall opinion of them. For better, or for worse.
Thank you so much for reading this week’s editorial! I don’t have much to say after the post this week. My Violet Evergarden review will be up next week, so I suppose that’s something to look forward to. If you have anything to add to this topic feel free to leave them in the comments, I promise I read each and every one, and 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. As always, I will see you all next week.