When you utilize “In media res”, you’re starting your story in the middle, or often the climax. You’re throwing the viewer right into the action, giving them a quick taste of what’s to come in hopes of hooking their attention and, like all forms of techniques to bait the audience, can often be a successful way of doing so. For example, Chuck Palahniuk puts this method to use quite often in his novels as a clever way of keeping the reader wondering just how point A results to what we saw of point B.
When Fight Club, Palahniuk’s most notable work, begins with the narrator, tied up and gun shoved inside his mouth, listening to how the perpetrator has rigged numerous buildings with vans chocked full of explosives, a more compelling narrative is constructed. A darker, edgier perspective is put into place and the scope of the consequences has become clearer. Palahniuk’s use of “in media res” gives the story a more effective off-kilter atmosphere from the get-go.
More and more use of this technique has been seen in today’s media that it often becomes cheap. An uninspired way to keep people invested. One example that comes off the top of my mind is Dreamwork’s Megamind. Main character is falling to his death in slow-motion and before the collision, the film winds back to explain how we got to that point. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like the film, but there really is no point to its “in media res”. If the film’s biggest focus was how the super villian becomes the super hero then how does watching him fall to his death put anything in significant perspective? However, Megamind understood its use of “in media res” regardless that it was without any real necessity. It’s not clever, but it does its job right; it works as a hook.
Tokyo ESP is clueless as to what an “in media res” is. First off, I was surprised by how seriously the episode took itself, because the manga certainly never took itself this seriously. It was light-hearted, quirky and comedic for the most part. And since the adaptation is going to wind back to the very beginning of the story next episode, I can only make a pretty certain assumption that the episode will be light-hearted, quirky and comedic. So why bother with an “in media res” when the tones are so dichotomous? Using the technique only achieves a jarring shift.
Second, and most importantly, by using “in media res”, when Tokyo ESP throws us into the action, it should stay focused on the god damn action. At first, Tokyo ESP seems to kinda understand what it’s doing. A band of crazy espers start their rampage on humanity in order to bring them to their knees. Amidst the destruction, the city people wonder where the white-haired girl could be. And though there are certainly a lot of flaws, it would have been a decent use of “in media res”. When the series winds back to the very beginning of things, we can wonder just how a typical high-school girl eventually became the city’s vigilante. We can wonder what might have driven the espers to do what they’re doing. But instead of keeping things short, this technique goes on for the full episode and that’s when things begin to lose focus.
Suddenly, the series is focusing on various plot points that don’t make a lick of sense, spotlighting side characters we’ve never met and treating them as if the viewer should give a damn. There’s a real phony scene, in which the mother of one of these side characters is captured by a baddie, that's treated with so much weight as if to tug on our heartstrings or some shit. It’s stupid.
I guess I shouldn’t be flipping my shit until the next episode, but this first episode waves up too many red flags...
...but fuck! the white-haired girl doesn’t even look right!
Ao Haru Ride
Individually, our two lead characters are much more thought-out than I anticipated. I expected the run-of-the-mill archetypes and, though they are to an extent, they’re already holding a lot of potential in terms of developing into thoughtful, multi-faceted people. The series pushes the envelope by rightfully treating Mabuchi’s “I’m an asshole” personality as a facade he puts on as an attempt to hide past trauma rather than some sexy enigmatic factor.
Futaba works as an internally conflicted character. Desperate to render herself as unattractive as possible, specifically to males, yet is clingy deep down, drawn to Mabuchi and certainly desperate to get his attention.
It’s just such a shame that, with too potentially compelling character, the series drowns itself in too much cheese. It forced chemistry too much in the episode and relied on too many stupid contrivances.
The initial back-story in which Futaba and Mabuchi - named Tanaka at the time as his parents weren’t divorced - recounts how both were soft-spoken and reserved in middle school. The two took a liking to each other and Mabuchi eventually musters the courage to ask her out to a night festival. Of course, this doesn’t go unnoticed by other classmates and later in the day a male student pesters Futaba if the two are dating. In response, she angrily whips around and shouts that she despises all boys. Mabuchi happens to be present when she shouts this, is offended and ditches Futaba at night. It’s an interesting back-story too rushed; Futaba’s outburst too abrupt and too befuddling at the moment. Then there’s another moment (now in the future) where Futaba, who hasn’t made contact in a while, confronts Mabuchi after discovering he attends her high school and, as the two relay past events, ridiculous visual gimmicks assault the scene. The backdrop fades into your cliché bright light while flower pedals swirl around them dramatically. How subtle.
Though, the worst contrivance comes near the end of the episode when Futaba is buying bread from the school store. Two woman run the thing, Futaba pays one of them while the other is off in the back doing whatever. However, the store is outta bags so the woman, Futaba pays, takes off to replace them while the other woman comes up to the front. As Futaba leaves, this replacement mistakes Futaba for stealing. She pulls her back, embarrassing her by assuming her a thief. But, oh boy, oh boy! Our shining prince in armor happens to be at the scene of the assumed crime and reassures the woman that Futaba did (and also calling her an old hag. Ok?) It’s eye-rollingly stupid as is, but just to get confirmation, Mabuchi asks the woman Futaba paid, who turns out to be no more than a few feet away and in earshot of the whole thing! I mean, come on! Could the pesky woman not have asked for confirmation herself. Could Futaba not have asked?
Following that scene, Futaba runs after Mabuchi, they discuss how they’ve changed ever since the incident in middle school and the whole thing, regardless that it’s standard fare, comes off naturally in strengthening the character’s relationships. Again, it’s such a shame that the series resorts to so much forced contrivance when it did prove to spark chemistry between our characters without the blatantly strained effort. Oh well, we’ll see how things play out later on.
I plan on writing up some mid-series impression for Terror of Resonance, Nozaki-Kun and Aldnoah.Zero, the only other series I’ve found interesting enough to keep up with right now. For now, I’ll just give the gist of what I think of each series. Terror of Resonance had one fantastic first episode. I love it when a work of fiction doesn’t hold your hand, letting the viewer slowly realize the resolutions to their answers by themselves as the story progresses, all while keeping a coherent narrative to keep things pleasantly interesting. DRAMAtical Murder tries to recreate the same thing, but its structure is so chaotic, trying to piece together the puzzle is irritating as hell, as well as dull.
Aldnoah.Zero is rubbing me off the wrong way like most Urobuchi series, but I feel compelled to see just what "The Butcher" might pull out next. Nozaki-kun isn’t anything special, but it’s a decent little comedy to kill some time with. Anyway, I wanted to get this post out last week but a funeral came up and that definitely jostled my planned schedule a bit.