No matter whether we’re talking animÃ©, manga, or American TV, a show should make sense, or it shouldn’t. (“Hunh?” you say. “Why would a show not make sense?” Hang with me a minute and I’ll explain.) I’m talking, once again, about the two rulesets for the “reality” of a show. I keep tweaking and refining them; maybe at some point they’ll approach Zen-like simplicity. In their current form:
Ruleset #1: Actions have consequences. Events develop logically. While the rules of physics may vary from story to story, everything works within them. If anything completely inexplicable happens, it is a Mystery, and usually a plot point. (Otherwise it may be a Deus ex Machina).
Ruleset #2: Actions have no consequences, and events occur without cause; often without permanent effect. The impossible occurs regularly. Objects and characters appear and disappear as needed for momentary plot or gag convenience; if it is convenient to ignore previous events, they never happened.
I have sometimes thought of Ruleset #2 as the “Bugs Bunny rules.” If Bugs meets Elmer Fudd in a cartoon, it’s always the first time they’ve met. If Elmer shoots Bugs, the bunny isn’t hurt, even if the reason is absurd. If Bugs drops an anvil on Elmer’s head, Mr. Fudd is right as rain by the next scene. We know these rules, and we know not to take anything we see seriously, because it’s all harmless, and nothing really changes, whether Bugs and Elmer are in a Wagnerian opera, or the old west. One series that takes ruleset #2 to the extreme is Excel Saga, which warps reality to the point of having a built-in device for resetting continuity.
Note that ruleset #2 can intrude into ruleset #1 in limited fashion. This normally happens as a gag; the most common occurrences are “the washpan falling from nowhere,” an impossible “emo face,” or a character (usually a girl) yanking some object out of hammerspace (usually to hit a guy). Usually, the SEP field manifests to protect “reality,” and people don’t notice these oddities. But generally, people are required to “obey the rules” in their behavior, and no SEP field can protect them if they violate this. If a character acts in a manner completely inconsistent with known behavior patterns, the audience loses empathy, and becomes outsiders to the story, because they don’t believe what the characters are doing any more. Witness the recent backlash against Yoshida in Shana II: she’ll hold her own against tough Shana, but fold against meek Konoe? Events receive some protection; more than characters, perhaps. Gag things can happen, like in AMG, normal, non-magical characters appearing and disappearing in puffs of smoke, right in front of Keiichi and Belldandy — and no one bats an eyelash. In the AMG manga, the students arrive at college one day to find it’s been turned into a European castle. Everyone shrugs and goes home.
“Dramatic entertainment” (or entertainment that thinks of itself as dramatic) can go only as far into ruleset #2 as can be covered by an SEP field. Souske Sagara may produce a truly astounding number of weapons from his person, but he can’t hide an Arm Slave there. He can become extremely concerned about Kaname’s safety (to the point it affects his loyalty to Mithril), but it wouldn’t make sense if he suddenly started acting like a lame harem lead towards Melissa Mao. And a bona-fide fireball-tossing wizard cannot show up riding on a unicorn to attack Sagara in the Arbalest.
If things exist which shouldn’t, either they’re a Mystery (and often a plot point), or it’s a “mistake of convenience” to allow the writer to solve a problem. (Or set one up, such as the Whispered, in FMP.) Often, a bad writer can put himself in a corner, because a variant of the problem occurs later, but the writer doesn’t want it to be easily solved. What happens then can be either a deus ex machina; its close relative, the contrivance, or a lapse in which the writer simply ignores the problem and expects his audience to not notice.
The SEP field can protect events and objects from becoming lapses — but it can’t protect characters very well, because characters are the core of a story, not object or events, and so people aren’t very forgiving of problems there. If something happens once in a show that exceeds the ability of the SEP field to cover, it is a goof — because the SEP field is really rooted in the audience’s perception, and its willingness to suspend belief in logic long enough to accept what happened as entertainment. Even the best writers can mistake their audience’s willingness to “play along.” Should such mistakes keep happening over and over again until the audience begins to reject the characters or show, it’s bad writing.
Unfortunately, this is Coyote Ragtime Show’s greatest sin, and it indulges in it repeatedly, almost from the very first scene. That one, I can forgive, although not forget. When actual plot starts getting the same treatment, now that I can’t forgive. I found CRS to be a fun show at first, and I really enjoyed certain of the villains, but in the end, poor writing killed it for me. I wrote about it a while back, but now that it’s out in R1, I thought I’d bring it up for a bit of rehashing.
CRS’s major failure is that it’s an incredibly stupid show, because it can’t operate under the rules of logic. It’s not that impossible things happen (much) — no wizards riding unicorns show up. It’s that there’s no rationale behind the actions the characters take, usually because the situation is often absurd to the point of contrivance. Sometimes it’s just a matter of characters not doing the logical thing. (It’s not required that characters make the optimum decision, but they shouldn’t make clearly stupid ones, unless that’s the point of the scene.)
The first couple of episodes of CRS are fairly action-packed and kind of fun. There were some real groaners, such as the names of certain characters, and the fact that the villain’s henchwomen embroider their group’s name on their parachutes, but I can give points for style as well. The show would be quite entertaining if overdoing style was the only problem. Unfortunately, the writers repeatedly have the characters do stupid or illogical things, and have events occur which should not be possible. Most of the time, it’s to move the plot along, but occasionally it’s just for entertainment. By the later part of the series, the logic gaps are unforgivable.
Spoilers below the fold…
Here’s the series setup: The most famous criminal alive is called “Mister”; he’s a rogue, con-man, thief, ex-pirate; hell, he’s probably even engaged in barratry. Federal Investigator Angelica Barnes has figred out that he serving a one-year sentence in a maximum security prison (for a DUI) on a desert planet, under an assumed name, and has arrived to locate and arrest him for other crimes. Elsewhere in the Galaxy, one planet is threatening to blow up another (in one week) — only unknown to Barnes, Mister’s (deceased) old pirate buddy Blues hid the greatest treasure ever heisted on that planet. His teen-aged daughter, Francesca, has the key to locating it, but neither she nor Mister knows how to use it. Now, at his old friend’s request, Mister had adopted and was raising her — but then he caused a DUI accident and got tossed in the clink for a year. (Maximum security for a DUI, even if it was a 22-car pile up. Right.) His year will be up in ten days, but the planet will go bye-bye in a week. (As I said in my prior article: “One Piece with a deadline.”) Solution: break out and go get the treasure. Meanwhile, Blues’ killer, Madam Marciano, is out to finish off Blues’ old friends and grab the treasure for herself.
Of all the dumb things in the first episode, the one that aggravated me the most was the bomb squad. When a number of bombs go off in the prison, the city’s bomb squad is called out and the central prison block is evacuated. No sooner than the squad enters the evacuated prison block than Angelica figures out how the explosives got in the prison, and that both her driver and the leader of the bomb squad were fakes, accomplice of Mister. So what happens?
Nothing. Everybody goes about their business guarding the evacuated prisoners; no one even tries to contact the bomb squad and ask them, “Hey, didn’t you realize there was something ODD about your leader today? Like maybe, he wasn’t himself? Did he give strange orders, like ‘all you guys go that way while I wander around alone,’ perhaps?” Maybe they thought the whole bomb squad was fake. OK, so why not send for reinforcements? “Excuse me, but we think the prison has been infiltrated by a half-dozen criminals masquerading as your bomb team. Would you like to explain that, and maybe send some REAL police to help?”
Now later, it develops that the police are fairly corrupt, so maybe Angelica ruled out asking for help (She is somehow magically in charge after the bombs go off). If so, that’s never even hinted. If the squad members were accomplices, they should have been around to facilitate the jailbreak; if they weren’t part of the scheme, they should have noticed something wrong with their leader; if they didn’t notice anything, they still should have been around later. Instead, they were just forgotten. In fact, nobody did anything at all. Instead of seizing the initiative, the prison force sat on their hands while the warden went through records by hand trying to figure out which prisoner was Mister. Not, you understand, that he was disguised in any way, other than being under an assumed name, since everyone throughout the series recognizes him on sight. “Here, Angelica, you know him, flip through these photos really quick and tell me which one is him.” (Something we didn’t hear.) Or even “Hey, here’s all the prisoners serving a one-year sentence for DUI.” In disguise? For a YEAR? Be serious.
Back to the bomb squad: What if the guy impersonating the bomb squad leader got away with it because he was a master of disguise? In fact, it is later said that he is — only several episodes later, he has to disguise himself again — and he’s not awful, he’s utterly incompetent at it. As in, no skill or training whatsoever in something as simple as putting on a waiter’s uniform and acting like a waiter!
Then there was Chelsea’s oddity. This near-illiterate, older teenager, random-sized-breast girl is a cop? She was so weird, and the other logic problems so severe, I almost didn’t notice the one oddity that really set Steven off: The guns belonging to Chelsea, Angelica, the guards, Madam Marciano’s 12 Sisters. None of the weapons were beyond the 20th century, and several were clearly 19th! (Strangely, while I did barely notice it, I shrugged. It was well within my SEP parameters, I guess.)
Then there’s the 12 Sisters. Lovely assassins dressed in 19th-century gothic black, with a penchant (and skill!) for violence, they were the best thing about the series. Especially August (that’s her, with the stick grenades, above). Incredibly lethal, tougher than nails, it took an RPG to stop May (the white-haired one). In a matter of moments, they wipe out almost the entire security force, except for the Warden, Chelsea, Angelica and a few random guards. Only Mister’s timely arrival, and a very nasty trick he pulled, saved them. (Um… why is Feb casting what looks like magic circles to find Mister?)
Yet in episode two, the 12 Sisters can’t hit Mister from twenty paces. He and Francesca fall off an ten story building — and are caught by a spaceship zooming by at street level. Disappearing bomb squads that don’t notice their leader’s replaced, random skills, impossible stunts…. we’ve only just started.
By the middle of the series, we’ve had:
- Swamp Gordan’s incredibly well armed gang, who stop one attacking force cold, and don’t even notice the next one. Because they don’t seem to be, um, a gang anymore, but he’s got a lot of parishioners because he is now a preacher…
- A flashback showing Blues (who is a pirate, remember) stealing the entire contents of a huge bank’s vault by infiltrating the bank’s management.
(Pirates in suits and ties. Come to think of it, that might have been satire…)
- Francesca escaping from Madam Marciano by using the ejection seat in the madam’s spaceship.
(What, it’s the Space Shuttle?)
- Mister avoiding death by jumping out of his crashing fighter and catching onto the just-ejected Francesca, riding her parachute down.
(Parachute. On an ejection seat. Built into an interstellar-range spaceship. Riiiiiiiiight.)
- Not to mention that the entire fight was taking place inside a huge bay, open to space, that apparently had gravity and atmosphere.
(At least Star Wars and Vandread addressed the issue, with “magnetic seals” )
Note: It’s already been established that ships have anti-gravity and on-board gravity control, what with Mister’s ship flying around a city, so I’ll give the bay full of floating ships a pass. Wait, “refrigerator moment:” why was Angelica eating in free-fall again?
- Blues plan was to figure out how to trigger the bank’s earthquake sensors — because the bank’s emergency plan was to bring a helicopter in, load the vault’s contents up and fly to safety somewhere else.
- And somehow the bank president didn’t notice that there was not actually a quake.
(Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.)
And somehow the president didn’t notice that it wasn’t the right helicopter that showed up.
(Why were they using a helicopter with limited lift capacity when anti-gravity allows spaceships to hover? Well, maybe it was an antigravity helicopter…..)
- I won’t even address the bank’s ultimate security system except to say that it was absurd and impossible in 3d.
(Why do I bother?)
I stuck with this series a lot longer than I should in the hopes of seeing another “fun and violence with the 12 Sisters” segment, but as the absurdities piled up, I finally tossed in the towel around episode 10, and never finished it.
Ah hell, who am I kidding, I didn’t care about the other 11 sisters; I just wanted to see August lobbing grenades with little hearts and angel wings again.