Monday, 22 August 2011

Why Sequels Suck

I’m sure we’ve all had it at one point or another, you’ve watched an awesome series that you thoroughly enjoyed and thought “I want MOAR!”. Then in a move that feels like all your Christmases have come at once you see the announcement that said awesome series is getting a second season. Hurrah! Praise the Gods/Spirits/Goats; finally you get that extra helping of what you’ve so desperately wanted. So why is it that most of the time instead of getting another delectable dish of steaming hot goodness, we end up with a bowl full of lukewarm dregs that’s burnt onto the bottom of the pan? Now, this isn’t to say that every single sequel out there fails on a base level, there are some that fare well, and I’ll get to them later. But why do so many successful series follow up with such sub-par sequels?

It was while I was forcing myself to watch Maria Holic Alive this morning that I began thinking about it. I utterly adored the first series, so why am I struggling so much with the sequel? Eventually I came to the conclusion that it’s simply because the novelty has worn off. With its Shinbo-tastic visuals, Yuri themes, randomly wacky humour and sadistic protagonist Maria Holic caught the viewers’ attention, and because it was different at the time, it entertained. Now with the second series they’ve essentially just done more of the same – but with less of the luscious Mariya/Kanako interaction – and it’s wearing a bit thin. The same can be said with scores of other series that lure you in with a catchy hook only to beat the same tired formula to death with a stick.

Of course there’s also the chance that the second series will tweak something small enough so that it doesn’t change the entire show, but just big enough to rob it of its charm – kind of like a dancing attention whore in the corner who keeps switching out increasingly inappropriate hats. For example, the second season of Natsu no Arashi essentially stays the same as its predecessor with the style of humour and visuals carrying over, but replaces the engaging time-travelling aspect with the endless – and rather dull – attempts to keep Jun’s true gender a secret from Hajime. The charm of the original becomes overwhelmed by the lacklustre focus of the sequel.

Worst of all are the series that combine both the odd tweaks AND the over-reliance on a single gag. For me, that’s exactly why the Zero no Tsukaima franchise rapidly fell out of favour. While I found the first series captivating, and the Tsundere Louise beating “Baka Inu!” Saito at every turn had me in hysterics, each subsequent series gradually ebbed away at my infatuation. Through a combination of the beatings wearing thin and an increase in the ecchi content, I found myself utterly bored by the third installment. Now it’s at the point that while I’ll likely pick up the recently-announced fourth series so I can help fill in the info on Anime-Planet, I’m not particularly looking forward to it – but hey, I’m most of the way there now, so I may as well see it to the finish, right?

Of course that covers those series that follow down a more humorous route, and simply re-use the same tired gag in a variety of different guises, but what about the more serious, plot-driven series?

The main pitfall with any narrative-focused series is that the story won’t live up to expectations. The exceptions to this that I’ve encountered are adaptations of long-running manga where the series takes a break in order to allow for a build-up of more source material – such as in the case of Gintama. Alternatively, when it comes to Naruto and Shippuuden the separation of series sets up a definite break for the time skip (Naruto really should have taken a leaf out of Gintama’s book and taken a break instead of bombarding the user with nearly two years’ worth of solid filler, but I’ll leave shounen fillers for another time).

Often, I’ve found that disappointing plotline in a sequel stems from the first series having reached a solid and definite conclusion, and after said finale, what comes next fails to meet the same standards. I personally experienced this to its fullest with Kyou Kara Maou. For a long time the first series (well two really – they aired in one run) stood at the very top of my favourites list. I loved it. I loved the fantasy, the comedy, the setting, everything about it and when I finally got to see the end I was in a wibbling mess because I’d become so immersed in its world. So when the sequel (series 3) rolled round, I couldn’t wait to see more. The new season didn’t live up to the expectations that the original had set for it. The plotline wasn’t anywhere near as interesting, and after a while, I didn’t really care what happened. Unfortunately, by this time it was too late and my affection for the original series had been tainted. The first (two) seasons now hover somewhere around 22nd on my list.

But sadly, even when a first series leaves the narrative hanging in readiness for more, the sequel isn’t always guaranteed to meet that same standard. One example that springs to mind like a rabbit in heat is Kimi ni Todoke. The first season charmed me with the slow progression of Sawako and Kazehaya’s relationship and the ending seemed to leave us at a cruel point where we couldn’t help but demand more. Then series two rolls around and was unfortunately one of those cases where the anime tries to spread too little plot over too many episodes. As such, while the narrative isn’t inherently bad (the regression in their relationship is more forgivable in the less sluggishly-paced manga) that the anime drags it out for twelve episodes means that the “will they, won’t they” punch from the first series gets lost in a sea of “Oh come on! This is getting ridiculous, just get it together already!!!”.

So when do sequels actually work? Well, the main instance I can think of when a sequel performs just as well as the original (or on very rare occasion, BETTER than the first) is when the franchise is a 4-Koma adaptation. When I try to think of all the second seasons out there that don’t send me spiralling into a pit of “Oh why God, why did they have to make more?!” the main ones are adaptations of four panel manga such as Hidamari Sketch and K-On! or manga that follow the in a similar sketch-like slice-of-life vein – like Chi’s Sweet Home and Minami-Ke. That these types of series don’t set out to hypnotise the audience with a wacky concept or flashy gimmicks means that there’s no novelty to wear off. Likewise, with no particular on-going plot, it’s pretty difficult to screw up the story. Similarly this also tends to be the case with other gentler, episodic stories, which is why the Natsume Yuujinchou franchise continues to be steadily successful without disappointing the fanbase.
My advice to all of you is to pick and choose the sequels you watch, because if you’re not careful the memory of a once-favoured anime can be unceremoniously shat all over by an awful sequel. So while the likes of Maria Holic Alive may have left me with a slightly bitter aftertaste in my mouth, I’ll still be looking forward to the fall season with Shinryaku Ika Musume 2, Working 2 and particularly Bakuman 2. Perhaps I’m choosing carefully, or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment...

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