Talking Episodes: Are They Really Just Boring Exposition?

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.

Now, the negative feelings towards dialogue-heavy episodes and scenes aren’t a surefire thing, as there are exceptions. Quite a few, in fact, and they’re mainly due to genre.wallpaper1

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.snap1

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.

*incredulous gasp*snap2

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*.

In fact, there’s one show in particular that I despised that was dialogue heavy.snap3

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.

9 Comments on “Talking Episodes: Are They Really Just Boring Exposition?”

  1. TWWK says:

    I won’t comment on Shakugan no Shana, since I haven’t seen it. As for Fate/Zero, I really enjoyed the dialogue-heavy episodes because there’s SO MUCH TO BE SAID. The dialogue was interesting and had a point. That said, I found these episodes just a tad bit boring, which I thinks speaks more about my ADD mind than of the show itself, which was excellent.

    For fight scenes, I agree that some speaking is necessary. All fights become essentially the same without these explanations. Butttt…I generally prefer internal dialogue to talking b/w characters, which feels more superficial. I can stand flashbacks as well, but again, only so much – unless the flashback is new material and/or meaningful.

    It goes without saying that grunts and repetitive stuff (Dragonball Z) is really annoying.

    And I’m with you on Lucky Star – I dropped it right after the infamous scone scene. Observation can be funny, even inane, LONG observation on a trivial subject…but that scene just wasn’t.

    • Riyoga says:

      “As for Fate/Zero, I really enjoyed the dialogue-heavy episodes because there’s SO MUCH TO BE SAID.”

      I think I just have this mindset towards every show. Dialogue can never stop telling you about characters and the plot, so I never get tired of it. Unless it says the same thing for far too long, as I said.
      Also, it goes without saying that I recommend watching Shana. Honestly it seems like it’s a coin-toss for whether people end up liking it or not, but the ones that do almost always end up thanking me for suggesting it.

      I get where you’re coming from with internal monologue making more sense, and I guess I agree, but I’m not opposed to straight-up talking either. Being someone that talks to myself on a regular basis, for some reason it’s just easier to analyze things when said out loud.
      As for the flashbacks, agreed on that it needs to be new or meaningful. Such as when trying to analyze the opponents fighting style, or something along those lines.

      Well yeah, DBZ had grunting and yelling for like three episodes straight while characters powered up. That’s taking padding to a whole new level. But I saw it when I was much younger, and thought it was all just so badass, that it now has the nostalgia filter to defend it. Doesn’t excuse it, but still.

      Lucky Star was the closest I ever got to actually being emotionally scarred by an anime. That scene was dreadful.

  2. Marina says:

    I’m sad that you dropped Lucky Star, as much as I agree with your complaint about the first scene in the opening episode. That’s actually my least favorite episode in the entire season. “It gets better, I swear!” :p I would have given up on that anime at that point; however, it was a loan from a friend whose opinion I greatly cherished, and so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and continued on to the next episode. Lucky Star quickly became one of my favorites at that time, which was a very early time for me since I had just been introduced to the medium.

    I agree for the most part about your support of dialogue. I found the dialogue in Fate/Zero extremely pertinent to understanding the characters and their motivations. I remember Scamp railing on about the scene where Kotomine Kirei is circled by Kayneth (I think?) and Tokiomi. A whole bunch of dialogue is thrown down while the two just walk and walk and walk around a very still Kirei. A lot of people found this scene pointless, but then, I think they just overlooked the symbolism of the players involved, and who moved and who kept still.

    Another anime that fits into both dialogue and fight scenes is Katanagatari. Its dialogue actually made fun of a lot of the common tropes in fighting anime like Bleach. The talks were both comical and informed. This is one of the few anime that I think succeeded in combining the two. I usually think dialogue and fighting do not work together because the producers just take it TOO far. I can understand doing it for the beginning of the fight, or once or twice at a different spot, but not through the entire thing. I also hate it when the dialogue permeates the fight for a character we’ve seen fight over and over again. Sure, the motivations and intent may differ from fight to fight, but too often the thought process is exactly the same. If I were the opponent, I’d run up and stab him in the middle of his breathless exposition and win the fight early.

    • Riyoga says:

      I’ve heard from plenty of people that Lucky Star gets better, but every time I think of the show that bloody scone scene comes to mind and I feel like I’d rather watch paint dry. At least that would have development.

      I think more people than just Scamp didn’t like all of the talking in the first episode. Obviously, that’s not something I understand, because most are points that will/have been brought up again, or just helped you understand the characters more. Though I’m tempted to give people leeway, because it was the length of two episodes. That’s a lot of dialogue to sit through in one go.

      I haven’t watched Katanagatari, so I can’t say anything about that. As for dialogue during fights for characters we’ve already seen, that’s another example of dialogue gone wrong. Maybe I came off as too supportive in the post, but it’s incredibly easy to botch up dialogue. Hearing the same things each fight from the same characters is an example of that, though the problem may extend even as far as to the plot or script itself.

      • I for one, enjoyed the hell out of Katanagatari. I’ve read some reviews in which I felt the writer was a little bewildered by the show. But I thought it was at the least, a very different approach and one that is worth serious anime fan’s time.

  3. Ah, this is another subject on which we’re in agreement. You already went into great detail with examples about why dialogue is so necessary; I’m going to give dialogue some context in relation to other anime and also what I enjoy about exposition as a fan. However, the most important point was the last one you made, in that a truly complete series is one that harmoniously combines both dialogue and healthy doses of action, examples being Berserk, Baccano or FMA: Brotherhood.

    Anyway, without one, the other cannot stand.

    When you supplement dialogue with action, it gives those words weight, puts a theory into practice or helps move the story along. When combining action with dialogue, it assigns those actions meaning and gives the viewer insight into the characters and the world in which they live.

    Another important element to consider, is which genre or demographic an anime is placed in. I could make a case for necessary exposition in fighting but you’ve already done that. So therefore, we can turn our examination towards long-running shounen anime, which of course, will usually be rife with pointless talking because most viewers have 1) already been immersed in the world of the show and/or 2) don’t need to have every little thing explained to them. We just came for the fight scenes damnit! An important exception is a series like Gintama which marries great humor and satire with it’s shounen action parts where other shows just fall flat with the stale, never-ending running jokes.

    Putting aside what I”m sure is a valid perspective from Marina, I have never felt the need to begin Lucky Star and you have reaffirmed that assumption, so thank you. Plus, why watch that when you can watch Azumanga Daioh or Genshiken, which are still relevant, even in today’s amnesiac world.

    On the other end of the genre spectrum are shows in which dialogue is the most appropriate means to convey what’s going on in the story. Shows like these are ones I gravitate towards the most. Not shows where activity is absent mind you, but ones where dialogue or exposition takes precedent over most other aspects of a story. Ones in which the conversation and interaction between characters is the lifeblood of a narrative. I oftentimes find that discourse to be crucial in my enjoyment of anime. House of Five Leaves, Haibane Renmei, Bakemonogatari, Tatami Galaxy or Denno Coil being great examples. Let’s be frank, viewers would have no idea how to follow a these stories unless the characters gave out lengthy spells of talking.

    Which leads me to my last observation and that is that when there are long amounts of exposition, for most viewers that unfortunately means long amounts of reading and that surely has some affect on someone’s attention and tolerance. It personally doesn’t affect me in the slightest but I feel most people watch anime for the fight scenes (Bleach or Naruto) or it’s artistic quality (think Imaishi or Shinkai). I of course love great designs, animation and music like any anime fan, but exposition from a single character or exchanges between multiple characters are what I relish the most as a fan.

    • Riyoga says:

      Woah that’s a huge comment. I have taught you well… *tear*.

      Nice analysis, though. Needless to say, I completely agree with everything you said, and it compliments the post perfectly. It even has info that I didn’t cover myself. Hopefully everyone who reads the post also checks out this comment.

      But yes, Lucky Star killed my desire to watch it within one episode. It was genuinely that bad of an episode.
      Also, I still need to watch Azumanga Daioh because I’m a heathen who has yet to see quite a few classics.

      • Thanks. I had to match your post with a long-winded ramble of my own.

        Don’t worry, there are plenty of ‘classic’ shows I haven’t finished yet. I’m actually working on Great Teacher Onizuka right now.

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