Twist and Shout!
May 12, 2011 6 Comments
Plot twists are like fireworks. Fun to play with, but really dangerous in the wrong hands. With the right amount of thought pressed into a twist, something beautiful can be manifested. I love plot twists. But no doubt, are they one of the most difficult features to implement in a series, that can coherently work so well with a plot. They’re a dangerous little device that can make or break a series. They’re revealed in a short instance, yet can completely change the direction of a plot around.
Now, I was watching one of the recent episodes of Aria The Scarlet Ammo, and I wasn’t pleased with the plot twist used in the show. Where did it go wrong? With both timing and characters. For one, a plot twist this early into the series would have little shock value. There’s not enough time and development given to the characters. Granted, it was rather unexpected and there was little hint of it beforehand, but there’s really not much to be shocked about. I imagine if would’ve been revealed any earlier, there would be an even smaller effect on the viewers. Now say if it were around five episodes later, it might’ve held more weight to it. The fact that this twist was revealed so early in the series, deteriorates the thrill and enjoyment of watching the series. After all, part of what kept me anticipated to watch more was a rather big question. The only one that meant to keep my interest. Now that it’s revealed, what now? What more can be done and should I bother to care at this point? This isn’t how a plot twist should be done.
Timing is essential for a plot twist to be executed well. Say one is revealed in the first episode of a series. There is zero shock value due to a variety of reasons. The plot has merely just begun. There’s little information given to the characters. And now, there’s a smaller incentive to watch the series, especially if its story driven. Part of the enjoyment of watching a (story-driven) series, is building up the tension as to what the ultimate plot twist could be. I find myself, as a viewer, asking questions, speculating what direction the plot may take. Asking yourself these questions, gives open to imagination to formulate a plot and conclusion beforehand. It brings rise to anticipation as to what next week’s episode will reveal.
Looking back to last year’s shows, there was a fairly good amount of well executed plot twists. It was some of these twists which made those popular shows, strike out from the rest, as they demonstrated mastery in managing to pull off a captivating and eye-catching story. I remember the questions I pondered on like: Who is the true leader of the Dollars? Why are these high school kids in purgatory? How can the villagers of Sotoba manage to survive against the mysterious creatures that are picking off their inhabitants one by one? It’s these questions that made these shows so exciting to follow. Remember that three week hiatus half way into Shiki? Or that nearly month long hiatus of Madoka Magica? Many of their fans freaked out, and for a good reason too. Prior to the hiatus, both had hit a strikingly well done plot twist. People desperately wanted to see what happened next. That’s how a plot twist is and should be done. It encourages its viewers to keep watching the damn show.
Of course, plot twists should only exist in the realm of reality, or what does makes sense, rather. It would be ridiculous if say, a side character rips off his skin, revealing himself to be a scaly monster of some sorts, and boasting to the main character, “It was I who gave birth to you and left you to go live with the mutant bears!” or some nonsense like that. There’s a fine line between what’s perfectly plausible, and what seems like a plot twist created from the mind of a grade schooler. A great plot twist would be something along the lines of “He was the killer all along, because he was the only one who personally knew the murdered victims.” It’s a point where it all comes together, and makes you go, “Ah, I see now. That’s why that happened.”. It may even be the same moment when most of your speculative questions become answered.
To be able to pull off a twist of that magnitude, however, I could only imagine it to be quite the difficult feat. Just think of all the times a bunch of writers sat around in a small room, pencil in hand, with sheets of notebook paper before them, and scratching their heads, with a thought floating in their head going, “What can make sense and how can we not fuck this up?”. The greatest writers thing about these for hours upon hours, trying to compile the best ideas together, and making the most out of their anime series.
On another note, I found that one of the worst uses for a plot twist, is using them as a last resort to continue a plot. It’s at that point that says the writers have run out of ideas, and are now attempting to pull an extreme plot device, just so they may continue the story. As much as I love Code Geass, it is certainly guilty of its last resort plot twists. Anyone who has watched the first season would know right away the scene I speak of. As I was watching that particular scene, I shook my head, and pressed my hand to my face. I almost lost some respect for that series at that moment. To be blunt, it really does seem lazy to go to drastic measures, and create such an insane plot twist, to shock its audience, just enough to keep them invested with the rest of the series.
Now I don’t deem plot twists as a necesssary plot device. There are many shows that have done well without one. I will say though, it certainly does push a series to its potential. It serves its purpose in adding on interest in its viewers, when done well. Movies like the ones of Studio Ghibli, Porco Rosso and My Neighbor Totoro, didn’t necessarily have plot twists, yet they were still an entertaining watch. In fact, you could argue that a plot twist in these movies could take away from the charm and heart these movies have. Imagine how awful and out of place it would be if Totoro’s story took a complete 180 and the writers decided that Totoro was pretending to be a friendly monster, so he could lure children back into his cavern and chew upon their flesh. It’s a disturbing thought. Totoro wouldn’t be the popular movie it is today for such a ridiculous twist like that.
It’s difficult to say what series needs a plot twist, or which one could do without one. Perhaps it could drastically change the direction of a poorly written plot into a story that could end up being, at the very least, decent. And yet, it may also ruin a half decent plot into a mess of absurd ideas thrown together, as a desperate act to liven up the plot.