My views on character death in anime
I'm not one of the people who insist that their favorite characters can never die, because that's absurd. I don't even demand that characters get heroic ends or 'good deaths' or the like, instead of petty casual ones; the furthest I'll go is to say that a character's death should fit in with the feel of the show, but that's just good writing in general. However there are a number of ways for a show to anger me (sometimes very much) with character deaths:
- When the deaths are mostly carnography. Some people are repulsed
by carnography but I think I've become sufficiently numb to it in anime
that it's mostly just a boring waste of time. Sometimes what I see as
excessive brutality will get under my skin, though.
One example of general carnography that comes to mind is the opening of the first episode of Elfen Lied, where a bunch of people are bloodily slaughtered for writing motives that I won't speculate on.
- When the deaths are part of a giant middle finger extended to the
audience by the show's creators. Often this also involves carnography,
because you might as well make the audience even more angry at you by
'lovingly' dwelling on the deaths of characters that they like.
Perhaps the most famous example of this is much of End of Evangelion, with the slaughter involved in the invasion of NERV Headquarters and so on.
- When the death is just a cheap and lazy way of injecting (melo)drama
into the show by having a shocking event happen that's sure to get
an emotional rise out of the viewers. Deaths, like plenty of other
shocking events, are easily (and frequently) exploited by bad writers.
I will pick on Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse's second episode for this; in it, a whole bunch of people we spent the first episode getting to know are slaughtered in battle one by one so that we can understand that this is war and war is serious brutal business and so on. The final death was impressively melodramatic. I had a bad reaction to this.
There are any number of ways to make characters deaths be simply bad writing without rising to the level that irritates and angers me the way that the stuff above does. If I can see the death coming a mile in advance because the show has lovingly tripped a whole series of death flags for the character, well, that's cliched writing (sometimes it can be appropriate for the show's genre, although I'm sort of making excuses for the show here). But it doesn't irritate me more than any other form of bad writing and it generally won't cause me to bail out of a show on the spot.
(This issue of anger-inducing character deaths is going to come up in my 'memorable anime from 200x' series of entries, so I might as well explain my views in advance.)
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Written on 18 December 2013.