Is it a good technique to fuse both comedy and a serious plot line into a singular series? Should they kept separate? Or is there just a specific means of execution that needs to be implemented in order for it to work well?
Let's take a gander and see in this review of the 2015 anime, Punch Line.
Punch Line is a series that managed to grab my attention from the start. The series throws the viewer headfirst into a flurry of off-kilter situations that in all honesty, was a hilarious change of pace from the anime I had been watching of late. What it did initially worked surprisingly well. The series came off as a self-aware series that understood how completely ridiculous it was being. Realize the premise of this series is that a young teen boy, Yuuta, can gain Super Sayan-esque powers if he sees a girls underwear. Unfortunately, his pre-pubescent body gets so excited one day that it separates his soul from his physical form. Thereafter, Yuuta is politely informed by a ghost cat - who uses his laptop to watch cat porn, mind you - that if he gets too aroused while in his spirit form, a megalithic meteor will crash into Earth, obliterating it. Keep in mind Yuuta lives in a boarding house where the rest of the residents are girls.
Yes...this is the actual plot of Punch Line.
And I was completely alright with this plot at the beginning. It's easy to recognize that this plot is stupid on literally any level. I'm down with dumb plots as long as they're presented with the mindset that they ARE stupid. For the first 4 or 5 episodes, Punch Line does just that. The series laid itself out as a raunchy comedy bordering on tasteless at times with Yuuta getting himself caught up in situations that inadvertently put Earth's structural integrity at risk. This is due to Yuuta getting used to his new spirit form and the powerful perks that come with it and how it accidentally makes it astronomically easier for him to catch a sneak peak at the pantsu of one of his housemates.
This made for an unintelligent series piled high with raunchy nonsense that provided me with entertainment equal to the quantity of brain cells I lost while watching it. Sure, the series wasn't always necessarily in the best taste, but no comedy anime with ecchi elements ever is. Plus, it's not like the fanservice was blatantly distracting me from an actual plot line or anythin...
...oh wait. Hold that thought for a minute.
Punch Line fared just fine up until a point. That point being the end of episode 5. From then on, the series began tripping over itself repeatedly.
Punch Line began to fail as a series at the end of episode 5. After that, Punch Line gets a bad case of what I'd like to refer to as Kill La Kill Syndrome. What I'm referring to is when an anime introduces itself as being a nonsensical or parody series, but then expects you to take it seriously due to the implementation of a legitimate plot line. At least with Kill La Kill it occurred gradually whereas Punch Line decided to slam on its metaphorical comedic breaks and pull an unexpected and uncalled for 180 in tone, shifting its gears into full sci-fi thriller mode.
Not only was this tonal shift jarring, but it decisively didn't work and for a few reasons.
Firstly, anybody with even a raindrop's worth of common sense should be able to see that a viewer would find it understandably difficult to take an anime seriously after the series had been faffing about for the entire first half. It just doesn't work that way. A series shouldn't introduce itself with a polar opposite tone than where it ends. In terms of my own experience with the series, I was never completely able to adapt to the tonal shift of the series. The series was so entrenched in its off-beat and humorous nature, that when the tone took its dramatic turn, I wasn't even fully aware that it had taken place until about episode 7. I'd like to argue that even if the series had embraced a more mature and stoic mentality from the onset, inserting the plot halfway through still would've caused the series to collapse in on itself. A good example of a series with that exact set of circumstances is Gangsta.. Gangsta. was so caught up in world-building that it hastily weaved in a plot that was far too intricate to flesh out by the end. I'd elaborate more on that series, but I actually did a full review of it, so you can check that out later by clicking here.
Furthermore, what makes Punch Line an even worse culprit of poor plot implementation than Gangsta. is that the plot didn't even end up making a lot of sense. The actual plot of Punch Line was probably the saddening result of the production staff trying to select a plot mechanism for the show to use, and instead collectively narrowing it down to one, they went with all of them. Seriously, the latter portion of Punch Line resembled a drowning pool of every plot device that had been successfully used in an anime more than once. Plot mechanisms ranged from alternative time lines, to underground government organizations, to the genetic advancement of humanity, to tragic childhood backstories, to even full-on body swapping, Kokoro Connect-style. Needless to say, this car accident of plot devices makes the plot line of the series close to impossible to accurately follow. This is only made worse when the series essentially throws them at you one after the other in the anime equivalent of a game show lightning round. This results in one of the silliest excuses for a story that I've ever had to try and navigate through.
And to think that we, as viewers, are somehow supposed to take this seriously.
To put the maraschino cherry atop this turd sundae - because this rant has progressed far enough as it is - the series makes an attempt at explaining and unraveling this jumbled mess. The ghost cat serves as the connection point between the cast and the audience; he explains all of this bullshit. Through his unexplained, infinite knowledge, the series tries to link all of these seemingly unrelated plot points together into one overarching picture. I've seen a select few residents of the internet state that this method succeeds, but I wholeheartedly disagree. None of the plot devices that are shoehorned into the story are even close to fleshed-out enough for the plot to make sense. The series does manage to link a surprising amount of them together, but it's predominantly through the usage of plot conveniences. Moreover, the plot has a habit of contradicting itself due to how vague it leaves some of its plot concepts. The plot likes to beat around the bush instead of granting detailed explanations of everything. I'm specifically targeting how the series implements time travel and alternative world lines, here.
It somewhat pains me to say this, but Punch Line probably could've made this work. How, you might be asking? If it went the Gurren Lagann or Abenobashi route of never taking itself too seriously. If it just embraced it's gray matter-killing attitude and stuck with it, life would've been much better for me and the series would've most likely received higher marks from me. Alas, it did no such thing.
The next couple of sections will be rather brief seeing that there isn't a substantial amount of material to talk about.
To put it lightly, characters are not one of Punch Line's few strengths. Here's a very brief rundown of everybody important enough to note:
Yuuta is our main male hero. He exhibits pretty much all of the behaviors of what you think a stereotypical teenage anime male MC would. He adamantly sticks up for what he believes to be true justice, he's well-rounded in terms of traits aside from his superpowers, and his nose is extremely prone to bleeding. Tl;dr: he's pathetically generic and has no real defining feature aside from the powers he's been blessed with. This makes him easy to root for in most cases, but nothing more and nothing less.
Now for the wheel of harem body types with their own bizarre quirks:
Mikatan is your sweet, syrupy, pink-haired ball of optimism. She's (extremely minor spoilers I guess?) not-so-secretly is a crime fighting hero. In her alter ego form, she's called Strange Juice, a dutiful hero that bashes in the faces of evil with a mondo-sized bendy straw. She's the most balanced of the girls in terms of personality and curvature.
Meika is the washboard, loli jail bait. She's more mature than the rest of the housemates and spends a lot of time watching over Mikatan. On the outside she appears normal, until...you know...(mild spoilers) you find out she's an android.
Rabura is the voluptuous vixen. She's the most accident prone of the group and mainly serves as fanservice fodder (lets be honest, all of them do) for a majority of the story. She also happens to be a failed psychic and exorcist. Basically, she's like Reagan from Mob Psycho 100 only she's an attractive woman with zero personality or charisma.
Ito is the last of the girls. She's the more reserved and soft spoken of the group. However, she also tends to be annoyingly hard-headed at points. She's the tomboy geek with a pixie cut who dwells on the internet. Oh, and she has a pet bear with the ability to physically regenerate.
As you could probably identify from these short summaries, this cast is not that strong nor notable. Yuuta aside, they mainly serve two purposes each. They are used to flash bits of skin and bra when Yuuta needs the...um...motivation, or they are used as somewhat failed devices in linking up plot points. To the disdain of everyone, they didn't do well in either facet. As I have already thoroughly explained, it's a stretch to say the plot was even connected and the bare-bone backstories provided for each character just serve as several examples of how amateurish the writing truly is.
Moreover, it's not like any real sense of internal development was given to any of the characters. None of them change by the endgame and their personalities remain as hollow as the series in question. Sure, their interactions may have garnered a grin or two from me at times, but but that doesn't relieve them of their shallowness.
I'll give some props to the series here. MAPPA is quickly rising on my internal list of animation studios that have my respect...minus the latter half of Yuri!!! on Ice. The animation was kept at a loftier overall quality for this series. This may be in part because of the lack of any real action in the initial portion, but the budget was evened out nicely over the course of the show.
The art style was also spot on...for the most part. For the way the series carried itself at the start, the art style was perfect. The character designs were more cartoonish in style, yet nicely detailed. The color palate was also bright and jubilant which fit consummately with the upbeat and comedic nature that was presented at the start. However, the art style only salted the wound of the shotty writing and piss poor plot execution come the second half. Not like the series could've been saved at that point, but the art didn't make the apparent lack of care any better.
It really, truly disheartens me when a series pulls the crap that Punch Line did. The series could've worked. It both could have been and should have been a nonsensical comedy/quasi-ecchi series with an off-the-chains plot capable of providing some well deserved fun for its audience. Sure, it wouldn't have been revolutionary or thought-provoking, but nobody was asking it to nor did it need to be for it to be a solid series.
Instead, what we received was twofold. Not only was it a series that didn't follow through on what it advertised that it would, but it saturated itself with so many overused and skin-deep plot devices that it essentially imploded. It's one thing for the plot of an anime not to make sense. It's a whole new beast for a plot to make fuck-all sense even when it's trying hard to do so. Punch Line made not coherent sense and in the most detrimental of fashions. Nothing was hashed out, it pulled an absurd 180 in tone midway, and it only fell further and further into its own inescapable abyss with every cliched plot mechanism it attempted to employ.
Even sadder is that the animation quality and characters couldn't hope to dig the series out of the hole it made. What it comes down to is that Punch Line should've stuck to what it did in the first few episodes. That being crude humor with some risque scenes thrown in for good measure. It would've been leagues more enjoyable if it had done so. Instead, it catfished its viewers and convinced them that it was something it wasn't and ultimately failed because of it.
Watch or Don't Watch: Don't Watch
I really don't know who this series is for. It doesn't succeed as a pure comedy or a sci-fi action adventure for previously stated reasons. Oddly enough, it doesn't work well as an ecchi harem either. Not enough skin is flashed and attention is increasingly placed on the messy plot for it to function well as one. I mean, some people will probably like this series for reasons I'll never understand. And for those people, do what you want.
That's it from me. Keep watching anime and stay tuned!!