OP: 「エガオノカナタ」 (Egao no Kanata) by Chiho feat. majiko
「ソレイユの少女」 (Soreiyu no Shoujo)
“The Girl of Soleil”
A fair while ago I wrote about story structure, specifically the tried and true three-act structure. To recap, story structure is important not only because it brings a logical flow to the narrative but also because it governs the rise and fall of tension. The three-act structure simply plots a simple tension curve: set the scene in Act I, increase the tension towards the climax in Act II, then swiftly drop it with a resolution in Act III. Very straightforward. The problem with unimaginatively following the three-act structure is that, with it, Act I naturally tends to be the weakest part of the story. There, the tension is low and exposition abundant. Act I is where the busywork of a story is done, but at the same time the start of the anime is arguably the most important part. If you can’t hook in the viewer from episode 01 they’re just going to drop the show and you’re not going to have a chance to show of all that awesome stuff you’ve planned for Acts II and III. This is why many anime — and stories in general — start in media res, leaving Act I for later and skipping straight to Act II. That way we get a taste of the juicy stuff first and as an added bonus a skilled storyteller can also weave in an extra layer of mystery from hiding the information we usually get in Act I.
Egao no Daika, though, dutifully starts from the very beginning (a very good place to start?), setting up the world, introducing characters, and establishing their relationships. To Egao no Daika‘s credit this is all done fairly naturalistically with only minimal exposition. It seems that in this pilot all Egao no Daika really wanted to do was let us know that Yuuki and Joshua are tight. Beyond that, though, it didn’t seem very concerned that it had an actual story to tell. This is a pitfall that many science-fiction and fantasy series stumble into; so enamoured are they with their own setting that they spend all their time setting things up and by the time they’re done the audience has already switched to watching more interesting things, like drying paint. Often when this happens critics cite a lack or action or comedy to keep us entertained but for this episode Egao no Daika the problem runs deeper than that. It does have action. It does try for comedy. But in the end none of the giant robots, eye-candy though they may be, really mean anything. All the fighting was done in a simulation and waged over petty pride. There were no stakes. And even more importantly, how did any of that tie into the story? Do you actually know what the story is about? Me neither. It’s not your fault; Egao no Daika simply never bothered to tell us. One of the most important things to do in Act I is to pose the dramatic question that the rest of the story will aim to answer. It’s what’s supposed to pull us into the story proper. But here we only get some small conflicts — a speech, some jogging, one uppity knight — but nothing that ties it all together. How are we supposed to be invested in the story if we don’t even know what it’s setting out to do?
Here’s what I think is happening: Egao no Daika really wants to surprise us so it basically sacrificed this episode to set things up while lulling us into a false sense of security. But anime is an episodic medium and each episode must be satisfying experience in their own right. Also, the surprise is never worth it. Ever. Front-load the story, and if that means having to write two twists then that’s what you’ll need to do. Hopefully, this is just a temporary pacing issue for Egao no Daika and it’ll find its footing in the coming episodes. It did hint at a significant development at the very end of the episode with a war that has somehow been kept secret from the monarch. And we know that there’s supposed to be another lead and we have yet to see hide or hair of her. Once she’s introduced I’m guessing the story can start proper. I hope that comes sooner rather than later though. Then we can all pretend that this was an Episode 0 and all can be forgiven.