Punchline – 12 (End) and Series Review

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Somehow, it seems only fitting for Punchline to end with an episode that leaves me totally exasperated.

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.

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7 comments

  1. c

    It's funny how you talk about being disappointed in Pine's sacrifice or the lack of sense it it, when the very same thing you wanted (at least in a binary sense) would have left me furious. Undermined his character, whether you believe Guriko deserved death or Pine life, that would have meant anything to the characters themselves, I think. Since Pine (and Chiyoko) has been the same sort of people – at least value wise – giving Guriko what he wants – either death to all humanity or death as a martyr after all the crap he pulled – would be a forgiveness that means nothing to anyone. And well, means Pine would exhibit the same lack of compassion that has become Guriko's Thing, if he was like LOL OK BYE 😀

    So yeah, I really wish a lot of things were better about this anime, especially Guriko's issues being a hell of a lot better expressed than "Woe, my agony!" but :||| idk. It (for me) worked much better as a finale than expected.

    Oh wells. It's been a fun ride, and I'm glad I got to read your blogposts, the joy and fury and in-between.

  2. S

    Well, there's a grey area there though. If you were presented at a snap decision between A) letting the mortal enemy of mankind sacrifice himself as a last act of redemption while you enjoy a supremely happy and peaceful future with your loved one and finally given back to your body and B) sacrificing yourself to let said mortal enemy live to (hopefully) redeem himself leaving your loved one alone to cope with that fact, hugging your (her former) body in her arms and having a stark reminder of you every time she looks into a mirror for the rest of her life, and the path to A) was simple inaction… yeah, I don't think anyone could blame you for "lack of compassion" for picking A). It's not the same as actively murdering your enemy in cold blood. Context matters. Anyone less than a saint would be justified in going for A), which also has the altruistic reason of making Chiyoko happier and respecting Guriko's will. It was really a bit of an asspull for its own sake.

    And Enzo, where do you gather that Chiranosuke is actually Pine? He said he'd go back to the past to set up the Rabura thing and then try repeating the cycle (I assume to get an even better outcome where no one dies, and possibly as a set up for the upcoming game). I actually thought Chiranosuke to be literally what it seems – a cat – and its spirit version only the ghost of said cat travelling back from the future after its own death, coming to protect his former master. Yes, it talks, but y'know, time travelling ghost cat. Doesn't make things that much weirder at this point.

  3. I think it's a mistake to look for a rationale for anything in Punchline, because Uchikoshi is clearly just pulling whatever he thinks he needs out of his ass. But it seems the timing of the cat's arrival and his interest in panties suggests he could be the spirit of the Pine who died in the episode. That's just what it felt like to me.

  4. G

    Aren't all writers pulling everything they need out of their asses to write whatever they enjoy? Stories don't write themselves after all.
    And what Uchikoshi enjoys writing happens to be sci-fi tales incorporating time loops, time travel, alternate universes and many more tools to create elaborate narratives spanning multiple timelines and dimensions where the point of view of the reader/watcher is a key component.

    It would be a mistake to NOT look for a rationale in his works.
    His patterns are so clear, his tendency to forshadow everything and to include twists that betray the reader/watcher's expectation are so consistent that many were able to guess the whole outline of Punchline's plot from episode 1.

    Of course Punchline isn't perfect and isn't complete, the supremely happy and peaceful ending tying up the last few plot threads will be found in the VN and will require way more loops through the story to unlock than any anime adaptation would be able to handle.

    Despite that weakness, Punchline's ending arc felt conclusive, justified and answered 90% of the questions raised during the first part of the show in addition to being entertaining on a purely visual/action level.

  5. S

    "Aren't all writers pulling everything they need out of their asses to write whatever they enjoy? Stories don't write themselves after all."

    Well, I suppose a good writer pulls stuff out of his ass at the very beginning and then everything else flows naturally from it, while bad writers keep doing it up until the very ending…

    Anyway, I don't think Uchikoshi performed badly in that sense here and I DO think he has a rationale for all that happened. The show's nature as a sort of tie in/extended trailer for the game is annoying though. It's possible that in VN format this will become clearer as more details are revealed, but yeah. It seems to me that the nature of the VN medium, where more text = more playtime has trained some writers that have serious problems with synthesis. You can see that with Nasu and it passed through in Punchline too. This could have been a much better story had the relevant plot lines been properly picked and developed with small, poignant moments, instead of trying to do too much at once.

  6. No, no they're not. You can create a rational fictional universe – one that makes internal sense, and doesn't play tricks on the audience by making stuff up as it goes along to foster the plot. Punchline violates pretty much every rule of fair play in writing detective fiction, and those rules apply to any sort of mystery (which this is).

    Maybe this would have made sense as a much longer omnibus narrative (i.e. a VN). Maybe the rules would have been apparent and the internal logic would have had structural integrity. But that's not what this is – it's a 12-episode anime. And in that format, it doesn't play fair with the audience and amounts to sloppy writing.

  7. A

    Uchikoshi's style just doesn't transfer over well to such a short format; Every visual novel he's written is a text-heavy 20+ hour affair and I'm not sure how this anime happened but I don't think he's cut out for writing an anime script or at least not on a 12-episode show. Also, in completely un-surprising news, Punchline is getting a PS Vita visual novel. I figure the plot will be much less of a mess there, but it seems like an odd decision to do the anime adaptation of a visual novel before the visual novel comes out…

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