Anime directors, please don’t change your depressing endings. I love them.

Quite frankly, good intentions or not, I’m sick of being lied to. That’s why I loved the original conclusion to Zeta Gundam. It felt like someone had finally snapped and decided to tell the truth, and at first, I was shocked, but, also, inspired to consider what it was trying to say, which brings me to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

(Important notice: This post contains spoilers for the end of Zeta Gundam.)

Imagine if Luke Skywalker lost his mind at the end of Star Wars. That would be really strange, right? Because that’s what happened at the end of Japan’s so-called Star Wars, Zeta Gundam (1986).

Kamille Bidan, the main character, defeats Paptimus Scirocco, the series villain, by driving the sharp end of his mobile suit straight through Scirocco’s cockpit and into his stomach.

The impaled Scirocco should be dead by this point, any normal person would be, but he refuses to “die alone” and throws all of his remaining strength into a psychic attack aimed straight at Kamille, and whatever happens next, it works, because while Kamille survives, he loses his mind. The series concludes mournfully, with the hero trying to eject himself into space, minus a spacesuit.

This is an ending I’ll never forget because of how painful was (and it still is.) It speaks of director Yoshiyuki Tomino‘s bitterness and ultimate refusal to glamorise war. He knows that we want to see a happy ending for Kamille, but by snatching that away with barely a minute left to run, everything is lost to an overriding sense of emptiness. It’s hard to take, but, also, so evocative and memorable.

20 years later, then, Tomino creates Love is the Pulse of the Stars, the final movie in his trilogy of Zeta Gundam compilations, in which Kamille, again, destroys Scirocco’s mobile suit, but this time, survives unscathed. Am I wrong to lament how disappointing I find that?!

Apparently, 20 years is the difference between pessimism and optimism. Directors like Tomino probably feel a responsibility to impart to their fans a sense of optimism, and I’m sure it’s a responsibility that weighs only heavier as time takes its toll. Does Tomino want to be remembered for breaking the hopes and dreams of a generation? Or for inspiring people to believe in a better tomorrow? It’s the difference between telling the truth, no matter how harsh, or a white lie.

Quite frankly, good intentions or not, I’m sick of being lied to. That’s why I loved the original conclusion to Zeta Gundam. It felt like someone had finally snapped and decided to tell the truth, and at first, I was shocked, but, also, inspired to consider what it was trying to say, which brings me to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Evangelion is, at it’s best, just as bitter as Zeta Gundam, with a main character in Shinji Ikari whose realistic weaknesses many find hard to take. Hidden within the fantastical vibrancy of its presentation, the likes of Shinji, Misato and Asuka are inflicted with heavy psychological issues and insecurities that refuse to go away. It’s heart-wrenching and frustrating to see characters so fallible, but also to director Anno‘s credit that he refuses to provide them with  easy answers. The series is delicately crafted not to appear as anti-escapist as it is, and it works. People complain so much about Shinji’s lack of bravery, but from Anno’s perspective, real people aren’t usually as brave as Kamina and Simon.

Recently, then, just like with Zeta Gundam, the creator of Evangelion, Hideaki Anno, has begun remaking his masterpiece, to make it “(more) accessible to non-fans.” Whether or not Anno (now married and living a seemingly happier life,) again chooses to side with the harsh truth, or goes with a white lie instead, will be interesting. You know what I’m hoping for, but, sadly, it’s also not what I expect.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

13 thoughts on “Anime directors, please don’t change your depressing endings. I love them.”

  1. I share many of your views. The Z Gundam TV end is brilliant.

    Marriage and age will mellow you out man. In my 20s I was quite bitter and angry — an extension of my adolescence now matched with actual adult failures, breakdowns, and setbacks. I imagine the younger versions of these directors have similar stories.

    After marriage, some relative success, and especially after having a child… you’re not only mellower, but you can also be this:

    Militantly determined to create a vision of the future where your progeny will be safe and happy. The Z Gundam ending can be read thusly — it needn’t be lazy or simply ‘selling out,’ — it could be just as subversive as creating the world as bitter and terrible, if not more so.

    As for Evangelion’s rebuild, we’ve only seen half. Shinji may still be set up for an even more horrendous fall.

    1. Wow. I love that there’s someone out there like you blogging, or else the only opinion we’d have is from bored, mildly angry/depressed twenty-somethings. Frankly, I’m all for a depressing ending: when it comes to anime, I’m an emotional masochist. But you’ve made your point so clear that I can’t help but see the logic behind it.

      1. …Then what about the largely-ignored not bored, not always angry/depressed religious 20-something? I’m largely a pessimist and fatalist, but I refuse to let that get in the way of enjoying life. Mostly.

        Also, well, Tomino was largely responsible (in my view) for the exceedingly positive G Gundam and Overman King Gainer, and insanely wacky Combat Mecha Xabungle, so he can’t be all that bad now, can he? Whereas Anno, despite his other works, remains anachronistic and fairly bitter (I hope). I don’t think he’s ever got over the shock of being so violently rejected by Hayao Miyazaki all those years ago. Besides, I’d like to think that he was forced to inject some positivism into Eva simply because the board of directors said so, and he needs that money.

    2. I’m sure you’re right, ghostlightning. I can’t really add anything to what you wrote, so I’ll leave it there.

  2. I’ve only watched the 1.11 and yet to watch 2.22, but I have the same worries as you. I wouldn’t say Anno would choose downright ‘white lie’, but I am worried that he may contain and suppress some of that harshness. In the first 1.11 for example, when eva01 was bombarded with Ramiel’s heat rays, the pain I felt from Shinji was no way as unbearable from that raw scream Shinji let out in the original series. In general, I thought Anno’s overall direction was to present Shinji as a more manly protagonist that is more likable for wider audience, and from what I’ve read so far, it seems like this continues on to the second movie as well. For me I liked the portrayal of Shinji as that weak-minded, terrified 14 year old who is barely struggling to cope with this tremendous responsibility handed to him, rather than the more heroic and manly protagonist one would expect from uplifting story, and since it’s my policy to watch all episodes/movies before making final judgement (or blog post), I’ll simply wait for all the rebuild movies…

    1. Exactly. I understand that Shinji is a divisive character, but I really hope that Anno isn’t thinking of toning him down (but then, would he really dare to sink as low as ‘End of Evangelion’ again? You know the infamous scene I’m thinking of, right?) His rawness and insight is what sets Eva apart from the legions of generic mecha anime (Fafner, to name but one, is a very sub-Eva effort, as is Gasaraki,) and it would be a shame if he traded that for something more superficially ‘feel good.’

      Anyway, I’m hoping to see 2.22 this weekend, everyone seems to be talking about it and it looks really exciting. :)

  3. Yoshiyuki Tomino actually ended Z Gundam in ZZ Gundam. Get it?

    ZZ Gundam ended up with Kamille and Fa living happily after fighting against the Zeon forces for so long. At the end of Z Gundam there was still Haman Karn, so the quasi-successor of Kamille, Judau Ashta, continues the battle …

    I don’t hate depressing endings but I think it’s overkill for some series. The only tragic endings I recall still reverberate in me to this day would be Cowboy Bebop and Honey and Clover (II). They’re not totally tragic, but they end tragically (at least, I don’t see how CB’s ending is a happy one, and an unrequited love still unrequited a happy one, either).

    I dislike the endings of Darker than Black 2 and Code Geass R2 because I thought they were overkill. I personally thought Lelouch and Hei suffered enough. Can’t there just be a little bit of happiness in their lives?

    I remember the 23rd episode of R2 where there would have been a proper conclusion to CC and Lelouch’s ambiguous feelings to one another, only for it to be interrupted by a vengeful Kallen. Had that single scene been resolved, it wouldn’t have been such a tragic death at the end of R2. But he simply took on the sins of his father, his own and the world, and died without even that resolution. It was absolutely depressing.

    I can say the same for DtB II. Hei sacrificed a lot by the end of the first season and chose against the annihilation of the world because he had faith in humanity. What did DtBII give him? It killed the only love he had left, the only reason why he came back after his choice.

    Tragedy well-written is such a beautiful thing. In fact, I think about 90% of the 20th century’s best books end up as tragedies. But they have elements of resolution or redemption that don’t make the tragedy just painful, but equally beautiful and sad at the same time. All of my favorite novels are tragedies, but they have to have something in them besides tragedy.

    1. What I’ve been told, though, Michael, is that the ZZ Gundam Kamille is a shadow of his former self.

      I just think it’s really brave that Tomino took this direction with his main character, because it’s like he’s telling us what it means to be a soldier from a broader perspective; that beyond winning and losing, there’s the rest of your life, and to have that ruined is the worst thing of all. It’s everything you say a beautiful tragedy should be, and to take that away from the theatrical movies seems a shame (but, as above, I can understand why he did it.)

      I don’t begrudge Kamille a happy ending, but a happy ending, in this context, lacks the metaphorical punch of the original. I mean, can you even imagine how it felt to be watching Zeta Gundam in 1986?

  4. My reaction to Zeta Gundam’s ending was shock, awe, confusion and then love. The main enemy had been defeated, and yet the hero was left as he was. It was basically the ending that I had always dreamed of seeing in a sick and twisted way. You know how most people at some point have wondered what it would be like if “the bad guy won?” Surely we did not get that here, but it sure was close.

    Of course, things are elaborated on more in ZZ Gundam, where Kamille is a vegetable who can’t see or speak. Things aren’t as depressing here as things do get better, although he’s never truly the same again. But it does seem like Tomino, even then, was backing out of his original decision a little with the way ZZ turned out. Whatever mental state he was in back then, I guess even still he wanted to instill a bit of hope in the viewer.

    I just wonder what it was like to see the end of Zeta in the 80s, only to catch ZZ Gundam and see that it’s a complete mockery for the first 20 episodes. After such an intense ending to the previous series…it really makes you wonder what in the world Tomino was thinking. But I digress.

    But indeed, Tomino does seem to enjoy taking the more “realistic” approach to war stories, and it’s rare that you ever see a “glorious death” in his earlier shows. When characters die, it’s hardly made out to be a big deal. They die, the battle continues and the characters may reflect on it later on. I always thought that was unique.

    Your concerns with the new Evangelion films are the same as mine and were the original reason why I wasn’t much looking forward to them. I plan to check them out when they’re all out though. Anno does seem like a more stable man now, so it will be interesting to see how that reflects on his new vision for the series. The fact that he’s giving it a brand new ending has me intrigued and worried at the same time. My understanding of his quote that he’s making it “more accessible for non-fans” is that he’s going to make it easier to understand for today’s viewers. He’s said that today’s fans don’t much appreciate the style of storytelling that Evangelion had back in the 90s, and that they would prefer to have something that’s easier to digest. I guess that’s his way of sugarcoating the fact that he plans to spoon-feed the story to viewers now. Either way, I hope that his original philosophy for the series hasn’t changed and that it has a similar impact as the first ending.

    Somehow, though, I doubt it.

  5. I wouldn’t think Anno would set up a white lie. I haven’t watched 2.22 yet, but I think, beyond the old “mellowing out” that old age instills in a person, it allows you greater perspective. That hole you were in earlier in life doesn’t seem so dark now… or, to make an even cheesier example, the AT Fields around you and others then weren’t as strong as you thought: you were just afraid to break through them.

    Plus, Anno is 50 now. He was, what, in his mid-30s as the Evangelion series and movie came out? The man was the post-war generation, with all of their disappointments, uncertainties and mindsets. Now their time will soon pass, and you have a younger generation to consider. ghostlightning above mentioned something similar to this, and it’s a more than valid concern for people his age to have.

    He might be toning down the neurosis because of a desire of accessibility rather than personal philosophy, but I won’t have an opinion on that until I actually watch all of the films.

    But, uh, as far “depressing” endings, the only ones that I’ve ever seen that were out and out negative are Jin-Roh and Gilgamesh. (Guess you could include Shigurui in there, although that’s a different type of tragedy than those two.) Even endings like those in Texhnolyze and Wolf’s Rain show a kind of optimism that’s pretty damn hard to ignore if you examine them beyond a passing glance. I’ve always found both End of Evangelion and Bebop to be bitterly uplifting.

    1. I really have to watch Jin-Roh again sometime, I saw it a good 10 years ago now (as a teenager) and even then I really liked it (without being much of anime fan at the time, too,) but all I can remember about it now is the oppressive darkness of the aesthetic and the lead female’s red coat. I must track it down. I’m going through something of an Oshii renaissance at the moment due to Patlabor.

      One of things I’ve noted recently is that a lot of anime, including some of the series you’ve listed above, prescribe to the “Wabi-sabi” philosophy. I’ve often searched for a phrase that really encompasses what it is about Japanese story-telling that hooks me in without ever realising that it already existed. The transience, the bitter-sweetness, and, to quote Wikipedia, “acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect[,]” which basically sums up everything there is to love about the anime you’ve listed above, particularly with the way they all end. … Stop me if I’m sounding off my head or something.

  6. You are right that some depressing endings and tragic endings can be unforgetful. But thing that shudnt be forgotten is how attached people can get to characters and how they can really affected people, the first Full Metal Alchemist was so tragic it was ridiculous and by the end of the rubbish film it just seemed like the creator was wanting to punish fans, by attacking what always happens that pairing of people with other characters and other things, I mean Rose being Gang Raped in the first series is ridiculous horrific. You dont see it but she got captured, doesnt talk anymore and has a baby its pretty obvious what happened.
    Tragedy can be a powerful story but it is also the hardest to use it has to be precise. This just means in context of the story for example in Gurren Lagann we had nia they went for last half of gurren lagann saving her then she gets married but then right when she gets married she just happens to break apart into dust. This was so badly done and just came out of nowhere and was example of bad usage.
    Example of good usage is Spike ending to Cowboy Bebop which is still tragic especially with his lover and ends tragically that seemed to fit.
    It has to fit in the story, If in Gundam Zeta he wanted to not glamorize war a psyhic attack and suicide seems out of the left field what shud of been done was war trauma. Its one thing that isnt done on these mega heroes in animes or I havnt seen it which is war trauma that is present throughout the show and that can lead to suicide or totally detached person.

    But again if something becomes massive it is unfair to kill characters without planning but usually when you write a story (as a animator and writer myself) with the plan to
    kill the character at the end it can fit in with the structure of the story, when tragic ending fails its because it didnt fit into the structure of the story. For example in Durarara which is incredible I expected a tragic ending for a character in it , it was built up for it it seemed and would of fitted in the story but there wasnt and it didnt fit right.

    I think its just people underestimate the power of characters when done well, if characters die left and right and you feel nothing that is failure of character writing. What happened to Ace in One Piece is another prime example of it done pitch perfect.

    but also I suppose we get enough depression in real life that its nice to have escapism in the none real life.

  7. I really loved this anime the company lately who has been coming up with really good sad animes has been key with that mix of tradgy style animes.

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