When Anime Series Jumped the Sharkby The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
For anyone who doesn't yet know, "Jumping the Shark" is a pop culture term for the point in a piece of media (usually long-running stuff like TV series) when it loses the "it factor" that made it good or popular, when the milk of human kindness for the show goes sour. Maybe it was a stupid gimmick that ruined the story, maybe it was an unexpected character death that turned people off, or maybe the show had just been going on for so long that it was clearly out of ideas. Whatever the reason, our editorial team has come together to share the moments when a show they loved veered wildly off course.
Samurai Flamenco starts off as a slow burn. A lot of the humor in early episodes stems from the way Masayoshi's childlike mindset clashes with bitter and boring reality. His pure ideals of good and evil are an oddity in a world otherwise similar to our own, but when he slowly acquires both the skills and support to succeed at low-level crime fighting, his perseverance and unwavering faith in goodness and justice finally bear fruit. Spoonfuls of ridiculousness are easily explained away due to their innocent introduction – if Masayoshi wants to be a costumed hero, why wouldn't there be a wannabe mad scientist sidekick, or an aspiring magical girl out there too? The show simply seems interested in exploring what would happen to those people in a real world, and while the journey can get silly, it's also funny, sweet and endearing, thanks to our two likable leads – right up to that unforgettable moment in episode 7, when an average human bad guy morphs into a giant Gorilla with a guillotine for a stomach, chopping off a cop's head before Masayoshi and Goto can push him out the window, along with any conception I had of this show's genre or intentions.
In his review, Carl Kimlinger described the following King Torture arc as Samurai Flamenco's “psychotic break with reality”. Viewers trying to explain the brutal tonal shift and ensuing madness as a drug-induced hallucination of the show's characters seemed to be on the right track initially. (The whole thing went off the rails in the middle of a drug bust, after all.) Except that didn't turn out to be the case. We had barely left the rabbit hole's vestibule, and escalation was the only way forward.
If you thought names like Samurai Flamenco and Guillotine Gorilla were silly, get ready for the likes of Branding Piranha, Boiling Rhino, and Alien Flamenco in an ever-escalating spiral of insanity from troubled-but-cute to absolute batshit, until giant robots assemble, aliens invade, and Masayoshi gets to have a chat with the Universe's Will to provide some context about all the WTF that's been going on.
Masayoshi succeeds at creating an environment where his superhero ego can fight villains of galactic proportions. He does, however, fail to defeat the world's evil with his pure, blazing power of good, since trying to reduce reality to the clear-cut fictional world of his childhood idols is just as ridiculous as Masayoshi's own adventure became. In the end, it's serious, reliable Goto who needs the reality check more than bubbly Masayoshi. After jumping (or falling) through multiple plots and genres, the show returns to its roots, battered and panting, but strangely enough not beaten.
Samurai Flamenco jumps the shark not once, but multiple times over the course of its 22-episode run. It does so with a childlike joy, almost as if not fully aware that each new novelty is bound to wear off after more than a handful of twists coming out of nowhere. As a narrative, it's flawed despite having its heart in the right place, but as a ride, it's still a ton of fun. Once my expectations had been adjusted, I found myself appreciating the show's balls-out craziness as well as the meta-commentary on society and hero worship. At least I'd like to think so. I might be making this up as I go, just like show creators Omori and Kurata
maybe, probably, definitely did.
But what's not to like about a show where evil can be punched in the face and lives can be saved by the power of love?
It isn't always easy to fill out a long series. It's how we get things like the Davy Back Fight in One Piece, some of those weird (but funny!) episodes of Slayers Next, and the inevitable recap episodes. But some attempts at making the series fill out its projected length backfire horribly and almost ruin the entire show. For me, that moment is episode thirty-four of Nadia: The Secret Blue Water. If you don't remember, that's the random musical episode that combines the horrors of a clip show with terrible songs.
Granted, Nadia was treading on shaky ground before with its tone-deaf depiction of Africa, but until episode thirty-four, it was still an interesting, exciting, and occasionally even romantic show. Perhaps that's where it went wrong – Jean and Nadia's burgeoning romance forms the basis for the episode (it's even called “My Darling Nadia”), with Jean struggling to express his feelings. Sanson suggests that Jean compose a love song, which may be in keeping with the series' 1889 setting, but in no way takes into account that Jean is a fourteen-year-old boy with no aptitude for the poetic arts. Unfortunately, the show's writers took the idea and ran with it, making sure that everyone gets a chance to "sing". Who could forget Marie's screeching ode to boredom? Or Jean's moaning attempts at expressing his feelings? Nadia's song was a bit better, especially in the dub, but it still derails the show. Basically, it's like someone decided that there was just too much plot going on, so it would liven things up to try and sell CDs of image songs instead. It makes for a total departure from the grand sci-fi adventure that the series had been up to this point, a detour as abrupt as it was awful.
Fortunately for Nadia, after this little shark-hopping side trip, the series was able to pull itself back together and return to being good; the epilogue is one of my favorite series endings. But episode thirty-four very nearly ruined the whole thing, and it was only the fact that I'd bought the entire series and fell prey to the sunk-cost fallacy that kept me going.
Despite its story being propelled almost entirely by twists and turnabouts, I would argue that Code Geass was never a very well-written show. Overtures at political intrigue aside, most of Code Geass's undeniable thrill factor didn't come from tangled webs of complex motivations like the Gundam franchise that inspired its (Sun)rise, but more basic pleasures like dramatic stakes, exuberant pacing, big emotions, and a uniquely arresting visual aesthetic backed by an infectious soundtrack.
Regardless of how you feel about Code Geass's plot and characters, its director Goro Taniguchi fully brought the spirit of showmanship to the show's frequently seat-of-its-pants storytelling in an instantaneously gratifying way, like when you inhale a whole sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies before you can even get from the front door to the kitchen. When there's so much "and then!" packed this efficiently into every tense new moment, you don't have enough breathing room to focus much on the "but why?" It was the kind of show that pretended to be about imperialism, social justice, and the right to rule, but based its episodes around Fateful Gunshots to the Forehead from start to finish. When season one ended with its two leads in a lethal standoff, a cut to black at the sound of shots, and no announcement of a second season, people understandably freaked out. We had to have more. We had to. And the monkey's paw curled down a finger.
It turns out that the "go big or go home" approach that made season one of Code Geass so watchable had a dark side, and the stormclouds were about to roll in. While Code Geass's iffy script rarely pulled any "clever" tricks, its story choices are still mostly satisfying in season one. Even if it seems contrived that things would work out the way that they do for Lelouch, season one tended to dole out victories and defeats to the characters we most want to see triumphant or humbled in any given moment, and it always focused on the most interesting aspect of each new struggle. There was always plenty of "what?!" without too much "but why?" Unfortunately, "But Why?" could easily be the subtitle for season two.
Popular suspicion holds that Code Geass was originally intended to only be one season, because season two not only recycles many of season one's plot points in a less satisfying way, it adds a series of new subplots and reveals that were absolutely best left on the cutting room floor. Amnesia is used to push characters out of the show or force them to repeat crowd-pleasing beats of their character arcs. Several long episodes are spent in China with an alt-Lelouch and alt-Nunnally who add nothing whatsoever. Even if you can forgive those missteps for not affecting the overall story too much, the JRPG-cliche-ridden backstory intended to give Charles zi Britannia shades of gray basically just ruined everything that made him enjoyable as a villain, and poor Shirley definitely deserved better than her fate. It all culminated in a finale that easily could have been spliced onto the end of season one instead, cutting out the show's most painful decisions and pointless character assassinations both literal and figurative. To make matters worse, season two is bad in a way where it's hard to even remember how things happened or why. If season one of Code Geass is like the first few rides on your favorite rollercoaster, season two marks the point where you start feeling nauseous and need to stop getting back in line.
At the time, people coped by blaming the Scrappy Doo-esque Rolo for everything, but we should probably lay the blame on the show's woefully unprepared writers instead, and grudgingly skip straight from season one to the last couple episodes of season two on a rewatch.
NANBAKA seemed to have all the makings of a show I could get behind: an out-of-this-world comedic premise, wacky humor, an eye-popping visual palette, and an array of bishounen to boot. The first few episodes, while not consistently uproarious, deliver on that promise for the most part. With the running gag that four charming non-violent criminal offenders from around the world manage to almost escape from the most secure prison facility on the planet on a regular basis, the show was poised to keep audiences laughing. True, it might have gotten old eventually, but since Nanba prison is basically a brightly-colored metropolis, there was a lot of room for the concept to grow as the core group of prisoners explored new settings. I was especially a fan of the dynamic between the four main prisoners and Hajime, their guard. Easily angered but always fair, Hajime made the “cat and mouse” chase of the prison escape attempts all the more fun.
It actually didn't take that long before the show abandoned the formula, though. I can't pinpoint exactly when I felt I was done with the show (although I kept watching, hoping for a turnaround), but it was around episode 4, when the New Year's Tournament started, moving the plot from battle arc to battle arc with only a small comedy pause in between. Sure, there were passing references to attempted escapes, but the focus turned instead to this sort of battle-royale among the prisoners and the guards. Jokes became less frequent and even cringingly offensive over time, not very in line with the tone of the earlier episodes' humor. More and more characters started sharing the spotlight without earning their place there, and the original group appeared less frequently. The show became something else in tone, focusing on action and battles more than characterization and humor. The action doesn't even pay off that well, especially when you consider the show's complete non-ending. It spends so many episodes building to a big confrontation that never even happens on screen. While it's not the first series based on an ongoing manga to do this, it was just the icing on the cake of disappointment at that point.
I'll be the first to admit that one of my issues with Kill la Kill was a problem of expectations. When the show was announced, I was far less knowledgeable about anime production than I am now - so when I heard “from the creators of Gurren Lagann,” I basically assumed all of the good times I'd had with Gainax productions were going to be revisited. Studios are more complicated than that, and if I'd dug deeper, I'd likely have realized that Hiroyuki Imaishi wasn't really critical to the Gainax era that resonated with me. But I was young and bright-eyed and ready to be dazzled.
Kill la Kill's first half actually did dazzle me, more or less. The show was much more loud and simple and fanservice-heavy than I'd hoped, but it also had lots of energy, a unique style, and a propulsive central narrative. Ryuuko's quest to avenge her father wasn't the most inspired, but the obstacles thrown her way were clear and formidable, and it all raced toward a thrilling mid-show tournament of battling juggernauts. There were even some intriguing hints of thematic meat there, as the show's clothing motif and emphasis on owning your presentation seemed to imply it had something to say about identity and the eyes of society.
Then… stuff happened. Kill la Kill's second half, where characters rambled through suddenly relevant conflicts and then dismissed them just as quickly, felt like the show had abandoned a script altogether. The themes of identity and presentation were muddled to the point where even Ryuuko ultimately admits it's all about heart, guts, and “nonsensical things.” Our heroine ran through the same character arc she'd experienced in the first half, and then ran through it again. New threats were raised and summarily dismissed, and the tight focus of the first half gave way to an aimless wasteland of Stuff Happening.
Kill la Kill's second half was certainly busy, but its total lack of focus left me disillusioned and even frustrated with the show's manic energy. It's great to create a show that feels like it's stumbling over itself in its rush to exist - but when the script actually seems like it's being written on the fly too, it's hard to feel invested in what's happening. Kill la Kill's second half basically gave up on the focus that made the first half work, making it my pick for anime that jumped the shark.
Servant × Service had a good thing going on. Based on another manga by the creator of Working!!, it was a workplace comedy with a unique bent: an atmospheric slice-of-life show starring actual adults. The tasks of the government office workers lent the series a decidedly low-key sense of humor. This was a show that could make jokes about a character hiding under her desk to avoid having to listen to a long-winded old woman who frequented the office. Even the driving motivation of the main character, Lucy, is amusingly low-stakes. She dreamed of becoming a public servant so she could meet the worker who approved her ridiculously long name and tell him off. It was a breezy, fun series with a setting and tone unlike a lot of other comedies out there.
Then four episodes in, it introduced Kenzo Momoi: a pink stuffed bunny who's actually a highly-advanced animatronic telecommuting device piloted by the office's agoraphobic section chief.
If that sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. Even Lucy was in disbelief upon discovering this incongruous element of her corporate ladder. It's an irreconcilable tonal disparity with the otherwise down-to-earth style of the show up to that point. There are anime across the entire comedy spectrum that can introduce ridiculous elements and make them work, but Servant × Service's tone felt completely betrayed by this absurd pink robot bunny boss. It's like if the gorilla and Freddie Mercury from Cromartie High School walked onto an episode of K-ON! It's joke whiplash!
The Chief's introduction and continued presence marked a distinct shift and decline for Servant × Service after that fourth episode. Just the continuing sight of this unbelievable magical element alongside the otherwise real-world office workers served as a constant reminder of the show's descent into gimmickry. The series goes on to introduce complications from contrived romantic entanglements and shenanigans with identical twin sisters. Servant × Service worked wonderfully as a low-key sitcom, but as it slid into more of a farcical anime comedy, my blame for the issue kept returning to its introduction of a standard anime mascot.
The Chief's stuffed bunny gimmick just feels so transparent. After all, TONS of good jokes could be mined from the character telecommuting through more real-world means. His shyness could actually be elaborated on instead of being a convenient excuse for the robo-rabbit. A telecommuting device rolling around the office and messing with the workers would make for some interesting detours in the day-to-day happenings of the show. But no, they needed that dang marketable mascot in the series, so we get a tiny plush bunny-bot going out drinking with his employees. Somehow it can drink.
At the end of the workday, Servant × Service was never going to be an earth-shattering series, and the introduction of Boss Bunny and the show's subsequent nosedive wasn't nearly the plummet that more prominent series have taken. But the show was something unique when it came out, something cool that spoke to me and other older kids looking for a workplace comedy more our speed. Inflicting this mechanical mascot on the series took that away, and that betrayal will always feel fresh for me.
Like many young kids that grew up in the 90s, I was introduced to anime through Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block. Out of all of the anime I was exposed to during Toonami's legendary early years, there was one show that reigned supreme: Dragon Ball Z. From the moment it premiered, DBZ had me hook line and sinker. Its over-the-top action adventure histrionics made the spectacle of professional wrestling (my other childhood obsession) look like a backyard puppet show by comparison. For years, I followed the saga of Goku and the Z fighters with obsessive zeal; I learned every ridiculous special move so I could mimic them with my friends at recess, and I even dabbled in writing some rudimentary, 5th-grade fanfiction. So yeah, I was definitely a fan.
As much fun as Goku was when it came to beating villains to a bloody pulp, he was never my favorite character; that honor was reserved for his good-natured and infinitely more intelligent son, Gohan. I always loved the idea that a kid like me could be just as much of a badass as any of the ϋber-ripped adults, so whenever Gohan got an opportunity to shine, I was completely on board. All of this came to a head when, after years of character development and escalating threats, Gohan took on the show's biggest villain to date: Cell. I can still remember sitting way too close to my TV, eyes glued to the screen as Gohan summoned the most epic Kamehameha wave any DBZ fan had ever seen. It was grandeur defined, the single coolest thing I had ever seen. I'm pretty sure that was the day I became a man.
That's why everything that came after that moment was just so incredibly disappointing. That one Kamehameha opened up an incredible path for the show to follow, one where Gohan took up the mantle as Earth's defender and paved his own way as a worthy successor to his father's legacy. What did we get instead? The Great Saiyaman, a corny superhero gag that lasted way too long, which seemingly existed only to waste time until Goku was revived yet again so he could take on Majin Buu, Dragon Ball Z's final (and worst) villain. The change in status quo was just a ruse, a temporary switch-up that only led to more of the same, with significantly diminished returns.
In another world, I could see Gohan's sillier approach to super-heroics as charming and unique instead of woefully disappointing, but the Great Saiyaman only undermined Gohan's own skills, making sure the world knew that he would never be as cool or powerful as his father. I also get that editorial and fan pressure convinced Akira Toriyama to keep Goku on as the main character, so the blame can't be laid entirely on the creator. Still, The Great Saiyaman arc will always be where Dragon Ball Z lost its luster for me. It had the chance to turn its best character into its greatest asset, but it just made him a joke instead, doubling down on lame villains and increasingly trite battle scenes in the process. DBZ will always have a place in my heart, but the next time I sit down to watch it, I'm just going lump all of the post-Cell stuff together with Dragon Ball GT and pretend it doesn't exist.
So when did your own once-beloved anime jump the shark? Share your moments of shock and disappointment with us in the forums!
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