I figured this might be something to talk about as the Fall 2017 anime season begins to draw to a close.
The way I see it, the ending to an anime series (I’m not talking about the ED) can usually be classified into one of three possible categories:
What makes each category distinct, in my mind, is the inclusion (or neglect) of closure.
These are the types of endings that include closure. We usually get to see what most if not all of the characters are now up to, which means definite endings usually feature a time skip and/or narration. Some definite endings can come across as being lackluster, but for the most part these are the sort of endings that satisfy most anime viewers.
I would have considered Code Geass to be a good example of a definite ending, but with the news of an upcoming third season I’m left feeling uncertain of the definition of this category. Or perhaps the ending for the second season of Code Geass was definite but they’re still choosing to push the story further? Your mileage may vary.
These are the types of endings that may include some degree of closure. We know how some characters fare by the final episode, but the fate of some characters are sometimes left unknown. Such endings, if I have to be overly reductionist and make a grossly broad generalization, usually feature a character that is MIA / not confirmed dead. That way, said character can reappear should a spin-off / sequel / second season for the series in question come up. Speaking of which, series that might be blessed with additional seasons, etc are the ones most prone to these sort of endings.
But, remember: causation doesn’t mean correlation. Just because a series has an open-ended ending doesn’t mean it will receive another season. It only means that there’s the possibility.
If definite endings are usually satisfying (if I had to use a metaphor, it would be like you received an entire pizza with all of your favorite toppings), then incomplete endings are like the slice of pizza with all of the toppings you don’t particularly care for. When anime critics complain about an anime series having a weak or subpar ending, chances are good that said series features this sort of ending.
There’s little to no closure. We don’t know what happens to the characters after the episode ends and have to just guess or infer. It’s like the anime series was a roll of film and someone took a pair of scissors and snipped it off after episode 12. It may be done, but it’s not complete.
This is the typical fate that befalls anime series adaptations while the original source material is still ongoing. That is, this is what happens if said adaptation tries to stay “faithful” to the manga or visual novel or light novel. But often times the studio will opt for an original ending to avoid giving the audience the feeling of that the series ends on an unfinished note. Some anime opt to embrace such a sensation, however, since the series is intended to only be an advertisement for said source material.
In other words, the story continues~
The key thing to focus on here is the concept of closure. Wait, what is closure again?
Well, closure could be considered “the sense of resolution or conclusion at the end of an artistic work.” And according to my own definitions, a series having closure means the ending feels definite. If it has some closure, then the ending is open-ended. If it’s lacking closure as a whole, then the ending is and feels “incomplete.”
Now, I think it’s fair to say that many anime critics focus on the ending of a series which is reasonable. After all, it’s something that usually leaves an impact given that it’s, well, the last thing the viewer sees. But what I found interesting is how they evaluate open-ended endings.
I say this because the other two categories are much more straightforward. If an ending is definite, then all the critic can really do is point out whether they agree or disagree with what happened in the end, whether a character got off too easy for doing this or that, and so on. Even if people disagree how the ending pans out, no one will bother to say that a series should not have a definite ending. The definite ending is, in other words, considered desirable.
For the series with an incomplete ending, however, the anime critic will usually mark this as a deficit. It’s something to warn other fans about. That’s because such an ending simply isn’t as satisfactory compared to a definite ending. There’s simply no sense of release after 12 or so (or more) episodes. As a result, we as viewers feel robbed or slighted whenever this happens. It’s easy enough to see why this usually isn’t appreciated, I hope.
As for the open-ended ending, the reception is much more mixed. There’s a sense of ambiguity here. The series may or may not continue through another season. Some critics will claim the open-ended ending is a demerit while others will take what they can get and accept the resolution either way (i.e. it’s a decent enough ending without a continuation but another season would be appreciated). In comparison to the other two categories, this sort of ending is much more controversial.
One last note before I conclude this incomplete thought of a post. Some anime viewers are quick to point out that there are side-materials or a game or that the original source material is ongoing if a critic voices that the end felt unsatisfactory. While that is all very well and good, I’m of the opinion that the anime series should be good enough to stand on its own. I’m not talking about the franchise as a whole here, right? When I’m reviewing an anime series, I’m strictly talking about the anime series.
With that being said, I think it’s fair if you note that an anime series left out this or that and that negatively affects the series as a whole. But this is not what you should blurt out when people start bashing your favorite shows. Clinging onto the excuse “but the manga is better” doesn’t change the fact that the anime series is boring to watch. In my opinion at least.
I don’t even know anymore. Am I even making sense? That’s all for now, folks.