Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Endings that Piss Me Off - My Review of Phantom: Requiem of the Phantom

You watch a TV show or read a book and the characters come alive to you. I mean, they live and breathe in your mind's eye. You think about what decisions they are making (as if they are living at this moment) or might make in the next episode or on the next page and you wish you just had five seconds with one of these characters so you could tell them if something bad is going to happen. You just want to reach into the television or the pages of the book and grab the character... but you can't. So you just feel compelled to watch or read along to the final conclusion, knowing you'll probably be pissed off and/or heartbroken. You want to wish for a happy ending, but it would almost be a complete cop-out otherwise.

Stephen King is particularly bad at writing endings that piss me off. Most notoriously, of course, is the not-so-happy ending of The Dark Tower and that one took me a while to accept. I still don't like it, but I accept it happened (figuratively speaking, of course) and move on. The movie version of The Mist, Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (specifically the book version, but the movie version fits, too), and even Mel Gibson's Braveheart all have a bit of foreboding about them and we know that nothing is going to quite work out for the best. But they are so damn good that you want to chop off the endings and rewrite one where everyone goes on their way alive and with a chance at happiness.

But sometimes dead is just better. I mean, if these movies or books or TV shows changed what made them so unique or memorable... then they wouldn't be so unique or memorable. If Roland had discovered happiness at the top of the Dark Tower and that everyone he had lost was actually alive somewhere else... oh, it would be glorious for it to have happened... but would Roland, who had sacrificed so much and (intentionally or not) wreaked havoc on so many people, have deserved to be given happiness in such a neat and tidy package? Most likely, he didn't even deserve a second chance... but he got one. I guess that's a happy ending if you think about it.

I just got through watching a 26 episode anime entitled Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom and you can guessed that the ending pissed me off and it made me feel pretty sad. I think it took me all of four days to watch this show. My original plan had been to make this show last at least two weeks, but I couldn't stop watching.

The story follows a man named Zwei and a woman named Ein. Their exact ages aren't given but toward the end we discover they are closer to children, young enough to go to high school. Zwei wakes up one day with no memory of himself or how he had ended up in a place so desolate. When he goes to explore his surroundings he finds himself under attack by the character named Ein and must do whatever it takes to defend himself. It is only when the battle is over and Ein and Zwei find themselves at a stalemate that is Zwei told that he has special talents that make him suitable to be an assassin and that Ein will be his teacher.

The character that oversees this madness is named Scythe Master and he works with a group called Inferno. Inferno has deep roots in the mafia and they use Ein, dubbed the Phantom, as their primary enforcer. Through brainwashing she has become an unthinking and unflinching killing machine. She believes herself to be a tool and does only what she is told. Ein tells Zwei that he too must relinquish any hold he might have on his past and become a killer or else she will kill him.

But Zwei refuses to let go of his fleeting past. He does undergo his training and he does kill, but he refuses to believe he is just a tool and promises to save Ein and reclaim both of their hidden pasts. He even promises to make her smile a real smile one day. In order to do that he must break Scythe's hold on Ein and stay one step ahead of the suspecting bosses of Inferno. He must also keep one eye on Ein to make sure that she doesn't end up shooting him as a result of her brainwashing.

The story only further gets complicated by a series of betrayals and red herrings and eventually Ein and Zwei find themselves doing battle again and Ein must choose whether or not to save Scythe Master or stand by as Zwei kills Scythe. And Zwei's promise to Ein is truly put to the test then.

It isn't until the third assassin (aptly named Drei) enters the arena that the complication factor gets even more dire and Zwei finds himself once again haunted by an unfulfilled promise. Ein, Zwei, and Drei all find themselves on a battlefield while other agents of Inferno and the depraved Scythe Master are knocking on the door, wanting to join the conflict.

But this show is more than just a suspense-filled action-fest. It really is character-driven and the relationship between Ein and Zwei (and later on in the series: Zwei and Drei) that pushes this series to mean a bit more than a series of bloody (and awesome) battles. Even the secondary characters who aren't directly in the line of fire feel very much real and sympathetic.

That's why the ending is very tough to take. Once it begins to unfold it sort gets a Scarface type of feeling where you know there's just no way Ein and Zwei can survive all of this. But it's even harder when they do survive the unthinkable and escape. And then when it all seems like it's over... well, I guess it all goes down to whether or not you believe the sins of Ein and Zwei are forgivable and just what exactly your definition of  happiness is. It also comes down to whether or not you believe they earned a right to such happiness.

The ending is up to interpretation to a point (I actually needed to look up a few things to really understand just what went on), but the result is the same and there won't be a sequel to this series. Sadly.

This is a great show and I do recommend it. I'm still kind of shaken by the whole thing and still pissed off, but I guess it was worth it. I should have seen it coming and at the last second I did sort of catch the feeling that it wouldn't end with everyone just staring at a sunset, holding hands... but that still doesn't change the fact that I am pissed. Time will tell exactly where this show ends up in terms of my favorite anime of all-time, but I think it'll crack the top ten.

This show was based off an interactive video game and an OVA (original video animation) and I'd like to see how this show compares with its predecessors. In the meantime, I'm sulking.


  1. One way to look at sad endings is that you know the story was good if you care enough to be pissed off about a sad ending.

    I like when an author has the balls to have a sad ending when the story calls for it. I think the longer the story is, the harder it is for the author to give us a sad ending. The reader has so much invested, the author is afraid to let them down. I think that's why most sad endings are in short stories. With the Dark Tower, we have almost 4,000 pages invested and we want it to come out well but I think the Dark Tower ended the way it was supposed to. I didn't like it at first but after I was done I couldn't stop thinking about it and as time went by, I started to consider it an awesome ending.

    I think the best ending an author can have (like The Dark Tower) is one that makes the reader (or viewer) keep thinking about it long after the story has been read.

    An out of place happy ending pisses me off more than a sad ending. Movies are notoriously bad about this. How many times have you seen a movie that was 80% awesome and then got ruined by a tacked on happy ending. The theatrical version of Blade Runner has one of those and thankfully, Ridley was allowed to put his ending back on in the dvd versions.

    Prediction of a happy ending: Alabama 24 Notre Dame 13

    1. Yeah, I hate terrible endings that feel like they are needlessly tacked on just to play it safe. That's just poor execution.