Sunday, June 4, 2017

A shift in tone, a look at when this happens in anime.

Gabriel DropOut

When an Anime tone shifts…

So I watched the second OVA of Gabriel DropOut a week ago. It was released a week ago or so, so if you haven’t check it out, make sure you go and check it out. There was a problem though. That time, I went and watched Gabriel DropOut hoping for a good chunk of laugh, as it was a slice of life comedy show and a consistently good one at that, however upon finishing, I was not left with a good laugh. Instead, the tone shifts from that of a comedy situation into one that almost fall as a tragic ending. I cannot spoil the story but it was heavy and sad. 

The mood was heavy, the situation was very tragic, moreover I did not end with any laugh, but instead a good feel of satisfaction thanks to a good climax. Sure, it was good, but that was not the usual Gabriel DropOut that I know and love. The sudden mood shift within that particular OVA makes me almost perceive that what I was watching is not Gabriel DropOut.

It was business as usual for Gabriel and the others-

...Until the mood darkened.

That was pretty surprising though, but this is not the first time I encountered anime such as this. I’ve come to several anime, and manga as well, that shifts it’s tone so heavy that the story changes and revolves within it. The result, however, is not always what is predicted. It could fail, but it could also be successful.

Shifting tone is a gamble, a very big gamble. But one needs a better reasoning and a good theme for it, so that the shift does not surprise a lot. Take for example Gabriel DropOut, it doesn’t stray too far from it’s typical slice of life genre, but it just adds a dramatic spice to entice emotions from people watching it. It was a good example. Non Non Biyori tends to do things like this too, and since it was done perfectly, people can accept it. On the other hand, if the tone dramatically changes without any warning [Such as when a slice of life, not far from 2-4 episode and is turned into a mystery murder], people watching it won’t be able to comprehend what just happened and that will leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

It was surprising that the normally goofy Gabriel DropOut shifts tone into something heavy.

The prime example of this would be Sket Dance. Sket Dance spends several episode playing out this trope and not rarely it was panned out by people. The earliest instance when this happened was on the seventh episode, when the Sket Dan is trying to help out a guy confess to a girl who is about to move away. It does nothing and does not spice up any emotion or entice any feelings whatsoever and is a dramatic shift from a regularly comedic skits of Sket Dance. Many fans of the series, including myself, was a bit disappointed by how this turned out and how it did not deliver the emotion it wanted to trigger, and as a result, these one-shot dramatic moments were later turned down and even vanishes completely as the series progressed, up until the finale.

While all those one-shot moments of Sket Dance that tries too dramatic fails horribly, it does not when it tries to tell the backstory of the established characters, with Switch and Bossun’s flashback episode my favourite. All of it was partly because these characters have already been established and fans are eager to learn more about that particular character, such as how the Sket Dance is formed and how Himeko and Switch eventually joined the goofy helper club, as well as how Bossun got his conviction to help people whenever necessary. That was great, to be honest.

The usually funny and comedic Sket Dance
Tried to be dramatic yet it fails.
Though episodes telling the established character backstory was well-written

Additionally, there are several times that an anime changes the tone and sticks with the flavor of it, and to a great success at that. While all I know was the manga, I loved both series and their shift in tone surprised me greatly and I enjoyed the change.

First up is my personal favourite of Gakuen Alice, by Higuchi Tachibana. Gakuen Alice spends 5 volumes trying to be comical while at times, spices up the dramatic tension of the story such as the introduction of the Z organization in the third volume through Reo Mouri. While Reo was responsible for making the tension rise on that occasion, it wasn’t until the volume 6 that it entered first-ever dramatic arc, when Hotaru got shot and Mikan tries to save her life by infiltrating the Z organization’s hideout. It spends almost three volumes resolving the arc, and by the time volume 8 ends and a supposed background character got killed, the comical mood of Gakuen Alice has shifted to one being a drama.

Dramatic shift also proves that when you embrace it, there is no turning back. Gakuen Alice tries to return to it’s roots at several points but it doesn’t work. The author cannot grasp what makes Gakuen Alice so funny anymore and as a result, it was unable to return to it’s roots and instead, went to the tragical drama route. While that may upset several fan of the series, the series manages to resolve everything by the end of the volume, but at the cost of several tragical dramatic moment [Such as killing off several characters, betrayal, retribution, and amongst other things]. While it ended on a high note, I barely recognize the manga at it’s final volume. It no longer contains any comedic value and is now known for it’s dramatic value.

A good reminisce that. I must say. I can hardly wait her next work, though nothing is looming on the horizon at the moment. 

Gakuen Alice is notable for embracing their tone shift and

Another example of this would be the Mahou Sensei Negima. At first, the series is only about a child teacher [Negi Springfield], who happens to be a mage, teaches a school in Japan, all while creating mischief thanks to his magical affinities, and almost everything ends up with a fanservice [Or more specifically, ecchi] scenes, such as a girl being stripped off her clothes, or a girl’s skirt getting lifted up, or a breast get fondled or something like that. It was a good comedy harem series, but it was clear that if something is not done, the series would lose it’s footing.

Then, Akamatsu does the unthinkable. It introduces a character and tested out Negi’s magical skill by threatening to kill of his students. It was surprising but it was succesfull, and Akamatsu decides to cash in on it by introducing the school-trip arc, where the tone from the comedy harem genre shifts to that of a shounen-action series, and from there on, the series has been known for it’s magical battles, action scenes, and of course, it’s fanservice scenes. While it may change, it never stray far from it’ s roots of being a good ecchi manga, or perhaps it was just the author’s mind that just won’t let go his principle of putting so many fanservices. Either way, it was a pretty good series and I enjoyed reading it.

Though shifting tone may also expose that genre’s problem, and in Negima’s case, it was the huge amount of character put into the manga, to the point that the manga became too overcrowded with casts and it was so hard remembering them and their purposes in the manga. By the end of the manga, I can only remember half of Negi’s student, Jack Rakan, and Colonel Sanders (By golly his alter-ego was so funny).

That bold Akamatsu's cash-in allowed Mahou Sensei Negima to thrive and release 38 volumes under it.

And another case of this would be the Air Gear series. At first, Air Gear was known for it’s ecchi elements combined with the sports genre where someone uses an “Air Gear” to participate in a skating competition. It was good and I loved it, up until the fourth volume, when it was revealed that an Air Gear is something so valuable in that universe. And then, the genre shifts from that of a ecchi-sports manga to that of a steampunk-like action shounen manga with an added battle-like setting.

While it proved to be popular with fans and everyone alike, I was left fuming, as I enjoyed the main character’s antic when the Air Gear was just used for competition and turf war. That time, it was funny, surprising, and has it’s own charm, but when it changes, the plot just got convoluted, the purposes was unclear, and I ended up dropping the series by the time I got to the tenth volume. I guess that was a bad example of a tone shift, but just for me and several other people. Other might enjoy it but I can say that I do not enjoy it.

While it was well-received, i personally did not like the shift in tone for Air Gear.
Lastly, the example that i have of changing tone or genre lies in the Pokemon anime series. From it’s regularly action-adventure genre where Satoshi [Ash Ketchum] is capturing pokemons in different region, Sun and Moon introduces an all new genre where Satoshi is now enrolling in a Pokemon School. It eliminates the need of Satoshi’s companion, the removal of the usage of Character of the Day (Though I predicted that it’ll be back again in the future just like episode 23), and eliminates the need of any rival. 

It was a breath of fresh air for a series that has been stale since the Best Wishes series, where the formula has been too predictable and boring. However, credits to the sequel of the Best Wishes series, the X & Y series, for introducing romantical tone in the form of Serena, who was introduced as Satoshi’s childhood friend who had a crush on him, and she even kissed him during the final episode of X&Y series. However, it was the Sun and Moon that pulled me back to watching the Pokemon regularly again and now, I am always looking forward for the new episodes and never missed it whenever something new comes out]. However, the Sun and Moon’s art style might have turned off several people, but if they did get turned off by it, then they are missing something good.
Pokemon anime series have been stale since Best Wishes series,

but it manages to rebound back thanks to X&Y, particularly Serena,

and it finally returns back into form thanks to the reinvention of the genre by Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Those four series are the prime example of what happened when the tone of an anime is changed and what awaits them in the future. It may prove both beneficial and disastrous for the long-term effect but overall, what I have watched and read that fall under this trope has been succesfull. The brief change of tone might prove to have a backward result, as some might have not enjoyed it at all or it can turn a good series into a bad one, though not every anime has this problem.

I look forward for another surprising tone shift in anime, though i believe it would take some time for me to experience such thing again.

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