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Egao no Daika – 01

OP Sequence

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.

January 5, 2019 at 9:48 am
15 comments »
  • January 5, 2019 at 10:54 amChris hall

  • January 5, 2019 at 11:27 amLyfe

    I wouldn’t worry too much as Tatsunoko Production do produce some fairly decent shows. They have a better track record than some for story quality.

  • January 5, 2019 at 11:32 amZaiden

    Sci-Fi isn’t usually my schtick and the promotional material didn’t spark my interest. But I was pleasantly surprised with the way things kicked off. Might give the second episode a gander? We’ll see :3

  • January 5, 2019 at 1:28 pmDuzz

    Yuri Sci Fi?

  • January 5, 2019 at 2:42 pmTheYepMan

    To be honest, considering there’s another lead and another entire half of the setting to establish, I predict 2 things here:

    1: Even if this show front-loaded the story, then it’d have to follow with a double set up lull that would damage its pacing…

    2: …which is exactly the other point I was gonna make: If the next episode does the same thing with the other lead, then I doubt you’ll want to claim this show had 2 “0th episode”s. By the time we get a proper first episode, there goes the 3-episode rule, chances completely wasted.

    Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time a show tries to “break the 3-ep rule” by somehow making the audience wait until episode 4 or beyond before kicking things into motion at last… Maybe a certain Youtuber that shall remain unnamed is right. Maybe we should start judging things solely by the premiere, and I’m tempted to do exactly that with this show.

    • January 5, 2019 at 4:44 pmPasserby

      1. What some stories, especially those with more of a mystery bent, do is that they would start in Act II and then split Act I into many small chunks that we piece together as we proceed through the story. Even if they don’t, I’m generally more tolerant of a lull in episode 02 if I’ve already been hooked by episode 01.

      2. The second lead doesn’t necessarily need to get exactly the same treatment. She can definitely be introduced more dynamically, especially if she is to play the foil to Yuuki and does not have the benefit of her cloistered peace.

      3. My personal take on the three-spisode rule, which I’m sure regular readers are sick of me mentioning by now, is that a show has one episode to hook and three to impress. I emphasise the importance of the pilot episode in getting our foot in the door and some shows do it better than others (hence this entire blog post). On the other hand, I recognise that 20-odd minutes simply is not a lot of time to get to know anything. That said, on an individual level how much patience you allot to any particular anime depends on your supply of free time.

  • January 5, 2019 at 5:09 pmArthur

    The ep worked fine for me and I was curious to find out how the conflict would start only to find out that it has already started xD. That was able to hook me enough to keep watching for now.

    I liked the battle simulation while it happened (showed some units, probably normal unit size, equipment and some tactics). Thinking about it now it also appears to me like it was the best opportunity to show that the princess is capable without coming into conflict with her seemingly peace loving nature.
    Would she also be so eager to sacrifice a Unit and cause so much damage when real people are involved? That’s best saved for later where it might fuel some nice conflicts. But now we know that she could do something.

    But I have to agree that the story itself is still obscure. But my mind already filed it as a war over resources story for now. Good enough to get all those Mechs to pound each other into scrap metal :D

  • January 5, 2019 at 5:30 pmwissenschaft

    I’ve watched plenty of animes start off with great first episodes that latter turn out to be average or sub-par shows. Such as guilty crown or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.

    • January 5, 2019 at 5:32 pmwissenschaft

      I’ve watched plenty of animes start off with great first episodes that latter turn out to be average or sub-par shows. Such as guilty crown or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.

      I’m happy to let a show takes its time setting up its world. Besides, I didn’t feel like this was a bad episode or even a slow episode. We even got to see some mecha action.

      • January 6, 2019 at 4:42 amPasserby

        Plenty of anime also start strong and continue to be strong which is, ideally, what we want. I feel that as anime fans we should always look to demand better and in this case it’s not unreasonable to do so. In the column I reference I talked a lot about Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho, which managed in its pilot to do all that necessary introductory stuff and deliver a satisfying story arc at the same time. So it’s definitely doable.

      • January 6, 2019 at 9:12 amwissenschaft

        Well, there are shows I love that have slow starting episodes, game of thrones being a big one. The show is actually rather slow to begin with but it turns out great. I just really disagree with the idea that every show needs to front-load its story in the first episode.

  • January 5, 2019 at 5:31 pmzztop

    Maybe bingewatching might be a better choice for shows like this.
    The episodes might not stand out individually, but the story could be one that flows better if watched in one entire go.

    • January 6, 2019 at 4:46 amPasserby

      Perhaps, but anime is an episodic medium (newfangled Netflix shows aside) and I feel that we should be making proper use of that. Some shows do use a double-length pilots though, for the sake of flow, and I wouldn’t mind if Egao no Daika had done something like that. As it is, we’ll see how it goes next episode; a slightly soft first episode does not doom the show by any means.

  • January 6, 2019 at 7:40 amMichele

    This season i’m trying to be as severe as i can with the shows (so i can watch some of my gargantuan backlog) and this particular one didn’t made the cut.
    In my opinion the story is not mandatory for a first episode, but in exchange i need interesting characters and really good, organic world building (like Made in Abyss, for example) and this one gave neither, the characters were okay-ish at best, the little exposition felt forced and the world was quite uninteresting and generic.
    It made me remember The Asterisk War, and i’m not willing to waste my time in another (possibly) mediocre show.

  • January 7, 2019 at 3:19 pmboingman

    Not a good sign if the first episode has off looking charadesigns.