Gia's List: 6 Destroyers of the Fourth Wall

by Gia Manry, Dec 10th 2011

In theater and film, there is a concept known as the "fourth wall." This wall is the one that's see-through (or, in reality, non-existent) to let the audience watch what's going on— or, more simply, it represents the idea that the characters don't know that they're in a work of fiction. Breaking the fourth wall by addressing the audience or characters acknowledging their fictional status is a time-honored tradition, but some series make more of a habit of it than others.

6. The Crew of the Nadesico (Martian Successor Nadesico)
There is a clip episode of Nadesico that features a tour of the titular ship that is framed as an episode of the Martian Successor Nadesico anime being watched by the cast of Gekiganger III: Nadesico's show-within-a-show. This is just one example of Nadesico's love/hate relationship with the fourth wall; in another episode, pun-loving pilot Izumi makes a pun so obscure that another character, communications officer Megumi, takes time out of the episode to explain it to the audience. The other characters ask her who she's talking to and in the Japanese version she doesn't reply; in the English dub she says that she's talking to the fourth wall.

5. Sana and Babbitt (Kodomo no Omocha)
There is a running gag between Kodocha protagonist Sana and her rabbit-bat hybrid pal Babbit that they are, in fact, characters in an anime. Usually this involves Babbit commenting on some aspect of the episode and Sana dismissing his concerns. Usually these concerns involve something that Sana is doing that she shouldn't because she's in a children's television program and might unduly influence her young audience...which, of course, Sana does a lot. Unfortunately, they never actually seem to address how a rabbit-bat hybrid with a human personality that can talk came to be in existence, or why child superstar Sana has possession of him.

4. Hayate and Nagi (Hayate the Combat Butler)
Hayate the Combat Butler's cast (and in particular its two leads) constantly make references to the anime that they're in, talking to the narrator, ragging on the censors, and then censoring their references to other anime (such as "G**dam")...which they usually reference to poke fun at borrowing stuff from. Characters who exist for particular audience appeal know it, and every once in a while someone takes a break from the zany activities of the cast to wonder what the heck they're doing and how it's even physically possible. As the series moves on into more ongoing plots, the fourth wall comes back into place, but the first season gives lots of love to meta jokes.

3. The Cast of Gintama (Gintama)
Not only does Gintama constantly break the fourth wall— for example, when Otae-san jumps out of the television to kill the show's creator in retribution for a gorilla ranking higher in a fan popularity poll than she (the show is brought to a "halt" until they replace the creator with a robot) —it even has a character who complains about their constant smashing of the wall to rubble, Shinpachi. In a recent episode, the episode starts with protagonist Gintoki sleeping before cutting to other characters; later he gets mad that they started the episode without him...and forgot to play the show's theme song.

2. Lina Inverse (Slayers)
Hardly a Slayers episode goes by without protagonist Lina making at least one off-hand comment addressed to the audience. Lina goes further, though, by attempting to push for extra screen time with her "Pretty Lina's Magic Lesson" bit in the first season, addressing one character's surprising survival as being because she's comedic relief, and other acknowledgements (usually resulting in a cast mate complaining). The series Slayers Revolution's inciting incident is a character "stealing" Lina's screen time, leading her to chase him. This goes hand-in-hand with the novel series, though, which is told in the first person and in which Lina often addresses her audience.

1. Poemy (Puni Puni Poemy)
Does this show even have a fourth wall? The show's main character Poemi Watanabe refers to herself as "Kobayashi" (implying that she knows she's her real-life voice actress, Yumiko Kobayashi) and calls the character Nabeshin the director...because, of course, Nabeshin is an anime character version of the show's director, Shinichi "Nabeshin" Watanabe (who also voices the character). Nabeshin and wife Kumi-Kumi are Poemi's adopted parents; both are characters from the show's spiritual predecessor Excel Saga who married at the end. Puni Puni Poemy is a smorgasbord of meta jokes and references, especially considering it's only two episodes long.

Special Award: Osamu Tezuka
A great deal of Tezuka's manga (nearly all of his comedies, and even occasionally his more serious works) feature fourth-wall breaking, usually not by the main characters but by Tezuka stand-ins who may also find themselves interacting with the panels of the manga or talking about their creator. These didn't all carry over into anime, and it would be unfair to pick just one series for this list, but Tezuka definitely deserves a spotlight here. Tezuka's meta jokes were often self-deprecating, and sometimes he even appeared in his own manga...to apologize for appearing there.

Each list is accompanied by a new reader poll, as well as the results from last week's poll.

The new poll: Whether played for drama or humor, catchphrases abound in anime. Which one is your favorite? Go ahead and vote for a favorite, and nominate more in the comments!

The previous poll: We asked you last week which anime filler was the best (or the least bad), and Code Geass took the top spot with nearly 20% of the vote. Many of you pointed out in the comments that since Geass is an original work it doesn't have "filler" (defined as content created to fill time between content based on the original materials), so the real win may go to your number two pick, Soul Eater. Here's the full list of results:

  1. Code Geass - 19.8%
  2. Soul Eater - 17.4%
  3. Sailor Moon - 16.1%
  4. One Piece - 13.8%
  5. Bleach - 9.8%
  6. Dragon Ball - 7.9%
  7. Fairy Tail - 6.9%
  8. Naruto - 5.1%
  9. Fist of the North Star - 3.2%

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