managing expectations

The response to my not-so-glowing post about Mai Otome 21 seems to be, “Well, it’s not Mai Hime, don’t expect it to be.” To me, that’s like going to Mickey Dees and ordering, “I’ll have a Big Mac” and then receiving a grilled cheese sandwich… Mai Otome has the same name, same production team, and even some of the same characters as Mai Hime. Even if it is a pseudo-sequel, isn’t there a level of expectation set by the forefunner?

Every sequel has expectations, and if those expectations are not met, can the sequel still be called successful? A key to a good sequel is managing expectations. A sequel can only do three things in regard to expectations:

They can exceed expecations. It’s rare for a sequel to surpass the original, and it’s usually because the original wasn’t that great to begin with. For example, when I heard about La Verite, I thought of just one thing: nakkid meido fanservice based on the original series. What I got was a better than expected series that certainly was better than the original in terms of animation quality, fanservice quality, Rie Tanaka singing the OP, and… ack… actual plot-like substance. That to me exceeded my original expectation of just nakkid meido fanservice. For an already great anime to be surpassed by its sequel is rare… but it happens occasionally like when Full Metal Panic took the next step with Fumoffu and TSR. It showed that a franchise can get better, and it marvelously did it by stressing the comedic aspect (Fumoffu) and the action aspect (TSR) and blew past my expectations. Somehow, anime Bonta-kun with psycho policewoman just blows manga Bonta-kun out of the water. Now that is the way to approach a sequel.

Yet another improvement

They can meet expectations. I expect most sequels to fall into this category but most don’t. Some shows feel this weird need to tinker with a tried-and-true forumla… I mean, if you’re watching a sequel, doesn’t it mean that you liked the original, at least to some degree? For example, I think the greatest save in anime was the decision to bring back Suigintou for Rozen Maiden Dreams. She originally was meant to stay junked, but after they saw her popularity, they decided to bring her back. Others may call it pandering, I call it a good save. She was one of biggest reasons why Rozen Maiden wasn’t just yet another loser who plays with a harem of dolls show. By bringing her back, they didn’t necessary make the sequel better, but it wasn’t tremendously worse either. Suigintou was a big part of Rozen Maiden‘s success, and not having her in the sequel wouldn’t have it made as enjoyable (though one could argue Dreams was superior if one argues that the Suigintou/Megu relationship is superior to the Jun/Shinku one and block out Suiseiseki getting taken out).

One man’s junk is another’s treasure

They can fall short of expectations. Disappointing is the key word. Usually a show that falls off its tried-and-true formula, kinda like if I replaced sugar in my grandma’s cookie recipe with chili instead. An example would be the original To Heart series… it was a slow paced, gentle, slice-of-life type of harem series. It also had very good animation quality for its time, and that set a bar. A bar too high for both RMM and To Heart 2. Both the pseudo-sequel and real sequel failed to duplicate what made the original special, and even a healthy girl couldn’t save the show. It’s just startling how little changes can really build up and overwhelm a sequel.

At least she has her health

Mai Otome squarely falls into the fall short of expectation category. Looking back on Mai Hime, what made it a fun series to watch was crazy lesbians with over-the-top powers battling each other. I can still picture Shizuru jumping on Kiyohime and asking Natsuki to wait for her as she laid waste to half the school. Brilliance. That set the bar.

Mai Otome pretty much doesn’t come close. Instead of a good crop of over-the-top lesbians, there’s only really Tomoe, and now Shizuru’s no longer the instigator… she’s the victim. Declawing Shizuru like that, they might as well take Strike Freedom away from Kira or have Yurie’s god-powers revoked. To make it worse, instead of having this over-the-top but entertaining Reito-Mai-Mikoto-Tate-Shiho-Takumi-Akira love polygon, they just have this Arika-Wong-Nina love triangle. I can see how Mai could fall for Reito or even Tate… but… come on… Ant-head and Nina developing this father complex is the lame love triangle that we get instead. Reito passing up Mai was a, “OMFG, take the gohobi you dumbass!” kind of moment; Wong passing up Arika was a, “Whew, at least he won’t be going to jail” kind of moment. Subtle difference. As for the battles, back in Hime, they were fighting fast and furious at this point. Childs, powers, you name it, Hime tossed it out. Mai even went to the moon and fought Forbidden and Calamity out there. (Okay, I made that last part up, but it’s an intriguing idea.) Otome? Five episodes without a single battle lasting longer than 30 seconds. Let’s just take everything that made Hime great and water it down! The audience will never figure it out!

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of anime like Mai Otome that just do not live up to expectations. Expectations are built either on the proceeding series or on its source material. Most anime/manga/h-games become popular for one reason or another, and if the anime fails to emphasize that reason, it’s probably not as good as it can be. For example, Ten Ten was never carried on strength of plot and/or dialogue. It had appeal as a manga due to its graphic violence, visceral sexual element, and kinetic art style. The anime? A failure on all three accounts: the violence was cut to PG levels, the sexual element was less raunchy than Magikano, and the art was a serious downgrade. A series that could have been significantly better if it emphasized the strengths of its source material. As the old saying goes, dance with the one who brought ya.

Another example would be Kenshin Reflections. Do we really want to see an over-the-hill Kenshin on his deathbed? Did we watch Kenshin originally to see him whining on his deathbed and looking all sickly? So why make a sequel that was basically Kenshin dying on his deathbed?

And, presently, there’s the mildly disappointing Fate/Stay Night on-going. What made the h-game popular? Emiya getting his ass kicked? Emiya getting a three-episode long tutorial of the holy grail war game? Emiya’s awesome combat abilities? The anime is trying hard to remake itself into this serious action/drama… but… why? (I’m guessing Geneon really, really wants to show this on CN. I can just imagine F/SN sandwiched between Teen Titans and Naruto a year from now.) What was wrong with what made the h-game popular? Tone down the sex enough to get it past censors, toss in some random fanservice, get Saber addicted to melonpan, and how’s that not a better series that the current F/SN? Again, dance with the one who brought ya. In F/SN‘s case, have a threesome with the ones who brought ya.

The key to a successful show is how it approaches its expectations. Deliever, and the fanboys will rejoice. Come up short, and the only ones who will still watch are the fanboys. FMP didn’t deviate from Sagara kicking-ass or Chidori smacking him around. Rozen Maiden didn’t deviate from Suigintou gleefully messing around with Shinku. Girls Bravo didn’t deviate from providing ample fanservice without a bothersome plot to district from it. If it works, stick with it: there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. I’m not saying stop improving, as minor tweaks like the twins in TSR or the introduction of Megu are vastly welcomed. Keep the core intact, and always remember to dance with the one who brought ya.

16 Responses to “managing expectations”

  1. I personally attribute FMP!F? and FMP! TSR successes to the change in animation studios. Kyoto Animation >> GONZO. Period.

  2. Quite true. Nice read too, jason. Many points you’ve touched are quite correct.

    “Conversion” anime are usually hard to keep up with the original source material, with notable exceptions being FMP, but even I had a few bones to pick to TSR actually.

    As for F/SN, yeah, the anime is pretty OK to watch for me, being a non-game player, but I’ve recently touched the F/SN translated demo…. and then suddenly, I find the anime quite lacking already :P.

  3. My $0.02: I quite agree with the whole subject. I see you really miss the Mai-Hime lezbo stuff ^_^ … Anyway, MAI-Otome, imho, started quite well, I enjoyed the first eps, and I kinda liked the main lead, Arika. The reuse of characters has always left me lukewarm, because you may ruin all you’ve collected before. In the last installments, I think Mai-Otome stumbled on itself badly. I am eagerly waiting for redemption, I can’t stand just to watch crumbs, crumbs and more crumbs – take the battle Nina – “Ghost Mikoto” at the Harmonium. WTF, can you develop something, please? Give it a little more airtime than 35 sec? It’s becoming the comedy of the snapshots: a snapshot of Mikoto, one of Mai, one of this, one of that. Ok for the mistery, but it’s ep 22 soon…don’t leave us fanboyz in this limbo, Sunrise, will you? Onegai?

  4. Ah, I don’t quite agree with you on F/sn. It’s a bit slow and blahblah-ish, but on the design of characters and the setting, F/sn is a clear winner. They swapped the “H”, Hentai for Harem (light harem elements). Clearly, they want it to go mainstream…but to me, it’s still a very good show. Lives well up to my expectations.

  5. Stripey: Kyoto was a better studio because they followed the novels more and made less stuff up along the way. Of course, there’s also the Gonzo being Gonzo element.

    Kuro: People who have played the game just find F/SN to be lacking. Absolutely correct.

    Wyk: I still maintain if we don’t get a threesome in the next seven episodes, the show is a complete failure. If I want drama with mild harem elements, there are other series better known for that… but that’s absolutely not what F/SN is known for. It’s like making another Gundam series, but only instead of giant robots, it’s about magical girls and their staffs who speak in English. Sure, it can be entertaining, but it’s not really Gundam anymore, is it?

  6. It’s almost like they’re pacing My-Otome as if it were a 50 ep series instead of a 26 ep one. It’s not so bad when you don’t have a battle for 4 eps because you spend that time developing one of the characters when you have 29 to go, but not when you have 4 to go and there are still a huge number of plot points that still need to be resolved.

  7. Agreed on FSN. I haven’t played the game, but each week I’m hoping to get impressed for more than 10 seconds, but it never happens. I fight starts, but then they end up talking for half the episode happens, explaining something. Instead of me waiting to see Lancer reappear and attack, I’m waiting for Rin to bust out that tea set and talk about even more rules and exceptions to the Holy Grail War, with Shirou nodding in shock and Saber looking clueless and angry….

    As for Otome, although ultimately I disagree with you saying that Otome is a disappointment, I do agree that the last few episodes have been lacking. After episode 17, I’ve been waiting for something at least on par with that episode to happen, but no… just Mashiro and Arika’s emotions and ideas in turmoil, with a glimpse of interesting happenings here and there. HiME was a buzz by episode 21. Plotwise though, I give the nod to Otome because although the action is lacking at time, there is plenty of plot to chew on and I really think that is what is keeping me excited.

  8. Heh :) … I see your points, even though I disagree with the harshness of your comments.

    When it comes to Otome, I’ve got to admit that the last 3 episodes were a disappointment to me. I was quite happy with everything up to 18, but then the show went off the rails with the AAAA (atrocious Arika angsty arc) and what happened around it. The pacing feels off by quite a bit, and I wonder how they plan to wrap up the remaining episodes without making things feel rushed. A pity, because when it came to story construction, Otome was actually better than HiME (which had other strong points in exchange).

    I can’t agree with your F/sn comments though. Not having played the game, it’s true that the show has some weaker parts when it’s getting very wordy and sloooow, but it also has alot of very strong aspects. The characters are certainly top-notch and interesting IMHO, and they absolutely manage to create tension and atmosphere when they intend to. If you expected a constant action show with whang-bam, I can see why you might be disappointed. As someone who’s more interested in the story and drama aspect, and who generally enjoys decent harems, I feel no disappointment in the least.

    It’s as you said – managing expectations. Sounds like you went into the shows with different ones than me.

  9. Your arguments are valid, but I still cannot agree. You’re essentially advocating that all sequels follow the same formula of success that the predecessor used, however Star Wars fans have already seen the disastrous effects of Lucas’s formula of success (Space Battle, and ground battle in the bubkes that was I-III). If script writers were to always follow the tried, and true there will come a point when it all becomes stale. Moreover they may fall into the same trap Lucas did and fail to innovate in areas other than technology.

    If Mai Otome used the same formula you would have Mai Clones strewn about since, judging by the fevered demand for Mai, let us have every character be like pre-altered Barbie. It worked for Tenjou Tenge right…? A good sequel does not rely on past conventions to dictate the script, just as Empire Strikes Back was better than A New Hope because Vader was beating the stuffing out of that Tatooine Farm boy, and that Corellian vagabond. Halo 2 was on par with Halo because they didn’t just do another Master Chief vs. Covenant vs. Flood.

    I understand that most things based off book or manga fall short of greatness. However bear in mind there are censorship laws and these companies are out to make money and in order to make money their product has to have a large demographic for a tasty profit. Sure you can have a faithful anime based on your most beloved H-game, but with less profitability due to a more limited audience the budget will be slashed accordingly.

    I maybe part of a minority here but everything I know about H games comes from I have never played one and God willing I never will. However I feel that I can appreciate an anime that was based on some controversial media. Peter Jackson in many ways short changed LOTR fans everywhere by putting in more Aragorn than was needed, but one can still love the book and admire Jackson’s attempt.

    So long as there is hope there is a chance to shine. Besides as cyniacl as I am I’d rather leave doubt for the dying.

  10. >>And, presently, there’s the mildly disappointing Fate/Stay Night on-going. What made the h-game popular? Emiya getting his ass kicked? Emiya getting a three-episode long tutorial of the holy grail war game? Emiya’s awesome combat abilities?>>

    If there is one thing for certain, Emiya isn’t the reason why Fate/Stay Night is popular, Emiya is probably one of the more hated H-game male leads in recent memory. If the F/SN forums on Animesuki were’nt restricted as they are, you would bet that there would be a Kill Kill Emiya thread floating around….

    I personally don’t think that simply judging a series a lost cause after just 9 episodes isn’t all that smart, if I were to judge something like SHUFFLE! after merely 9 episodes, I would think of it as Fantasy To Heart 2 with more Fan Service, completely ignorant of what would happen once the series start getting going at Episode 12

  11. That first pic is great, and if Sakura is also SDed and going Kaede it would be even better. Do you have a wallpaper-sized (1280×800 or something) version?

    I mostly agree with you, except for F/SN part. If people just wanted H, there are H-games with nice art and 10x the H content compared to F/SN. I would say that what made F/SN popular are the plot and the characters (Saber and Rin in particular). The changes you suggested actually sound fairly nice to me, but they are not really necessary IMO.

    What the F/SN anime really needs right now is a big Lion plushie for Saber. Shirou needs to go buy her one ASAP.

  12. Actually, didn’t I write that Gun x Sword gets much better after 13 post? So please don’t accuse me of giving up on a series early… except Cluster Edge. Guilty as charged there.

    For MO, if 21 out of 26 episodes sucked or were below average on a whole, the last 5 episodes better be some of the best damn anime ever to be considered an above average series.

    For F/SN, they just took the name and built something else around it. That’s fine… but it’s not really the same F/SN. It’s like Lenovo buying the Thinkpad name… sure, it’s black, a laptop, and has Thinkpad out the outside, but it’s no longer an IBM product. If you ever used an IBM Thinkpad than a Lenovo one, yep, you know the difference. If you have only used a Lenovo one, then you don’t know how great the originals were compared to this “new” model. That’s fine, but it doesn’t dispel the fact that the new one is inferior when compared to the old one.

  13. Actually, the sad part is that the Lenovos now are STILL better than most of the other laptops out there, even if they don’t have IBM’s level of tech support. Currently, F/SN has taken the settings and characters… but they’re developing it into something else.

    Remember – the original was a Type MOON game – which meant it was heavy on the reading, heavy on the story and background, and heavy on the incest and rape and other hentai elements. Here.. well, they can’t get away with a lot of hentai, given the rating of the show, so they’re going more for stereotypical harem… which has its good and bad points. The best part is that Rin shines here, more than she ever did in the original game. The bad is that Shirou is an even bigger idiot here than he was in the original source material… but without the ‘action’ to make up for the viewer’s pain in watching his wimpiness.

    Ah well. At least there’s some naked Saber fanservice next week, with some cute Ilya fanservice for those who like that sorta thing.

  14. Well excuuuuuusssseee me for not hanging on every little thing you say. While you would obviously would remember something you said about a month ago, I probably wouldn’t have noticed what you said about a series that I have no interest in until you accuse me of being ignorant of something you said about a series that I have no interest in.

    In THIS post, you made absolutely no mention of Gun X Sword or any other series that was able to turn it around to meet or exceed expectations, either it met or exceeded expectations from the get go or just didn’t.

    IMO you shouldn’t just assume the people would have read everything you have ever written, because they won’t. If you expect people to know something that you written about earlier thats relevant, point that out.

  15. You are right, mike. I generally do give most series a few episodes to establish themselves, and I was trying to point that fact out in a funny way, and I’m sorry if my attempted humor lost its meaning. I was trying to make a joke about Cluster Edge, and you are right that it did not come out properly that way.

    I should have phrased it better, “I think that 1/3 of a series is enough to start judging a series, except for Cluster Edge, which I knew after 1/3 of an episode.”

  16. I agree with you completely on the general statement about sequels and whether or not they live up to the originals. But on specifics, I don’t think so. Plot is always > fanservice to me — and either humor or character development > plot. Also all of the above > action or fights.

    Mai Otome didn’t have the depth of dramatic darkness that Mai Hime managed, but it also didn’t have the magical reset button ending, so as far as I’m concerned, it was an equally good show, just a bit different. I was very pleased with the Otome versions of Miyu and, especially, Midori! Once Arika got to Midori’s hideout, the character of Midori as the leader of the ragtag band came into excellent focus.

    Tate/Sergey were really dumb and annoying characters in both series, they could have used some improved writing. And there was a bit more of a polygon there as Erstin was in love with Nina, or didn’t you notice?

    Shizuru in Otome was, as you said, a bit disappointing. But Midori and Miyu made up for the disappointment to me. I found the final 6 or so episodes of Otome very enjoyable.

    As for Fate/Stay Night, it’s kind of boring, but I doubt I’d like it so much better if it was more like an H game. Saber is an interesting character, Emiya isn’t (yet; I’ve only seen about up to episode 9).

Leave a Reply