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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Plot Superpower

You will, undoubtedly, hear more from me about this in the future, with extra special mention if I ever do a Fairy Tail review. Minor spoilers below for Texhnolyze.

To set the scene; in episode 16 the white robots that had been making background appearances show up to fight. They have a gun that shoots six inch holes straight through anything, a longish reload time, and a small weak point. One shows up to take out the Organo boss who is guarded by two redshirts and Ichise. While the robot is reloading, the redshirts pull out their pistols and empty clips at it, to no visible effect. So Ichise with his metal arm runs up and slugs the bastard with enough force to actually do some damage.

In universe, this is quite consistent. Ichise's metal arm can punch through walls and his past as a prizefighter make this one on one plausible. My only concern in this scene is that the redshirts need to quit shooting or the ricochet will his Ichise, but no matter.

Another robot shows up and Ichise throws the first robot at it, destroying them both. A little silly, but still plausible, given the already shown strength of the robotic arm and leg.

Then, in marches a whole platoon of white robots. Surely it is curtains for our heroes but they are saved (hooray!) in the nick of time. Onishi and a band of loyal yakuza come in, guns blazing. Not plasma guns that shoot six inch holes through doors and walls and people, just pistols and maybe rifles of some sort. The sort that, not five minutes ago and when faced with only a single opponent in a relatively calm situation, were completely ineffective. At which point we cut to commercials.

Now this whole scene could show up in just about any action show, but in a sense that is why I am motivated to write about it when Texhnolyze does it. As mentioned in the earlier review, this is a really intelligent show that prides itself on realism in the art, narrative, and world building, and this whole sequence from the hospital to the last minute rescue is jarringly cliched and childish in comparison. A lesser show would have me cheering when Onishi comes in, because it is a scene from the vocabulary of a simple good vs evil action-adventure.

When we return to our battle scene, only a handful of human survivors remain, with every robot defeated. Certainly, Ichise did not go anywhere and can be relied upon to take out more than his share in a pitched battle, but he alone could not have stood up to those numbers. It was the foot soldiers with the weapons that had been ineffective only moments before that won the battle. What changed to make their under powered weapons sufficient?

This is plot power, or rather, one manifestation of plot power. Plot Power is a crutch for weak writers who have neglected their world building and narrative progression in favor of cheap victories. Plot Powered Weapons crop up fairly often and immediately kill any sense of peril for pretty much the rest of the series. Now, this is not always a bad thing; many anime never cultivate a sense that the main character is in any real danger. When you watch a Superman movie, you know exactly how it ends; with Superman saving the day and everyone living happily ever after. Sometimes the point is not the destination, or even the possibility of danger on the journey. Anime is character driven and character focused, and it can be a joy simply to spend time with the characters. Minato Sahashi in the pornographically charming Sekirei is not supposed to be in danger, he is supposed to be living an adolescent fantasy, and as such having plot powered weapons goes well in hand with the story.

However, whenever the narrative is put forward in a show as more than a device to stick interesting people in the same room, using Plot Power to solve problems cheapens subsequent victories and weakens a show. For it to show up, even briefly, in the otherwise rich and realistic Texhnolyze is a genuine disappointment. Shame on you, whoever wrote episodes 16 and 17.

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