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The Expectation Problem: How Do You Grab the Audience Right From the Start?

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GBS: Agreed. So, turning back to where we started, if style by itself often fails to hook a viewer, what does it need to be combined with in order to have that early positive impression last? One potential addition is interesting characters. It’s a bit old now, but one show that manages that feat is Paradise Kiss. Very much a show full of style (it’s about the fashion world, so that’s quite natural), but I don’t think I’d have cared at all if it wasn’t for the quirky and intriguing characters it presents to us.

BCT: ParaKiss’s style, art and music, trumps its characters for me. Generally. The drama of those characters makes that style mean something emotionally, however.

GBS: That’s what makes the connection to the characters necessary: emotion. Otherwise, style on its own can be cold, distant, and disconnected. Pretty to look at, but empty of meaning.

Though this brings in a related question: were there characters that by themselves made you stay on for a show you otherwise might have dropped?

BCT: It would have to be from shows that led off with their characters (or most of them) right from the beginning, I suppose. Well, one I’ve written about before in this context was Kosuna, from Desert Punk.

GBS: That’s a very interesting choice as it’s one I would not make. I’ll admit to being rather different in that while I can be attracted to characters that at first glance are not very likable, I only really warm up to them if I can sense some kind of deeper decentness on one level or another below the surface.

BCT: I can see that. The Punk’s a depraved character, somewhat intentionally unlikable, and Kosuna’s pretty depraved, or at least ruthless, herself. But I enjoy a firecracker character like that who at least makes the story entertaining, moral or otherwise. Even with girl sidekicks a dime a dozen, the smack-talking pink-haired Kosuna made things pretty fun—especially as I think she’s the whole point of the story. (Twisted pink haired characters are just a thing, too, maybe. See: Komugi.)

Light, fluffy comedy…? Oh, don't worry, no rabbits (or people) were harmed in making this anime.
Rize, always ready…for what I have no idea

GBS: I think I tend to be attracted immediately more to either sweet/sincere characters of some sort, but even more to oddballs. Especially cute oddballs. For a current favorite show, Is the Order a Rabbit, the initial introductions to Cocoa (certifiably insane) and Chino (cute but in need of significant character growth) did not make too much of an impression on me. But once we saw Rize and discovered that she went armed in even the most unnecessary situations…the show somehow clicked. Add in Chiya and Syaro and the assortment of oddities just reaches a critical mass.

BCT: The sheer oddity of the core group of girls in that show did make me stick around for yet another girls-doing-something-of-some-sort show. To the point that Is the Order a Rabbit made me believe that something off-kilter with the characters is almost necessary to making a show of that type entertaining.

GBS: This may indeed be something that comedies must have in order to win my sympathy. Another recent favorite, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, would not have worked without the initial scene of Nozaki handing over an autograph in response to Chiyo Sakura’s muddled confession of love. So, it’s not reserved to one sex either. Oddballs are interesting.

BCT: Nozaki’s one of the too-rare examples of the at least normal-looking male lead who is in fact completely in his own little world.

GBS: The dangers of only viewing the surface, what probably made him appealing to Chiyo. Such a strange character.

BCT: Speaking of a character appealing from the start, I wonder if there’s something about our attraction to the innocent abroad in a story, the fish out of water.

GBS: One of the oldest story setups…but one that has stuck around because it works so well. Sometimes, all you need is to place someone in a slightly unusual version of a familiar environment. Take Food Wars. Souma Yukihira has been in a restaurant kitchen his entire life…but place him in a high-end culinary school and he’s out of his usual element…but in a place that’s only different on the surface, when you think about it. It’s still just a professional kitchen.

non-non-biyori-repeat-episode-04
Non Non Biyori: Repeat

BCT: The appeal of setting up a story like this, indeed, is how almost any location or setting, no matter how prosaic, can appear fantastic and exciting merely by attaching ourselves to the naive wonder of the character. Dominant in my mind is Hotaru, one of the four main girls in Non Non Biyori, but the only transplant to their slow-moving rural farming village. The first season begins with her arrival as an introduction to that world. But even in the second season, Repeat, the stranger in a strange land is the youngest, Renge, and her arrival (the season “repeats” the timeline, with new events) in the local school with the other, older girls.

GBS: Fish out of water stories often succeed because you, the viewer, are also often a visitor to this previously unknown land. Though is that all you really need to hook the audience quickly, within the opening run of episodes?

BCT: You need something that helps to leave the audience’s expectations open. Enlisting a sense of wonder at what is possible with these characters.

GBS: Curiosity about the characters is important, certainly. I remember being thrown for a loop at bit at the start of the original Last Exile. We have this great action scene to start things…but then move to watching a couple young kids going about their everyday lives. I was left wondering “What does this have to do with that?” Fortunately, the author had an expansive and fascinating world to show us through Claus and Lavie’s eyes.

BCT: Redirection is nice trick. If it leaves the story in a state with room to go almost anywhere. So, Shirobako, which we’ve talked a lot about this year. But for good reason.

GBS: My opinion on that show is well known. One of the very few to score an A+ from me in my reviews, though the start did not quite grab me at the time. It was more a slow build show when I watched it.

BCT: If you knew nothing about that show coming in, its very beginning establishes what seems only another high school club, this for making anime. But a montage rushes us through that most predictable story of youthful joy in teamwork and hard work, leaving them (and us) hopeful and positive about their future. These are characters who seem already on top, ready to conquer the world.

"Do-do-donuts!"
The Kaminoyama Five toasting…err…donuting their future

GBS: A common ending point for many stories.

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