Punchline – 05

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Unfortunately, my feelings for Punchline are starting to move in the wrong direction.

I’m still with MAPPA and Uchikoshi here, but I’m beginning to see cracks in my patience.  Unfortunately (for me) the high-water mark for Gainax influence on this show was the premiere.  Ever since then, with each week it’s been successively less like a Gainax series and more like a VN – as if the writer were the dominant gene and the director/animator the recessive.  I’m an unrepentant Gainax fanboy so no apologies there, but I think the problems go deeper than simple personal taste.

Here’s the thing: for all their insanity and fanservice, those old series were character-driven – specifically, protagonist-driven.  Gainax was very traditionalist in-fact, taking the old-age approach that a story needs to be built around an engaging main character who has a dynamic personal journey in order to work (especially with coming-of-age stories as many/most of those Gainax series were).  VNs for the most part (read, with exceptions) are built around a structure where what matters is the routes, and the protagonist is usually left intentionally unformed enough to disappear into all of them.  That works to a certain degree in visual novels, but I would argue that in artistic terms it almost never works in anime.

That brings us to Punchline.  The best anime-LN hybrids – stuff like Steins;Gate and Robotics;Notes – did in fact buck the trend and have distinct and relatable protagonists.  Okabe was obviously a one-of-a-kind, but underrated R;N gave us a great lead in Kaitou who was as Adachi-like as any character not written by Adachi – and Adachi writes male leads as well as anybody in manga ever has.  In Yuuta Punchline has the engaging part down pretty well – he’s a likeable kid with a great character design (they’re all great here) – but it’s punted the dynamic part.  There’s no arc here, no story – it’s clear Yuuta doesn’t matter to the larger narrative one way or the other except as a device.  And even if that changes now and Uchikoshi shoehorns something in, I would argue that it’s too late.  The series is half-over, and the damage is already done.

Within that framework, even though the individual routes do hold interest, the overall interest level of the story is undercut by the obvious dismissal of the main character by the narrative.  That points up a fundamental difference between anime and VNs, in that in the latter each route is given its full treatment – something that doesn’t happen in an anime unless it chooses the omnibus format (which rarely works well).  VN routes can carry a story, but truncated VN routes are too weak to carry an anime – they need a viable protagonist to bolster them.  And what we’re seeing for the girls of Kourai House feel very much like VN routes more than full character arcs.

For what it’s worth, there’s certainly a lot of VN-type exposition for those routes going on here.  We discover that the lab Mikatan grew up in was called Yuba (tofu skin), and that the kids’ special ability was called “Yubafy” (well – that’s imaginative).  Mikatan had two fellow inmates, a boy (who she fell in love with) and a girl.  Ito was the one who sent out the “Ring” video, as a way to scare the bullies who tormented her out of school – which started because she accepted a ride home from a teacher she had a crush on.  It was after the fact that her name was added to the list in the video, by whoever edited it – and that seems to be Turtle Man, for whom making Ito dead is a very important thing.  And “Miyazawa Kenji” gets shot (by accident) when the plan his spirit form concocts to try and trap Turtle Man via Maika and Rabura goes all wrong.

In a vacuum, all of that is fine – maybe even better than fine.  I mean, the Ito school stuff is well-presented even if it is pretty standard-issue.  But it’s not adding up to a viable whole for me.  I think Punchline is a spectacularly good example of why what makes a great VN is different than what makes a great anime, and that makes me very sad indeed.  Why?  Because I think the potential is here for that great anime, and even with one hand tied behind its back we’re still seeing that shine through.  At this point I think that ship has sailed, but what happens from here on out is still capable of making a difference in how much of that untapped potential gets a measure of realization in the final half of the series.

Punchline - 05 -7 Punchline - 05 -8 Punchline - 05 -9
Punchline - 05 -11 Punchline - 05 -12 Punchline - 05 -13
Punchline - 05 -14 Punchline - 05 -15 Punchline - 05 -16
Punchline - 05 -17 Punchline - 05 -18 Punchline - 05 -19
Punchline - 05 -21 Punchline - 05 -22 Punchline - 05 -23
Punchline - 05 -24 Punchline - 05 -25 Punchline - 05 -26
Punchline - 05 -27 Punchline - 05 -29 Punchline - 05 -30


  1. c

    Maybe it's because I've read enough VN's with fantastic protagonists — although I don't disagree that they're not the norm — and even read some with a powerful final hour development on the protagonist that was pulled off well enough to not feel out of nowhere, that I don't feel anywhere near as cynical as you do about how much the story cares about Yuuta.

    I think it also helps that I'm nowhere near the Gainax fan that you are, so I'm not pining the loss of the super-focused coming of age story we could have gotten. I'm OK with Yuuta not being the average joe who etc., etc., etc.

    It could still fall apart by the end — or leave Yuuta hanging — but it feels like the story is adding more and more pieces to the mystery that is Yuuta that we don't have the foreknowledge to understand just yet. Why does he care so much about Ito but not the world in general? Was that his flashback to the child lab? Why did his powers come as a surprise if he was one of these Yubafy-ing kids? Why does no one seem to care that Yuuta isn't around, despite the fact that (a few scenes) show he was friendly with the inhabitants? What about his sister? Will the show expand on their relationship?

    These questions are similar enough to the rest of the mysteries in this show, that I feel the show wants us to ask them.

    (Also, apologies if this comment is somewhat scattered. The back is acting up and I'm not sure how coherent I'm being at the moment, ahahaha.)

  2. I don't see any indication the series wants us to ask them – I guess that's the difference. I just don't think it cares one way or the other. I think the idea that you can just toss in some afterthought development for the MC late in the game is fatally flawed, and I don't think it's a function of some kind of Gainax nostalgia. It's not a Gainax issue, it's a fundamental storytelling issue.

  3. c

    I think if it leaves all these blanks open and never answers them, yeah, it's definitely a fundamental storytelling issue. But I think there's enough (very light) foreshadowing that says it will (at least from the particular corner I'm standing in). And I think there's enough other interesting things going on for the moment that a strong focus on the protagonist isn't necessary. It's unusual, sure, and usually not having the development at this stage is a sign of weakness in the writing (and rarely works out), but if written well it *can* work. I've seen it happen. I've found myself go 180 on a thing, from dissatisfied to enlightened in a very short period of time. From thinking the protagonist a throwaway character to the most important.

    Whether it works here is still up in the air, I think. And up to personal opinion if/when it does. :p

    (Also, I wasn't trying to pick on you about being a Gainax fan! Sorry about that! I just meant it can be painful seeing a very similar thing end up not being like the thing you like very much. If that makes sense.)

  4. S

    I agree that something's fishy about Yuuta, and that seems done on purpose. His power seems similar to the Yuba-fying thing, except his hair turns a different color from the one we saw today so I guess he's not the same kid. Right now I'm not too bothered by the lack of characterization because I am intrigued by the overall plot, and hey, if an invisible ghostly time-jumping main character's just a plot device to show us an interesting story from multiple, scattered points of view, so be it. It's clearly different from the Gainax shows of old, true, but then again, probably better to just pay homage and do your own thing right than try to be a copycat and fail.

  5. G

    I am with you ! It seems like EP 1 was so different than the rest! I am so lost in this anime it's not funny! We complain when an anime holds back but eventually the plot comes out ! This I have no clue! They turned Yuuta into a ghost they lost me there I like the animation and the characters but the story is so scattered!I have come this far but dont expect a much better show! I had such high hopes for this one!

  6. G

    I think it's perfectly fine to have a protagonist without a major development arc (for the first half of the story) because he's there to act as an audience surrogate. it's definitely the VN way of doing things but I think it still works in anime format.
    What makes the story works isn't Yuuta's journey, but the fact that we are experiencing the story from Yuuta's point of view and only have access to the same limitied information as him.

    Yuuta isn't even really what you'd call a main character in the first part of Punchline, he's an observer, a vehicle for getting information to the audience about the main characters: the 4 girls. And those 4 girls have enough development to them to make the story interesting and able to stand on its own.

    The situation might (in fact most certainly will) change in the second half of Punchline when Yuuta takes on a more active role in the story and is more actor than observer, in fact we're already starting to see that this episode with him time traveling to save Ito. Just like in real life character development mainly comes from interactions with others, and Yuuta hasn't been able to meaningfully interact with anyone other than a perverted ghost-cat.
    I don't think that this observing phase has hurt Punchline in any negative way or made it difficult to be interrested in the what is going on, quite the opposite Yuuta's ghost-like ways of going through walls or mysteriously jumping days has made it quite easy for the script writer to show us exactly what he wanted us to see without wasting any time.

  7. I think that's the perspective of a VN, not an anime. It's a matter of expectations, I suppose – yours are being met and mine aren't. "Show us exactly what he wanted us to see without wasting any time" is the key part of the comment – it's exactly what you think is right and what I think is wrong with this approach.

  8. G

    I just think an interesting story is an interesting story. It's pretty obvious that Uchikoshi's writing in Punchline is heavily influenced by his previous works as a VN/game writer but as long as the story doesn't require VN-exclusive mechanics to be told, like multiple routes or game over/bad ends, then the format in which it's told (anime,VN,book) won't impact how interesting it is.
    And I guess my personal interest in Punchline's story is more plot centric than character centric because that's what I've come to expect from Uchikoshi, VN or not.

  9. w

    What I'm finding interesting about this (and I agree with all your points) is that I feel like I can see where the 'routes' would branch off if this were a VN. Kind of like we're seeing scattered moments of several routes with different outcomes as opposed to just one single coherent story.

    I think it was you yourself who mentioned this but I recall Uchikoshi said episode 6 is the episode to wait before judging, so who knows maybe it'll suddenly start to come together. I'd also be of the opinion that's leaving it a little late, though. And can't imagine them retroactively giving Yuutas actions thus far more weight, even if he does become more involved from here on.

    I still find it likeable and engaging at least, but yeah it's probably too late for it to be much more than that

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