I’ve been following Charlotte this season and quite honestly I’m hesitant to say it’s either good or bad. I said negative things about its ridiculous evil scientist plot, yet praised the seventh episode’s surreal atmosphere. I thought throwing in time travel was good in the sense that Maeda is known for these things and bad at the same time because time travel sucks as a plot device.
Questions pop up because Charlotte was supposed to be Maeda’s redemption for the sloppy job he did on Angel Beats! As it stands, I haven’t noticed any particularly redeeming qualities about it, except that Nao is probably one of his best designed heroines.
However, I did notice an interesting pattern to our discussion over at AnimeSuki. Even before the anime started its run, we knew it was going to be impossible to ignore who was responsible for writing the series. Over the discourse we made complaints about the plot being too boring, the characters being either too angsty or too cartoony, with almost every complaint getting tied back to Maeda’s inability to write a decent story. In almost any other thread the script writer would have got off easier and some poor sob such as the director would have taken on all the blame. However, since Maeda is a superstar script writer, people were inclined to focus their criticism. At times like these we are convinced, if only for a brief moment, that we could actually write a better story. Say what you will about the rest of the show, but that yandere truly deserved such a response.
Even though this doesn’t happen too often, can anyone honestly claim they could write a better story than a professional with decades of experience? In the end we’re all just fans, not creators. Degrading a creator to the level where fans dispense their constructive criticism is probably the ultimate insult to them. A more respectful thing to do would be to simply reject their work. This feeling of superiority to the creator actually comes from the way we consume narratives. To create something is to make something out of nothing. An extremely hard feat to accomplish. More fitting for the postmodern world would be to define creation as an ability to juggle existing ideas into complex and presentable patterns. The place where creators take their ideas from and where fans store their ideas for later recall has to be shared between the producer and the consumer to an extent. Without this shared storage space of ideas hits like Lucky Star wouldn’t have sold a single DVD. Japanese cultural critic Azuma Hiroki calls this space the database.
As a fan who merely adds ideas to this metaphysical database I am in no position to give suggestions on how creators should write their own stories. At the same time, I become very uncomfortable when I think I could write some of the twists, as dumb as they are, myself.
Maeda Jun used to be a great script writer. He contributed to marvelous Key classics such as Air or Clannad. Sadly, Charlotte only confirms my belief that he lost his touch when working on Angel Beats! The one thing he still has going for him is that he’s still a superstar. Charlotte’s run started off with an unexpected plea. After a lukewarm fan response to the first few episodes, Maeda was forced to lay out the story for us, saying it picks up after episode six. He was basically begging us to reserve our judgment for the time being and to swallow the episodic first half of the series, which was quite frankly boring. The show did pick up after that, and so far it hasn’t been all that bad to be honest, but overall the execution feels like a messy collage of random ideas.
This next sentence is important. I think the most interesting thing about Charlotte was observing and anticipating Maeda’s next moves. If we think about it, most other superstar creators find themselves in similar positions. Yamakan. Urobuchi. Okada. Tomino. We place enormous expectations on these guys, especially when they make public statements to the effect of “saving anime” or “fixing past mistakes.” I’m convinced that anime with superstar creators working on them are supposed to be about the creator’s struggle. This mode of consumption is similar to consuming sports narratives, or idol groups or whatever, where we root for the success or failure of personalities we pay attention to.
Works can find themselves in a place where their narratives are too weak for developed otaku tastes. Producers then shift our attention to the creator, and voila, the creator’s struggle replaces or supplements the existing narrative. For the overly analytical otaku who can’t escape the database, the main attraction becomes the guy behind the curtain, not the monstrosity he operates. But that is a passive ability only superstar creators possess. If it’s anyone else, we don’t give a damn and continue focusing on the narrative. Whether this changing focus is good or bad for anime productions I can’t say. It does confirm, however, that Charlotte’s plot is really nothing to write home about.