I’ll cut to the chase: I hated the way Uchikoshi ended this series. And that’s despite the fact that I smelled it coming for several episodes and wasn’t remotely surprised by it. But I’m not going to talk about that for long because really, who needs to go out with an extended negative post? Though it’s more and more in spite of itself, I have affection for Punchline right up to the end. And I’d rather remember the things that made me feel that way about it.
So it is Yuuta sacrificing himself in the end, as expected. And why? For no damn good reason. “I can’t forgive you, so I’m going to make you live?” That’s right, Guriko commits atrocities left and right (right up to and including – in most realities – exterminating the human race) and gets to go on a hiking holiday. Pine endures a decade in the wrong-gendered body, re-lives a hellish fortnight over and over, saves the world and gets to roam the cosmos as a disembodied spirit (except the “final” Pine, who seemingly ends up as a talking cat). Being stuck in the wrong gender isn’t tough enough, fate has to stick Pine in the wrong species now?
I don’t mind bittersweet endings built around noble sacrifice – they tend to be the most profound in fiction, in fact. But there has to be a reason for the sacrifice, and the fact that there isn’t here is symptomatic of what’s really wrong with Punchline. There’s no reason for anything, really – it’s just Uchikoshi tossing a bunch of shit together and throwing in an occasional scrap of illogical explanation where he has absolutely no choice. It applies to the plot, and to the characters too (Guriko suddenly gives a fuck at the end? Sure – why not?). There’s so much talent on display here, but it bears so little fruit. What a waste.
Still, I like Punchline. I especially like Pine and Chiyoko, and if the anime had decided to be their story rather than making Chiyoko just another 20% route it would have been a far better show. I like the color palette, and the cinematography, and I love the character designs and the madcap wit that was totally absent for most of the second half of the run. And I can’t deny the irresistible beating heart of the series, that feckless charm that makes it such a likeable mess and not just a mess.
Punchline shouldn’t be a NoitaminA show, and it shouldn’t be treated as a disposable part of a cross-platform marketing strategy. It’s a cornucopia of untapped potential. But I’m glad it existed, and I’m curious to see what would happen if Uchikoshi Koutarou were locked in a room and forced to write an anime that was only ever going to be an anime. And on the week when what might very well be Gainax’ final TV series ended (and it ended up being a lot better than it looked like it would), I can’t help but hope we see more of Gainax expats like Uemura Yutaka and Iwasaki Shouta at studios like MAPPA, keeping the spirit of TV anime’s greatest studio alive.