Talking Episodes: Are They Really Just Boring Exposition?Posted: February 17, 2012
Hmm… been a while since I’ve written an editorial. This should be fun. I always get the most interesting responses when I do them, which makes for pretty good incentive to write them.
Sorry this is coming out later than I originally planned, but I did a little more digging for info than I expected. I think the post should benefit from it, though, so I think it was worth it.
Also, tonight will suck. I want to get a lot of sleep to make up for how little I got this week, but I need to get up early so I can do homework that’s online before the due date. Have I mentioned enough times how much I hate Calc II?
Alright, alright, I’ll get on with the show now.
Something that I’ve noticed that is a lot more prominent in the anime fanbase than most other fanbases is the disdain towards “talking episodes”, or sometimes even dialogue in general. Seeing how there’s tons of dialogue in live-action shows and movies (foreign or not), I’m kind of confused about this mindset. Currently, I’ve chalked it up to the fact that anime has the advantage of… well, being animated. It has much more control over its presentation than live-action. Actually, maybe that’s not too accurate, I guess it’s better to say that it’s much easier to control its presentation.
Yes, I understand the concept of “show, don’t tell”, but the problem is that there’s only so much you can do with that method. Whether you like it or not, dialogue is going to be needed. After all, while seeing things can tell you quite a bit about a character or plot, you won’t truly understand either until you hear the characters speak, see what’s going on their head, or hear about the plot from their own mouths or heads. Dialogue can be used to develop characters, lead to conflicts between characters, foreshadow plot points, all kinds of important devices that a story needs. Every single piece of dialogue can tell you more about a character: how they think, how they respond to people or events, etc. “Show, don’t tell” just can’t cover it all.
For example, Eden of the East didn’t get that at all. While there’s a possibility that the reasoning is due to what’s being said itself, I think the main reason is simply because the show was presented right off the bat as a very character-driven show. Shows like these tend to dodge the complaints, which are mainly seen in genres such as: slice of life, romance/romantic comedy, comedy, and mystery, which Eden of the East also somewhat counts as being in.
In fact, if there was any genre to pinpoint as being vulnerable to the complaint of “talking episodes”, it’d be action, and maybe adventure to a degree. For this bit, lets use Fate/Zero as the guinea pig.
I’ll admit, Fate/Zero did dodge the arguments decently well, but they still cropped up nonetheless. The times I actually noticed people saying it the most was when episodes featured characters that weren’t people’s favorites. Fair enough, you’re always excited to see your favorite characters on screen, even if they do nothing but talk. But how are you supposed to like more characters if you don’t let them talk? Seeing what they do only tells you part of the story. What about characters that can do certain things, but have a desire to do more? You wouldn’t know they had this mindset without having them talk.
However, delving even further into the cause of the arguments, there’s one thing that shows can do that is almost 100% guaranteed to get people to fling out this argument: talking during fights.
People don’t like it when people talk about the fights, they’d rather see it themselves. I mean, what’s the point in having characters talk about the moves they’re going to pull off? Since they just do it right after, all it’s doing is wasting time, right? What’s the point?
Why, I’m glad I asked! Allow me to explain.
You see, while seeing people fight is all nice and dandy, I find it far more interesting when characters talk about their fights, and even their moves. Why? Because then I know exactly what each one is thinking, and how they’re approaching the battle. Seeing nothing but fight choreography is just eye-candy until a winner is decided. With characters talking about the fight, we know what they’re going to do, get further details about why they’re going to do them (which you could even take as psychoanalysis about their character: are they aggressive, defensive, passive, etc.), and something I consider to be most important, we also figure out why a character wins or losses. If a character wins, we know what type of strategy it took to get them a victory, and if they lose, we know exactly what went wrong.
Perhaps just fighting could tell you some of this, such as whether the fighting style is aggressive, defensive, passive, etc., but they have to make it much more obvious. Not to mention, we may not know why a character fought that way. If a character has something up their sleeve, or is actually out of tricks and is just trying not to die, you’d never be able to know without being told, because these actions could be easily misinterpreted as meaning something else. It’s one thing to say that an evil character fights aggressively because they’re evil, and something completely different to say the same evil character actually fights aggressively because they suck at dodging, or they have some kind of power-up that runs out after a certain amount of time, or because they actually know (or were misinformed?) that the enemy’s defensive capability is weak. I can’t be the only that thinks those possibilities are all far more interesting than the first one.
Enough about Fate/Zero, though. Lets move on to another topic. I’m going to solidify my defense for “talking episodes” by doing something unimaginable. Something that may not have ever been attempted before. I shall do the impossible.
I shall defend the first half of the second season of Shakugan no Shana.
There was such a massive backlash for this season due to its first half. People wanted fights, not this romance and dialogue-heavy bullshit. However, I am among the vast minority that enjoyed the entire season, and even see the first half as being just as important as any other part of Shana.
For my arguments, I’m even going to completely abandon the privilege of using the “it’s funny” card. After all, not everyone thinks the same things are funny, and I can defend the importance of the episodes and dialogue without having to use it anyways.
Within the first seven episodes of Shakugan no Shana Second, the dialogue developed and told us about the characters and plot in the following ways:
- Introduced the plot point of the Midnight Child/Reiji Meigo’s Keeper, which foreshadowed Pheles’ appearance, among other things.
- Yuuji now contained as much power as a Crimson Lord/King of Guze, which not only told us of his combat capabilites, but foreshadowed plot points even as far as the final season.
- Developed Wilhelmina’s character and relationship with Shana through her struggle to be seen as more of a parental figure to Shana (Shana choosing to learn to cook from other people).
- Characters (mainly Yuuji and Shana, with a bit of Kazumi) having their values being developed and finalized for not only this season, but also the final one.
- Shana struggling to understand and come to terms with her feelings (be less tsundere) for Yuuji more than ever due to Fumina Konoe’s appearance.
- The characters (Shana and Yoshida, mainly), coming to like and befriend Fumina Konoe (study group episode), setting up for the events that happen in the second half of the season.
- Ogata and Tanaka’s relationship developing, which leads to them getting together, and the big scene that causes Tanaka to leave Satou and Margery.
- Theme park episode showed each character’s personality more when they were in a relaxed setting (Shana fearlessly bungee jumping, half the characters enjoying a kiddy car ride, etc.)
- Satou learns more about how the Flame Haze work, and later on decides to join Outlaw due to being jealous of Yuuji, and growing feelings for Margery.
And that’s only taking in account the first seven episodes! I’m assuming that’s where the hatred over the first half of the show stopped, because Margery’s past was after that, along with more plot reveals. If the dislike really did expand to literally half the show, then you can add to the list Margery’s past, about her decision of what she did at the very end of her story (good luck deciphering why she did that without her explaining why; plus, hearing her say it herself makes you understand it’s not something she’s proud of at all, and may even regret having done it).
Honestly, I just scratched the surface with that list, too. I skimmed the episodes to get that list, so if I genuinely watched them, I bet there’s a ton of points that could be added to the list. As I said, any piece of dialogue can develop a character, foreshadow a future plot point, make you understand how a character thinks, see their thoughts towards other characters, etc. There’s just so much that dialogue can tell you that I feel people just wave off far too easily.
In fact, briefly jumping into the final season of Shana for a moment (don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything), there was an episode early on that was mistaken by a huge chunk of people to be a recap episode, when in actuality, it was an episode meant to give closure to a character. This is why dialogue is so important, if anything so you can understand what you’re being shown.
Now, before I start being labeled as the guy who’d rather read a show than watch it, dialogue does not always work. There are instances where dialogue actually doesn’t do anything for the plot or characters. Or perhaps it does, but then completely contradicts itself later on, or is just an illogical mess *cough*Guilty Crown*cough*.
I’m pretty sure that to this day, Lucky Star is the only show I dropped after a single episode. Which I suppose will both earn me praise, and contempt. The division of opinion on this show is absolutely insane, but that’s a topic for another day (no it isn’t I hope I never have to talk about this show ever again).
Why did I hate it? Why won’t I defend the dialogue? Well, I’ll tell you exactly what scene made me want to punch staples into my fingers rather than watch the show.
The very first episode has this nice little scene where the characters sit down to eat. Now, Konata picks up a scone (I think it was, my memory is hazy), and proceeds to talk about ways to eat it. I was cool with this at first, although a bit odd, ways of eating food can tell you more about a character.
And she explained. And she explained. And she kept explaining. And she continued to explain. And I checked my watch. And she was still explaining.
And then half the episode had passed.
This is a perfect example of dialogue overload. While dialogue is helpful in telling you things about the characters and plot, there’s a limit. If you overdo it… well, you do a Lucky Star. If the dialogue goes too fast, it’s either confusing or can be pointless, and if it goes too long about one thing, you’re going to bore the hell out of (most) people.
So what’s my overall point? Well, I’ve said it a few times, but dialogue is far more important than people give it credit for. A single piece of dialogue, the way a character says something, can tell you so much about them. Though as I said before with the closure episode in the final season of Shana, even though I consider dialogue to be so important since it can help you understand what you’re being shown, that means the best shows are ones that have dialogue and “show, don’t tell” working in perfect harmony. Neither is better than the other, they’re both just as vital.